There are several givens regarding the rivalry between UCONN and Notre Dame.
- UCONN seldom has a problem building up a comfortable lead – especially near the end of games.
- After building up a lead, UCONN seems to always feel the need to pick up the pace – like they are running a hundred yard dash. That increases the likelihood of either making bad passes, travelling with the ball, or charging into a ND player when going in for a layup. Look at the stats – every UCONN player made miscues (Dolson(11), Stewart(5), Faris(4), Hartley(4), KML(4), Tuck(3), Doty(2), and Jefferson(1), On a side note, I watched the game film over and over and I believe Dolson was charged with three turnovers that should have been charged to someone else (KML and Tuck) – I am only saying that because Dolson is taking a lot of heat because of the 11 chargeable turnovers attributed to her.
- After going at such a fast pace, UCONN’s free throw shooting percentage goes down from seasonal averages – individually and collectively as a team.
So, what is the remedy? What logical strategy or strategies can be employed to insure a victory? Before I go into that, here are my observations about the triple overtime UCONN loss. I am careful to not call it a Notre Dame victory because UCONN had three solid opportunities to win the game.
Geno himself said that when you have the opportunity to win the game, you need to do so, because, if not, your chance to win will diminish and Notre Dame will get their act together and eventually beat you.
Anyone who says that Notre Dame wanted the victory more is mistaken. Both teams equally wanted the victory. UCONN, in the second half and the first two overtime periods showed that they were working diligently on winning the game but in the process they made some strategic errors that eventually allowed Notre Dame to play their kind of game that resulted in the victory.
Okay, so here is the simple strategy that if followed, will insure a victory at the Big East Tournament and well as a victory, if and when, they meet again in the Final Four.
This strategy is based on the assumption that UCONN has made their patented run and has built up a reasonable lead. Whatever game plan UCONN had to that point will eventually work against them – so they need to shift gears to take firm control of the ball and use the clock to their best advantage.
Like in regulation and the first two overtimes, UCONN had leads of 3 points, 6 points, and 5 points with roughly 2 minutes left.
Instead of simply doing what they were doing, UCONN chose to pick up the pace and that resulted in dumb mistakes, charges, turnovers, bad passes, double dribbles, and working smartly for the best shots.
Instead, they need to do what is done in the NFL, totally go into an entirely different mode, a mode that is totally the reverse of what teams do in the NFL.
In the NFL, the team that is behind tries to run plays quickly – running plays to gain yards in chunks and trying to run out of bounds to stop the clock. They are also obsessed with scoring as many points as necessary to tie or win the game.
Instead, UCONN needs to run their two minute drill called, “Ball control, score if an ideal opportunity exists, protect the lead, and run the clock down” (BSPR) strategy.
Because UCONN has taller players, players who are significantly taller than their ND counterparts, i.e. Stewart, Dolson, Tuck, Buck, and Stokes, Geno might consider bringing in a little extra height to play tall defense anytime ND gets the ball and wants to run a fast break in hopes of making layups.
- That done, slow the jets down to prevent dumb mistakes. Use a guard to inbound ball and use bigs as targets to receive ball. Use four corners up the court and keep passing because it runs down the clock and encourages ND to make fouls. UCONN players with lowest free throw percentages should keep the ball moving toward better free throw shooters.
- When on defense, use taller players (Dolson and Stewart and Tuck or Buck to fill up the free throw lane. Anyone coming in for a layup – make sure UCONN defenders focus on the ball and do anything to block the ball, tie up the ball, steel the ball, or redirect the shot. Make sure ball will come nowhere near the rim – by that I mean make a foul that will guarantee ball will not get near the rim at all. In effect, play the ball and only the ball. Don’t worry about all the gyrations the offensive player might go through, the ball is the key.
- When UCONN is in possession of the ball, in addition to playing four corner ball control and slowing down the ball, when going anywhere near the basket, stop at a reasonable distance and take a short jumper – unless you can make an uncontested layup. Don’t risk being called for a charging foul. ND is great at quickly positioning to take a charge – especially if UCONN is going toward the basket at top speed – so fast they cannot react to someone setting up to take a charge. If a short jump shot won’t work, briskly pass the ball to a teammate who might be free to take a better shot.
- Again, if you have the lead and you are already down the court, run the four corners with brisk passes. If you are far enough apart, keep an eye on your teammate with the ball – keep moving and if ND tries to run a trap, be ready to receive a pass. Play slow, pass smart – no bounce passes – and make sure you do not initiate any moving picks or screens (Dolson, they will be looking for you specifically because you are big and strong and well-conditioned AND you are not one of the “little darlings” like Diggins). Keep in mind that if you are doing things deliberately and smartly they will not get steals and make fast breaks – they will have to foul you and give opportunities at the free throw line.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if UCONN is slowing it down they are not getting exhausted – too exhausted to shoot accurate free throws. Remember how they missed numerous “one and one’s” that would have sealed the victory – simply because they were exhausted from running at warp speed?
Albert Einstein is rumored to have said the following: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So UCONN, do something even a little different – implement some of all of the two minute strategies above and you will win the game.