UConn Women Battle the Hartford Hawks

The UConn Huskies taken on the Hartford Hawks whose head coach, Jen Rizzotti, was an All-American standout at Connecticut. This is the second match-up between mentor Geno Auriemma and protogee Rizzotti.

No. 8/6 UConn Huskies (5-0, 0-0) vs. Hartford Hawks (4-0, 0-0)
Thursday, December 1, 2005, 7:00 (CPTV)
Hartford Civic Center, Hartford CT

Probable starting line-ups

UConn Huskies
Player #NamePos.Hgt.Yr.ppgrpgapg
Renee MontgomeryG5-7Fr4.81.03.0
Mel ThomasG5-9So15.82.03.4
Ann StrotherG/F6-3Sr15.25.83.2
Barbara TurnerF6-0Sr7.05.42.4
Willnett CrockettF/C6-2Sr2.85.4.8

Hartford Hawks
Player #NamePos.Hgt.Yr.ppgrpgapg
Erika MessamG5-8Sr9.52.85.0
Courtney Gomez5-5GSo2.33.52.0
Danielle WexlerG5-8Sr2.31.51.8
Erica BeverlyF6-0Fr11.58.81.0
Danielle HoodF/C6-1So14.36.01.0

The Hawks have some very good guards, including NFA's Courtney Gomez, one of a long line of talented players from that program. The starting point guard, Erika Messam, is a senior and she can not only dish the ball (5.0 assists per game) but she can score, too. What she can't do, at least so far this season, is hit from the outside. Messam is a dismal 1-12 (8.3%) on three point shots. Gomez isn't much better – she's 1-6 (15.7%) from beyond the arc. While Messam makes a respectable amount of her two point shots, Gomez has made only three of the 14 shots she's taken this year. Danielle Wexler is the third guard in the starting line-up. She's missed all six of her threes and has made only four shots all season.

The Hartford backcourt isn't entirely without weapons, though. Messam does average 9.5 point per game and is the third leading scorer. Ikea Witt, a talented junior guard, brings a spark off the bench adding 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. Witt is also tied for steals on this Hawks team. Another guard, 5-10 freshman MaryLynne Schaefer, is the most likely three point threat. She's made 7 of 21 three pointers, by far the most threes shot and made on the team.

As a unit, the Hartford guards are very good at taking care of the ball. They are mostly an experienced group that's faced teams such as Oklahoma, Rutgers and UConn in the past. They aren't likely to get too flustered, although the UConn press has been rather spectacular at times this year, so we shall see.

(Irrelevant side note: Lisa Etienne of Norwalk CT will play for Hartford next season after sitting out the NCAA-mandated waiting period)

The Hawks' scoring prowess has come mostly in the paint this year. Center Danielle Hood and forward Erica Beverly (of Bridgeport CT) are the top two scorers for Hartford. They must get the ball a lot because they turn it over fairly frequently but they compensate by being tied for first and holding the second spot in steals. They will need to be boxed out hard – Hood and Beverly account for over 36% of the Hawks' rebounds and Beverly has by far the most offensive rebounds. The freshman Beverly is, understandably, a bit more foul prone. If Barbara Turner is very active, she could go right at Beverly and get her in foul trouble.

Two other frontcourt players get significant playing time. Danielle Matulis, a 5-11 junior forward, averages 3.8 ppg and 3.0 rpg in 10.5 minutes and Jenna Gale, a 6-0 senior forward, adds 3.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg in 16.0 minutes. Matulis appears to be the more aggressive of the two, as she's had several trips to the free throw line while Gale has only one free throw attempt in four games.

Yet another test awaits the Husky frontcourt. Flashes of brilliance alternate with moments of indifferent play. Hood and Beverly aren't exactly Courtney and Ashley Paris, but they are good enough to challenge the UConn post players to show what they're made of. I'm tired of saying that the frontcourt players should dominate but, heck, they should.

(Another irrelevant side note: Jenna Gale is a former teammate of Nicole Wolff's at Walpole (Mass) High)

Some key statistics -

Asst/shots made90/145 (62%)60/97 (62%)
Reb margin+11.8+4.8
3 pt made/att29/63 (46%)10/47 (21%)
Scoring avg.76.863.8
Scoring margin+27.4+16.3
Field goal %50.9%40.1%
Opponents' FG% 32.7%35.4%
Steals/gm 11.69.8

There will obviously be some parallels between the teams because, well, Jen Rizzotti is one of Our Girls and she's taken Geno Auriemma's teachings to heart, as has fellow coach Carla Berube. The Hawks are very strong defensively, holding teams to only 47.5 points a game. Of course, UConn has held teams to only 49.4 points and Hartford hasn't played Oklahoma or Boston College, so UConn may have the more impressive defense.

Rizzotti plays at least 10 players each game. She substitutes freely with only one player, Messam, playing more than 30 minutes. Fatigue might not normally be a factor but they haven't played a team with UConn's speed yet. Hartford has played, and defeated, Rhode Island (58-45), Loyola (59-52), UMass (68-52) and Rider (71-40). While the Hawks haven't been scoring a ton of points, they've been doing well enough defensively to win the game. This most likely won't be good enough against the Huskies, who've shown that other players besides Ann Strother are willing and able to make shots this year.

UConn is a very tough team to defend. If the opponents pack in the paint, as Cleveland State did, Mel Thomas and Ann Strother will kill them from the outside. Playing man-to-man would be a tremendous challenge for a team like Hartford, not to mention fatiguing, so a match-up zone might be the way they'll go. Last year that might have been a problem, but this season Kalana Greene has proven herself to be a slasher, Mel Thomas and Renee Montgomery have shown a nice pull up jumper that's going to give the defense fits but it's Barbara Turner who's the key against this type of defense. When Turner "slithers" her way through the paint, she is totally unguardable. Defenses collapse on her in the paint so she steps back and hits a three or passes to the open player, a new weapon this year. What's a defense to do?

The Hawks will certainly put up a struggle and they aren't going to just roll over and die, no matter what the score. This is, after all, a Rizzotti team. But UConn simply has too much speed, athleticism and depth this year. If the Huskies are overlooking the Hawks on the way to the North Carolina game, they could be in for more of a workout than they wanted but hopefully that won't be the case.

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