It’s not often that players and games live up to the hype. It feels like more 4 and 5-star players never meet the lofty expectations that are placed on them. In the case of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and UCONN’s Paige Bueckers, they have crushed these expectations. In their historic freshmen seasons we are left wondering, “Where do they even go from here?!” Well, part of this will be answered this Saturday as the 5-seeded Hawkeyes look to knock off the 1-seeded UCONN Huskies (26-1). UCONN has been without head coach Geno Auriemma for the first two rounds. He will make his return against the Hawks.
UCONN Scouting Report
The Huskies have far more than just Paige Bueckers. Starting guard Nika Mühl sprained an ankle against first round opponent High Point. No problem. UCONN went plug-and-play with 6’3” freshman Aaliyah Edwards who then scored 17 the rest of the way in that game and 19 against Syracuse. It must be nice to bring a kid off the bench who would start at 99% of the teams in the country. UCONN doesn’t throw ridiculous height at you; the exception is their 6’5” center Olivia Nelson-Ododa. She’s averaging 13 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. She moves very well for her size. She has good hands and footwork. She’s a player.
Defensively UCONN will go with a 3⁄4 court trapping press and then fall back into a half-court zone. This surprised me a little bit with the athletes they have. I would think they could play man-to-man (person-to-person) defense with the best of them. They don’t passively sit in a zone; they are looking to trap, deflect passes, and quickly go the other way in transition. Syracuse was able to beat the UCONN press a few times and then get layups. Their press didn’t look like a big worry to me, nor did their zone. Here is Syracuse easily beating UCONN’s press. The Hawks would score on that all day long.
Also, I can’t even imagine playing a zone against Caitlin Clark. She’s open right now and she’s sitting in her hotel room in San Antonio.
I was very impressed with how UCONN passes the basketball. They look to push the basketball up the court in transition and they do an excellent job of finding the open person. Here’s a blocked shot that leads to a quick UCONN score.
As a preview to Iowa’s second round game I wrote that Rhyne Howard (Kentucky’s All-American) was the best player the Hawkeyes had faced so far this year. Paige Bueckers is better. Howard, a junior, is physically stronger than Bueckers, but Bueckers is one of the most-skilled freshman basketball players I’ve ever seen. Guess who the other one is? Similar to Caitlin Clark, Bueckers stuffs the stat sheet. She’s averaging around 20 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2.5 steals a game. Bueckers is shooting a blistering 47% from three point land. Her ball skills and quick release make her almost impossible to stop. Here’s a clip of Bueckers’ nice mid-range game.
Bueckers also has a very good sense of the game; she anticipates very well. Here she times a pass and goes the other way.
Finally, here is Bueckers flashing to the high post and making a no look pass for two.
Make no mistake, if the Hawkeyes were to pull off the upset this would be one of the biggest in NCAA tournament history. Iowa is playing good, confident basketball. That goes a long ways. UCONN was challenged early against Syracuse, but they have had two blowouts in the first two rounds. Surely Iowa can’t hang with them...
I will leave you with this. UCONN has one loss this year. The Huskies lost to Arkansas 87-90. Kentucky, Iowa’s second round opponent, who we beat in the first 12 minutes, beat Arkansas 75-64. Everyone with me now: IIIIIIIIIIIIII. OOOOOO. WWWWWW. AAAAAAA! Let’s. Go. Hawks!