Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

UConn's Collier has fond memories of playing for South Carolina's Staley

Over the last couple of summers South Carolina's Dawn Staley has been able to coach some of the best young players in the United States as the head coach of the U-18 and U-19 national titles. Few players have made as much of an impact as UConn freshman Napheesa Collier.

On more than one occasion she has raved about the compete level she sees in Collier and loves that Collier "doesn't take a play off."

Collier and South Carolina sophomore A'ja Wilson were the most impactful players on the U.S. team which won the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women. The UConn freshman was grateful for the opportunity to play for and learn from one of the most accomplished players in USA Basketball history. Collier was the leader in rebounds, steals and field-goal percentage and was the team's second-leading scorer behind South Carolina star A'ja Wilson as the U.S. won its seven games by an average of 32 points per game.

"I really like Coach Staley, she is a great coach," Collier said. "I liked playing for her with USA so I think it is going to be tough to play against that great coach.
"I think she sees things even before we would see them, what the defense is or helping me to adjust."

While the upcoming game against South Carolina has been on Collier's mind, she did have other things to be fired up about include a special day for her younger brother Kai who signed to play football at Division II Lindenwood on Wednesday.

"I am really happy for him, he get to go what he likes to do," Collier said. "He is in basketball season now but I think he is going to like it there.

"I am glad that he found a school that he likes. I wanted him to be with me so that was the only advice I kept pushing him towards. He saw what I went through so there is nothing I could tell him that he hadn't already seen me go through. It was good for him because it was like he had gone through it a second time so he was already good with it."

Kai Collier had 43 catches for 833 yards as a senior at Fort Zumwalt South highlighted by a game against Parkway West when he caught 11 passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

This UConn team doesn't lack for players with siblings who are accomplished athletes. Kia Nurse's brother Darnell is a defenseman with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, Morgan Tuck's sister Taylor played basketball at Illinois and Katie Lou Samuelson's sisters Bonnie and Karlie are former and current standouts at Stanford.

Collier never thought there was anything special about the way she and her brother gravitated to athletics growing up.

"I never really thought about it before because we just grew up athletic," Collier said. "I guess
looking back at what we did, normal and non-athletic kids, playing football in the backyard and playing all the sports that everybody did but it was fun."

When I did my research to come up with the list of players with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 steals and 200 blocked shots I discovered that Long Beach State's Cindy Brown and USC's Cheryl Miller had more than 300 assists and 300 blocked shots. One problem is I previously reported that Breanna Stewart was the first women's Division I women's player during the NCAA era to accomplish that feat.

I took another look at the NCAA record book and noticed that steals and blocks did not become an official statistic until 1988 so the block totals of Brown, who last played during the 1986-87season, and Miller, who was a senior during the 1985-86 season are not in the NCAA record book. In retrospect, I should have noted that Stewart is the first player to accomplish that feat since blocked shots became recognized by the NCAA as an official statistic.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Nurse finds the range in UConn win

Kia Nurse admitted that the time between Wednesday night' win at Tulane and the opening tip in today's East Carolina game.

Nurse isn't somebody who is going to obsess over how many points she scored. However, she is also a prideful competitor who knows that a seven-game stretch where she shot 33 percent from the field including 25 percent from the 3-point line simply is not good enough. When she missed all six of her shots against Tulane, she was visibly upset on the bench. Although I didn't cover the game, I could pick up on her discontent courtesy of the television broadcast. Geno Auriemma had a much better view of things and felt it was important to have a heart to heart talk with Nurse.

Auriemma certainly was not shocked to see what happened in today's 92-46 victory when Nurse made 8 of her 11 shots including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

"I wasn't surprised that Kia made a bunch of plays today, she made a bunch of great plays," Auriemma said. "She plays really hard every day, she is a competitive kid, she has a certain intensity level about her every game. You can't let whether that went in or that didn't go in dictate who you are. Just keep doing the right things everything will be all right in the end."

Nurse received plenty of support from teammates, coaches, family members and friends but in the end, she knew the only person who could shake her out of her doldrums was Nurse herself.

"The last couple of days were not my favorite days ever but I do think it was a matter of just getting my mind right," Nurse said. "Sometimes you can get that from other people and the support from other people but most of the time, it has to come from you."

So how did she accomplish that?

"Kind of just sitting down and reflecting on what I was focusing on that I shouldn't be focusing on and coming out  with a good game," Nurse said.

"That game obviously didn't go the way I wanted it to, I sat down and watched film on it on the way home. I made some really good plays in that game that I didn't give myself credit for and kind of focusing on the way that you play it, that is what is going to determine how you play that game.

"We just talked about the importance of what you do on the floor, it doesn't have to be scoring and those kinds of things that youmake on the floor impacting the game in other ways and that is something we are all focusing on."

Right on cue, the one play where Nurse showed the most emotion came on an assist on a basket by fellow sophomore Gabby Williams early in the third quarter. It all started with a blocked shot by Breanna Stewart who promptly fired a pass to Nurse near midcourt. Nurse collided with an East Carolina, absorbed the contact and tipped the ball ahead. Williams took care the rest with an athletic catch and finish.

"Stewie just threw it and (Nurse thought) this is going to be short so I said 'OK, I will come back to it and it will test my athleticism right now.' I saw Gabby and I just hit it. I don't know if it was the fact that it was Gabby because me and Gabby have such a close relationship but I was just fired up beyond belief. That was fun."

What was also fun is the reaction to Nurse's parents to her brother Darnell's fight in a recent game with the Edmonton Oilers when saying that he dominated Max McCormick in the scrap would be quite the understatement. The camera panned on Richard and Cathy, both former athletes, and their enthusiastic response (although I am not sure enthusiastic is a strong enough word) has created somewhat of a buzz on social media.

"It was hilarious," Kia Nurse said. "That video was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life. They get pumped up, his second career high on his birthday, he pummeled the guy - fantastic.

"We are a really competitive family but as you can tell when you see somebody doing something really well, we all get fired up about it. He is an enforcer in a sense so we expect things that like."

So how good of a fighter is she?

"I have never been in a fight, there would be a tough box out when I was younger but not an actual fight but he was in boxing classes," Nurse said.

Breanna Stewart needed two steals to reach 200 in her career. I went through the list of players in the NCAA record book (and included Oregon's Jillian Alleyne) with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds to see how many of them had 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 steals and 200 blocked shots.

As it turns out she is just the seventh player but it is who else is on that list that is even more impressive including Maya Moore and Women's Basketball Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller and Sue Wicks.

Player             School                (Years)      Pts   Reb  Ast  Stl   Blk
Cindy Brown Long Beach State (83-87)   2696-1184-348-400-318
Lisa Leslie USC (90-94)                           2414-1214-208-228-321
Cheryl Miller, USC (82-86)                      3018-1534-414-462-320
Maya Moore, UConn (07-11)                   3036-1276-544-310-204
Wendy Scholtens Vanderbilt (87-91)       2602-1272-305-211-217
Breanna Stewart, UConn (12-present) 2368-1028-369-201-356
Sue Wicks, Rutgers (84-88)                      2655-1357-289-287-293
(stats are incomplete for Maine's Liz Coffin and Villanova's Shelly Pennefather)

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Another remarkable milestone waiting for UConn's Stewart

Breanna Stewart's place as one of the greatest players in UConn women's basketball history is already secure regardless of how the rest of the season plays out.

However, the most time that passes the more she is putting her name alongside some of the sport's most iconic figures.

Earlier this season she joined Tina Charles, Rebecca Lobo and Maya Moore as the only UConn players with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She is the only player in NCAA Division I women's basketball history with 300 assists and 300 blocked shots.

I did some research over the last couple of days and with two more steals she will become the seventh player in NCAA Division I women's basketball history with at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 steals and 200 blocked shots as she heads into the East Carolina game with 2,351 points, 1,018 rebounds, 365 assists, 198 steals and 354 blocked shots

Moore is on that list as are Women's Basketball Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller and Sue Wicks. Former Long Beach State's Cindy Brown and Vanderbilt's Wendy Scholtens complete the star-studded list.

Player            School                  (Years) 
Cindy Brown Long Beach State (83-87) 2696-1184-348-400-318
Lisa Leslie USC (90-94)                          2414-1214-208-228-321
Maya Moore, UConn (07-11)                  3036-1276-544-310-204
Cheryl Miller, USC (82-86)                     3018-1534-414-462-320
Wendy Scholtens Vanderbilt (87-91)      2602-1272-305-211-217
Sue Wicks, Rutgers (84-88)                     2655-1357-289-287-293
(stats are incomplete for Maine's Liz Coffin and Villanova's Shelly Pennefather)

One of the most surprising things to take place in the Tulane game was that Napheesa Collier missed a free throw. It was her first miss from the foul line since the season opener. Collier made 24 free throws in a row. She was the first UConn player to make at least 20 straight foul shots since Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis back in 2013.

I went back to 2005 and couldn't find a UConn player with more consecutive free throws than Collier.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

UConn's Nurse looking to find cure to shooting woes

Kia Nurse is not a stat driven sort of player. If she were, there's no way she would have been accepted into the Canadian national team program by established star players. She is, however, a very driven player. On the outside the sophomore guard seemed to handle the shooting issues she has experiencing pretty well. That didn't seem to be the case when she checked out of Wednesday's win at Tulsa. The camera panned on the UConn bench as Nurse came out of the game for the final time and she looked as visibly frustrated as I have seen her.

Due to the weather and poor road conditions, we had a conference call with UConn coach Geno Auriemma rather than the planned open practice and I asked him about how Nurse handled her only game this season when she failed to score this season.

"I think sometimes Kia puts a little too much emphasis on scoring, making shots and contributing that way offensively I think unnecessarily," Auriemma said. "There are a lot of things that Kia Nurse does to help our team be where we are today at both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively. For her to feel that way about not making shots, about coming up scoreless, I don't think that is good for her to be in that frame of mind so it was something that we addressed after the game for sure.

"I think as you get older and you play more basketball, you realize that there are nights when you can get 25 and nights when you are not, night where the basket seems as big as an ocean and nights when it seems when you find it. You can't base how well you played based on how well you shot the ball and that is something we reinforce all the time. Making shots doesn't mean you played well and missing shots doesn't mean you've played poorly."

After 21 games a season ago Nurse was shooting 55 percent from the field and 47.7 percent from 3-point range. She is currently shooting 41 percent overall and 31 percent from 3-point range. Recently Nurse spoke about the "3-second rule" instituted by assistant coach Shea Ralph as the coaches are attempting to keep the ultra competitive Nurse from dwelling on missed shots.

"If I miss a shot or two shots, you are kind of dreading those and we kind of came up with you've got three seconds to be mad that you missed a shot and move on from that," Nurse said. "I don't necessarily hold onto it. I will be angry that I missed it. Obviously you don't want to miss wide-open shots. You don't want teams to leave you open and be a liability for the rest of the team. I have gotten used to 'well that didn't go in, onto the next one' or 'knock this one is. OK, let's do something.'"

It's been especially trying in recent weeks. Nurse has seven straight games failing to score in double figures and is shooting 25 percent from 3-point range during that span.
I will be extremely surprised if Nurse doesn't have a significant offensive role when UConn plays East Carolina tomorrow.

Speaking of Nurse, somebody sent me a video of her parents getting pretty fired up watching Kia's brother Darnell pummel Max McCormick in a recent game between Nurse's Edmonton Oilers and McCormick's Ottawa Senators. If you were wondering where Kia's competitive fire comes from, this video might provide a bit of a clue.

Auriemma said that Morgan Tuck came out of her return to the lineup feeling pretty good and expects that she will be good to go tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Huge night for UConn signees

While the majority of the recruiting focus might be on football with it being national signing day, a pair of UConn women's basketball signees are also in the news today.

Crystal Dangerfield had 26 points in Blackman High School's 67-42 win over Oakland including the 2,000th of her career.

Dangerfield has 90 points in the last three games and is averaging 24 points per game as a senior.

Meanwhile, Kyla Irwin scored a career-high 43 points in State College High's 67-59 win over Mifflin County. All Irwin has done is average 29.8 points in her last five games. She currently averages 24.6 points per game.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

UConn freshmen quietly putting up numbers

There have been players who have come into the UConn program and put on an offensive show game after game.

Seven of the top eight freshman scorers at UConn through the first 20 games are a part of the Huskies of Honor while Breanna Stewart will make it 8 for 8 when she is inducted later on this month.

Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson have combined to score at least 10 points a total of 20 times this season including five games when they both reached double digits, the biggest contributions they have made had come in other areas.

I went back to researched the top performances for UConn freshmen in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots and 3-pointers through 20 games since Geno Auriemma has been the head coach. I should mention that getting all the box scores from Auriemma's first couple of seasons has been a bit of a challenge but I will still proceed.

Samuelson ranks third in 3-pointers made and just missed the top 10 in assists while Collier is tied for fourth in blocked shots, tie for fifth in steals and in the top 10 in rebounding. Also, Collier and Samuelson are currently the ninth and 10th UConn freshman to shoot better than 80 percent from the foul line while averaging at least one free-throw attempt per game played. Collier's FT percentage of 92.9 tops the list while Samuelson checks in at 87.5 which trails only Collier and Diana Taurasi (.878 in 2000-01). Neither Collier nor Samuelson have the minimum of 2.5 free throws made her game to qualify for the NCAA leader board but if they had, Collier would rank No. 1 and Samuelson No. 3 among freshmen.

Here are the freshman numbers through 20 games

Charles (2006-07) 162
Elliott (1992-93    148
Lobo (1991-92)    144
Moore (2007-08)  135
Stewart (2012-13) 126
COLLIER            123
Abrosimova (1997-98) 116
Houston (2004-05) 114
Bascom (1987-88) 111
Williams (2014-15) 106
(Kris Lamb had 137 rebounds heading into her 23rd game but don't have stats from games No. 21 and 22)                   

Montgomery (2005-06) 74
Webber (1991-92)         72
Moore (2007-08)           71
Rizzotti (1992-93)         71
Hartley (2010-11)          61
Lishness (1987-88)        60
Nurse (2014-15)            56
Berube (1993-94)          54
Taurasi (2000-01)         54
Abrosimova (1997-98)  51
Strother (2002-03)         51
SAMUELSON             49

Baer (1988-89)                53 (missing BC game)
Abrosimova (1997-98)    51
Rizzotti (1992-93)           46
Montgomery (2005-06)   36
Nurse  (2014-15)             35
Williams (1998-99)         35
COLLIER                      35
K. Johnson (2000-01)      33
Moore (2007-08)             33
Mosqueda-Lewis (11-12) 31

Charles (2006-07)        42
Wolters (1993-94)       41
Stewart (2012-13)        32
Moore (2007-08)          31
COLLIER                   31
Houston (2004-05)      29
Lobo (1991-92)           28
Schumacher (1997-98) 23
Stokes (2011-12)         23
Dolson (2010-11)       19

Mosqueda-Lewis (11-12) 52
Hartley (2010-11)             42
SAMUELSON                 36
Taurasi (2000-01)             34
Rizzotti (1992-93)            33
Moore (2007-08)              32
Abrosimova (1997-98)     31
Doty (2008-09)                 30
Nurse  (2014-15)              29

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse is one of eight candidates for the Syl Apps Award presented annually to the Ontario Athlete of the Year thanks to her remarkable summer leading the Canadian national team to the Pan Am Games gold medal as well as helping Canada earn a spot in the Olympics by winning the FIBA Americas Championship for Women.

NBA star Andrew Wiggins, Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto are among the other candidates for the award.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Jefferson ready to move by a UConn legend - again

In the midst of UConn's impressive win at Southern Methodist on Jan. 23, there were no lack of friends and family in attendance to see Texas native Moriah Jefferson pass Maya Moore on UConn's list for career assists. Well, when the Huskies play at Tulane on Wednesday Jefferson needs two steals to surpass Moore's career total in that department as well.

Jefferson is not somebody who ponders her individual statistics, but the chance to be ranked ahead of a legendary figure like Moore is something that means the world to Jefferson.

"I didn't even think of it," said Jefferson, who is tied with Bria Hartley for fifth place on UConn's career assists list and is fourth with 309 steals. "I didn't know I was even close to it but the type of player she was is the type of player who came in here every day ready, she worked harder than everybody so just being able to say I've done something like that, it means a lot to me."

Jefferson has 1,319 career points and is only 1,717 behind Moore in that category. If she averages 95 points a game the rest of the way, she could pass Moore in that category as well.

"I have a few games left, I think it can happen," Jefferson said with a laugh.

Kia Nurse has gone head to head with her brother Darnell in a variety of sports over the years but to the best of her recollections, the siblings have not gone up against each other for the same award - until now.

Both Kia and Darnell, a rookie defenseman with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, join women's rugby star Cindy Nelles were named finalists from a group of 22 initial candidates for the annual award.

Kia Nurse has been a finalists in 2014 and 2015 for the award given to the top athlete in the Hamilton, Ontario area.

"That is really interesting for me," Nurse said. "It is something I don't think we've ever done before but it is an honor to be up for that prestigious award. To beat him would be very interesting and if he beats me, OK, I will accept it but it will be a good family dinner conversation."

The winner will be announced on Feb. 25 at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stewart, Jefferson shine in another UConn blowout win

There's plenty of ways to display leadership. UConn seniors Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart are more of the "lead by example" types and that is exactly what they did in Saturday's win over Memphis.

Although the Huskies were rolling along with a 14-point lead early in the second quarter, there was a sense among the players and coaches that the Huskies were somewhat lethargic.

One of the first signs of life came in one stretch when Stewart and Jefferson came up with offensive rebounds that were more about a relentless effort to extend a possession than their natural athleticism.

Saniya Chong had just missed a jumper when Stewart used her 7-foot-1 wing span to secure an offensive rebound that few other women's college players could have corralled. Stewart would miss a jumper of her own. A pair of Memphis players seemed to be in perfect position to snare the rebound only to have Jefferson aggressively chase the ball down. Given a third opportunity, Stewart drained a jumper off Napheesa Collier's assist. The crowd, which had been waiting for something to cheer about, unleashed a rousing ovation for the blue-collar work from the Huskies' star players.

"We made a few hustle plays in a row and got into the crowd into it," Stewart said. "When you have the crowd, that is a huge momentum swing for us."

Jefferson was thrilled to have a role in the signature sequence of events in the victory.

"Those are the types of plays that we have to make and we can make memories on," Jefferson said. "You can have energy and the team builds off of that. If you aren't going for offensive rebounds, if we are in a tight game and need them, we aren't going to be able to do it.

"Those types of plays definitely bring energy to the arena, the fans love it and we love it as a team."

Jefferson admitted that she was not a happy camper at halftime and let her teammates know it.

"I usually don't do too much yelling but I did a little bit at halftime just saying that our energy wasn't there," Jefferson said. "It wasn't so much the things we were doing, we were getting stops and making plays but it wasn't enough. We were definitely low energy and we can't ever have that in any game that we play."

Stewart finished with 19 points as she tied Tina Charles for second place on UConn's career list with the 117th double-digit career scoring game. She also moved within 15 points of tying Charles for the No. 2 spot on UConn's career scoring chart. Stewart added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Jefferson had 11 points and seven assists. She also became the ninth UConn player with three seasons of at least 100 assists and 50 steals and tied Bria Hartley for fifth place in career assists in the process.

Morgan Tuck, who returned to practice on Friday, missed her fourth straight game as she rested her surgically-repaired right knee.

"It is always going to be her (decision not to play) from here on in," Auriemma said. "If she knows she is good to go, she'll go. If she goes 'I am not ready' I trust her.

"She (felt) pretty good but not where she wants to be and I respect that. We will see Monday at practice, we have Monday, Tuesday and shootaorund on Wednesday so we potentially have three more looks at it (before UConn plays at Tulane on Wednesday) so if she goes all three days then we will figure it out. I would like to get her back, obviously."

Warde Manuel, who was officially introduced as Michigan's director of athletics, was in attendance and met with the media at halftime to discuss his decision to head back to his alma mater.

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Memorable Senior Night for UConn signee

UConn incoming freshman Kyla Irwin made sure her final regular-season home game would be a memorable one.

Irwin scored 13 of her 30 points in the third quarter in a 55-40 win over Harrisburg on Friday night as State College High School rallied from a two-point deficit at halftime.

It was Irwin's third 30-point game of the season and in the last four games she is averaging 26.5 points per game aided by a 32 for 37 performance from the foul line.

Irwin's future UConn teammate Crystal Dangerfield's Blackman High School team suffered its first loss to a Tennessee team since her freshman season as Stewarts Creeks posted a 58-53 overtime win. The loss ended a 64-game winning streak against in-state competition for the Lady Blaze.