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Film Room: UConn benefits from some competition during its second game in Europe

The Huskies eventually won by 30 but it wasn't exactly an easy win.

Photo: Neil Patel - UConn Athletics

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After opening its European tour against an opponent that had no business playing on the same floor, UConn got some real competition in Game No. 2. Akson Ilirija is a real club team (as opposed to the “All-Star” squad in Croatia) who played well enough to make it a somewhat competitive game.

While UConn eventually won by 30, it wasn’t an easy victory on Friday. At one point, Akson Ilirija scored 10 consecutive points and took a five-point lead. The Huskies eventually punched back with an 18-0 run of their own later on and also had a strong spurt to open the fourth quarter.

The hosts also forced the Huskies to defend — and even uncovered a few of their weaknesses on that end of the floor — and put up enough of a fight defensively themselves to force UConn to find different ways to put the ball in the basket.

Nobody will confuse Akson Ilirija for a Division I NCAA Tournament-caliber team, but considering what UConn went up against in Croatia, it was the perfect level of play for a preseason exhibition contest.

Defensive troubles

UConn didn’t have a great day defensively on Friday. In transition, the Huskies struggled to pick up players which allowed Akson Ilirija to score too many easy, open buckets. In the half-court, UConn frequently gave up open shots because it failed to properly rotate.

Those are typical early-season problems, though. The Huskies haven’t been practicing between these European games, so these things were bound to happen. They’ll have plenty of time to review the film and correct the issues before the start of the regular season.

This is why Auriemma wanted proper competition. Akson Ilirija might not be a team of world-beaters, but they were good enough to expose some of the Huskies’ flaws at this point in the calendar. That will only help UConn going forward.

Speaking of defense, the freshmen’s willingness to defend stands out. They’re like gnats — you just can’t get away from them.

Spotlight on Brady

Ice Brady has been quiet through two games, but there’s no reason for concern. It’s clear she’s still knocking the rust off after missing all of last season (which is something to keep in mind when Paige Bueckers finally returns to the court) and is still learning exactly where she fits in — especially on the offensive end.

UConn asks a lot of its post players and there are moments where Brady seems unsure of where she’s supposed to get the ball for either a shot or pass. That’ll come with more time on the court both in practice and games.

Having said that, Brady still had some nice moments in the game, starting with this picture-perfect box out. When the shot goes up, the defender is between her and the basket. Brady fixes that with a spin move then walls the opposing player off and easily grabs the loose ball.

Brady also checks off all the boxes as a shooter: She has great form, good footwork, and makes the right choice with shot selection on a consistent basis. She should have the green light to launch shots from day one.

Other notes and observations

  • Don’t tell Nika Mühl that these are meaningless exhibition games on the other side of the world.

  • Speaking of Mühl, her parents made the 90-minute journey from Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia for the game.

  • Aubrey Griffin looks like she’s starting to put it all together. In both games, she’s consistently been aggressive with the ball in her hands and is always looking to attack. There aren’t many moments where she disappears — which has been a problem for her in the past.

  • UConn moved the ball well in this game. The offense flowed consistently and rarely stagnated. At times, it looked like vintage UConn basketball. This was the best sequence of passing on the day, even if it didn’t result in a basket:

  • As a reward for making it this far into the story, here are some KK Arnold highlights:

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