Will depth be an issue for UConn?
By the time the clock started clicking off tenths of seconds in the final minute of the first half, Doty had already collected four rebounds and scored 17 points, the latter within a point of establishing a single-game career high for the freshman guard.
Whether knocking down 3-pointers (she was 5-of-11 from behind the arc) or going toe-to-toe with the Orange in a game that threatened at times to take on the tone of a slugfest more befitting of the XL Center's other tenant, the Hartford Wolf Pack minor league hockey team, Doty was front and center in what seemed to be a breakthrough performance in front of a crowd of more than 13,000.
Then streaking out on a fast break with half a minute to play in the first half, she reached up and tried to corral a cross-court lofted pass from Maya Moore that could have provided the assist for her new career high. Instead, with Renee Montgomery leaping at the same time inches to the left and unaware of her teammate's presence, Doty came down awkwardly on her right leg in traffic before she crumpled to the floor of the arena.
"It's my knee," Doty cried out into a suddenly cavernous silence, pounding her fist against the padded stanchion at the base of the basket and clutching the same right knee in which she suffered a torn ACL playing soccer as a senior in high school.
The same fist she had pumped in excitement barely a half hour earlier.
Doty didn't return to the game or the bench in the second half. The official word from UConn was that she suffered a knee sprain and an MRI would be performed Saturday afternoon.
"Hopefully it will be better than we think," Moore said. "You feel bad for her, but we're going to have to pick up her slack and be there for her, just like she would be for anybody else."
Given the circumstances, it was difficult not to think back to the team's game at Syracuse in January 2008, when sharpshooter Mel Thomas suffered a season-ending knee injury in the closing moments. Without Thomas and Kalana Greene, who had suffered the same fate earlier in the season, the Huskies played the final three months short two starters.
"Any time that happens you're always thinking the worst," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Doty's injury. "But I don't want to think anything until I hear from [the team doctor]."
When Moore drilled a 3-pointer early in the second half, her eighth in 10 attempts from behind the arc at that point, she became the fastest player in UConn history to reach 1,000 career points (55 games, surpassing Svetlana Abrosimova's previous record of 63). As part of a shooting display throughout a game in which she set a career high of her own with 40 points, it offered a reminder that the Huskies have the best player in the nation and a walking mismatch every time she steps on the court. Syracuse curiously almost dared the Huskies to shoot in Saturday's game, packing its zone deep into the paint and leaving more open space on the wings than there was in the stands. And despite being jostled, pushed and elbowed by the Orange throughout the game, Moore simply found calmer waters outside and made them pay (not that she was averse to mixing it up inside, collecting 10 defensive rebounds and 13 overall on the afternoon).
"Geno's got Maya, and we don't," DePaul coach Doug Bruno mournfully joked Jan. 13 after his team lost to UConn, playing off Auriemma's famous line about Diana Taurasi.
And the sheer dominance of UConn's collective second-half performance -- the Huskies outscored Syracuse 59-25 -- effectively answered North Carolina's demolition job against Virginia the night before as the two teams prepare for Monday's clash of unbeatens in Chapel Hill (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). Even without Doty, even forced to play more zone than Auriemma might like and rely less on the outside shot, the Huskies are the No. 1 team until and unless the Tar Heels prove otherwise at the Smith Center.
But whether Doty misses a couple of games or the rest of the season, a game against Syracuse that demonstrated exactly how good this team can be also left little doubt as to how fine a line there is between prohibitive favorite and flawed favorite.
In a game UConn won by 54 points, a game in which one of its starters wasn't even available for the final 20 minutes, its bench played a total of 59 out of a possible 200 minutes. During the 2001-02 season in which Connecticut went 39-0 and won the national championship, the bench behind Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams played nearly 68.9 minutes a game. This season's reserves are actually ahead of that pace at the moment, averaging 73.1 minutes per game, but with or without Doty in the rotation, the current group's time is bound to shrink as games tighten up in conference play and the postseason. Depth simply isn't one of this team's strongest suits.
Auriemma was complementary of Meghan Gardler's stint against Syracuse, but if Kaili McLaren takes Doty's place in the starting lineup, the proven rotation, such as one exists, essentially consists of freshman Tiffany Hayes and sophomore Lorin Dixon.
"I can check the waiver wire," Auriemma joked after the game. "But it doesn't work that way in college. So you've got to go with what you've got. There's nothing you can do about it. If Caroline's good to go Monday or next week or two weeks or whatever, we've got to do what we've got to do until she gets back. If she's not, then we've got to do -- it's not like we have any other choices."
Saturday's game confirmed what we already know about the Huskies: On their best day, they cannot only beat any team in the country, they can embarrass them. But it also offered a reminder that whatever happens in North Carolina on Monday night, and whatever happens with Doty's knee, there will have to be at least 20 more of those days if they want to win the one game in St. Louis that counts the most.
And nobody ever knows what the next step brings.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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