Who needs depth? Balance leads UConn

March, 19, 2011

As well as UConn has played this season even after losing two starters to the WNBA and another to injury, there has been one lingering worry for Huskies fans. What if there's serious foul trouble for a couple of starters? What if depth -- one thing UConn doesn't have -- really does become a factor in a game?

Sunday, the No. 1-seeded Huskies dutifully dispatched UConn alum Jen Rizzotti's Hartford squad 75-39 in Storrs, Conn., to open the NCAA tournament. There was nothing to be concerned with in this game save avoidance of injury, something else, along with foul trouble, that the Huskies can't afford.

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David Butler II/US PresswireTiffany Hayes was one of four UConn players with 12 points in Sunday's 75-39 rout.

Depth can be overrated as an asset if it's more about quantity rather than quality. But it's very nice to have if a coach really can bring in reserves who will impact the game or at least not let the team's performance drop off.

The reality with UConn right now, though, is that guard Lorin Dixon is the only reserve both healthy and experienced enough to be a factor in a truly competitive game. Post player Heather Buck, returning from injury, got in for seven minutes against the Hawks. But it's not as if she has a history of big-game performances even if healthy.

This title defense is going to be on the shoulders of senior Maya Moore, junior Tiffany Hayes, sophomore Kelly Faris and freshmen Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. And in that, the Huskies are a lot like the team that won the NCAA title 10 years ago: Notre Dame.

The Irish in 2000-01 were the iron women of college hoops, with the starting five of Ruth Riley, Kelley Siemon, Ericka Haney, Alicia Ratay and Niele Ivey taking the bulk of the minutes all season. Jeneka Joyce and Amanda Barksdale did provide some significant help off the bench, but the first five had to approach every game with the mindset of playing 40 minutes if needed. Because it often was.

That Irish team beat UConn in the regular season, lost to the Huskies in the Big East tournament final, and then beat them again in the national semifinals.

Like UConn with Moore, that Irish team had a star (Riley) surrounded by four players who really understood their roles very well but also could step forward with big performances when needed.

Saturday against the Hawks, the Huskies were the picture of balance: Four of the starters scored 12 points, while Faris had 10. So far, with just one loss this season, the depth factor simply hasn't bothered the Huskies. And with as smart as this team plays, understanding their potential weakness, it might not bother them in the NCAA tournament.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.



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