Montgomery must keep offense running smoothly
Connecticut can win the NCAA title if: Renee Montgomery keeps the offense running
After a furious second-half rally fell short against Tennessee in early January, handing Connecticut its first loss of the season, coach Geno Auriemma talked about the need for his team to learn how to fix the flaws that were exposed by a better team.
"In March I would like our chances, but there's four or five plays in this game that would have turned this game around," Auriemma said at the time.
Now that March has arrived, have the Huskies learned how to make those four or five plays? If so, most of them likely will run through Renee Montgomery.
Unlike recent vintages, when Ann Strother never appeared completely comfortable as a go-to player and Barbara Turner used up tremendous amounts of energy battling bigger opponents in the post, this year's team has offensive weapons at every position.
Tina Charles has blossomed into not only the nation's best freshman but a low-post threat who deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation with Erlana Larkins, Crystal Langhorne, Courtney Paris and other great pure posts.
Aside from a midseason meltdown that saw her benched for almost an entire game at Cincinnati, Charde Houston has lived up to her talk about playing with a new focus this season. She remains one of the most talented pure scorers around, capable of beating defenders from anywhere inside the 3-point line.
Kalana Greene is an athletic marvel, ranking second on the team in rebounding as a 5-foot-10 wing player and producing highlight-reel layups on a semi-regular basis. As she demonstrated with 23 points in a loss at North Carolina, there might not be a more underrated offensive player in the country.
And Mel Thomas, with so many other weapons around her, has been free to spot up and knock down 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip.
At times, the Huskies almost have more options than they know what to do with -- which is where Montgomery comes in.
No team spreads its scoring more evenly across the starting lineup than the Huskies, with all five primary starters averaging between 10.7 and 13.0 points per game. And for all the surrounding talent, it's Montgomery who leads the way at the high end of those averages. Playing sometimes as a point guard (she leads the team in assists) and sometimes as a two-guard alongside Ketia Swanier, she's a dynamic offensive player with a flair for big shots, as evidenced by her game-winner at LSU.
She's also the tone-setter for Connecticut, and when she isn't in full control, as was the case in the first half against Tennessee, the first half against North Carolina and against Rutgers in the Big East tournament, the offense grinds to a halt.
All four No. 1 seeds have lead guards who slide over to the two-spot at times but generally set the tone wherever they are. Montgomery joins Lindsey Harding, Ivory Latta and Alexis Hornbuckle in that group.
Of the four, only Latta averages more turnovers per minute than Montgomery.
If she cuts one or two turnovers per game and adds a field goal or an assist, the Huskies might just have those four or five plays Auriemma said they would need to win in March.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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