This was definitely a special win for the Huskies, who spent the last week on the road playing tough games with LSU and DePaul. Geno Auriemma said he tried to have the team do as little as possible the last few days so not to wear them down. He also told them they can be exhausted as Big East champs or exhausted as "slugs." He's got a way with words.
It's also important to note the contribution from Kaili McLaren. In reality, she made life hellacious for Rutgers. McLaren had a solid all-around night with seven points, six rebounds and a team-high five assists. What she did in the high post, combined with Tina in the low post, the UConn forwards created matchup problems for Rutgers all night. At one point, Rutgers went with four guards to try and use speed against UConn's big players and that didn't work. There was one play where I wanted to gauge hustle and what I saw was McLaren start off after the rebound as the player furthest away from the ball. By the time she got to her spot, she had passed three Rutgers players and one of her teammates up court. That isn't speed; that's heart.
Heart is something cliche in sports and in journalism. Scribes such as myself may write about heart as if its a jump shot. If you practice heart enough, it comes to you. Not excatly. Few player truly have heart and you know it when you see it. For as much gruff as Auriemma give shis squad, Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Kaili McLaren, Lorin Dixon, Charde Houston, Brittany Hunter, Ketia Swanier and Meghan Gardler all showed heart.
Rutgers didn't show its heart. Kia Vaughn, is normally displaying her heart on her sleeve. Not tonight. Same with Essence Carson and Epiphanny Prince. Not here. I know they tried hard, but when trying hard doesn't get the job done, heart gives you the courage to fight through your woes.
Don't worry. These teams will meet again and I suspect it will be in the conference tournament title game. Just remember, the Huskies blew away the Scarlet Knights in the season finale last season only to be thumped in the tournament. We saw the difference Moore makes when she can play by staying out of foul trouble. If her medical report comes out OK, the rest she'll get from days off Tuesday through Friday will be valuable. The first-round bye helps, too.
Maybe she won't play against Marquette or DePaul. Not likely, but the Huskies could probably win without her in those matchups.
Anyhow, three big games in eight days. Now the games get bigger.