If Duke really is the No. 2 team in the country, someone should just hand Geno Auriemma and Co. the national title… like right now.
The reigning champion UConn Huskies (11-0) look poised to repeat after routing the Blue Devils (10-1) on their home court, 83-61 in the finale of the Jimmy V Classic. The Huskies have now downed four ranked opponents, including then-No. 3 Stanford, winning by an average of more than 19 points per game. The 23-point win against Duke is the largest margin of victory amongst those teams.
Tuesday also marked win No. 850 for Auriemma at UConn. The six-time Naismith Coach of the Year and head of the women’s national Olympic team currently ranks seventh on the all-time wins list for NCAA women’s basketball coaches.
Here is the game story, courtesy of the Associated Press. Here are my game notes:
The game was high-scoring and competitive out of the gate, but after about the first five minutes, UConn pulled away and never looked back. The Huskies led by as many as 23 points in the first half and kept Duke completely off balance.
The Blue Devils found some decent looks, but couldn’t finish anything. Granted, some of the shots lipped out or just missed, but against a team like UConn, you need to sink those shots — especially the wide-open ones (the few Duke got, that is).
UConn moved the ball incredibly well, and sophomore Breanna Stewart (pictured right) was torrid hot to start the game, netting 12 points in the opening six minutes. The Cicero-North Syracuse alum finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds to go with three blocks, three assists and a steal.
Junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis returned to court after missing eight games with an elbow injury she sustained against Stanford. Coming off the bench, the sharp-shooter picked up right where she left off, draining a career-high seven 3-pointers en route to a 21-point performance.
Ossining alum Saniya Chong played only minimal time (five minutes) and did not register a stat, but that was almost to be expected. Although the freshman was averaging 23.0 minutes per game entering Tuesday, a large part of that was due to Mosqueda-Lewis’ absence and playing against unranked opponents.
A contest on the road against the No. 2 team in the nation meant Chong would likely play significantly less time, then when Mosqueda-Lewis checked-in, it was pretty clear that she wouldn’t play much. Auriemma could’ve opted to throw last year’s New York State Gatorade Player of the Year in the game while the Huskies were running roughshod, but it was his prerogative not to. The man has eight national championships and my most significant basketball accomplishments are winning a free-throw shooting contest when I was 13 and back-to-back 3-point competitions at Purchase’s “Panther Madness” event, so who am I to question him?
Still, despite her time on the bench, when timeouts were called or games went to commercial break, more often than not, Chong was not only the first player off the bench to greet her teammates, but she sprung up. There are the freshmen who can sulk on the bench and complain they don’t play more, especially in a blowout, then there are those that support their team on the bench until their name is called. Chong is the latter.
There isn’t much to comment on about Chong’s play. Like I said, she only played five minutes and didn’t do much with the ball. But the fact that her “performance” on the bench still stood out on national television says a lot about her character.
Chong will likely get more playing time on Sunday against No. 21 Cal at Madison Square Garden, although I couldn’t even venture a guess as to how much. Seeing as how the Huskies have been blowing teams out, and the fact that Duke beat Cal by 12 earlier in the year, this should result in another hefty UConn win. However, it’s still up to Auriemma as to how much he wants to “spread the love” in terms of playing time. If you had to hold me to a guess, I’d say Chong will likely play between 10-15 minutes on Sunday. We’ll see.
UConn has been untested all season. It’s 17-point win over No. 8 Maryland was the closest game of the season, and that was after Mosqueda-Lewis went down with her injury. With the Huskies now healthier with the return of Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, who suffered a knee injury earlier this year, the team will likely only get better.
We are still very early into the season, but this year is really beginning to look like a runaway for UConn. The Huskies will get some nice challenges ahead, with games against ranked opponents Cal, Baylor and two against Louisville before the NCAA tournament, which should really paint the picture.
Again, early in the season is when the rankings will change the most (cough, goes for high school too, especially, cough). If, by the end of the season, Duke works its way back into the No. 2 spot, then it will be safe to assume that UConn should at least get to the championship game.
UConn won it all last year when — for all intents and purposes — it wasn’t “supposed” to win. An incredibly young squad, the Huskies were “supposed” to contend, maybe make the Final Four or even title game, depending on the brackets, but it was ultimately all on Baylor.
Still, the Huskies won, and now, their plan of owning the college circuit is in full-effect with a national title they weren’t “supposed” to win already under their belt. We could seriously be looking at another Taurasi-esque run with the Huskies, much like at the start of the new millennium.
As one of only two freshmen on the squad, and the only one getting significant, if any playing time, Saniya Chong (pictured left) could be right there for all of it.
Just for crazy talk purposes, no women’s player has ever won four national championships. Stewart, Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, all sophomores on last year’s championship roster, would be the first players to accomplish the feat if UConn were to win the next three titles. Still, if Chong were to be the fourth player ever to accomplish the feat, that’s still pretty elite company.
Yes, I know we are 11 games into Chong’s career and I’m already talking about her winning not one, not two, not three, but four national titles, but it’s strictly hypothetical talk, however outlandish it may sounds.
But in all seriousness, is it really that outlandish of a thought?
UConn photos credited to: Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports
Chong photo credit: The Journal News