By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — It was a play that didn’t go as planned for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team at practice Thursday, but coach Geno Auriemma could not have planned it better.
All five Huskies on the floor touched the ball with Bria Hartley eventually finding Kelly Faris in the corner for a 3-point basket. A perfect set with some improvisation brought the workout to a close on a high note.
“The best players that play and the best teams that play are teams that can always do two things very, very well,” Auriemma said. “They can take direction. They only have to see things once or twice and they’ve got it. And they can also think for themselves. And I think when you’ve got a bunch of young guys playing all they want is direction over and over and over and over again.
“So today’s practice was a little bit more about thinking on the fly and making decisions and making sure that we’re all on board, that we’re all on the same page because there’s some stuff that happened Monday that I was scratching my head. So were the other coaches. Like, ‘Where did this come from?’ And that’s kind of because no one wants to take some ownership out on the floor and say, ‘I got it. Let’s go.’ Little by little, hopefully, it improves.”
It was the first practice for the Huskies (24-2 overall, 11-1 Big East) since their 76-70 loss No. 1 Baylor Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn now closes the regular season with four league games starting with Saturday’s Senior Day contest with Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion (3:30 p.m., SNY).
As you might guess, Auriemma was asked about freshman Breanna Stewart, who didn’t have a point, rebound, or assist in seven minutes against Baylor.
“There’s really not much you can say,” Auriemma said. “When you’re struggling like she’s struggling, when you’re searching as much as she’s searching, it’s hard to come in here every day and walk around like you’ve got the whole world in the palm of your hand. It’s going to take awhile, hopefully little by little …
“But we can’t worry about Breanna Stewart right now. We’ve got games to win Saturday, Tuesday, and then two next weekend. Breanna Stewart has got to take care of Breanna Stewart. I’ve got to make sure that I’m doing the right thing for the rest of the team.”
Big East race
With four games to go, UConn trails Notre Dame by one game in the league race. The Irish take the short trip to Chicago to take on DePaul Sunday.
Notre Dame has clinched a double-bye into the Big East tournament quarterfinals and UConn can clinch its double-bye Saturday with a win or with a loss by St. John’s to Rutgers. The Huskies have a one-game lead and the tie-breaker over third-place Syracuse.
If UConn wins its final four games to tie Notre Dame for the regular season championship at 15-1, a coin flip will decide the tournament’s top seed. The last time that happened was in 1990 when UConn and Providence finished tied for first. The Huskies won the coin flip for the No. 1 seed but lost in the championship game to the Friars at Gampel Pavilion.
The tournament’s top seed plays its first tournament game Sunday, March 10, at 2 p.m. while the No. 2 seed plays its opener at 6 p.m.
Seton Hall has seen this act before.
Since the start of the 1993-94 season, UConn has lost a total of 53 games. The Huskies have won the previous 52 after a defeat, meaning they have gone 719 games without back-to-back losses.
What team have they faced the most after a loss the past 20 seasons? You’ve got it — Seton Hall.
Saturday’s game will be the sixth time the Pirates have faced the Huskies after a loss. UConn has won the previous five meetings by an average of 49.2 points with the closest margin being 40.
Georgetown and Providence have played UConn four times each after a loss since 1993-94, while Notre Dame, Rutgers, Villanova, and West Virginia have played the Huskies after a loss three times each.
Of further note, Seton Hall (9-17, 4-9) has not beaten UConn in Connecticut in Auriemma’s 28 seasons here. The Pirates are coached by Hall of Fame player Anne Donovan, who will leave New Jersey after the Big East tournament to coach the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.