The big game is approaching. No, not that one. The other one. If you haven't heard, #2 South Carolina will be hosting #1 UConn on Monday night in a nationally-televised affair on ESPN2. It's the biggest women's college basketball game of the season thus far - maybe the biggest period, men's or women's. We were able to get some thoughts from The UConn Blog site manager Aman Kidwai on the Huskies, their dominance this year, and who their best players not named Breanna Stewart are.
1. You've obviously seen more of the Huskies than our readers have. What has been the main key (or keys) to this streak of dominance by the UConn women?
Nothing fancy, coaching and talent. Some of the best players in the country come to Storrs. Many go elsewhere too, but head coach Geno Auriemma and his key assistant Chris Dailey, who has been with him since the beginning in 1986, do a great job of picking players who will be great pieces on championship teams. They are also master motivators - they have to be while routinely winning games by 40 points.
2. Obviously, much is made about Breanna Stewart and the talents she brings to the table, but of course, the team's bigger than one player. Who else do the Gamecocks need to focus in on to be successful on Monday night?
The other two preseason All-Americans: Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. Jefferson is one of the most dynamic basketball players in the country, male or female, a playmaking point guard who is also a terror defensively. She's also a heart-and-soul of the team kind of player with the energy and emotion in her style of play. The senior will probably be the No. 2 pick in the WNBA Draft.
Tuck missed some time due to the lingering effects of a knee injury but by all reasonable accounts, this was done so that she is fully healthy for this game and the home stretch of the season. Tuck has had some of her best games against the top teams on the schedule and before sitting the past few weeks was probably the most consistent player on the team.
3. UConn has many strengths - their 40+, 50+, 60+ point wins every night tell the story. If the Gamecocks are to win on Monday, what weaknesses do you see in the Huskies that can be exploited?
If Jefferson and Stewart get into foul trouble, the Huskies could get out of rhythm, especially on the road. But honestly, players like freshmen Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheese Collier (No. 1 and 5 coming out of high school, per ESPN) and veterans Saniya Chong, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse are all really good as well. The Huskies have some depth in the post as well with Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler.
Nurse, a sophomore, led Team Canada to a Gold Medal in the 2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship and won Tournament MVP. She's a starter, but basically a role player on this team, which is much deeper than last year's one-loss national championship team.
4. What has been Geno Auriemma's overall approach to this contest? I imagine he'll say "it's just another game", but are you buying it?
I don't think Geno would say "it's just another game." He is typically quite candid so he'd probably be pretty when asked about the importance of this game.
UConn has played many highly-ranked teams this season: (at the time) No 5 Ohio State, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 23 DePaul, No. 9 Florida State, and No. 6 Maryland. With the lack of competition in the American, scheduling like this is important for the Huskies for a variety of reasons. Games like this keep the competitive juices flowing and allow the Huskies to have many opportunities to prove themselves across the season.
As I mentioned, Geno sat Morgan Tuck, one of our best players, for the past two weeks with goal of being fully healthy for this game. He didn't say that specifically, but that's what it seems like. She missed a long stretch of fairly meaningless conference games which allowed other players to step up and develop, and now she'll be back.
This game is the final test of the season before the regular season finale against USF and a potential third meeting in the AAC Tournament. Geno wants to win and win by a lot, so I guess in that respect it's like any other game, but he knows how important it is.
5. When I look at The American standings, it's certainly UConn, followed by everyone else. When it comes to the SEC, it's South Carolina and everyone else (right now), but it seems as though the gap is much smaller. Who right now in your mind is the closest to even competing with the Huskies?
USF is the clear-cut No. 2 in the conference. The Bulls did a nice job of staying competitive when UConn came to visit on January 10, but still lost by 16 points. It was the closest game the Huskies have had in American Conference play.