STORRS - Itâs unlikely that the freshmen on the UConn womenâs basketball team knew who Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm were before Monday nightâs Alabama-Georgia College Football Playoff championship game.
But during the Huskiesâ pre-game shootaround Tuesday - 24 hours after an uninspired practice and about 12 after Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman DeVonta Jones to give the Crimson Tide a 26-23 overtime win over Fromm and the Bulldogs - coach Geno Auriemma did some name-dropping with his rookies.
âI used what happened in the football game as an analogy,â Auriemma said. âI said to them, âDo you realize the two kids that played quarterback, last year they were doing the same thing you were doing? This year, the best coach ever to coach college football walked in and said (to Tagovailoa), âGet ready.â And in front of 80,000 people and in front of 100 million people watching, those two guys put on a show. Theyâre your age.
âI canât get you guys in for four minutes in a basketball game. Something is wrong with that picture. So until you guys start being less afraid âŠ You need to pay more attention to what other people do in the world. Some guys are not afraid no matter what age they are. You guys are afraid and as long as you act like that, youâre not going to play. Itâs not that you donât have the ability to play. Itâs not that you donât have the talent.â
âIt was a freshman who hasnât played all year throwing it to another freshman to win a national championship. We had a drill (Monday) playing 4-on-1 and one of our freshmen turned it over twice. You say, âThatâs not right. Coach, youâre exaggerating.â Do I look like Iâm exaggerating? We had four guys on offense and they had one guy on defense. We turned the ball over twice. You have three people you can throw it to. Only one of them is being guarded, and you throw it to that guy.â
Auriemma had actually been pleased with the play of his second six - the group in back of his starters and sixth man Azura Stevens - in wins over Memphis, East Carolina, and South Florida. And they made some good plays in the top-ranked Huskiesâ 80-44 American Athletic Conference win over Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday night.
But somewhere between the games in Tampa and Storrs, they lost their way.
âThey didnât step back. They went someplace,â Auriemma said. âI sent Crocodile Dundee of South Florida to find them because I couldnât find them. One of the problems with the guys on our bench, especially our freshmen, is theyâre incapable of having three good days in a row. Itâs just not possible. Until they do, theyâre not going to play.â
Auriemma hardly got into his bench until midway through the fourth quarter as Stevens was the only reserve he used until 6:01 remained and he put in sophomore Kyla Irwin. Sophomore Molly Bent followed at the next dead ball. Freshmen Megan Walker and Mikayla Coombs entered with 2:57 left. Redshirt sophomore Batouly Camara and freshman Lexi Gordon never made it on the court.
UConnâs biggest lead was the final margin.
âThey looked really good when they came in, didnât they?â Auriemma said. âThey did. Those last six minutes were pretty good. No one closed their eyes and said, âThis is a nightmare.â I was shocked. Why? Yesterday we were going to practice an hour and a half, and we practiced for like 40 minutes. I donât even want to get into it.
âTheyâre such great kids and they have so much to give, but they sit around waiting for someone to give it to them instead of going out there and grabbing it every day. Hopefully today, the best thing to come out of it was that we had guys come off the bench and do some things. That, to me, is encouraging. What would be more encouraging is they can put it together Thursday and Friday before we play Saturday.â
The Huskies (14-0 overall, 4-0 AAC) took Wednesday off from practice. Their next game is Saturday against Houston (14-4, 3-1) at H&PE Arena on the campus of Texas Southern University. The Cougars are playing there while renovations continue on their on-campus Fertitta Center home.
The Huskies will head to the Lone Star State on Friday for a Texas two-step. After facing Houston, which lost to Cincinnati 88-82 Wednesday night, on Saturday, UConn will head to Austin for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup with the University of Texas. The seventh-ranked Longhorns were upset by TCU in Fort Worth 79-77 Wednesday night.