By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — For the 28 years of the Geno Auriemma era, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has ended most of its practices with a passing/layup drill called “five-spot” before Auriemma addresses the players one final time.
It’s unusual, though not unprecedented, for a workout to finish any other way. But welcome to Gampel Pavilion Thursday afternoon.
With Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kelly Faris, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and Breanna Stewart on the floor, Auriemma had seen enough, though Mosqueda-Lewis had made a 3-pointer on the last possession. He had a final say to his players and the Huskies headed off the court for a weightlifting session.
“It’s February and we’re still trying to gauge when we make substitutions where our team is,” Auriemma said. “And as we get closer to March you want to make sure that when you make substitutions, when we get people in and out of the lineup, that the productivity doesn’t change that much. And we’re still not there yet. We still have a core group of guys that when they’re on the floor things happen with a certain sense of precision where we get the shot we want and we get the screen set the way we want it.
Things happen. But we’re not quite there yet that it can continue like that regardless of what the substitution pattern is. So we’ve got to keep working on that and we’ve got to get better at that as the season winds down.”
UConn (23-1 overall, 10-1 Big East) will take an 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s Big East game at Rutgers (4 p.m., SNY). While the Scarlet Knights (14-9, 5-5) haven’t had the kind of year they’ve hoped for, an upset over the Huskies that would give coach C. Vivian Stringer her 900th career win would make their season.
And the Huskies had better be ready for that.
“I think we have a pretty good mindset,” Hartley said. “Coach just reminds us that we always have things to work on. He goes with that mindset and he tries to show us that you can never be satisfied. You always have to strive to get better. Even if you figure something out you have to keep working to see what other things you can improve on.”
UConn has averaged 96.7 points in its last three games. And while Rutgers has struggled to score, its defense still ranks among the best nationally.
The Huskies will practice here against Friday before taking the bus ride to Piscataway, N.J., Friday night.
“You always have to take kind of what Coach says and, obviously, listen to it, embrace it and then respond,” Dolson said. “We might not have had a great practice today. But tomorrow we’re going to come in and practice just as hard if not harder to prove to him and to respond to what happened today. Today was a tough practice. We’ve just got to do a good job tomorrow of making sure at practice we’re taking care of the ball, kind of slowing down our offense, and just responding to what challenge Coach gives us.”
Let it snow
UConn freshman Moriah Jefferson is generously listed at 5-foot-7. Not only does she look up at all her teammates, the Glenn Heights, Texas, native has been looking up at snow drifts after last weekend’s blizzard.
“Wow. I’ve seen a couple,” Jefferson said. “I was walking outside and thought, ‘Is this real?’ I stopped to take a picture of it. Snow is just different for me being from Texas. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
What is the reaction from her friends and family back home when they see the pictures?
“They’re like, ‘I don’t know how you do it because I couldn’t do it,’ ” Jefferson said with a smile. “It gets to 50 degrees in Texas and everyone is pulling out their shoes, jackets, and ear muffs, and gloves. It’s a lot different.
“It’s fun. But sometimes you’re walking down the hill from the dorm and you almost fall. That’s not fun because there’s ice everywhere. It’s a new experience.”
Jefferson laughed when asked about the snowball fight the Huskies took part in over the weekend. That was a new experience as well and something she’s not used to being from Texas.
“One time we got like an inch of snow, maybe,” Jefferson said. “We get ice.”
Chong passed over
For the first time since the McDonald’s Girls High School All-America Game started in 2002, UConn will not be represented.
The Huskies’ lone recruit for next season, Saniya Chong, was passed over by the McDonald’s organizers. The 5-foot-9 guard from Ossining, N.Y., was selected to play in the WBCA All-America Game.
North Carolina and Duke each had three players among the 24 players chosen. Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, and Kentucky had two players selected each. Only one player, Ieshia Small, has not signed.
No high school seniors from Connecticut were even nominated.
The McDonald’s game will be held April 3 at the United Center in Chicago.
Rutgers’ Stringer is trying to become the fourth coach with 900 wins, joining Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (1,098), North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell (902), and Texas’ Jody Conradt. Since Auriemma became the head coach at UConn, his teams have won 827 games while Stringer’s have won 611. Since the start of the 1993-94 season, Auriemma has won 38 more games (665) than Stringer has coached … Dolson will be playing in her 100th career game Saturday. Had she not missed the St. John’s game on Feb. 2, she would have been in line to make her 100th straight start against South Florida March 2 … Kelly Faris, one of four players in program history to start 100 consecutive games, will make it 101 on Saturday. The next longest active streak on the Huskies for consecutive starts is Hartley’s 19.