Closer Look: UConn-N.C. State
Huskies absorb Wolfpack flurry before cruising to win
Posted: Sunday March 25, 2007 1:54AM; Updated: Sunday March 25, 2007 2:32AM
FRESNO, Calif. -- On Friday, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was asked about the challenges of playing against N.C. State, a senior-led team that was getting extra motivation from the valiant battle its coach, Kay Yow, was fighting against Stage 4 breast cancer. "Their season is going to end sometime," he said. "If not tomorrow, then Monday or next weekend."
At the outset, it appeared that N.C. State would be able to put off the end for at least a few more days. With the Pack's surprisingly sizable and loud contingent of fans keeping up the volume in the first half, no one in red could miss. N.C. State players hit 10 of their first 13 shots. Though Connecticut eventually closed a seven-point deficit and took a brief lead before ending the half down one, the Pack had the obvious advantage in energy and intensity. The second half was a different story. The Wolfpack came out flat, missing their first six shots. Much of the credit for that, of course, goes to the Huskies' adjusted defensive strategy.
"In the first half, they were killing us inside," says UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza. "So we started sagging off and forced them to make open jump shots." While N.C. State struggled to connect on those opportunities, Connecticut started shooting better, opening up an 11-point lead with 10 minutes to go. Toward the end of the game, the Pack started hitting their open outside shots -- Shayla Fields and Marquetta Dickens made five second-half threes between them -- but their rally came a little too late.
PLAYER WHO IMPRESSED ME
Kalana Greene, who shot 65 percent from the free throw line during the season, was an ace at the line tonight, making 11 of 12 foul shots. She added three field goals and 12 rebounds in a performance that N.C. State had not prepared for. "Kalana Greene was the player we didn't handle as well as we needed to handle," said Yow afterward.
Honorable mention has to go Connecticut junior forward Charde Houston, who had 18 points, five rebounds and five assists; and a special second-half certificate to freshman center Tina Charles, who had all four of her rebounds and 10 of 17 points in the second half. She also did a better job of battling the Wolfpack's 6-foot-7 senior center Gillian Goring, helping to limit the latter to zero second-half points. At halftime, Auriemma had made a big point of Charles' goose egg in the boards department. "He must have elaborated on that for 10 minutes straight," says Charles. "He kept saying, 'zero rebounds, zero rebounds.' I take what he says to heart."
Friday was Auriemma's 53rd birthday, and the Huskies celebrated in a private room at a Fresno Italian place called 5. When a patron in the main room heard the team singing "Happy Birthday" to Auriemma, he asked the waiter, "Who's in there?" The waiter replied, "The Connecticut women's basketball team." Said the patron, "Are they any good?" ... At Friday's press conference, Auriemma acknowledged the emotional freight of this game and the widespread popularity of Coach Yow might lead some members of his family to root against his team tonight. After the game his wife, Kathy, who, like him, wore pink in honor of coach Yow, gave him a hug and he walked to the press conference and said, "I did root for you!"
THE BIG PICTURE
The Huskies, whose five starters average in double figures, didn't have quite that balance tonight -- only four starters scored double figures, while a fifth, Mel Thomas, went scoreless -- but they had enough. They are quick, athletic, they take care of the ball (they had 21 assists against seven turnovers) and when they decide to turn on the jets, as they did in the second half, they can change the tone of a game very quickly. Coach Yow, for one, thinks this team will go far. "They have a great shot at winning the national title," she said.