What we learned about South Carolina, UConn, Maryland and Baylor — Geno Auriemma discusses the Huskies — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, November 24, 2021
Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everybody! I’m delighted to share another year with all of you, and I’m grateful for the chance to keep building women’s sports media infrastructure with every one of you. And I hope you enjoyed UConn vs. South Carolina, and Baylor vs. Maryland as much as I did.
I’ve got a few things to discuss before we get into the break.
“If Azzi Fudd is as good as advertised, seeing how a skilled, diverse set of skills in the Bueckers/Fudd/Williams trio either overwhelms South Carolina’s defense, or falls victim to it, will give us a sense of what the pecking order is, at least early in the season.”
So far, Fudd simply isn’t — less an indictment of Fudd, who is a freshman, and more of a reminder just how absurd it was that Paige Bueckers came in last year and immediately lived up to expectations. More significant from a 2021-22 perspective, however, is that Dawn Staley’s group is playing at an elite level defensively, and it’s still only November.
So I posed my question to her: is this going to be her best team ever?
As for UConn, this is less a defining, permanent loss and more of a marker for what needs to change. Notably, Geno Auriemma, in response to a question by the great Alexa Philippou, said of a rebounding deficit: “Rebounding’s always fixable.”
But to me, while that may be true on the margins, this is simply not a UConn team built to bang with South Carolina’s four-deep bigs. No one is. Instead, they need to make up that extra possessions gap by limiting turnovers, and even more, by taking and making threes. They shot 3-for-8 from deep after taking at least 20 threes in each of their previous games. So how does that change?
“Really good three-point opportunities come in various ways,” Auriemma said. “Obviously, you know they come in transition a lot. And in the past years that we’ve had a lot of success against South Carolina, that’s when you get a lot of your threes, before they get a chance to set their defense. So that’s one way to get them. Another way is your post players have to be a little more of a threat. Another way you get them is you got to move and become better screeners. So there’s a lot of ways that you can get more threes.”
This matters in a way that extends beyond South Carolina. We shouldn’t lose sight of the elite game that took place on Sunday in College Park, either, with Baylor falling to Maryland, 79-76. Even in the loss, NaLyssa Smith was fantastic, putting up 30 and 15, while Maryland managed to beat a top team despite missing key players like Katie Benzan, Faith Masonius and getting only ten minutes from Diamond Miller as she continues to work her way back from injury. Baylor probably wins that game with more from Queen Egbo.
Maryland moved up to number two in the delayed AP poll. So yes, we get another South Carolina-UConn game on January 27. But it sure looks like we’ll get another 1 vs. 2 first, on December 12 (though NC State may have something to say about that). Maryland doesn’t have a NaLyssa Smith inside, but they are long and bouncy, evident in their top-25 rebound perecentage.
All of which is to say: the UConn rebounding problem better be fixable, because all their early, obvious opponents for supremacy this year have already figured out how to do it.
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