Caroline Ducharme drove into the paint and attempted to kick the ball out to Lou Lopez Sénéchal on the left wing. But Marquette guard Rose Nkumu saw the pass coming in her direction, outstretched her arms and intercepted the ball with relative ease.
The turnover led to a 3-pointer from Claire Kaifes on the other end, allowing the Golden Eagles to trim UConn women’s basketball’s lead to four points a little over a minute into the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies committed five turnovers in quick succession to start the period and went scoreless for five minutes as a result.
The No. 8 Huskies would eventually escape with a 61-48 victory, but costly turnovers derailed the offense and made the matchup too close for comfort at times. UConn coughed the ball up 17 times throughout the contest, allowing its opponent to score 15 points off those mistakes.
This isn’t anything new though. Turnovers have been an issue for the Huskies throughout this season. They are averaging 17.4 per game, the worse mark for any team in program history per online records that go back to the turn of the century.
That average also ranks 231st of 361 Division I teams, per Her Hoop Stats. That statistic is night and day from UConn’s field goal percentage (51.6%), 3-point percentage (41.4%) and average assists per game (21), which rank second, third and first in the country, respectively. It’s clear the Huskies’ lack of ball control is hindering the potential of their offense.
“There’s gotta be a fix for it, I just don’t know what it is because I’ve never had to fix it,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said after the win over Marquette. “There’s been times in the past where we’ve had crazy games early in the season, but not at this point where we’re still making some of the decisions that we’re making with the ball.”
The Huskies committed 17 turnovers in their first game of the season back on Nov. 10, a 98-39 win over Northeastern. They averaged 15.2 through the first five contests, but then got that number down to a season-best 12 turnovers in a 98-53 win over Providence on Dec. 2.
The next game against Notre Dame, Azzi Fudd suffered a right knee injury late in the first quarter. She was ruled out three to six weeks, leaving UConn with just one experienced ball handler: point guard Nika Mühl. But then Mühl went down with a concussion early in the third quarter of the following contest. The Huskies turned the ball over a season-high 27 times, on a staggering 37.5% of their possessions, in that 69-64 win over the Tigers. Seventeen of those coming once Mühl exited the game.
With Mühl out for the next game at Maryland and UConn down to just seven players, freshman Inês Bettencourt started at point guard. The Huskies committed 22 turnovers, allowed the Terps to score 21 points off those and lost 85-78.
It seemed as though Mühl returning to the court would be an automatic fix, but the struggles continued. Though both contests ended in victories, the Huskies had 20 turnovers against Florida State and 22 against Seton Hall. Auriemma missed both of those games with flu-like symptoms; he didn’t watch live, but when he did catch up on film the turnovers stood out like a sore thumb.
“You just say to yourself, ‘What would our offense look like if we made better decisions and took better care of the ball?’” Auriemma said. “So that’s been a huge point of emphasis for us and I hope the players take it to heart, because this is not necessarily a coaching thing, this is an individual thing where everyone thinks that they’re Diana Taurasi or Sue Bird and think that they can make any pass, any time to anywhere. Well, the reason those guys are really good is they don’t try to throw any pass to anybody anytime.
“It’s amiable that they think they can make plays, but there’s got to be a little bit of thought to it. So we’re hoping that we can keep working at it and cut down on some of those things and give ourselves more opportunities to shoot the ball.”
UConn showed some positive signs in a dominant 72-47 win at No. 21 Creighton last Wednesday. The Huskies’ only gave up the ball on 21.1% of their possessions, which was their best percentage since the start of the month. And though it was still quite a high number, the 15 turnovers were an improvement to build on. Instead, they regressed against the Golden Eagles, losing the ball on 26.2% of their possessions.
So what can the Huskies do to clean things up moving forward?
“It’s all about decision-making,” Auriemma said. “And it’s an ongoing thing, especially with our team where I don’t like to do it, but you have to limit what you do and make sure that you don’t pass it a lot. That’s one way to not turn the ball over, don’t pass it, just come down, go pass, pass, shoot it — that’s usually the the fix that we have.
“Because there’s a danger to the other side … If you don’t have a really, really experienced team, they’re going to respond by going the other way and being really conservative and really passive and not trying to make any plays. So I don’t know what the right thing to do is, but hopefully — hey, it’s better than 28, right?”
As Auriemma tries to find the right remedy for the turnover bug ahead of UConn’s Midwest road trip this week with games against Butler and Xavier, so too are the players.
“I think definitely we’re in control of most of our turnovers,” Aaliyah Edwards said on Saturday. “So it’s just by playing smarter and handling the ball with care and really taking care of those possessions, because the more turnovers that we have, the more possessions that we’re losing and getting opportunities to score out of them.”