After watching UCONN 3 days in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, here’s my take:
1. Stewart still toughest matchup in country
Nothing has changed even though Stewart didn’t make the All-Tournament team in the Gulf Coast Showcase. UCONN found some balance, leadership and toughness outside of Stewart in this event. If Stewart feels physical play on the inside, she can move her offensive game to the perimeter. She can work outside-in early in game with jump shots to set up diving/slashing to the rim. This strategy might remove the double teaming clutter near the block and give Stewart a chance to play one on one outside which is a tough matchup.
2. Zone, gap man and extended pressure Defense
Coach Auriemma is clever at disguising deficiencies on the defensive end connecting his team-defense; zone or man. This year is more challenging because some teams can match UCONN’s size and speed. Last year, Stephanie Dolson at 6’5 needed to be guarded with a post player on defense. Stewart rarely found a match to her size on either end. No team had 2 unique bigs like this frontcourt tandem. This season, UCONN plays smaller. Teams can spread them out opening up the court and taking them off the bounce in certain individual matchups. Some UCONN players lack foot speed or lateral to keep offensive players in front. Extending UCONN’s defensive pressure takes time off shot clock and forces opponents deeper into their offensive options. UCONN efforts to take-away offensive option 1 and 2. Not many teams can go to or get to option 3.
3. KML is the best shooter in the country
Over 40 minutes this will happen. She will shake free in transition for 3, they reverse the ball multiple times per possession and consistently find her from 3, they will penetrate and pitch for 3. She is going to make 3s. Finding, chasing, defending KML 40 minutes is tough.
1. Jewel Loyd greatest combo athleticism/skill in women’s basketball.
If women had a WNBA combine that measured athleticism like the NBA or NFL, Loyd would be listed as an athletic freak in a combo of sprints, bench and agilities. (I see you Courtney William, JR at USF with your 51 inch box jump and your jumper off the curl). Game planning for Loyd must be creative, deceptive, ever-changing because she is complete, mature and ready for big game responsibility with her skill, athleticism and experience. Limiting Loyd’s touches in scoring areas will be important management for UCONN. Loyd’s staying aggressive in attacking rim might be unguardable.
2. ND Freshman
Brionna Turner? Kathryn Westbeld? Mychal Johnson? Won’t take long to “awaken the senses” of the rivalry for the ND freshman. If Turner plays, her length could cause problems at both ends. If no Turner, that’s one less defender on Stewart, one less rebounder at both rims. The freshman will grow up quickly in this one because they factor in the rotation.
3. Close game prep
Situational offense/special situation scoring needed. Scoring on baseline-out-of-bounds plays, off timeouts and late game execution important. Michigan State played ND to an 8pt game but ND was in foul trouble. If UCONN gets into the ND depth, it might mean trouble for ND.
If you are reading, you are interested in the rivalry of these programs. This game has become a showcase for high level playmaking and the best in college basketball. The rivalry between Geno and Muffet is a storyline. However, this game is about 40 efficient minutes and game adjustments. I’m focusing on the matchups, the strategies, the preparation, film study and the competition.
Bottom line: Play making that leads to shot making will determine outcome. The team that shot-makes and care-takes will dictate their defensive tempo and win the game.