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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Big East Tournament Recap: UConn Takes It All, by a Wide Margin, Despite Terrible Shooting by Stars

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Photo Caption: UConn’s Kalana Greene was named the BIG EAST Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after a superb performance in the championship game that stretched Connecticut’s winning streak to 72 games with their 60-32 win over West Virginia. On a night of shooting woes for the Huskies’ All Americans, Maya Moore and Tina Charles, Greene posted a double-double of 15 points on 7-9 shooting plus 12 rebounds. She was also the heart of an outstanding defensive effort that held West Virginia to 24.1 percent field-goal shooting and a 32-point final score that tied the lowest by any team in Big East Tournament history.

Photo Credit: Courtesy BIG EAST Conference/Bob Stowell

By Jim Clark

Connecticut 60 – West Virginia 32

Those who have anointed Connecticut the best team ever; those who have already awarded the Huskies the National Championship; those who expect the past to be the future, take note: The imposters who took to their alternate home court in Hartford, CT for the Big East final Tuesday looked nothing like the best team anywhere, nothing like National Champions, and nothing like the team that reeled off 32 straight wins this season. In fact, they certainly did not look like a team with two first-team All-Americans, or like one with the two best players in the country. What UConn looked like in this game, and in yesterday’s semifinal, is a poor-shooting, sloppy, unfocused team that plays great defense. That amazing defense and Kalana Greene’s sense of responsibility for her team, brought UConn it’s sixteenth Big East Tournament Championship.

This was the 27th Big East Tournament final game. Connecticut has played in 20 of those finals, including the last six. The Huskies have won the last two finals, and four of the last five. (The loss was in 2007 to Rutgers). West Virginia, has played in 13 Big East Tournaments, including the last nine, and was playing its second Tournament final. The previous one, played against UConn in 2006, ended with a 50-44 Connecticut victory. The Mountaineers and Huskies have played 22 previous times. West Virginia won the first of those match-ups, 62-50 in 1982, and has not beaten UConn since.

Kalana Greene is the only player to have participated in the last final between these two teams. (She’s a fifth-year senior). Greene played in her 151st UConn game, breaking Renee Montgomery’s record for games in a career, set just last season. Greene’s experienced, blue-collar approach, and sense of responsibility made this victory possible.

The Big East went to the top for officials in this contest: It doesn’t get any better than Dee Kantner, Dennis DeMayo, and Denise Brooks, and they did an almost invisible job, perhaps the best indicator of great refereeing.

Caroline Doty, whacked in the head yesterday, apparently did not sustain a concussion. She started tonight. Oh my! It’s 17:50, and the Huskies have missed two threes, then three bunnies on a single possession. They have three points, all on free throws. UConn made it’s first hoop at 16:15, and were 1-8 at the time. Of course, West Virginia was also 1-8, and trailed 5-2. Yesterday, Geno Auriemma asserted that Huskies couldn’t shoot worse in the final. So far, he is wrong. They are clearly rushing shots, an error only partly attributable to the Mountaineers’ swarming defense.

In the next four minutes, UConn began to run their sets more calmly, and took a 14-6 lead. This is not to say that they shot the ball well: Nothing beyond 10 feet was going in. But UConn’s defense was impenetrable, and West Virginia was regularly fighting the shot clock. They were 3-16 (and the Huskies 5-16) at 11:08. But the Mountaineers already had six fouls. UConn was 4-7 on free throws. Can’t anybody shoot here?!

At 8:39, Tiffany Hayes finally hit a shot beyond the foul line, banking in a three. UConn subbed Kaili McLaren for Charles, WVU recognized it immediately, got the ball to center Asya Bussie, who immediately sunk the bucket and drew a foul. A Maya Moore steal, missed layup and follow by Kelly Faris pushed the score to 25-10 at 7:22.  By that point, Connecticut was shooting 40 percent, West Virginia 25 percent.

Maya Moore hit her first jump shot, a 14-footer, at 6:30! She was, at the time, 2-9. With all the bad shooting, Connecticut ruled the boards, 25-10. It looked just like the score.

A clear sign that West Virginia was frustrated by the defense deployed against them: Liz Repella, a confident player, looked up twice at the scoreboard at 28-12. But there has never been any “quit” in a Mike Carey coached team, and the Mountaineers began to settle at that point, while Connecticut continued to be hopeless from any distance. A Vanessa House three and one of two free throws following a drive by Liz Repella cut the deficit to a dozen. Tina Charles, the dominant player of the last month of the season missed four of five attempts from the deep post. Moore missed yet another 14 footer, and West Virginia closed to 10 as the period expired. The two-day futility of the UConn All-Americans is stunning, and only excellent defense has, to this point, held off a colossal upset.

The UConn imposters managed no early second-half run as the real Huskies usually do. In fact, Caroline Doty repeatedly failed to guard Liz Repella, West Virginia’s best shooter, who scored five quick points around two more misses by Moore and one by Charles. UConn failed to get the ball to Kalana Greene, the only Connecticut player to shoot well in the first half. The Mountaineers cut the UConn lead to five at 15:16 after an 8-3 run to start the half. As they did on Monday, UConn looked oddly sluggish offensively, while looking fresh and energetic defensively. Go figure. Charles lost all confidence, and would not shoot. Moore, the nation’s best finisher, didn’t.

Lorin Dixon, Miss Energy, entered and thereafter controlled speedy Sarah Miles defensively, while Kelly Faris did the same for Liz Repella. Kalana Greene then took over the game, grabbing rebounds, shooting jumpers, defending like a dervish, driving the lane, dishing assists. Charles hit three 10-footers, left totally open, and Greene added six points as UConn went on a 16-0 run over the middle four minutes, to push the lead to 19 points. Charles hit just her second post bucket at 7:43 in the second half. But the real UConn team, at least a semblance of it, was back.

Photo Caption: UConn’s Kalana Greene drives past West Virginia star Liz Repella during the Big East Tournament championship game. Greene was deservedly named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for her performance in the final.
Photo Credit: Courtesy University of Connecticut Athletics Media Relations

Did I mention Husky defensive intensity as a constant in this contest? (And in this season?) For all the offensive woes, the defense was astounding. After West Virginia cut it to five at 15:16, UConn held the Mountaineers to a single bucket for over 14 minutes until Akeema Richards scored with no UConn starters on the floor, with 28 seconds remaining in the contest. In a game with lousy offense, it was the most dominating defensive stand in Big East Tournament annals. The Connecticut run it fueled was 27-4. West Virginia shot just 19.2 percent in the second half. Their 32 points were the fewest in Big East Championship history since Villanova also scored 32 the 2000 quarterfinals, falling to Rutgers, 61-32.

When all was said and done, Maya Moore had shot just 4-17 from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arc. Tina Charles, the Big East Player of the Year, fared little better, shooting just 5-14 from the field, though her 12 points were enough for yet another double-double when combined with her 10 boards (plus four swats).  It was only Kalan Greene’s outstanding 7-8 from the field (and to a lesser extent, Tiffany Hayes’s 5-9) that elevated UConn’s shooting to the 42 percent mark (23-55) for the night. From long distance, the Huskies were an atrocious 2-9.

Photo Caption: UConn’s Carolyn Doty (jersey number 5) and Tiffany Hayes (jersey number 3) celebrate the Huskies’ Big East Tournament championship. Next to Greene, Hayes was Connecticut’s most reliable shooting option, netting five of her nine attempts from the field for the night.
Photo Credit: Courtesy University of Connecticut Athletics Media Relations

Thanks to the Husky defense, West Virginia did even worse, shooting just 14-58 (24.1 percent from the field), 2-11 (18.2 percent) from long, and 2-5 (40 percent) from the charity stripe.

Afterward, Coach Carey was unwilling to give UConn all the credit for the extended drought, but acknowledged they were special defensively: “All eight of them did a pretty good job on defense. Liz [Repella] was right, we were stagnant on offense, but . . .  give Connecticut credit, they play really good, physical defense. . . . They exposed every weakness we have.“

“The game got very, very physical,” Carey added. “And you’re not going to win that with them. It just got very, very physical, and I’m just happy no one got hurt.”

The Tournament Awards, as always, were dominated by UConn players, helped not only by their prodigious talent pool but also by the fact that 13 Connecticut writers participated in the voting.

Most Outstanding Player: Kalana Greene, Connecticut, largely for her dominating performance in the final: 15 points on 7-8 shooting, 12 rebounds (six offensive).

All- Tournament Team: Tina Charles, Connecticut; Maya Moore (Why? There’s no question that Moore is a uniquely talented player, but she did not perform up to her usual lofty standard in this tourney), Connecticut; Sarah Miles, West Virginia, Liz Repella, West Virginia, Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame

Greene has had a remarkable, consistent year, contributing whenever and whatever was needed. West Virginia Coach Mike Carey succinctly defined her approach: “She’s always been the blue-collar worker for them,” he said. “She gets on the boards, she plays great defense, she dives on the floor. She accepts her role, and then when the others are struggling, she steps it up. And she does that every night.”

Greene’s own explanation mirrored Carey’s: “I think this year I brought a different approach to practice to prepare me for games,” she explained. “I mean tonight, and in this whole tournament, I just wanted to come in and help my team win in whichever way possible, and to rebound, play defense and knock in a couple of shots. I just wanted to play hard, and leave it all on the floor, and just build momentum going into the NCAA tournament.”

Maya Moore expanded on Greene’s “different approach” this way: “I think she took more ownership of the team. She’s the one who did it if it needed to be done. She wasn’t going to just sit back and be comfortable and complacent,” Moore explained. “She’s being the player she’s always been,” Moore continued, “but now she’s doing it with a little more responsibility and a little more urgency, and a little more confidence.”

Auriemma emphasized a slightly different aspect of Greene’s contributions. “Every game that we go into, we understand how difficult it’s going to be for us to just get Maya and Tina whatever shots that they want. The better the team we play against, the more difficult it will be to get your two best players open shots. That’s why they’re good teams. So somebody’s got to step up and make plays. And I thought all year long K has been really consistent in providing whether it’s a defensive spurt or an offensive spurt, or a rebounding spurt, there’s been numerous times she’s provided .. .  whatever it is that it seemed like we needed at that time.”

“Kalana’s our safety net,” Moore summed up. She certainly was in this Championship.


Originally published Wed, March 10, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.