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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Catching up with former UConn star Morgan Tuck

The month without basketball games to play took some time for former UConn star Morgan Tuck to get used to.

Tuck, a rookie forward with the Connecticut Sun, did watch plenty of basketball during the Olympics especially when her former college teammates Breanna Stewart and Kia Nurse were suiting up for the United States and Canada respectively. She also had a chance to return to Grand Rapids, the city where she lived until she was five, as the keynote speaker for the Youth Inspires Hometown luncheon.

"I went around, spoke to the kids and a luncheon for scholarship for kids going to college," Tuck said before the Sun's win over defending WNBA champion Minnesota on Friday. "It was really cool being able to do that and do that. They really appreciate it a lot, I received a lot of love and support even though I didn't necessarily grow up there, I moved from there when I was five but all the people that where there were really excited."

Seeing Stewart help the U.S. win a gold medal and Nurse finish as the leading scorer for Canada was special for Tuck.

"When you watch the Olympics and see your country play and it was fun to think 'I know them, I have a relationship with them,'" Tuck said. "I think it is really awesome to see them on TV. For Stewie to go and get a gold medal, that was a dream that she had and it was cool that is happened."

Another thing that recently happened was Tuck's older sister Taylor was named the head girls' basketball coach at Dover High school in Delaware.

"I think that is great," Tuck said. "It is going to be a big challenge for her. I think she will do well, she is 23, she is young and can connect with her players. I think it is a great opportunity for her and I think she really deserves it. I knew she wanted stay around basketball so she is going to be able to coach and go to grad school at the same time so it was good."

Speaking of challenges, Tuck will be heading to South Korea after the end of the WNBA season to play for Shinhan Bank of the WKBL.

"I'm excited," Tuck said. "I don't know a whole lot about South Korea yet, I am trying to learn more but it is going to be a great experience. I have never lived outside the country before so it will be exciting."

Tuck was the third overall pick in the WKBL, one spot ahead of former UConn teammate Kiah Stokes and two spots ahead of Sun teammate Jonquel Jones. Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas was the No. 1 overall selection.

Finally, since Tuck was a part of a talented three-player recruiting class at UConn, I asked her what advice she would give to incoming freshmen Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin who recently arrived on campus.

"I would tell them trust the process, listen to what the coaches are telling you," Tuck said. "It is going to be hard and there are days when you don't want to do it but it pays off in the end. I got to go up to campus a few times when they are up there so they are great kids, they will fit in with the program really well. They seem like they work really hard and are talented of course. I think freshman year is always a struggle year but I think they will enjoy it a lot."

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Former UConn star Moore struggles in first game after the Olympics

Maya Moore returned from her second Olympics with plenty of memories.

However, it is safe to say she will do what she can to wipe away of any recollections of her two games at Mohegan Sun Arena this season.

Moore, one of four members of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team on the Minnesota Lynx, looked out of sorts for much of the 84-80 loss to the host Connecticut Sun on Friday night. It was a far cry from her 40-point performance in the 93-89 overtime loss to the Sun on July 7.

Dealing with foul trouble throughout the second half, Moore was 3 of 12 from the floor and had almost as many fouls (five) as points scored (eight including one point shooting a foul shot after a technical foul was called on Sun coach Curt Miller).

Perhaps Moore and fellow U.S. Olympians Lindsay Whalen, Seimoine Augustus and Sylvia Fowles were a little tired in Friday's game but Moore certainly won't tire about discussing her Olympic experience.

Moore led the U.S. team in offensive rebounds, assists and steals. Even though she finished as the team's second-leading scorer, she showed that she was more than just an offensive dynamo.

"I am fortunate to be gifted to have a lot of weapons but I have also worked hard to make sure I
have been as versatile as possible," Moore said. "It was really a no-lose situation to be on a team where I could do everything I know I could do.

"I don't think I've ever done anything different from what I've always done, it is just a case of
people paying attention to it. It is great because it is something I love about the game of
basketball, people doing different things to help the team. it is ironic that people do focus on
my scoring but I can highlight those little things that I am always tying to celebrate in others."

Whalen was certainly impressed by what she saw from her Minnesota Lynx teammate at the Olympics.

"She was the played on our team that did all the dirty work, she got all the hustle plays, she
ignited some runs," Whalen said. "She led the team in assists which is really great. She just had a great tournament. I think Diana (Taurasi) was shooting the ball great, you have (Brittney) Griner inside, in that first group you have a great point guard in Sue Bird who gets you the ball so she kind of saw the way the game is going , she made a lot of the hustle plays. She still scored a lot of points but she really involved her game in a lot of ways and it was really fun see and be a part of it."

Moore now has multiple Olympic, World Championship, NCAA and WNBA titles.

"It was my second Olympics and how precious it is, I was more aware of how precious that moment was," Moore said.

She admitted to getting emotional before the gold medal game realizing it would be the final time this particular team would play together.

 "I was getting kind of sad of 'oh, this is it. this is the last time the 2016 will step on the floor
together,'" Moore said. "I was starting to get a little emotional during the anthem before the game and not actually after (the game) knowing it was the last time we played together as the 2016 team."

One thing Moore didn't think about was the key stretch in the gold medal game when all five former UConn stars were on the court together.

"We weren't even aware who is on the court, at least I am not, but looking back there was a time
where 'wow, it was really fun to connect with Tina' or the pass it to Stewie where I used to get the ball, it is really fun to have those moments."

Moore figures to be a key part of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. It remained to be seen if the 34-year-old Whalen will be part of the equation in four years time.

"Who knows, four years in a long ways away," Whalen said. "If I were healthy and still good enough to be on the team, I would of course yes. I have had such a good experience with USA Basketball, love the competition but that is a long ways away."

Whalen also weighed in on another player likely to see time in future Olympics - UConn guard Kia Nurse, a star of the Canadian team that reached the quarterfinals.

"I know it helped me from 2012 to now so being 20/21 (years old), what that would do for you, it is huge," Whalen said. "I think she had a great tournament, she is obviously a great player and tough competitor and I think it will only help her in the future."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

UConn great Breanna Stewart: "Nothing compares to the Olympics."

Breanna Stewart was a bit of a USA Basketball veteran even before she played her first game at UConn.

If there was a team to be a part of, Stewart likely not only made the squad but probably was the team's top player.

On a conference call this afternoon set up by the WNBA, Stewart reflected on her first Olympic experience. It was hard to make out everything Stewart said and I was down in Fairfield County in a parking lot ready to conduct an interview for a high school football preview story and had a difficult time getting the moderator to hear by name and affiliation so I did not attempt at ask any questions. Still, here's some stuff you may be interested in.

"I think I learned a lot," Stewart said. "Obviously being able to be on that team where Catch (Tamika Catchings), Dee (Diana Taurasi) and Sue (Bird) were obviously been there a while, also on a team with 11 other great players and continuing to put the emphasis on putting your country before everything else,' Stewart said. "We weren't caught up in anything else besides winning, representing our country and just knowing how big that was on the Olympic level.

"I've (competed) on younger levels  but nothing compares to the Olympics.

"They exceeded my expectations. Having grown up being a part of USA Basketball at a young age, watching the actual Olympics when I was younger than that and to be able to be a part of it, you really can't expect that."

The Olympic break is about to come to an end and Stewart addressed that as well.

"We have 10 games and right now we have a chance to be in the playoffs and it just depends on what we do in the 10 games we still have level," Stewart said.

"Obviously I thought about the WNBA when I was with USA Basketball but at the same time, you turn a switch on and you turn it off. When the Olympic break started, I turned on the USA Basketball switch and now that you've won gold, now you put your focus back with the (Seattle) Storm. I think to be able to make the playoffs will be huge for the franchise and it is definitely a reachable goal
I was only like four or five months out from UConn but it was a great feeling."

Stewart turned a question about how previous U.S. national team training camps helped her make the transition to the WNBA into an opportunity to give UConn coach Geno Auriemma his due.

"Playing at UConn makes the transition a lot better than probably being at other schools just because the standards of Coach and everything else. "

Of course Stewart was asked about having the best selling jersey among WNBA players.

"I saw it this morning on Twitter," Stewart said. "I think it is a good deal, it just kind of shows the amount of support that I have gotten so far in the WNBA and hopefully it will continue and hopefully it is helping the league as well.

"I realize I have gotten to the point where people are wearing my jersey to games, to practice to their every day (lives), it is humbling and it is kind of cool."
I listened into Maya Moore time on the call as well but since she will be in Connecticut tomorrow when her Minnesota Lynx play the Connecticut Sun, I figured I would focus on what she had to say about the Olympics tomorrow.

Former UConn star Breanna Stewart has top selling WNBA jersey

Former UConn star Breanna Stewart is not only well on her way to joining fellow former Huskies Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore as WNBA Rookie of the Year. She is also making an impact off the court as the WNBA announced that since the start of the 2016 season, Stewart has the best selling jersey in the league.

Top 10 Most Popular WNBA Jerseys:                              
1.      Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
2.      Skylar Diggins, Dallas Wings
3.      Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
4.      Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
5.      Shoni Schimmel, New York Liberty
6.      Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
7.      Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
8.      Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
9.      Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
10.  Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever

Top 5 Most Popular Team Merchandise:
1.      Seattle Storm
2.      Dallas Wings
3.      Minnesota Lynx
4.      Chicago Sky
5.      Los Angeles Sparks

Saturday, August 20, 2016

UConn. quintet win Olympic gold

If this was indeed the international swan song for former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, they certainly are leaving with style.

Bird and Taurasi, who first played together during the 2000-01 college season followed up their on-court partnership at UConn by playing together in Russia and of course a remarkable run with the U.S. national team.

Taurasi finished as the leading scorer for the U.S. team and Bird set an Olympic record for assist/turnover ratio as the U.S. won their sixth straight Olympic gold medal with a 101-72 win over Spain.

Taurasi had 17 points as she averaged 15.6 points in the eight games aided by her 58 percent shooting from 3-point range as she joined Bird and Tamika Catchings as four-time Olympic gold medalists.

"It’s huge," Taurasi said. "It says a lot about the people the run USA Basketball.  It says a lot about the youth in our country that when you put this jersey on, there’s a level and it’s not necessarily just basketball, it’s a way to be a great teammate.  We showed that in this tournament "

Former Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen had 13 points and five rebounds. Former UConn star Maya Moore had 12 of her 14 points in the first half and also had five rebounds and six assists.

Bird, who missed the semifinal win over France with a knee injury, had one assist and one turnover giving her 31 assists versus four turnovers in the tournament which is easily the best mark in Olympic women's basketball history. Bahar Caglar of Turkey had 11 assists and 2 turnovers in the 2012 Olympics while in 1996 Hyun Sun Han of Korea had 16 assists and 3 turnovers.

"I’m just really happy," Bird said. "We just did something that’s pretty incredible. When you get together as a team and you know you only have a month to do something, it’s remarkable in so many ways that we were able to put this together and do it in a fashion that leaves no question marks. This put us on the map as arguable one of the best teams, and we had fun doing it.

"I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group that’s this talented and also played this hard. Again, I’m just super happy. I’m proud of my teammates. I’m proud I’m part of this group. I’m happy for Coach Auriemma and the rest of the staff, and it’s just a really fun day today."

In the second quarter alone, UConn grads Taurasi, Bird, Moore, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart combined for 26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a blocked shot as the U.S. outscored Spain 28-15 to take a commanding 49-32 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Charles finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists while Stewart finished with 11 points.

Charles and Moore join Bird and Taurasi as the only players to win multiple NCAA, World Championship and Olympic titles while Stewart becomes the ninth former Husky to win a gold medal in women's basketball.

"This is in a league of its own," said Stewart, who averaged 8.1 points per game while shooting 73.3 percent from the field. "This is a different kind of toughness to be able to win gold medal just because you come together with 11 other great players, best players in the world, and we had two weeks to prepare really. Then we got here and played well and acted like we been playing with each together for the entire year."

Moore joined Taurasi as the only double-digit scorer for the U.S. averaging 12 points per game, she also had a team-high 16 steals and was tied for the team lead with 45 rebounds. It should be noted that six U.S. players had at least 20 assists and four of them graduated from UConn as Moore had a team high 34 assists, Taurasi had 26 and Charles finished with 25.

It had to be extra special for Auriemma. He made it clear after returning home from the 2012 Olympics that he was done with being in the pressure cooker of coaching the U.S. national team. USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan wouldn't take no for an answer and Auriemma decided that being able to coach his former players and especially Bird and Taurasi was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

It wasn't an easy ride. He had to answer questions daily about whether the dominance of the U.S. team was good for the game (like he never heard that question before). When two-time Olympian Candace Parker was left off the team, he faced accusations of picking players because they went to UConn. Those petty claims were on social media even today. None of that seemed to matter after the gold medal game as Auriemma became the first coach to win multiple Olympic gold medals in women's basketball even if he doesn't get a medal.

"Obviously, it was an incredible tournament for us," Auriemma said after the game. "From the very first game that we played to today, with very few exceptions I thought we played basketball at a really high level. I can’t say enough about our players. How quickly they’ve come together, how much they’ve been able to accomplish in less than a month that we’ve been together. It wasn’t as easy as sometimes it looked. These last two games especially with France and today against Spain. These are very good teams that we’re playing, and you could see that it wasn’t just a cake walk, that it was a struggle. Then finally, because of our depth and because of the experience on our team, we were able to separate ourselves. But the way we played, we respected our opponents and we respected the game itself, we earned a lot of respect from a lot of people around the world, and I’m really proud of that."

Catchings has announced that this was her Olympic swan song and we'll have to see if Bird and Taurasi opt to try to become the first five-time Olympic gold medalists in women's basketball in four years time. Also, will UConn coach Geno Auriemma be the head coach for the U.S. in 2020. If I had to guess I would say no on all accounts.

Former Connecticut Sun draft pick Alba Torrens led Spain with 18 points.

Serbia won the bronze medal with a 70-63 win over France. Former Connecticut Sun forward Danielle Page had 10 points as she was one of five players from Serbia in double figures.

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5 former UConn stars go for gold today

The United States goes after its sixth straight gold medal and here are some UConn related things to look for.

If the U.S. beats Spain in the 2:30 p.m. gold-medal game, Breanna Stewart would become ninth UConn product to win a gold medal (and 10th medalist overall as Svetlana Abrosimova won a bronze with Russia in 2008).

Tina Charles and Maya Moore would join Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi as the only players to win multiple NCAA, World Championship and Olympic titles.

The game will air live on NBC.

Here's the breakdown. The number of World Championship titles in parenthesis since the U.S. did not win the title in 2006

              WC                        OLY        NCAABird       02-06-10-14 (3)   04-08-12   00-02
Cash      10 (1)                   04-12        00-02
Charles  10-14 (2)              12             09-10
Jones     10 (1)                   12              00-02
Lobo                                  96                    95
Moore   10-14 (2)              12              09-10
Stewart  14 (1)                                   13-14-15-16
Taurasi  06-10-14 (2)      04-08-12      02-03-04
Wolters  94-98 (1)              00                   95

Thursday, August 18, 2016

U.S. to play for gold medal on Saturday

Former UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore had 18 and 15 points each as the U.S. overcame a spirited challenge from France to advance to the Olympic gold medal game with a 86-67 victory.

Sylvia Fowles had 12 points and nine rebounds while Seimone Augustus and Brittney Griner finished with 10 points as the U.S. goes for its sixth consecutive gold medal when it plays Spain on Saturday.

Augustus got the start in place of injured former UConn star Sue Bird. who hopes to be able to play in the gold medal game.

Former Connecticut Sun draft pick Alba Torrens had 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists as Spain defeated Serbia 68-54 in the first semifinal.

8 UConn players earn AAC academic honors

Eight members of UConn's undefeated national championship team including All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were named to the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team.

Fellow senior Briana Pulido joined Natalie Butler, Kia Nurse, Tierney Lawlor and Courtney Ekmark were also honored by the conference.

Here's a link to the complete list

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Former UConn star Sue Bird "day to day" after MRI on injured knee

Former UConn star Sue Bird suffered a knee capsule sprain in the United States' win over Japan last night according to a release sent out by USA Basketball.

Bird is considered to be day to day.

"Obviously I felt a huge relief," said Bird in the release. "The hardest part is waiting and not knowing. So, to finally get the thumbs-up from the doc that everything was okay was incredibly relieving and exciting, and obviously I’m very happy."

The U.S. plays France in the semifinals tomorrow and with a win would meet either Serbia or Spain in Saturday's gold-medal game. It's too early to tell if Bird will be able to see action during the rest of the tournament.

Bird has started each of the first six games for the U.S. She is tied for third in the Olympics with an average of 5 assists per game. She has 30 assists and three turnovers and her assist/turnover ratio which is twice as good as any other player in the tournament.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic run comes to an end for UConn's Nurse

Kia Nurse will be returning to UConn without an Olympic medal.

Nurse had 11 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shots in the 68-63 loss to France.

Nurse had a tough shooting night for Canada but her three-point play with 4:25 left to play pulled Canada within two points. However, Canada couldn't come all the way back.

Nurse missed a couple of shots in the final two minutes including one with 1:14 left which would have given the lead back to Canada.

Nurse finished 3 for 17 from the field as Canada finished 3-3 while France advances to play the U.S. in the semifinals. Many of Nurse's misses in the game and in the tournament came on aggressive drives to the basket when she attempted to draw fouls against bigger defenders.

She finished with the sixth most points (66) for a Canadian women's player in the Olympics but if you take away her 7 for 11 shooting in the 25-point win over Serbia, Nurse was only 9 for 53 from the field in the Olympics. Nurse finished second on the team with 14 assists.

The game's outcome swung in France's favor in the second quarter. Canada jumped out to a 29-16 lead and appeared ready to run away with the victory but France answered right back with a 12-0 run aided by five Canada turnovers in a 3-minute span to pull within 29-28 setting the stage for a back and forth affair the rest of the way.

"We lacked a little bit of experience at the end," Canadian head coach Lisa Thomaidis said in a release. "We forced up some tough shots we didn't need to, and we had a hard time learning our lessons throughout the tournament."

It will be interesting to see what the Canadian national team looks like in four years. Team captain Kim Gaucher, who had 15 points in Tuesday's loss, is currently 32 while Shona Thorburn is 34.

Current Iowa State star Bridget Carleton was a star in the 2015 FIBA U-19 World Championships while Alyssa Jerome averaged 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in leading Canada to the silver medal at the FIBA Americas U18 championships and was the team's No. 2 scorer in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships. Laeticia Amihere averaged 12.5 points and 13 rebounds in the U-17 event. Canada does have players standing in the 6-foot-3/6-foot-4 range in its program like former first round WNBA picks Kayla Alexander and Adut Bulgak as well as 6-6 Ruth Hamblin. Developing more of a low-post presence on offense could be the next step if Canada want to compete for medals at the World Championships and Olympics moving forward. Too often it looked like when things got tough, Canada would rely on young players like Nurse and Nirra Fields driving to the basket. Once teams caught onto that and took that away, it was tough for Canada to sustain much on offense.

Here is the breakdown of Canada's top Olympic women's basketball scorers
Player                 Year G Points
Bev Smith                  1984 6 85
Dianne Norman          1996 7 84
Kim Smith                 2012 6 83
Bev Smith                  1996 7 74
Stacey Dales               2000 6 71
Kia Nurse                    2016 6 66
Carol Turney               1976 5 65
Beverly Bland             1976 5 64
Alison Lang                 1984 6 63
Shona Thorburn           2012 6 63
Tammy Sutton-Brown 2000 6 62
Tamara Tatham           2016 59
Dianne Norman           2000 55

Impressive second half powers U.S. in Olympic semifinals

Former UConn stars Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi had 19 points each as the United States rolled to an 110-64 win over Japan in the Olympic quarterfinals.

The U.S. were only up two on a young, talented Japan team with 1:29 left in the first half. Seimone Augustus had four points in the final 34 seconds of the second quarter to cap an 8-0 run to end the first half.

The U.S. struggled at times defensively in the first half against the up-tempo style utilized by Japan as Japan's 3-point shooting kept it a close game - for a while.

Angel McCoughtry had 13 points, Elena Delle Donne had 11 points while Augustus ended up with 10 points as did Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen.

"I think it’s just a matter of us wearing teams down," Moore said. "We play at a high level. We try to play at a high level for 40 minutes. It’s not going to happen perfectly. We just tried to do our best to stay with our game plan and be aggressive, and our defense really kick started our offense in the second half where we were able to get a lot of stops in a row and stifling runs that we were trying to make."

Former UConn star Tina Charles had a team-high five assists. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Sue Bird, one of five former Huskies on the team, appeared to jam her knee in the second quarter and did not play in the second half. Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press reported that Bird heard a pop in her right knee and will be reevaluated tomorrow to determine her availability for Thursday's semifinals. Bird has 30 assists and 3 turnovers while running the show for the U.S. team in the tournament. Bird has not made any public statements about her basketball future and if the injury is serious enough to sideline her for the rest of the Olympics and the remainder of the WNBA season (the fact that she was fighting back tears when the camera panned to her on the bench did not bode well), it would be a shame if that was the last basketball she were to play if she decides to join Olympic teammate Tamika Catchings and former UConn teammate Swin Cash in retiring at the end of the WNBA season.

The U.S. will meet France, a 68-63 winner over Canada, in Thursday's semifinal. Serbia upset previously undefeated Australia in the first quarterfinal while a furious finish by Spain highlighted by Anna Cruz's buzzer-beating shot lifted Spain past Turkey to set up a semifinal against Serbia.