Interesting observation, in large part because the Huskies (9-0) will be facing 6-8 junior center Brittney Griner in this classic confrontation (8:30 p.m., ESPN). Griner is such a unique player, such a dominating force, that many suggest the best way to defend her is to rough her up a bit.
Lean on her. Push her out of position. Force her to move outside to shoot. Connecticut Sun guard Renee Montgomery, a former Husky and Griner's teammate on the USA Basketball team last September, suggested the 15-foul theory. In other words, let Stefanie Dolson, Heather Buck and Kiah Stokes hack away at Griner. Send her to the foul line instead of giving up layups, Montgomery said in an article in The Hartford Courant.
But that's not exactly Auriemma's coaching style.
"I don't know," he said. "If I've got to play those guys long enough to commit those 15 fouls, that means we're in trouble, you know? I'm not one of those guys that just sends people out there to commit fouls. If it happens during the course of the game, it's OK. But Brittney doesn't need protecting; we need protection from her."
Auriemma also doesn't subscribe to the theory that Griner will be the sole deciding factor in this game. He has a great deal of respect for Baylor as a team, especially sophomore guard Odyssey Sims.
Griner, who is averaging 22.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 blocks this season, has been waiting for a second chance against UConn since Baylor's 65-64 loss to the Huskies at the XL Center in November 2010. Griner missed eight of 13 from the free throw line and had some crucial misses down the stretch.
"That last game with UConn has been on my mind for a long time," Griner told The Associated Press. "The one thing I think about the most is my free throws. It was just horrible that game. After that game, I hit almost every free throw I attempted."
Griner is shooting 73 percent from the foul line this season for the Lady Bears (10-0).
Dolson will be saddled with the primary responsibility of handling Griner. Dolson, UConn's 6-5 sophomore center, hopes she has learned from her mistakes against Baylor last year. She played 12 minutes, had two points and eight rebounds against the Lady Bears last year. Dolson and Samarie Walker each fouled out of the game and the Huskies had 22 fouls to Baylor's 15. Even so, Baylor only outscored UConn 16-14 from the line. The Lady Bears missed 12 free throws as Griner went 5-for-13.
"Getting out there and fouling every time she had the ball, which is just a poor, amateur way to play," Dolson said of her mistakes against Griner. "This year I definitely look to body her up but be smart with my arms are – going straight up and not fouling her. And just playing good defense."
Dolson is taking this as challenge, from a personal standpoint as well as the team situation.
"It's incredible the way [Griner] finishes," Dolson said. "She has that height she uses and she can finish around the basket. She knows how to get into the defense and make them foul her. It's going to be a tough one."
Auriemma had the opportunity to coach Griner on the USA team and says her potential is limitless.
"There's nobody else in the world like her," he said. "There are things that she can do that no one else can do on any other team in the world."
This is an unusual situation for the Huskies. For once, UConn doesn't have the best player on the floor. For the first time in four seasons, UConn is playing a higher ranked opponent. The Huskies have already defeated Top 10 teams Stanford (68-58) and Texas A&M (81-51).
Baylor is beating teams by an average of 34.5 points. And now UConn is on the road, facing a capacity crowd, in a hostile environment, on a national stage. It will be the game of the year – at least until UConn plays at Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
"I'm trying not to put too much of a significance on the outcome of this game," Auriemma said. "Because losing this game may just make us better. Winning this game may give us the kind of confidence that means we can't lose and then we get our butt beat.
"I just want to see how we're going to handle this."