UNCASVILLE — UConn entered its first American Athletic Conference postseason tournament far ahead of the field. And the easiest way to measure it was this: In its 31 games, the Huskies trailed for just 38 minutes, 49 seconds of a possible 1,240.
So it seemed unlikely that much would change over the course of one weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena. And it didn't.
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But in the course of his 29 years and 1,006 games, coach Geno Auriemma has learned to use indicators other than the score to tell how his team is performing. And during wins over the Scarlet Knights and Cardinals, in which the Huskies jumped to leads of 13-0 and 8-0 in the opening minutes, the evidence of superior play was all over the floor.
"Mostly for me it's the combinations that we're scoring in, kind of like a boxing match," Auriemma said. "If you just throw the same punch over and over again, I don't know how effective that is."
"So if we're taking the same shots over and over again, then I know we're just settling for the easy way out. But when we are getting out and getting layups in transition, we're getting to the free throw line, we're getting enough three-pointers, we're getting the kind of movement that's crisp and clean and everybody is touching the ball, that's an indication to me that everybody is kind of dialed in."
In their 72-52 win over Louisville, which increased their winning streak to 40 games, the Huskies had four players in double figures, led by Breanna Stewart, the AAC's most outstanding player. She scored 20 points. Bria Hartley had 16. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 13 and Stefanie Dolson had 10 points and 16 rebounds.
"The first half [Sunday] and the first half [Monday], I don't know that we could play much better than that," Auriemma said.
Hartley, who was named to the all-AAC team with Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis, concurred.
"I think it's a feel, especially when we start the game the way we started the last two," Hartley said. "Everything is clicking, we're making the right pass at the right time and everyone is sharing the ball. We have so many threats on our team, and we are playing our best basketball when everybody is contributing and putting everything in for the team. You saw how it is these last two games, when we were playing well."
Next for UConn is the assignment within the NCAA Tournament bracket. That comes on Monday. The Huskies (34-0) will either be sent to Louisville or Lincoln, Neb., as a No. 1 seed. The only certainty is that they open tournament play March 23 at Gampel Pavilion against a 16th seed.
If UConn is sent to Louisville, it could result in the fourth meeting of the year between the conference rivals. The Huskies have handed the Cardinals (30-4) three of their four losses.
"You have just got to keep continuing to believe in what [coach Jeff Walz] is preaching," Louisville's Shoni Schimmel said. "He knows what he's talking about and for us to believe in that, that's what we have to carry over into the game. He got us to the Final Four [last season] coaching us and us following him and going out and executing the game plan and we gotta continue to keep doing that."
"On Monday, we had times where we didn't necessarily do what we were supposed to and it came back and got us. So for us to just actually believe in what he's saying, and put two feet into this whole thing, we just gotta trust in him."
Walz isn't ready to concede, either.
"Notre Dame beat UConn three times last year and they lose [to UConn] in the Final Four," he said. "You have to figure out a way to get your kids to believe in what you're doing and to play your best basketball at the right time and anything can happen. I think we've proven that here [by beating No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet 16 last season]."
Bria Hartley has been selected as one of 19 nominees for the James E. Sullivan Award, which honors the nation's outstanding amateur athlete, the AAU said Tuesday.
Tuesday was the first day of voting to find the winner of the 2013 AAU Sullivan Award. Voting is open to the public at aausports.org and will account for one-third of the athlete's overall score.