- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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The first thing that popped into my head when I was asked to imagine what it would take to beat Connecticut was Zach Braff's line in "Garden State":
"Good luck exploring the infinite abyss."
Honestly, the single most important tool in stopping Connecticut this season might be getting some quick whistles from the officials. With a bench that extends only as far as Lorin Dixon, Kaili McLaren and occasionally Meghan Gardler, the Huskies' depth is a question mark. The catch is, as aggressive as the Huskies are on defense, they don't put themselves in position to foul. Given their collective speed, they rarely trail plays, and Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles are opportunistic in chasing steals and blocks.
But the seats on the bench have a better chance of slowing those three than you do.
Short of whistle-happy referees, what kind of team can hope to stay with the Huskies?
This doesn't mean Villanova, launching dozens of 3-pointers, but an athletic, well-rounded team that consistently hits 3-pointers within the flow of play.
When Stanford beat Connecticut in the Final Four last April, the Cardinal hit 8 of 21 shots from behind the arc, including a 6-of-12 effort from JJ Hones and Candice Wiggins. When the Huskies rallied in the second half, Stanford's five 3-pointers silenced them.
Shooting wasn't the only reason, or even the primary reason, the Cardinal won, but beyond the simple math, hitting from outside extends the Huskies. And that breathing room might be the difference between an offense's suffocating and surviving.
The same held true for Florida State, which played Connecticut tough earlier this season. A good 3-point-shooting team overall, but one that doesn't rely exclusively on the long ball, Florida State hit 9 of 16 3-pointers against the Huskies.
That's a worry for contenders like Duke, and even Stanford, which really started to find its outside game only after Christmas this season. It's good news for Cal.
File this under "easier said than done," but a team has to take care of the ball. Connecticut has lost 10 games since Montgomery arrived before the 2005-06 season. Only once did the winning team turn over the ball more than 16 times, and that was frequent exception-to-the-rule North Carolina, with 26. Even with that performance factored in, the average was 12.1 turnovers for the winners.
Whether it be Hones, Rutgers' Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon, or LSU's Erica White, a steady hand at the point matters. They don't need to pile up assists; they just need to keep panic at bay.
Auburn's Whitney Boddie lacks the postseason experience, but she's playing like that kind of player so far this season.
In seven of those 10 losses, an opposing player scored at least 20 points. Twice a player scored at least 30 points (Rutgers' Epiphanny Prince last season and Tennessee's Candace Parker the season before that). It takes extraordinary performances all around to beat Connecticut, but one star's raising her game several notches might be a more likely route to success than counting on a balanced attack, with all raising their games at the same time. The problem, of course, is that there aren't many of those players out there.
A player like, say, Kristi Toliver.
Interior size and skill
It's not all about getting more rebounds -- Rutgers became the first team this season to beat the Huskies on the boards, and it still lost by 19 points -- but that's a starting point. Teams need all-around front-court play.
Stanford had this last season, when Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen combined for six of the Cardinal's 20 assists, with Appel passing comfortably out of the post and Pedersen creating mismatches with her size and comfort in the midrange game. North Carolina had similar success with Erlana Larkins, a fantastic post passer, and versatile front-court players like LaToya Pringle, as did Tennessee at times, with Parker and Nicky Anosike.
Stanford still has Appel and Pedersen, along with freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Oklahoma could try with Courtney and Ashley Paris and Amanda Thompson, but they combined for 32 rebounds and nine assists against Connecticut in November, and it barely mattered.
So give me Boddie, Toliver, Appel, Ashley Paris, Marissa Coleman, and a year or two to practice together, and let's go play.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
15dBonnie D. Ford