By Carl Adamec
The University of Connecticut and Stanford University women’s basketball teams are solid on the defensive end of the court. The Huskies and Cardinal wouldn’t be seeking their record sixth consecutive NCAA Final Four berth if they weren’t.
But both teams have talented offensive players and Hall of Fame coaches Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer hope that part of the game comes out when No. 1 Stanford entertains No. 2 UConn Saturday at sold-out Maples Pavilion.
UConn (10-0) enters the game averaging 88.1 points per game while Stanford (11-0) checks in at 75.7 points per game.
“Not everybody is capable of recruiting the offensive players that Stanford can recruit or Connecticut can recruit,” Auriemma said. “So I think we have a huge advantage over a lot of other programs in that we can go out and attract the best offensive players in the country. There are teams that can’t so they build their teams around defense because they’re not skilled enough on the offensive end.
“I think that is one of the things that has to continue to grow in the women’s games is that more teams have to value putting the ball in the basket. I think the game of women’s basketball has to be played differently than men’s basketball. That’s why I always laugh when people who run women’s basketball want to showcase our physicality. I don’t know that serves any purpose. I think we should showcase people putting the ball in the basket. I think that’s what attracts fans, that’s what makes the game enjoyable to watch, and I think Saturday you have got maybe the two best offensive teams in the country and hopefully fans will get a chance to see that. That’s not to say we’re going to see who can win 110-109. I don’t think that is going to happen. But I would like to think that we try to make scoring and scoring often a priority in our programs and that is probably why we attract so many fans.”
Breanna Stewart (16.9), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (16.4), Stefanie Dolson (11.7), and Bria Hartley (10.1) average in double figures for the Huskies as do the Cardinal’s Chiney Ogwumike (21.8), Joslyn Tinkle (13.9), and Amber Orrange (10.9).
“Both Geno and I value offensively skilled players,” VanDerveer said. “I think we work hard on the defensive end but we really emphasize playing basketball with a purpose — passing, shooting, and in some ways I think our styles are the same. Obviously we’re on different coasts and play in different leagues but there are probably a lot of similarities.”
Of course, the most memorable meeting between UConn and Stanford came in the 2010 national championship game in San Antonio when they set a Final Four record for offensively futility.
UConn started four players — Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, and Tiffany Hayes — that combined to score 8,627 points in their careers. Stanford started four WNBA first-round picks in Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Nneka Ogwumike, and Jeanette Pohlen. The score at halftime was Stanford 20, UConn 12.
“I think I can remember all the points. I can remember all 12 of ours, I’ll tell you that,” Auriemma said with a smile.
He can smile because UConn came back to beat Stanford 53-47 for its seventh NCAA title.
UConn All-American Hartley and Stanford All-American Chiney Ogwumike were teammates on USA Basketball’s team that won the gold medal in the inaugural FIBA 3×3 world championships in Athens, Greece, last August.
“Bria is one of my closest friends in life,” Ogwumike said. “We’ve played the same AAU circuit and developed a friendly rivalry. With USA, I always competed with her and always had so much fun. We’re friends everywhere except on the basketball court when we play each other. That’s when we’re best ‘frenemies.’ ”
The juniors will face off for the third time in their college careers Saturday. UConn won last year’s game while Stanford won the previous meeting on its home court two years ago.
“We’re both really competitive,” Hartley said. “We go out there and we want to win and we want to play really hard. Off the court we’re friendly, but on the court we’re focused on winning.”
Team USA, which also included Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins and former UConn standout Ann Strother, won all nine of its games. In the gold-medal game against France, it was a Hartley pass to Ogwumike that led to the deciding basket in the Americans’ 17-16 victory.
The only downside from that tournament was that Hartley injured her left ankle. She missed much of the preseason and the Huskies’ first two regular season games as she recovered.
Stanford’s 82-game home winning streak is the longest active streak in the nation and the second longest in NCAA history to UConn’s 99. If the Cardinal keeps their perfect record at Maples Pavilion intact, they could get to 100 during the 2013-14 season.
“We’re excited to play here but we know it’s not going to be the deciding factor,” VanDerveer said. “We have to play well. We know it’s what we do on the court.”
It’s the same for the Huskies, who have had more than their share of success in front of big crowds on the road. They could not care less about that streak.
“That’s not what we came here for,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “The whole streak thing … If you’re focused on that, you’re not focused on the right things.”