Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How to build confidence

One pass told the story of how confidence is built.

During an afternoon pick-up game Monday at Gampel Pavilion, sophomore guard Craig Austrie delivered a textbook entry pass to Jeff Adrien on the low block: ball fake high, wrap-around pass, not from the top of the key but from an angle on the wing.

This is when a television analyst (most likely an ESPN staple from the past two decades) gets excited that someone still thrives on the fundamentals and takes out a marker.

We see white squiggles on the television screen.

Freeze it!

Then again, preaching fundamentals is not necessarily a bad thing given the current state of the game.

But UConn coach Jim Calhoun did mention that Austrie would not have made that pass last season. It was a pass, Calhoun added, that only comes with confidence.

Of all the mental facets associated with basketball, confidence is a point guard’s essential attribute. During Austrie’s two years as Trinity Catholic’s starting point guard, he led the team to a 53-2 record. As a senior, he averaged 22.5 points and 5.1 assists, fairly competent and confident numbers.

But as a UConn freshman, there was a flash, maybe two, of similar performances.

After the Villanova game, Austrie did not start the rest of the way, as Calhoun decided to go “big” and went with a starting lineup that placed Marcus Williams with four forwards. Also, when Williams returned from his suspension, Austrie’s minutes waned for obvious reasons, but his QMs (quality minutes) diminished. Granted, a guard’s quality minutes differ from a forward or center.

Look for that to change, that is, if one pass is any indication of the upcoming season.

A closer look at Austrie’s numbers and productivity:

Arizona, 4-4 FG, 6-6 FT, 15 points, zero assists, two turnovers, 21 minutes

Quinnipiac, 3-5 FG, 0-0 FT, seven points, 14 assists, three turnovers, 33 minutes

These are Austrie’s two most productive games. Statistically speaking, the Quinnipiac game is more telling than the Arizona game in Maui. As a traditional point guard, a spot Austrie may need to fill at some point during the season, the last game before Williams’ return is very telling:

seven points on 3-for-5 shooting, 14 assists, three turnovers.

He played with confidence. He took some chances. The result was a win with four players in double figures. Good ball distribution but not exactly your Big East atmosphere.

As for the Arizona game, Austrie shot well but did not distribute. Yes, UConn won by nine over a good Arizona team, but eight total team assists were distributed over six players. UConn also shot 30-for-35 from the foul line, but just 14 of 18 from its interior players. Not as quality as the Quinnipiac game.

Now, when Williams returned, UConn was proportionately a better team in terms of scoring balance.

POINT DISTRIBUTION (four players who scored double figures)
Before Williams’ return: 7 of 11 games
After Williams’ return: 19 of 23 games

However, when the Big East schedule started, Austrie played proportionately well for a point guard.

OVERALL: 61:26
BIG EAST: 26:9
Note: Four games overall in which his assist-to-turnover ratio was below 1:1

Does this mean Austrie took fewer chances later in the season? Did he have fewer opportunities with Williams in the lineup? Maybe he made better decisions.

Maybe he just became more confident.

We’ll find out starting Friday night.


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