Defending DePaul newest challenge for UConn’s Azurá Stevens
Updated 5:50 pm, Thursday, December 7, 2017
CHICAGO — When Azurá Stevens made the decision to transfer from Duke despite putting forth scintillating performances during her two seasons there, she looked forward to the challenges that come with playing for Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.
Well, the 6-foot-6 junior forward/center is certainly getting her money’s worth.
Stevens played a starring role during a rousing fourth-quarter comeback as UConn erased an 11-point lead to topple rival Notre Dame on Sunday. Now Stevens and the top-ranked Huskies are bracing for a different kind of challenge, facing unranked DePaul on Friday (7 p.m., FS1) at the newly-opened Wintrust Arena.
No Division I women’s basketball team makes or attempts more 3-pointers than the Blue Demons, who will enter the game averaging 13.6 3-pointers and 37.4 attempted 3-pointers in their first eight games. There’s plenty of basketball left to be played, but at its current pace, DePaul would set the NCAA Division I women’s basketball record for made 3-pointers per game. The mark of 12.5 is currently held by the 2015-16 Sacramento State squad.
When UConn goes over its defensive scouting report, there will be no need to identify the 3-point threats because there will be a DePaul player with at least 10 3-pointers manning each of the five spots on the court for much of the game. For a post player like Stevens, having to spend the entire game contesting a 3-point shooter is much more difficult than it sounds.
“Some post players can shoot 3s so I think it will be a different look, but we want to use our length to make sure we contest their shots,” Stevens said.
Auriemma said neither Stevens nor freshman Megan Walker are what he would consider to be defensive dynamos. Normally when the two of them are on the court together, Auriemma has chosen to play zone. That could be a risky strategy against a team so reliant on making jump shots from the perimeter.
“A team that has that many shooters, a zone would be challenging to play so it is a decision that Coach (Auriemma) is going to have to try to figure out,” UConn senior guard Kia Nurse said.
The learning hasn’t stopped for Stevens since she arrived in Storrs. She had to sit out last season but was able to practice with the team. It’s one thing to be on the team facing UConn’s starters in practices when you know you can’t play in games. It’s another to be in her current situation where every move she makes is being scrutinized by Auriemma and his demanding coaching staff.
One of Stevens’ current tasks is developing on-court chemistry with fellow post player Napheesa Collier. A season ago, Collier thrived while playing in the low post and finished with the second most field goals made, third most points and fourth-best field-goal percentage in UConn history.
With Auriemma pushing Stevens to use her long frame to score around the basket rather than settle for jump shots, that has forced Collier to play further away from the basket. Collier has gone from shooting 67.8 percent as a sophomore to a career-low 47.1 percent in the first seven games of her junior season.
“It is a challenge just because she is so comfortable down there and I am getting more comfortable down there,” Stevens said. “I think we are learning how to mix and match. We are starting to read off of each other and when one person gets it, the other one dives (to the basket) so that is the stuff that is kind of unguardable. I feel that as the season goes on we will learn better how to move around with each other.”
Collier and Stevens, who were teammates on the gold-medal winning United States squad at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships, combined to wreak havoc both in the low and high post during the fourth quarter against Notre Dame.
While many of Collier’s numbers are down from her All-American sophomore season, she is on pace to have more assists this season than she did in the previous two seasons combined. With classmate Katie Lou Samuelson missing four games and being unable to finish two others, limiting Collier’s looks around the basket has been a priority for opponents.
“The one thing they (UConn coaches) were working with us on is being really physical because that is how teams are playing us now. So I think everybody, include me, needs to get better at handling that kind of pressure. Trapping in the post is something teams have been doing so we have been working on that,” Collier said. “He (Auriemma) wants me to shoot a little more but he also wants me to make good plays, so if they are doubling me and there is a wide-open person I’ll (pass it) but if I can go 1 on 1 I will take it.”
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