Home/News/Geno Auriemma is out of the hospital and returns to the sidelines tonight as his new No. 1 ranked UConn team is home to conference opponent Wichita State and is undefeated in 10 starts much to some surprise from Geno the genius and his long-time associate head coach Chris Dailey
Geno Auriemma is out of the hospital and returns to the sidelines tonight as his new No. 1 ranked UConn team is home to conference opponent Wichita State and is undefeated in 10 starts much to some surprise from Geno the genius and his long-time associate head coach Chris Dailey
By Arnie Leshin
Let’s go back to GenoAuriemma‘s pre-season warning to reporters, when he informed them this year’s team was in a “state of flux” as it looked to find a new identify after graduating NapheesaCollier and Katie Lou Samuelson, and he was concerned at just how long it would take for this group to gather the parts needed to be nationally ranked.
Now let’s go forward to the then-2nd ranked Huskies’ last game, with Auriemma in the hospital recovering from surgery for alleviate symptom’s of diverticulitis, and long-time associate head coach Chris Dailey running the show in what became a romp over visiting Oklahoma. Before this game’s final buzzer, the news that top-ranked, undefeated Stanford had earlier suffered a stunning loss at unranked Texas.
And with that, the UConn team that was ranked sixth in some pre-season polls had leaped from 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd to land in the No. 1 spot that it began this decade at. But that’s history, and with that Auriemma’s remarkable program has won a record 11 national championships.
Assuming he was happy at being top-ranked after winning all 10 of its starts, he sort of shrugged his shoulders from his hospital bed, and Dailey remarked that she didn’t feel like this team should be best in the country at this point.
Now, as Geno the genius returns for tonight’s home game against American Athletic Conference opponent Wichita State, he knows that there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, including some huge tough tests in the next six weeks, home games versus Oregon, Baylor and Tennessee, and an away game at South Carolina.
Baylor is the defending national champion and began this season as No. 1, with runner-up Oregon as No. 2. Now slumping Tennessee has shrunk to No. 22 and undefeated South Carolina has shot up to No. 4, one spot behind undefeated Oregon State, and Oregon is now No. 2, and Baylor No. 6.
So despite being on top of the heap, it’s now a stretch where the Huskies still need to develop by March. They have had their ups and downs so far while making this the 21st campaign that the storied program has been ranked first at least once.
This season began with a capable starting lineup of 5-foot-5 senior point guard Crystal Dangerfield, 6-1 junior forward Megan Walker, and 5-11 sophomore Christyn Williams. That left two spots open and Auriemma had taught 6-5 sophomore Olivia Nelson-Ododa more than just crashing the boards and blocking shots to a quick-learning post player, one with several quality moves inside, even hook shots and tap-ins.
Next came the fifth starter, and it became 6-1 freshman Anna Makurat from Poland. She arrived as a point guard with a good outside shot and court smarts. But when she made only 2 of her first 14 shots, he sat her down and sent in 6-1 freshman Audrey Griffin, who just got better and better with more time on the court. She drove to the basket, assisted on shots, played tough defense, and scrubbed the boards.
So when Makurat came on to vastly improve her shot making, the team now had a seven-player rotation. Makurat has now found the basket and has pulled 11, seven and five rebounds in three of the last four games. Meanwhile, Griffin’s put together back-to-back 22 and 20-point games. Nelson-Ododa had a high of 27 points at DePaul, and has looked more comfortable each time out.
Auriemma then looked to his bench for 5-9 senior Molly Bent and 6-2 senior Kyla Irwin, both had been reserves but now bring experience to the lineup. He needed to, for 6-foot junior guard transfer from Tennessee, Evina Westbrook, who was the Volunteers’ leading scorer, was ruled ineligible for this season, 6-2 senior Batouly Camara has had knee surgery, and there’s no timetable for her return, and 6-2 senior transfer Evelyn Adebayo has not lived up to her capability.
Then Dangerfield, the 4-year starter who will be a major graduate, missed five games with a back injury and Bent stepped in to start three times and Irwin twice, while Makurat handled the play making chores. Nelson-Ododa meanwhile played through a broken toe against a tough Ohio State team, and at Seton Hall the team had several players in foul trouble.
True, UConn hasn’t dominated its first two months of the season in the fashion that previous Husky teams did, but there’s something to be said about learning how to remain composed and pull out a win when you are down players or not playing your best.
And so, as not to contradict Auriemma and Daley’s current size-up of this team, there’s no doubt these young ladies have been taking care of business, and do deserve to be where they are as No. 1 in the land. Stanford, Baylor and Oregon have lost once, Oregon State and South Carolina are undefeated, and now with Nelson-Ododa and Griffin playing a big part, Walker and Williams and Dangerfield scoring the points inside and out, this team is only going to get better.
The talent is there, the Auriemma coaching staff is stellar, and the fans pack the place in the three different Connecticut arenas that the Huskies play in, with the Stoors court on campus their main home court that is always filled to capacity.
Walker has arrived, she and Williams were back-to-back high school players of the year. Walker is averaging a team-leading 21.6 points and 9.9 rebounds. Williams is scoring at a 16.7 clip and she and Walker are equally adept at outside shooting and penetrating to the basket. Dangerfield can toss in the 3, find open players, steal the ball and create turnovers, and Nelson-Ododa is who Auriemma describes as the team’s most indispensable players.
She is among the nation’s leading shot-blockers, has quick hands to pull down boards, is quick up and down the court, and scored 16, 19 and 27 points against Notre Dame, DePaul and Oklahoma. She’s averaging 4.4 blocks per games, altering shots on defense, her impact and aggression in the paint has made her the weapon that was missing, and as for Griffin, she’s tough on defense, can hit from the corner, can drive to the basket, and pull down rebounds. Her and Nelson-Ododa have been just what this team needed.
And that is why he’s Geno the genius.
HUSKY HIGHLIGHTS: This season hasn’t been a usual recruiting gem for Auriemma, but If you haven’t heard, on the way is the nation’s top high school player, 5-11 dazzling point guard Paige Bueckers of Hopkins High in Minnetonka, Minn. An honor student and a five-year varsity standout, she was recruited by a huge amount of colleges before committing to UConn on April 11 of this year. She comes with 5-star ratings.
She is currently averaging 22.5 points per game, an amazing 8.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.7 steals for the unbeaten Royals, the defending state champions ranked third in the country. She headlines the All-America team. She captivates national audiences with jaw-dropping highlight reels. She has flashy handles, unbelievable court vision, and an overall game reminiscent of former UConn elite Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leader scorer.
In a recent game, Bueckers dropped a “dime” so impressive that it went vital on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Just follow the bouncing ball as she was dribbling down the court, she went behind-the-back before crossing up her defender and dishing a no-look pass to a teammate slashing to the basket for an easy and incredibly impresses two points. Next year, Bueckers will join the most decorated program in women’s college basketball history. She is in perfect position to traverse a path to greatness oft-traveled by past giants of the Auriemma era.
Auriemma describes her as dashing, daring, daunting, smooth, with elite talent, mental toughness, and as an excellent ball handler.
There’s more as next year’s team resembles one that will be of national championship caliber.
Also signed up is another 5-star in 5-11 wing Mir Mclean. She hails from Baltimore, is an explosive athlete, a quick leaper, and the most athletic prospect in the 2019-20 class. Then there’s 4-stars Aaliyah Edwards and Maya Nnaji. The latter is a 5-10 point guard from North Carolina and Edwards a 6-2 wing out of Philadelphia, while another quality recruit is 6-5 forward Piath
Gabriel, who hails from Virginia.
All that with Walker, Williams, Nelson-Ododa and Griffin. Yes, the beat goes on, and with the familiar sight of the Huskies as currently No. 1.