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Rich Elliott: UConn women want balancing act

Updated 12:36 am, Sunday, January 13, 2013
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MILWAUKEE -- The UConn women's basketball team has proven time and again this season that its roster is loaded with players who can shoot the 3-pointer.

The third-ranked Huskies entered Saturday's game at Marquette ranked 11th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (.376) and third in made 3-pointers per game (9.1). Six players were shooting at least 30 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was second in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (50.0). Kelly Faris was shooting 47.8 percent.

But while all of that is impressive on paper, UConn needs to strike a better balance offensively.

In the wake of setting a team single-game record by attempting 41 3-pointers at Georgetown Wednesday, coach Geno Auriemma and the players spent the last couple of days talking much more about the need to get the ball inside. They are so much more difficult to defend when they are effectively operating inside and out.

And against the Golden Eagles at the Al McGuire Center, UConn proved just how dangerous it can be offensively in an 85-51 win. Not only did Mosqueda-Lewis make four 3-pointers and score a game-high 24 points, but junior center Stefanie Dolson added 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field.

"Coach has been talking about that for a while now, saying that we need to get the ball inside and out,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "So we've been trying to make sure that we even it up a little bit. It makes us that that much more deadly to have Stefanie in there and drawing as many defenders as she did (Saturday) and being able to get the ball out to the 3-point shooters.''

The Huskies scored 42 points in the paint and 24 from beyond 3-point arc against Marquette. In all, they attempted 21 3-pointers. It was the first time in five games that they attempted fewer than 23. It was only second time in five games that they have scored at least 40 points in the paint.

UConn also scored 17 fast-break points, which marked its highest total since finishing with 27 against Wake Forest Nov. 22.

"They were on their game,'' Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said. "Look at their numbers. They just had great nights.''

Auriemma said that ideally he would like to see the Huskies get one-third of their shots from transition, halfcourt post play and 3-pointers. The balance was there Saturday. And Marquette was helpless.

"We made it a point at the beginning of the game to get Stefanie the ball as much as possible,'' Auriemma said. "And we did and I think that created a whole other set of problems for Marquette. And I thought the ball movement was great that first 20 minutes. It's like we got the exact shot we wanted to get most every time down.''

The Huskies did indeed demonstrate balance from the outset. They scored 26 of their 54 first-half points in the paint and 15 from 3-point range as Mosqueda-Lewis (17) and Dolson (14) combined for 31 points. They also scored 11 points in transition en route to shooting 56.4 percent from the field and building a 35-point lead at halftime.

A point to remember about UConn's success in the paint Saturday is that 6-foot-4 forward Breanna Stewart did not play due to a sprained left ankle.

"Any team that has a good balance of an inside game and an outside game is a lot more difficult to guard because they can have so many different players have a good night,'' Dolson said. "And so (Saturday) we showed that we have that exact thing. Without Stewie, too, to show it was even better because we know when she comes back in it's going to be 10 times more.''

Points were coming from every spot on the floor for the Huskies. This type of balance will prevent opponents from keying on one area, and will further open up the offense.

There is no doubt that UConn is one of only a few teams in the country with a legitimate chance to win the national championship. With increased cohesion and balance offensively as the season moves on, the Huskies could become the favorites once postseason play begins.

"I think (we're) much more dangerous,'' UConn senior Kelly Faris said. "I think that would be with any team really with the more options you have the more dangerous you're going to be and the more effective you'll be. So when we have games like that where we can get it inside and outside it's much better for us because it continues to open up just other options that we don't even think about.''

relliott@ctpost.com; http://twitter.com/elliottctpost; http://blog.ctnews.com/elliott/