Auriemma Preaching To A Smaller Choir

The Hartford Courant

If practice is equated to school, UConn coach Geno Auriemma says he'd prefer to teach a small class of students.

He'll get his wish this season.

The Huskies will open against Holy Cross with only 10 players after Caroline Doty's season-ending knee injury in August.

"I don't like it this small [10]," Auriemma said. "I like 12 players. That's a good number; 10 is not great, especially when five are freshmen. We should be at 12, but circumstances beyond our control limit us to 10."

Auriemma refers to Elena Delle Donne's decision to transfer to Delaware before her freshman year.

Having three juniors -- Delle Donne, Doty and Tiffany Hayes -- would have increased the roster to 12 and likely quieted much of the concern pundits have expressed about UConn's potency this season.

"Still, we're pretty far along for what we have," Auriemma said.

While a smaller team means more time for individual instruction, injuries and illness can also threaten a team's foundation. And the effect of losing additional players impacts more during practice than a game, since Auriemma can choose to tighten his rotation once the ball is tipped.

When freshmen make up half the roster, practice becomes even more important since that's where lessons are taught that have translated into seven national championships.

But coaches need to keep an eye out for balance, making sure to rest tired teams. A full roster provides the additional options to make educated decisions.

"Sometimes you have the luxury of being able to sit back and watch and learn, but then there are times when you don't," Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said. "My guess is that's the case this season [for UConn]."

Auriemma said no walk-ons showed up for practice. But he has fielded many calls from potential male practice players, the accessory most women's coaches use to enhance competition.

As the season progresses, Auriemma may be forced to use more men in practice to give ailing or tired players a rest. Meanwhile, the players are doing everything they can to prevent fatigue from complicating things.

"It won't be that different," Hayes said. "It will just remind us to take care of our bodies as much as we can, knowing that we're short on players. You know, eat healthy, do your rehab. And stay healthy.

"It could get to be a problem, I imagine, but we're going to work hard to make sure that it doesn't become a problem. The idea is to be in better shape come February than we are in now."

After watching UConn teams excel during his 32 years at Villanova, coach Harry Perretta also understands the other important aspect of Auriemma's practices. It's where his players become a team.

"Here's what people forget about UConn. It's not just its talent, it's the way they play; the teamwork and camaraderie," Perretta said. "That gets lost and that's an injustice to them.

"As a purist coach, I look for that more than the talent. When they are beating us by 40, what I'm looking for is whether they are playing 'the game.' Every possession, they play the game and that is why they have the chance to do the great things they do."

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