By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Caroline Doty showed in consecutive games last week how she can help the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team win a national championship and then how she could become no factor come March and April.
The Huskies’ fifth-year senior guard played a key role in a second-half surge that turned a close game against Duke into a rout on Jan. 21 at Gampel Pavilion. But then last Saturday she played 14 uninspired and unproductive minutes against Cincinnati. At the one point in the first half, UConn coach Geno Auriemma took her out of the game 15 seconds and a turnover after putting her in.
“I need to come in every day and take care of the ball and not have stupid turnovers,” Doty said. “We need someone who can be reliable with the ball, especially when we have so many offensive threats. I’m going to take the challenge on of taking care of the ball and getting the right people the right shots at the right times.”
Doty will try to make things right Tuesday night when the third-ranked Huskies entertain Villanova in Big East action at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., SNY).
In 19 games (17 starts), Doty is averaging a modest 3.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 17.6 minutes per outing. She is shooting 36.5 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from 3-point land. She would rank eighth in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio if she qualified for the leaders. She had her first career double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds, along with seven assists and four steals) in the Dec. 31 win over Oregon.
Against Duke, she had just three points but was a mainstay in the decisive 24-4 second-half run.
“Energetic,” Doty said when asked to describe her play. “I fed off my teammates, the fans, and the coaches. Everything clicked and we had a lot of fun doing it. I felt confident, confident with my teammates.
“It’s within me and I know I can bring it every game. I have great teammates. They bring their stuff every day, so why can’t I? I have to bring it every day.”
At practice the day before the Duke game, Auriemma and Doty had what the coach called a “presentation” and what the player called a “run-in.” Two points were made.
“If you say, ‘Look I want you to take the other team’s best guard and take them out of the game,’ she would be our 12th choice (on an 11-player roster),” Auriemma said. “I said, ‘So that’s not why you’re out on the floor. I understand that and you understand that.’ But I told her, ‘If you’re not going to organize our offense and our defense and get us into the right spots, take care of the ball and make sure the ball goes exactly where it’s supposed to be and when it’s supposed to be there, make sure guys are playing the style of play we want to play, and knock down some open shots, there is absolutely positively no reason why I should play you. None.’ She took it hard, obviously.
“But what she learned, learning, is that her role some games might be huge because she might make six threes, or five threes, or she might play the kind of game she played at the University of Oregon. But most times her game is going to go unnoticed in the stat sheet. The pass that leads to the assist, the fact that there’s a certain tempo to our game, there’s a calmness to how we’re playing … I thought the second half against Duke she looked like she had complete control of what was going on out there.”
And that’s why she was able to get the job done against the Blue Devils, who feature one of the nation’s top point guards in Chelsea Gray. But she needs to be able to do it against the likes of Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins and Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, both All-Americans.
The Huskies (18-1 overall, 5-1 Big East) are chasing the Irish in the league standings while the road to the NCAA title goes through the defending national champion and top-ranked Bears, who visit UConn on Feb. 18.
“Because we tend to play with three and sometimes four perimeter players at the same time there isn’t the kind of pressure on our guards that might be on some other team’s guards,” Auriemma said. “We’ve been able to win with the best point guard in the country and we’ve been able to win with something less than that over the years as long as they manage the game properly. That’s where Caroline’s impact is going to be. Manage the game properly, make them forget about you like they will, then knock down a couple open shots at timely opportunities. If she does that …
“Remember when Kellie Jolly was playing at Tennessee? She doesn’t do anything great. But she runs the team and makes open shots when you leave her open. Because you have to guard every other kid on her team she’s open a lot. I see Caroline so far this year has kind of played out that same role. And last year she struggled in that role. It’s not easy.”
Jolly, now the head coach at North Carolina State, was part of three national championships at Tennessee (1996-98) and had a knack of making big 3-point shots against UConn.
Doty and Sims are the only point guards currently in the college game to guide their teams to NCAA titles. In the 2010 final against Stanford, Doty had eight points, five rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers in 36 minutes. Can she do the things she did now she did for the Huskies three years ago?
“I’m going to do what my coaches and teammates want me to do and follow the plan the best I can,” Doty said. “They know what we need to do to win a championship.
“I have to limit my turnovers and give the right people the ball at the right time. Then bring energy. I get really excited for my teammates and hopefully it’s contagious. I feel like I’ve had a good game when most of our players have a good game.”
Doty, from Doylestown, Pa., will see a number of familiar faces from the Philadelphia area when Villanova visits, including former Germantown Academy teammate Jesse Carey.
The Wildcats (16-3, 5-1) share second place in the Big East with UConn. Their only league loss came last Wednesday when they blew a 19-point halftime lead and fell in overtime at Providence. They rebounded Saturday as Rachel Roberts had a career high 26 points in a home win over Syracuse.
“It will be great to see them,” Doty said. “Our Senior Night is less than a month away, Feb. 23. That’s no time at all. I played with some of them when I was a lot younger and this is the last time I’ll play against them. I’ll miss it.”
What Doty doesn’t want to miss is being a key part of the Huskies’ stretch drive.