NEW YORK – Expectations were high for Ossining’s Saniya Chong coming off an American Athletic Conference All-Freshman season in which Connecticut won its NCAA-record ninth women’s basketball national championship.
Chong started the first two games of her sophomore season, then lost her spot after an underwhelming performance in overtime during a Nov. 17 loss to Stanford. She is now playing sporadically off the bench.
One of head coach Geno Auriemma’s go-to options all of last season — averaging more than 17 minutes per game — Chong has averaged around 16 minutes over her last eight games. She saw the court for a season-low six minutes during No. 2 UConn’s 70-54 win Sunday over St. John’s (12-2) in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Auriemma said he has spoken with Chong about her responsibilities, and he did so again after Sunday’s game.
” ‘We didn’t bring you up to Connecticut so you can sit here and watch us play. We need you to contribute,’ ” Auriemma said he told her. “She knows exactly what she has to do if she wants to play.”
Chong — the all-time leading scorer in Section 1 girls basketball — was not available for comment after the game.
UConn’s Saniya Chong, an Ossining native, defends St. John’s Daneajah Grant during the Maggie Dixon Classic women’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden Jan. 4, 2015. UConn defeated St. John’s 70-54.
On her first possession, Chong was electric — driving hard to the lane and drawing a foul on a layup attempt. The 5-foot-8 guard proceeded to miss both free throws and checked out of the game with one rebound and one assist shortly thereafter.
Chong is not the only player struggling for the Huskies (12-1). Senior Kiah Stokes scored UConn’s only two points off the bench Sunday. Auriemma said Stokes has been the only reliable reserve this season.
“They’re hard to figure out, for me and our coaching staff,” Auriemma said. “Just when we think we have a handle, they just kind of lose it. When they’re good, they’re really good. … I just can’t put my finger on it. It’s one of those, ‘I want to play them, but I don’t know what I’m going to get.’ “
Auriemma said he and his staff “obviously” want to give their bench more playing time, but that “they’re going to have to show me that they’re going to be consistent — day in and day out.”
The Hall of Fame coach said Chong’s struggles can be attributed to a lack of focus. “She’s a perfect example of, ‘When she’s good and she’s all there, she’s really, really good, and when she’s not, she’s not very good,’ ” he said. “Her concentration level right now and her ability to just focus on what we need her to do for us, it varies. Some days, it’s exactly what we need her to be; some days, she really struggles with it.
“It’s not as hard as you think it is, and it’s not as easy as you think it is, but it takes a little bit of effort.”