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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Jim Clark’s Husky Report: Connecticut 66 – St.John’s 52

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By Jim Clark

Take another look at that score. It wasn’t an upset, but for the first time this season, someone actually gave UConn a game.

It’s really encouraging to see St.John’s ranked (Full Court No. 25; AP No. 25; USA Today/ESPN No. 24) for the first time since 2005-06. The young Red Storm start two freshmen, and one each from the other classes. Senior Joy McCorvey, one of Full Court’s “Lunch Bucket” players from last season, is now a starter, providing leadership, stability, and 7.9 rebounds per game for Coach Kim Barnes-Arico. D’Shena Stevens, last season’s Big East Rookie of the Year, has proven herself again this year, scoring nearly 14 points per game. How much better that number would be if she had not missed 70 (yes, seventy) free throws this year! Stevens is 70-140 or .500 from the charity stripe. She partially makes up for this flaw by grabbing 7.5 boards a game. Freshman Nadirah McKenith has been a crucial addition to the St. John’s roster, as the freshman point guard has dished out assists (4.6/game), protected the ball (1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio), and still scored 7.1 points a game.

As it turned out, McKenith was the star of this game.

“My point guard was just outstanding today,” Coach Barnes-Arico observed. “She was the one who said she was scared [of playing in front of the big crowd and against the No. 1 team in the country], and then she comes out and has 11 rebounds and 15 points.”

The freshman, in fact, outplayed Maya Moore, shooting 6-15 (to Moore’s 4-13), outscoring the All-American by two, and matching her on the boards. Although McKenith had just three assists, she did not turn the ball over even once. (Moore had 7 assists, 3 turnovers).

Paradoxically, St.John’s was the more impressive team despite a 14-point loss.

“We told our kids to approach the game just four minutes at a time,” Coach Barnes-Arico explained. “And out of those ten four-minute [sections], we won six of them. Of course,” she added with a smile, “the four UConn won, they won by a lot more.”

St. John’s record now stands at 20-5, 8-4 in conference. Given that they lost to the No. 1 team by much less than most of their ranked predecessors, they should actually improve their standing in the national rankings with a loss. Similarly, their RPI (already No. 22) should improve despite the loss. Unless they collapse in the next two weeks, the Red Storm look to be a seven or eight seed in the NCAA tournament, and a match-up nobody is going to want in the early rounds.

“I hope we can use this as the season goes on,” Barnes-Arico mused. “This shows our kids that we are capable of playing against top teams.”

“I wasn’t sure if we could pressure them, and that’s our style,” she continued. “We’re not very successful in the half court, but [the pressure] worked for that time in the second half.” St.John’s forced four turnovers and outscored UConn 9-2 in just over a minute and a half with 6:38 left in the game, closing to within 15, then hanging with the Huskies for a 14-point loss.

It was the Huskies’ last game of the season at Gampel Pavilion, and Tina Charles was inducted as the 12th player to have her name enshrined on the Huskies of Honor wall at Gampel, an honor reserved for First Team All-Americans. Charles proved she deserved the distinction with her 25 points and 21 rebounds in this game.  (For Husky addicts the other eleven are: Kerry Bascom (#24), Rebeccah Lobo (#50), Jennifer Rizzotti (#21), Kara Wolters (#52), Nykesha Sales (#42), Svetlana Abrosimova (#25), Shea Ralph (#33), Sue Bird (#10), Swin Cash (#32), Diana Taurasi (#3), and Renee Montgomery (#31). The wall also has banners for Geno Auriemma, and for the 1994-95 and 1999-2000 teams.)

This was also Connecticut’s Pink Zone day, and an almost full arena was probably 40 percent pink.

The Huskies were not likely to lose their last game of this season at Gampel, but at times, they almost appeared to be trying to do so. Nineteen turnovers, their worst shooting of the season, and general malaise on offense resulted in by far their worst game of the year. With only a travel day between this game and a match-up with No. 9 Oklahoma on Monday, some concern is in order for Husky fans. Oklahoma, however, has neither the team speed nor the scrappiness of this very good St.John’s team.

Fittingly, Charles scored the first hoop of the game on its first possession, on a feed from Maya Moore. Charles would be the only real offensive threat for the next 39 minutes. She proved once again—and one hopes, finally for the pundits—that she is the best player on the UConn team this year. That would also make her National Player of the Year, which I have been telling you for at least 12 games now.

Charles is averaging 17.9 points and 9.2 boards, while playing only 25.5 minutes, per game. (That equates to 28 points and 14.4 rebounds per 40 minutes.) She is also shooting .627 from the field—tied with Kara Wolters for second all-time (Tamika Williams leads in the Connecticut record books at .702)—and .747 from the line. She now has 2105 points, just 73 shy of the UConn record with a minimum of seven, and a likely fifteen, games remaining. She was the only Husky worth watching on this day.

The team that couldn’t shoot straight!

With five minutes gone, UConn, running no discernible offense, had shot 1-10, and St.John’s led 6-5. At 14:17, when Kalana Greene went to the line (and tied the game at 7), UConn had trailed for the longest time since the Stanford game in December. Connecticut’s nation-leading defense seemed to be out of sync, allowing the Red Storm to drive and dish to open forwards in the paint. St. John’s team quickness matched that of the Huskies, and the Red Storm effectively closed driving lanes that UConn usually exploits. None of the rebounding embarrassment from last year, though: Connecticut led 21-12 on the boards at 8:00.

UConn was 7-28 at one point, and shattered the season marks for worst first-half field-goal percentage at .316 (previous low .417). A last second desperation heave by Loren Dixon required video review to determine that it was a two-pointer, thereby also tallying a season low of 34 first-half points (previous worst: 35). UConn trailed for 2:43 in the half, the second-longest in any game this season.

Much of the poor shooting was simply missed shots the Huskies usually make, but credit the St. John’s defense as well.  This is, after all, a defense that has held Red Storm opponents to just 56.8 points all season, and 55.2 in conference. In this game, St.John’s executed an effective defense focused on closing driving lanes and doubling Tina Charles. The Connecticut guards scored just 12 points. Charles and Moore had 10 each.

Still, UConn led, 34-26, at the half.

As the second half opened, UConn found their passing game, reversing the ball to get it in to Charles in the post. For 24 minutes, the officials were laudably invisible. But at 16:00 of the second half, Tina Charles put back an offensive board, and coming down, appeared to incidentally elbow Coco Hart in the lip. Ref Joseph Vasily then called a technical foul on Charles, in a chippy call that almost any reasonable official would have passed on.

The team that couldn’t shoot straight: Part 2!

Kalana Greene missed her first 10 shots, before scoring, finally, on an 8-footer at 10:45 in the second half. Maya Moore was 4-12 at that point, Tiffany Hayes 0-3, and Doty 2-9.

The Huskies led 51-34, however, because Tina Charles was 11-15 (23 points). The team was shooting 36.5%. They were just 2-14 from three (14.3%). Most telling, and the greatest compliment to the Red Storm defense, was that UConn had just 11 assists on 25 buckets, and 19 turnovers. [Final numbers: 39.1% overall, 13.3% on threes. The Huskies would have lost to Stanford or Duke, or Notre Dame, with miserable shooting like that.]

The final score was 66-52. Uconn shot 39 percent, St.John’s 28 percent.

“Pretty crappy game, wasn’t it,” Geno Auriemma told the student section right after the game. “Both teams shot really bad,” he continued.

‘Nuff said.

It was, however, Connecticut’s 64th consecutive victory, all by more than 10 points. They are now 18-0 against ranked teams during the streak, and have beaten that group by an average of 26-plus points.


Originally published Sun, February 14, 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.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
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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.