UConn women's basketball's Auriemma not afraid to go young at crunch time

Published on Tuesday, 9 February 2021 18:57
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

STORRS - Geno Auriemma’s confidence in his younger players was never more evident than at the start of overtime Monday night.

The UConn women’s basketball team’s Hall of Fame coach sent out three freshmen, a sophomore, and a redshirt junior to begin the extra session that ended with the second-ranked Huskies pulling out a 63-59 win over No. 2 South Carolina at Gampel Pavilion.

While Paige Bueckers scored all nine points for UConn (14-1), her fellow rookies Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl along with sophomore Aubrey Griffin did their share to give the Huskies the opportunity to win.

“Sometimes people make comments like, ‘She’ll never be anything but a role player,’ like it’s some kind of disease or something,” Auriemma said. “I’d like to see what a concert would sound like if the guy who’s supposed to bring Billy Joel’s piano out doesn’t bring it out. The guy is just a role player. Well, guess what? Everybody’s role is really, really important, and you just have to play it to the best of your ability.”

“If you’re going to be a role player, you have to be a star in your role whatever that is. Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Muhl and Aubrey Griffin, that’s what they were tonight, and that’s what they are most nights They’re thee guys who lug the piano up on stage and there are guys who play the piano. There’s a reason why the guy who plays the piano gets paid all the money That’s what people come to watch. Paige is a good piano player.”

Edwards, Muhl, and Griffin combined for 20 points. Edwards also battled South Carolina All-American Aaliyah Boston for many of her 35 minutes while Muhl was solid guarding Gamecocks’ point guard Destanni Henderson (eight turnovers) in her 35 minutes.

“This was definitely a challenge for me to see how tough I can be,” Muhl said. “I think I was tough at moments, especially on defense I really gave my heart out defensively. But there’ still a lot to work on.”

Interestingly, juniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams started overtime on the bench, though both came on with 1:48 left and were on the floor for Bueckers’ game-closing 7-0 run.

FOUL MOOD

UConn was called for 19 of the game’s 34 fouls with Nelson-Ododa, Muhl, and Griffin finishing with four each. South Carolina shot 15 free throws to the Huskies’ eight.

So Auriemma had some disagreements with the officiating crew of Dee Kantner, Joe Vaszily, and Tiara Cruse.

“We’ve never been great at fouling and this year we’re really great at fouling,” Auriemma said. “We’ve taken it to another level.

“Aubrey got called for a foul because the official said her stance on her screen was too wide. Think about that. That’s a foul. That’s almost like calling pass interference when the guy’s pass lands in the front row. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Muhl tried to be diplomatic.

“Honesty, I wouldn’t agree with half of the calls that were called today, but no one asked me,” she said with a smile.

BUECKERS SWEEP

Bueckers became the third UConn freshman to be named the conference Player of the Week when she was honored by the Big East Monday.

It was her first Player of the Week and her seventh Freshman of the Week award.

Maya Moore was named the Big East Player and Freshman of the Week on March 4, 2008. Christyn Williams was chosen the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week on Dec. 3, 2018.

Bueckers is just the fourth player in Big East history to sweep the weekly awards, joining Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist (Dec. 23, 2019), Marquette’s Allazia Blockton (Feb. 15, 2016) and Moore.

Edwards was on the weekly honor roll.

POLL POSITION

South Carolina regained the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll released Monday prior to its loss to the Huskies.

The Gamecocks started the season at No. 1 but dropped after an early-season loss to North Carolina State.

Louisville’s reign at No. 1 ended with a loss to North Carolina State. But the Wolfpack’s hopes of earning their first No. 1 ranking were dashed when they were upset at North Carolina Sunday.

UConn was second behind South Carolina and was followed by Louisville, North Carolina State, and Stanford.

DePaul dropped two spots to No. 22 after beating Marquette in its only game.



Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Tuesday, 9 February 2021 18:57. Updated: Tuesday, 9 February 2021 18:59.