UConn women’s basketball Travel essentials
STORRS — Geno Auriemma views each game — particularly, the ones away from home — as an opportunity to prove something.
In its first road trip this season, a three-game swing in the U.S. Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving, UConn showed it could have fun in the sun and take care of three inferior opponents. Next came a two-game jaunt to the Midwest, where the Huskies displayed enough talent and fortitude to take down the defending national champion Notre Dame.
“I don’t ever think that what you just did has any relevance to what you’re going to do. … Just because you do it once — in today’s world, trust me — it doesn’t mean that’s who you are and that’s what you’re going to expect,” Auriemma said Monday following practice at the Werth Center.
And from there, the Hall of Fame coach jumped into analyzing the Huskies’ final trip before the New Year: a cross-country trek that’ll begin Wednesday against Oklahoma and end Saturday against No. 14 California.
“This is a little bit different in that we’re coming off a long stretch of exams and practices — not optimal — and then you’re going across the country,” he said. “So, a little bit different than going and hanging out in St. Thomas or up to Notre Dame real quick. It’s going to be a little bit different, and I’m anxious to see for this group because so much is new. I’m anxious to see.”
That’s right, the NCAA Tournament is still three months away, and Auriemma is already anxious. And that’s with UConn sitting in a familiar spot — atop the Associated Press poll at 9-0 — after a busy week of final exams.
“Last week was pretty hectic, a lot of studying and stuff,” freshman Christyn Williams said. “We had exams, glad those are over with. We had a few hard practices, so we got a lot done. We’re ready for this trip.”
Auriemma, in his 34th season at UConn, is a creature of routine, particularly during game weeks. Too much practice, he said, can be counter-productive. And too much time off, well, that can throw a team out of whack.
“You get out of (this) normal mindset where we’re constantly thinking about the next game. The next game has been a while,” Auriemma said. “I think I’m more worried about where our head’s at and where are our leg’s at.
“All this practice, sometimes too much practice is not good.”
The Huskies haven’t played since routing Seton Hall 99-61 in Hartford on Dec. 8. With that in mind, Auriemma is concerned about how much energy they’ll come out with against 3-6 Oklahoma — a team that, mind you, loves to run.
“I think if we get through the initial part of it, the early part of it is going to be a little bit ugly,” Auriemma said. “I think it’ll improve once the game goes on.”
Ugly start? Tired legs? His players don’t seem as concerned.
“I guess we’ll find out,” Williams said with a laugh. “My legs are feeling good right now, but I guess we’ll see after this Oklahoma game.”
Of course, Williams, who is averaging 13.9 points and 3.6 rebounds over a team-high 33.8 minutes per game, isn’t one to question her own abilities. Her personality — easygoing yet determined — has helped speed up her ascent to notoriety. What she did against Notre Dame — scoring 28 points, including 16 in the first quarter — still resonates with the Huskies.
Auriemma, demanding and rarely satisfied, was impressed by the composure that the Huskies showed in winning at raucous and rowdy Purcell Pavilion. He mentioned how it was a stark change from last season, when the Huskies “panicked” at times.
Monday, he was asked again about that comment and replied: “I don’t know if panicked is the right word. I think the way we would react at times was that we would get hurried. Maybe that was just, you know, you want to win really, really bad, so all of a sudden, things are not going well. You want to hurry up and fix it as opposed to just staying in the moment and saying, ‘Hey, we got this, one possession at a time.’
“I thought at Notre Dame, we stayed in the moment. We weren’t in a rush to hurry up and get a bucket. … So much of it has to do with temperament. I think this team’s temperament might be a little different than last year’s.”
What lessons will this next road trip yield?