If you haven't been watching the scores, you might think this contest involved just another bad team. And you would be wrong. In the past week, the Catamounts beat both Boston College and NC State.mNow, neither is a Top-25 team, but they are solid ACC clubs, and Vermont entered their game against the Huskies 4-0. But with the way UConn is playing, even good teams look pretty bad. Except for Courtney Pilypaitis, Vermont looked bad.
The University of Vermont is universally called UVM (when initials are used), and I always assumed that it came from the letters in the word VerMont. Wrong. UVM stands for Univesitatis Viridis Montis (University of the Green Mountains). I didn't know that until reading the game notes, even though I have lived in New England for more than 30 years, and, more importantly, my daughter attends medical school there.
The Catamount women have four Vermonters on the roster, but they also have six players from Ontario, Canada, including three starters -- leading scorers Courtney Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos, and freshman Kendra Seto. Pilypaitis and Kotsopoulos have both averaged over 20 points per game in four games, and have hit all but two of the team's 21 three-pointers.
Courtney Pilypaitis would be a welcome addition to any team in the country, and would start on almost all of them. She is relentless, defends the point, creates her own shot, and scores most of the points. Sofia Iwobi is the team's leading rebounder at 5'9 (6.5 rebounds per game). She hails from Maharishi School (really) in Fairfield, Iowa.
Those with a decent memory will remember that Vermont pushed UConn hard in the NCAA tournament last season, even though they eventually lost 104-65. Tina Charles had 32 in that contest, but Pilypaitis had 24 for Vermont. Four of the Catamount starters are now seniors who played in that game. In March the team shot 46.4 percent from the field, far above the average UConn allowed its opponents last season. Unfortunately, for Vermont fans, the Huskies shot 63 percent, boosted by Charles's 13-for-14 from the field.
Now Vermont is back for more, agreeing to play again at Gampel Pavilion, where the Huskies have won 32 straight games, and 97 of their last 99. Playing lots of good teams is, obviously, a way to improve your club, and the schedule Coach Sharon Dawley has arranged for the Catamounts will more than get them ready for the America East Conference. They have already been picked to finish first (and gain the automatic, and likely the only, bid) in the Conference.
This time out, Vermont shot just 31 percent, UConn 59 percent. The final margin was the same, though the scores were lower for both teams.
Lorin Dixon did not dress for practice on Wednesday, nor play on Thursday. The team continues to be just 10 strong, and that included the two kids from Stonington. But then, in big games, few teams play more than eight, and in UConn's case, the remaining three -- Kelly Faris, Kaili McLaren, and Megan Gardler -- are sound players who can hold their own against nearly any team.
Gardler, by the way, has proven that she actually earned her status as a UConn recruit, and not simply as a favor to her father, who coached Geno in high school. She is a hard worker, team and practice leader, and a great rebounder for her size. With the post players in trouble against Texas, it was Gardler and not the much taller Heather Buck who was called on to give Tina Charles and McLaren time on the bench. She held her own, as she often does, against bigger (though not many who are stronger) players. She is not much of an offensive threat, and I am always surprised that she is not a very good foul shooter, but scoring is not what this team needs for her. This year Gardler has become regular part of the rotation.
First Half: UConn shot 64.7 percent, forced 12 turnovers, and scored 24 fast-break points. Vermont shot 8-28 (28.6 percent). Connecticut's defense is really that good. Pilypaitis had five of the eight Vermont field goals. Score 50-18. Sigh. Another outmatched opponent.
For the second straight contest, however, Connecticut was less than ordinary from outside, hitting just two-of-eight. Maya Moore was 0-for-three from beyond the arc. She has missed all her threes in two straight games, dropping her season percentage from beyond the arc down to 39.3 percent. It was over .500 after four games. She's doing just fine from closer range, however. Her 20 points in this game marked the seventh straight game -- and the 81st of her career -- in which she has recorded double figures. It was also the 33rd time in her career -- and the fourth this season -- in which she has posted 20 points or better.
Caroline Doty whacked her head after being fouled and sat out for the balance of the first half. She returned to start the second half, and seemed fine.
Kalana Greene started out aggressively again. By the high standards expected of them, Maya Moore and Tina Charles were comparatively ineffective on this night, even though they scored 20 and 18 points, respectively. Moore missed several open shots that usually are automatic. Charles reverted to sophomore year, dribbling into a double team after grabbing an offensive rebound, and missing the shot. Kaili McLaren had her best game of the year, showing good post moves.
The second half was forgettable for UConn, with UVM outscoring the Huskies 12-8 in the first seven minutes. Everyone just looked tired. Final 84-42.
Tina Charles passed Jamelle Elliott to become the second leading rebounder in UConn history, with 1059. Rebecca Lobo leads with 1284. It would take about 8.5 rebounds per game for Charles to pass Lobo, assuming just 26 games (the season plus the minimum one game each in the Big East and NCAA tournaments).
New London Day writer Vicki Fulkerson told me that Wednesday's practice was three hours, and even more intense than usual. Theory: the competition has just not been good enough for the team to keep sharp. Stanford watch: the Cardinal come into the Civic Center playing Duke and Tennessee the week before. The Huskies play Hartford, then have 10 days off and play Iona just three days before Stanford. Who is going to be better prepared for the Big Game? Geez! Who sets up this schedule. (Hint: it is not entirely up to the coach.)
Coach Auriemma on the schedule question: When you look back on the teams I've coached, our best games are usually against the best teams, and it doesn't matter who we've played going in. I'm more worried about the 10 days off for exams. . . . It would be a kick in the ass if they beat us by 30 and then we meet them in the Final Four. And then it'll be a reversal of two years ago.
Interesting perspective by Pilypaitis, asked if this UConn team or the team she played against in March was better: I think they are better [now]. They lost Renee Montgomery and you think that they would struggle at the point guard position but Tiffany Hayes does a great job at the point for them. They are all around solid and do not make mistakes. Anything you force them to do, they excel at doing it.