Monday, March 24, 2008

OK, I'm back home and it's late -- or early depending upon how you look at things.

Maybe this doesn't make much sense, but I just didn't think the Huskies played that well in the first half against Cornell. This is by no means my trying to be the glass half empty guy. In fact, I think its more half full. Why? Look at how UConn played in the first half then in the second. Night and day.

Yes, part of the second-half success was that the game was over and Cornell wasn't going to be able to do much of anything. But it's also to show you what can happen when the entire team is clicking.

Sure the first half saw Maya Moore not score a bunch of points as we've become accustomed to and Tina Charles didn't start and was downright awful, plus Renee was in a daze. Now, if someone told you those three things would happen in the tournament, by a show of hands, who would have figured the Huskies to lose the game? Raise your hands. C'mon...yes, you, too.

And that's my point. Moore didn't score a lot in the first 20 minutes, but she played good defense, worked the boards, found her teammates with passes. Montgomery generally played good defense and was still the floor general , and while Charles was nowhere to be found, Kaili McLaren scored the team's first five points, Brittany Hunter looked as good as I've seen her since December and Charde Houston has been on a role for four or five games now.

This doesn't even begin to touch on Ketia Swanier, who filled up the stat sheet in a Moore-like fashion; and how about Meghan Gardler. This is a player who knows where to be and how to get there. It's pretty common to see players without a clue out there -- Gardler isn't one of them. Don't laugh, but she's going to grab a rebound that will ultimately make all the difference in whether the Huskies win a game or not at some point in this tournament.

If you are Texas Tuesday night (9:30 p.m. tip off), you hope the game was a fluke. You hope all of the role players forget theirs and that Charles struggles and Moore looks like she did against Louisville and Pitt in the conference tournament and that Montgomery has a period of rare mental lapses.

Speaking of Montgomery, she's what worries me the most. Twice in roughly three weeks, Geno Auriemma has said she's looked asleep during games (at DePaul, Louisville) and throw in Sunday's game and you have to wonder if she's tired mentally or physically. For all of the hype around Moore, the most important player on UConn's team is Montgomery. Take her away and it's good night.

Maybe she's not feeling challenged, but in my conversations with her this weekend, I wouldn't buy that explanation. She's missed an unusually high amount of free throws, especially for someone so reliable at the line; not to mention fouling a Cornell player tonight, allowing her to shoot three free throws. Yes, Montgomery "wakes up" in the end, as Auriemma puts it, but what if she doesn't? Texas is much better than Cornell, and they use three guards similar to UConn. They are the focal points of the offense, which means Montgomery, Swanier and Moore will be busy all night.

The Longhorns have big, athletic forwards but they seem to have some issues finishing plays. This will be a great test for the Huskies. They get past Texas and either Virginia or Old Dominion will be waiting in Greensboro.

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