By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
Whether catching up over dinner or a friendly hug after pregame introductions, Jamelle Elliott knows she will always have Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma as a support system. As both a former player and assistant to Auriemma, Elliott also knows what to expect when her Cincinnati Bearcats (8-11, 0-6) play his UConn Huskies. And that is a stifling defense and a high-scoring offense.
It's why she chose instead to focus on the small victories rather than the 67-31 loss to the third-ranked Huskies (18-1, 5-1) Saturday at Fifth Third Arena.
Elliott gave her team two goals coming out of a 41-9 halftime deficit. She wanted them to limit UConn's offensive rebound total and their turnover total to four.
The team responded to the challenge by only giving up two offensive rebounds and turning the ball over exactly four times in the second half.
"You just got to try to simplify things as much as possible and allow them to go out there and still compete, play hard and achieve realistic goals," Elliott said. "They did that tonight."
Another goal was not to let the Huskies score any back-door layups. Elliott wanted her team to make their defenders shoot the ball from
"Talking small victories, I don't think we gave up a back-door layup," she said.
Elliott was pleased with how her younger players played. She stressed the importance of getting them needed experience against an elite team like UConn.
"Jasmine (Whitefield) went out there, she hit a couple shots; Shelbi (Chandler) was able to go out there and bang with the post players a little bit," she said. "Alexi Durley was a little more aggressive and she wasn't watching the action like she's been doing the last couple days. They didn't roll over and die."
However, it's no secret the Bearcats are struggling offensively and UConn, ranked number one in field goal percentage defense in the Big East, did not help UC's offensive woes.
In the first half, they shot 3-24 from the field, going without a point for almost 11 minutes and didn't score another field goal until Hollins made a jump shot at the beginning of the second half.
When Dayeesha Hollins, undoubtedly their best player, gets in early foul trouble and doesn't score at all in the first half, their offensive production goes down dramatically. That's why it was huge when Alyesha Lovett went on a mini-offensive surge and start making some open shots. All of her team-high nine points came in the second half. Lovett's surge is one reason why Elliott's not too concerned with her team's shooting.
"We've been shooting a lot in practice and I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to bust out of this little shooting slump," she said. "The only way you're going to start making shots is if you continue to shoot them. And we're doing that."
Elliott's team may be struggling to score right now, but she has faith her team will get back on track if they keep doing the little things.
Her players remain positive about the rest of the season.
"We haven't won a game in the Big East yet, but there's still so much positivity on this team," junior guard Kayla Cook said. "There's no negative attention or emotion or anything. Everybody's on board with what we're trying to do."
Even Elliott's friend and former coach believes she can turn around the program.
"Jamelle is one of the most positive people I know," Auriemma said. "I know she will figure out a way to get them to believe as people get healthier and she continues to recruit good players. They have some really good, young players."