Preview - UConn vs Cleveland State

The sixth-ranked UConn Huskies will open their road schedule today as they face unranked Cleveland State at Wolstein Center on Sunday afternoon. The matchup with Cleveland State is UConn's first since their win over Oklahoma in the WNIT championship game.

 Probable starting line-ups

UConn Huskies

Player # Name Pos. Hgt. Yr. ppg rpg apg
Renee Montgomery G 5-7 Fr 5.5 .8 3.5
Mel Thomas G 5-9 So 15.0 2.0 2.5
Ann Strother G/F 6-3 Sr 14.3 6.3 3.0
Barbara Turner F 6-0 Sr 6.8 6.3 2.0
Willnett Crockett F/C 6-2 Sr 3.0 4.5 1.0

Cleveland State Vikings

Player # Name Pos. Hgt. Yr. ppg rpg apg
Brittany Bowser G 5.6 Jr 7.3 1.3 2.0
Omega Harrington G 5-7 Jr 13.3 1.3 2.0
Erin Martin G 5-9 Sr 10.3 6.0 3.0
Brittany Korth G 5-10 So 5.0 5.0 2.0
Robin Hoying F 6-0 So 2.0 2.3 1.3

Cleveland State is very much a guard-oriented team. Of their top six scorers, five of them are guards and senior Omega Harrington leads the way with 13.3 ppg. Interestingly, Harrington is a point guard, but so is Brittany Bowser, another starter. Erin Martin and Brittany Korth, also starters, are both shooting guards. Harrington and Martin are first and second in scoring, another guard, 5-9 freshman Dominique Butler is third. Those three also average the most minutes per game.

All of the guards but Butler have attempted a three point shot this year. When the Vikings guards do shoot from beyond the arc, they're very accurate, hitting 45% of their threes. They might have a good perimeter defense; opponents have made only 26% of their threes against CSU. What the CSU guards can't do, however, is hold onto the ball. Harrington and Bowser, the two points, have 22 turnovers to only 15 assists.

The UConn guards have been very tough so far this year. Their defensive skills will be needed once again as they take on yet another guard dependant team. Although CSU has already played a good Wisconsin team, the Badgers don't have the overall team speed of the Huskies. CSU coach Kate Peterson had nine players in the Wisconsin game with 9 minutes or more; six of them were guards. For the first time in a while, UConn has quality depth at that position to keep fresh players on the floor at all times. CSU won't be wearing out the UConn guards.

The Vikings start four guards. The lone frontcourt player starting is 6-0 power forward Robyn Hoying. Hoying, however, doesn't average the most minutes per game at 15.7 mpg. That distinction goes to 6-2 junior Nicole Thomas, who is the fourth leading scorer at 8.3 ppg. She is also tied with Erin Martin for leading rebounder with 6.0. Thomas did pretty well against Wisconsin with 9 points, 7 rebounds (5 offensive) and a steal. She is by far the best offensive rebounder.

Another 6-2 player, freshman Erica Homig, averages 2.3 ppg and 1.3 rpg in 9.7 minutes. That pretty much accounts for the CSU frontcourt. Senior Kim Neidermeyer gets about 5 minutes a game but she's really a guard forced into a forward position due to her size at 6-0.

The UConn frontcourt was outstanding in their last game against Oklahoma. Can they maintain focus against another guard-oriented team with a lack of height? So far, that hasn't proven to be the case (see the Marist and Indiana State games). This could be their chance to show they can dominate against a smaller team, which should be the case night in and night out.

Some key statistics -

Cleveland State
TO's/game 15.0 20.0
Assists/gm 17.3 14.7
Asst/shots made 69/117 (59%) 44/68 (65%)
Reb margin +8.3 -2.3
3 pt made/att 21/45 (47%) 21/47 (45%)
Scoring avg. 74.8 66.0
Scoring margin +25.8 +0.3
Field goal % 51.3% 43.6%
Opponents' FG% 32.1% 38.0%
Steals/gm 11.3 8.7

The Vikings are currently 2-1 with one win coming over Division II school Hillsdale and the other a 62-59 victory over Akron. The loss was to Big 10 school Wisconsin, an 84-59 decision. In the most recent game, against Akron, the Vikings came from behind to win the game. Omega Harrington scored 16 points in the second half to lead the team to the win, despite the Vikings being outrebounded 46-25. CSU also netted eight three pointers in the second half. Those threes accounted for all but eight of the Vikings' second half points.

Last year the Vikings finished their season 4-25. Believe it or not, they've been improving (in fits and stars) under third year coach Kate Peterson, a former Wisconsin assistant. The defense is said to be much improved over the last two seasons, holding opponents to an average 10 points less than they had the previous year. The offense is supposed to be high scoring, although they average only 66 points a game so far this year.

The lack of height for CSU is not intentional. A 6-3 center, Sassy Lane, is sitting on the bench due to a knee injury. Another frontcourt player, 6-4 center Stephanie Youdath, is sitting out an NCAA mandated year since she transferred from Marist. Those two players could have made a big difference (pardon the pun) against teams like Wisconsin and UConn but it appears Peterson has gone to her remaining strength in playing her guards extensively.

UConn, meanwhile, is starting to look like it has an idea of what running on all cylinders might look like. The Husky's game against Oklahoma had to have given them a huge confidence boost and, let's face it, lack of confidence last year cost them games. Sure, there have been mistakes but the defense has been staunch and the offense is looking 100% better than it did last year, especially the passing.

The UConn guards need to just keep doing what they've been doing all along; playing stifling defense, disrupting the passing lanes and harassing the ball-handlers. The frontcourt players must come out with the same intensity and focus they showed against Oklahoma. That might be tough for Barbara Turner since this is her homecoming game. But there's no excuse for the other posts, who should dominate the game.

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