UConn's problems went beyond injuries last season

The Huskies admit they lacked accountability and became comfortable with excuse-making.

Photo: Ian Bethune

In UConn’s final regular season game this past March, it put up an uninspired effort, beating a Xavier team without a single Big East win by just nine points.

Afterward, Geno Auriemma ripped into his team.

“There’s a reason why the last 10 games have been the way they’ve been and it has nothing to do with fatigue. We used that long enough. That story’s sailed,” he said. “Now, it’s just being held accountable for doing what you’re being coached to do, not what you feel like doing. Not what feels right for you at the moment.”

He continued: “We don’t think very well. We don’t speak on defense. We don’t communicate. That’s got nothing to do with tired or being injured. That has to do with a lot of selfishness and a lot of you don’t want to change. This is who you are and you don’t want to change.”

At the time, it seemed like a simple motivation tactic from the coach, especially since the team transformed into the “UConn of March,” as Marquette coach Megan Duffy put it, in the Big East Tournament. The Huskies won their first two games by an average of 29.5 points (after their last 10 games of the regular season were decided by a total of 30 points) and they claimed the tournament crown over a tough Villanova squad.

The way UConn entered the NCAA Tournament supported that notion of motivation. The players described an 11-day “boot camp” as Nika Mühl called it, where the coaching staff pushed the team harder than they had all season to get them ready for March Madness.

“There's definitely a different energy in the air and you can feel it in practice, in the weight room, in everything. You can just feel it's more intense. Everyone is very focused and ready,” Azzi Fudd said at the time.

As it turned out, Auriemma’s comments weren’t just a motivational ploy. UConn’s problems went deeper than the injuries alone — just as he said — and were partly to blame for the team’s earliest NCAA Tournament exist since 2005.

“We know where we went wrong in some areas and what we need to fix,” Fudd said back in June. “We let some stuff slide that can’t happen this year.”

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