UConn is dominating women’s basketball by realizing it takes more than just talented players

Geno AuriemmaRoy K. Miller/AP

The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team thoroughly dominated Syracuse on Monday night, 94-64, to reach its 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

It’s all become very routine for the Huskies — another blowout win for the dynasty that has now won a record 109 consecutive basketball games. But Monday night’s win over Syracuse was different: it left even head coach Geno Auriemma speechless.

The reason? Not so much the win itself, but the team’s style of hoops that resulted in a staggering 30 assists on 33 baskets.

“33 baskets, 30 assists,” Auriemma said. “Take a minute to think about that. [Syracuse] had 26 baskets and eight assists.”

In their first tournament game, a rout against 16-seed Albany, the Huskies managed an equally impressive 34 assists of 43 baskets, giving them a program-record 64 assists for a two-game stretch. Even for a program as storied as UConn, that passing prowess is stunning.

“Our ball movement was incredible,” Auriemma added. “All five players feel really comfortable with the ball. When you have five players who can all make plays you can have a performance like we had today. They were good. They were really good.”

“When we move the ball like that, it’s hard for the defense to keep up with that,” Kia Nurse, who finished with 29 points and six assists, said.

Again, this may all sound rather obvious, considering the team and the quality of players. But UConn’s performance thus far in the NCAA Tournament does more than show off the talent of the roster. It also reflects Auriemma’s longstanding basketball philosophy: that above all else, what matters most for a team is good body language and a selfless approach to the game.

Last year, when UConn reached the Final Four, Auriemma gave a press conference in which he spoke at length about trying to recruit players that aren’t overly concerned with their stat-lines. This week, the clip has gone viral on Facebook — perhaps not surprisingly, considering Auriemma’s team is putting this on display with aplomb.

Auriemma begins by talking about how hard it is to find young players with good fundamentals:

“Recruiting enthusiastic kids is harder than it’s ever been because every kid watches TV, and they watch the NBA, or the watch Major League Baseball, or they watch the NFL, whatever sport they watch — WNBA, it doesn’t matter — and what they see is people just being really cool. So they think that’s how they’re gonna act. And they haven’t even figured out which foot to use as a pivot foot and they’re gonna act like they’re really good players. You see it all the time. You see it at every AAU tournament. Every high school game.”

He continued:

“So recruiting kids that are really upbeat, that are loving life, that love the game, have this tremendous appreciate for when their teammates do something well, that’s hard, it’s really hard. So on our team, we — me, my coaching staff — we put a huge premium on body language. And if you’re body language is bad, you will never get in the game. Ever. I don’t care how good you are.”

Auriemma noted that for this exact reason, he once benched Breanna Stewart, the National Player of the Year, in a game against Memphis.

“If somebody says, ‘well, you know, you just benched [Breanna Stewart] in the Memphis game a couple years ago.’ Yeah, I did. ‘Oh, well, that was to motivate her for the South Carolina game the following Monday.’ No it wasn’t! [She] was acting like a 12-year-old, so I put her on the bench and said sit there. It doesn’t matter on our team.”

In fact, he would rather lose than watch his players compete with a bad attitude:

“Now, the other coaches might say, ‘Well you can do that because you’ve got three other All-Americans on your team.’ I get that. I understand that. But I’d rather lose than watch kids play the way some kids play. I’d rather lose.”

Auriemma finished his mini-rant by noting that when he watches game film with his team, he’s often not even paying attention to what’s happening on the court.

“So when I look at my team, they know this, when I watch game film, I’m checking what’s going on on the bench. If somebody’s asleep over there, somebody doesn’t care, somebody’s not engaged in the game, they will never get in the game. Ever. And they know that.”

Here’s the clip:

UConn, meanwhile, plays UCLA in the Sweet 16. If they can keep passing the ball like they have in the first two rounds of the tournament, they’ll be hard to stop.

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