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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UConn's Stokes records double-double in pro debut

Kiah Stokes played 146 games in her four-year career at UConn and had one game where she attempted at least 10 shots in a game. One game into her professional career and she has already matched that total.

Stokes attempted a game-high 14 shots, three more than she had in any game as a Husky, as she finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the New York Liberty's preseason loss to host Chicago. Stokes also had a steal and blocked shot while playing in a team-high 25 minutes in the 83-55 loss. Fellow former UConn forward Swin Cash had four points and one rebound while Tina Charles did not play/

Friday, May 22, 2015

U.S. U-16 coach dishes on UConn recruits

There might not be a high school coach who has had more of a first-hand look at the next wave of UConn players than Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) High School coach Dori Oldaker.

UConn Class of 2016 commit Kyla Irwin was a key member of the State College (Pa.) HS team that eliminated Oldaker's Mt. Lebanon team out of the 2014 PIAA Class AAAA tournament. The teams met again in December in the Altoona Tip-Off Tournament. With Oldaker named the head coach of the U.S. team playing in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the trials for the teams currently taking place, the folks at USA Basketball set up a phone interview with Oldaker for me this afternoon.

"A great kid, very talented," Oldaker said. "She can get up and down the floor and I think she will be a swing (forward at UConn). The thing I love about her is that she loves the game. What is nice about her is she can go inside/outside. She is going to be a hard matchup; at the high school level she is a very hard matchup."

Oldaker also coached the U.S. 3x3 team which won the gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. That team featured UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier, De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as Notre Dame signee Arike Ogunbowale. That quartet went 13-0 with nine of the wins by at least 10 points.

"It was fun watching them in what they are doing at the high school level and it will be fun watching them on TV next year," Oldaker said. "They really compete, they are great kids, they have a great deal of respect and are true leaders, true teammates."

UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter is one of 158 players currently in Colorado Springs for the U-16 trials but Oldaker politely refrained from discussing any of the players currently competing for the 12 spots on the U-16 squad.

There was one more UConn connection I asked her about. One of Mt. Lebanon's conference rivals is Chartiers Valley. It just so happens that the Chartiers Valley coach is former UConn guard Ashley Battle who played on three national championship teams during her days as a Husky.

"I actually coached Ashley Battle in the Dapper Dan (classic) way back," Oldaker said. "For her to be a high school player, college player and now a high school coach is pretty phenomenal. She is another great person, another great role model to have in our business.

"She understands where players are coming from, she is a player's coach. I think she has done a really nice job at Chartiers Valley."


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Lofty praise for former UConn star

The best basketball could be in former UConn star Tiffany Hayes'
 future in the opinion of veteran WNBA guard Jasmine Thomas
When Jasmine Thomas arrived in Atlanta she wasn't quite sure what to make of teammate Tiffany Hayes, the former UConn star coming off an up and down rookie season.

However, in the two seasons that they were teammates Thomas saw Hayes transform from a youngster with tons of potential to a reliable night in and night out contributor.

Not only did Hayes average a career-high 28.4 minutes per game but also had her best numbers for field-goal percentage and assists. Perhaps the most noticeable area improvement was in ball security as her turnovers per 36 minutes played went from 2.8 during the 2013 season to 1.5 last year.

"She is just relentless," sad Thomas, acquired by the Connecticut Sun on draft day. "She had gone through some injuries and I liked the way she plays. She gets beat up a lot but she is able to stay aggressive, she attacks and keeps the right mindset. I feel like she is a player who is going to continue to get better each year."

Keeping on the UConn side of things, I still remember who impressed Geno Auriemma was with Thomas back in 2010 when she was one of 10 players in the USA Basketball Women's Select team. It gave college players including current Connecticut Sun standouts Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower, former UConn and Connecticut Sun guard Kalana Greene and Los Angeles Sparks and U.S. national team forward Nneka Ogwumike a chance to work out under the watch of USA Basketball. They even got to work with the national team coaching staff led by UConn's Geno Auriemma.

I asked Thomas to reflect back on how valuable that experience was for her.

"Geno is a coach I admire and being able to play for him, get instruction from him ...," Thomas said. "Coach (Chris) Dailey was also here so she is somebody I looked up to when I was younger so it was a good experience for me that while I was still in college get a taste  of what it takes to be a pro."

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Former assistant coach Guth named Yale's new coach

Yale made it official by naming former assistant coach Allison Guth as its new women's basketball coach.

Guth returns to New Haven after spending three years as an assistant at Northwestern.

Here is the release from Yale

Allison Guth, a former Yale assistant coach who went on to help Northwestern earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 18 years, is the new Joel E. Smilow Class of 1954 head  coach of Yale women’s basketball.
Guth, the 10th coach in the 43-year history of the program, coached at Yale from 2010 to 2012 and then served as an assistant and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats, who went 23-9 and 12-6 in the Big Ten.
She takes over an Eli team that went 13-15 last season and finished tied for third (7-7) in the Ivy League.
"I couldn't be more enthusiastic about my opportunity to lead Yale women's basketball.  Yale is an incredibly special institution in that it provides a world class experience academically, athletically and socially,” said Guth, who recruited Northwestern’s leading scorer last season, Nia Coffey. “I am proud to represent a University that stands for everything that is good and right in college athletics."
Guth, with 10-plus seasons of coaching experience, has a reputation as a strong recruiter. She secured one of the top recruiting classes in the country for the 2012-13 Wildcats, one that ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 22 in all of Division I.
Guth assisted legendary Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown, who has won over 600 games in his career, preparing herself for her first stint as a collegiate head coach.
The 2011-12 season was a special one for the Elis with Guth as an assistant. Yale went 16-12 (8-6 Ivy) and finished second, Yale’s best spot in the standings since 1988-89. The year before, the Bulldogs went 10-4 in the Ivy League and earned its first WNIT berth.
During her time at Yale, Guth coached first-team All-Ivy forward Megan Vasquez ’13 and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Sarah Halejian ’15, as well as four other All-Ivy players.
“Allison was a tremendous mentor to our student-athletes during her tenure as an assistant coach at Yale,” said Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. “Her experiences at Northwestern and her familiarity with Yale make her the ideal individual to lead our women’s basketball program. I am thrilled to welcome her back to the Yale coaching family.”
Guth, an Arlington Heights, Ill., native spent two seasons at DePaul before coming to Yale, handling video exchange, scouting and all on-campus recruiting for the Blue Demons. DePaul reached the Big East and NCAA tournaments in both of her years in Chicago.
Prior to DePaul, Guth served as an assistant coach at Missouri, but she began her coaching career at Loyola-Chicago as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Ramblers from 2005 to 2007.
A 2004 graduate of the University of Illinois, Guth was a three-time letterwinner after earning a spot on the basketball team as a walk-on. She helped the Illini reach the 2003 NCAA Tournament and was an Academic All-Big Ten selection.
While at Illinois, Guth earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business, before getting her master’s in educational leadership from DePaul in 2010.
Guth replaces Chris Gobrecht, who recently accepted the women’s basketball head coaching job at Air Force.

What They Are Saying About Her:
Dr. Jim Phillips, Vice President for Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University
“Yale University is welcoming a tremendous basketball coach and even better person in Allison Guth, the perfect choice to lead the Bulldogs. Her paramount priority is the development and well-being of the student-athletes she works with, helping them reach their maximum potential in the classroom, in the community and in competition. The Yale women’s basketball program is in terrific hands."
Joe McKeown, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at Northwestern"We are really excited for Allison and also for Yale as they are getting both an outstanding coach and person! Her experience at Northwestern helped prepare her to reach her goal to become a head coach. I know that she loved her experience at Yale and is truly passionate about the school and the Ivy League."
Doug Bruno, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at DePaul"Allison Guth was an absolute joy as a member of our DePaul women's basketball staff.  She was the 'total package.' Intelligent & hoop smart, hard-working, a great teammate & flat out fun!!! Allie's best quality was her care and compassion for people. Allison Guth is one of those people who can relate to people of all ages, races, and genders.  She is totally comfortable with paupers & kings. She is one of those people who can light up any room. Underneath her fun-loving persona is also one consummate competitor.  Allie loves to win.  Yale will love her & the rest of the Ivies need to get ready.

Europe is next stop for UConn's Nurse

UConn rising sophomore Kia Nurse is one of 13 players selected to play for Canada in an upcoming six-game European trip.

Considering that she was a starter on a team that finished fifth in the FIBA World Championship for Women and a cornerstone player of her country's national team program, this would have to be about as surprising as the news that Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were selected to play for the U.S. in the Pan Am Games.

Two players who UConn played against last year (UCLA's Nirra Fields and Dayton's Saicha Grant-Allen) were also named to the team along with the Kim Gaucher, Miranda Ayim and Katherine Plouffe who were the only Canadian players to average more points than Nurse in the world championships.

The tour begins a week from today in Logrono, Spain against Poland followed by international friendlies against Great Britain on May 29 and Spain on May 30. The team then moves to France for games against Poland (June 3), Italy (June 4) and France (June 5). Nurse's schedule figures to include suiting up for Canada in the Pan Am Games from July 16-20 and the Olympic qualifying FIBA Americas Women's Championship from Aug. 9-16.

While Nurse's schedule is about to get busy, the same can't be said for her brother Darnell. After his Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were eliminated from the OHL playoffs Nurse joined the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL playoffs. Nurse, a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2013, had four assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus 3 in four games but the Greyhounds lost to the Utica Comets 1-0 in the final game of the best of 7 Western Conference semifinal. If Oklahoma City had won that game and then beaten Grand Rapids, Nurse would have played at least a couple of games in New England as the Hartford Wolfpack meet the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs in the Eastern Conference final.

Nurse was named to the OHL all-star team yesterday.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

UConn/FSU game officially announced

While it's been out there for a while, the Dec. 11 matchup between UConn and Florida State at Mohegan Sun Arena in the Hall of Fame Women's Holiday Showcase was officially announced..

"It's an honor to play in an event sponsored by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame for the third-straight year," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. "Florida State has a lot of talented players returning from a team that advanced to the regional final of the 2015 NCAA tournament and I'm already looking forward to this early-season test. Playing games in Mohegan Sun Arena is always a positive experience and I hope a lot of our fans in southeast Connecticut take advantage of this opportunity."

Florida State coach Sue Semrau addressed the matchup with UConn after receiving the Associated Press Coach of the Year award at the Final Four.

"It is great always to have this opportunity," Semrau said. "We played them back a few years ago and it is time again. If you want to be the best you have to play the best. It is a quality opponent that helps you get better."

UConn will be returning to Mohegan Sun Arena as it will be the host of the American Athletic Conference tournament for the second year in a row which was announced by the conference today.

The 2016 tournament will be played March 4-7, and all 11 American Athletic Conference schools will again participate.

NIKE SIGNS MOSQUEDA-LEWIS, WILLIAMS
Nike announced that it signed the top four picks in the WNBA Draft, Jewell Loyd, Amanda Zahui Bazoukou, former UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Connecticut Sun rookie forward/center Elizabeth Williams.

It might be quicker to name the former UConn stars not represented by Nike than the ones in the fold but Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi headline the list of women's athletes

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Former UConn star Kelly Faris fighting for pro future

A few days before Christmas came some news that shook Kelly Faris up a little bit.

The former UConn star had already planned to use the holiday break to head home and reconnect with her family when the Adelaide Lightning of Australia's WNBL informed Faris that she didn't need to book a return flight as they were cutting ties with her.

When a U.S. player heads overseas, they are expected to contribute in a major fashion since teams have a limited number of spots for American players. However, Faris contributed just 5.2 points while shooting 32.5 percent from the field to go with 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in just under 24 minutes per game in the first eight games of the season. Her playing time took a nose dive as she failed to reach double digits in minutes in three of the last five games before the break.

"It was a little different," Faris said. "I think there were some other issues going on because to be honest, they sent me home but sent me home with pay. I don't really know, I don't think I got the whole story but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. At first I wasn't too happy about it but when I thought about it, I get to go home, get some workouts I want to get in, I get to be with my family and I haven't really spent time with my family since high school."

You won't many people more competitive than Faris so it would be easy to assume when she hit the gym in her native Indiana after being cut that she was ready to work out like a wild woman. That wasn't the case, however.

"You have to be careful and not take it the wrong way, let it fuel you enough but not push you over the edge where I am trying too hard and I am trying to do too much," Faris said. "I have to be smart about it. At first I wasn't happy about it but when I took a step back and thought 'yes, I could have been doing better but there is something else going on.' It makes me want to work that much harder and be that much better."

Faris' goal was to put the work in so she doesn't get sent home again - this time by the Sun.

Faris knows it will not be easy making the 12-member opening-game roster with the Sun. In my opinion returning players Alex Bentley, Kelsey Bone, Kelsey Griffin, Allison Hightower, Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas should be locks to make the team along with 2014 first-round pick Chelsea Gray, this year's top pick Elizabeth Williams. Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas were acquired in the offseason for a reason so that would make 11 of the 12 spots already accounted for. That leaves Faris, Kayla Pedersen, Inga Orekhova, Alyssia Brewer and Ka-Deidre Simmons fighting for one spot. The good news, I guess, is that no players will be late arrivals from Europe so the staff has time to figure out who would be the ideal 12th player.

"I understand that and I know the position I am in," Faris said. "Not to overthink that but just understand that it will be a challenge but it is part of who I am and how I like it. If it was easy, I wouldn't really enjoy it. I have been working the whole time I have been home and now it is time to put all of that work together and hope that I can make a long-lasting, good impression on the staff so they will want to keep me on the team."

Faris did make it to UConn for a bit where she took the court in occasional practices. She got to see up close just how good of a team the Huskies were as they were en route to a third straight national title.

"Everybody on the outside thinks it is so easy, it is a breeze and you really don't appreciate and understand what goes on, (what happens) on the inside," Faris said. "It is so hard. I went out there right after the South Carolina game and they had been struggling in practice and Coach (Geno Auriemma) wasn't too happy. That is how it works, he gets you to a point, something clicks and everybody kind of changes their mindset and you are good to go. That is exactly what happened my senior year so it happens a little bit each year, some years more than others."

Faris was fortunate enough to be a member of national championship teams as a freshman and senior. Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have a chance to play for a fourth title in a row.

"I kind of forgot about it," Faris said. "I am excited to see what happens. They can definitely do it, they have to keep the right mindset. The whole year people are going to try to make that the focus, they just to have to let that go. If that happens, great but kind of like at the beginning of the season when they lost to Stanford, it was the end of the world but it was probably the best thing to happen because it helped keep them grounded and keep them back on track."

As I reported last night there have been allegations of verbal abuse, racism and other accusations against Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant by parents of three former players including Tuck's parents since her older sister Taylor Tuck just wrapped up her playing days at Illinois. I asked Faris how Auriemma is able to push players to the levels he does without being accused of verbal abuse.

"I think, from what I have been told, he has gotten a lot softer from what the older players they will tell stories but the level of respect he has gained for himself and his program, you have to know when you come into that program as a player that is a part of it,' Faris said. "If you don't know that and you don't expect it, you are in for a rude awakening. If you quickly understand it, you change or it is not for you and you go somewhere else. That is fine and he is OK with that but when you have the success that he had, there's no way you can sit there and say 'there's no way this works.'"

As for other items from media day, it has already been widely reported that Ogwumike won't be ready for the beginning of the season as she underwent surgery in the offseason but now comes word that Hightower also underwent knee surgery and like Ogwumike she isn't quite sure when she will be cleared to return to the court.

Hightower was in the midst of an outstanding season in Israel and Maccabi Ashdod as she was averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting 56 percent from 3-point range when she reinjured her left knee.

"They actually thought I had a retear (of her meniscus) which I had over the summer," said Hightower, who missed 33 games over the last two seasons with the Sun. "They didn't know until they went inside that it was the cartilage.

"There's no true timetable , I wish I had a timetable. It is all about how my knee responds and how it holds up during rehab. I hope to play this year.

"The last three years have been the first years I have ever dealt with injuries, it definitely has been tough for me because I want to go, go, go. Then you are getting on the right track and you have to come back. It is definitely the hardest one because it was the first year I have been injured overseas and I was actually playing really well and to have this injury is the worst one. " 


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Messy situation at Illinois

No idea how this is going to end but parents of three former Illinois women's basketball players including one from the parents of UConn's Morgan Tuck (Tuck's older sister Taylor just wrapped up a four-year run at Illinois) make some extremely serious accusations.

The letter sent by David and Lydia Tuck allege that head coach Matt Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team and verbally abused and berated players

Similar letters were sent by the parents of two players who have transferred. You can read more about this story here

The Daily Illini was first to report the story and from what I have seen also did the most thorough job reporting the allegations. The story quotes Lydia Tuck saying Morgan's experiences at UConn are "night and day different" from what Taylor went through at Illinois.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Five current or future UConn players selected to U.S. teams

UConn All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart were among the 12 players selected to represent the U.S. at the Pan Am Games.

It is the third national team Jefferson will be a member of as she played on the U-18 squad in 2012 and team which won the FIBA U19 World Championship in 2013. This is the seventh summer in a row that Stewart will represent the U.S. in an international competition and the second time she will play in the Pan Am Games.

The last time Stewart was a member of the U.S. team playing in the Pan Am Games she made history by becoming the second high school player to play for the United States. Playing alongside a team featuring four players who would be drafted by WNBA teams Stewart led the team in scoring and rebounding while leading all players in the tournament in blocked shots and free-throw percentage.

UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield were among the players selected to the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U19 World Championships from July 18-26 in Chekhov, Russia.

UConn Class of 2016 recruiting target Lauren Cox was also selected to the team after three days of trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Rising college sophomores Azura Stevens of Duke, Gabrielle Ortiz of Oklahoma, Shakayla Thomas of Florida State, Chatrice White of Illinois, Mariya Moore of Louisville and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina are joined by Samuelson, Collier, Cox, Dangerfield, Louisville incoming freshman Asia Durr and California commit Kristine Anigwe. Notre Dame freshmen to be Ali Patberg was selected as the alternate as Cox and Dangerfield, the two youngest players in the trials, are the only players with remaining high school eligibility to make any of the three U.S. teams that were named today.

UConn rising sophomore Gabby Williams and incoming freshman De'Janae Boykin are among the 21 players who did not make the cut.

Joining Jefferson and Stewart on the Pan Am Games team are Arizona State's Sophie Brunner, South Carolina's Alaina Coates, Villanova's Caroline Coyer, Kentucky's Linnae Harper, North Carolina's Stephanie Mavunga, South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, Washington's Kelsey Plum,  Notre Dame's Taya Reimer, Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Texas A&M's Courtney Williams. The Pan Am Games will be held from July 16-20 in Toronto. UConn's Kia Nurse is expected to be a key member for host Canada while her brother Darnell, one of the top prospects for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, will be one of the torchbearers.

The U.S. is in Group A while Canada is in Group B.

On day one of basketball at the Pan Am Games on July 16 Canada plays Venezuela while the U.S. meets Brazil. Canada also plays Argentina and Cuba in pool play while the U.S. meets the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the preliminary portion. The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals on July 19 with the bronze and gold medal games set for July 20.

UCLA"s Jordin Canada, Baylor's Nina Davis, Tennessee's Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell, Duke's Rebecca Greenwell, DePaul's Chanise Jenkins, Maryland's Brionna Jones, Stanford's Erica McCall, Michigan State's Ariel Powers, California's Courtney Range, Oregon State's Sydney Wiese and South Florida's Courtney Williams were selected to play in the World University Games which will be played from July 3-12 in South Korea.

Former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes did not make either the Pan Am Games or World University Games teams. She would have been the first Connecticut native to represent the U.S. in the World University Games since Nykesha Sales in 1997 and first state native to play for the U.S. in the Pan Am Games since Mary Ann O'Connor in 1975.

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