Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Valiant effort by Tulane falls just shot as UConn extends streak

Before the season began my belief was that Tulane could be the second-best team in the American Athletic Conference.

I haven't hid my enthusiasm for the way Kolby Morgan plays the game, in my opinion she is the best non-UConn player in the conference. When the Green Wave faced UConn at Gampel Pavilion in January the junior guard had 22 points but received little help from her teammates as the Huskies rolled to a 100-56 victory. Senior guard Leslie Vorpahl had 11 of Tulane's 26 turnovers in that game. It was a different story tonight. Vorpahl had 16 points and six assists. She hit some tough shots all game long.

UConn gave Tulane every chance to win the game whether it was 18 turnovers including some of the hard to believe variety. UConn was also 5 for 12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. UConn's offense, except when the ball was in the hands of Napheesa Collier, was stagnant. Gabby Williams looked tentative and Katie Lou Samuelson continues to miss shots that you'd expect her to make. It didn't help that junior guard Kia Nurse missed the game and according to a report from SNY, she could sit the next couple of weeks to get healthy for the postseason. Her leadership and talent was missed on the court.

There was also some horrendous, horrendous officiating. The fourth foul on Collier was laughable. There were more than a few ticky tack fouls on both sides, a couple on rebounds that went against Tulane. The same official who called No. 4 on Collier made another terrible call against UConn blowing the whistle before any contact was made. There were also two times when it looked to me like Katie Lou Samuelson was fouled when she was NOT in the act of shooting and was awarded two shots both times.

The sad thing about this game is that is it the exception and not the rule. There's no reason why Tulane couldn't have put up a better fight when the teams met in Storrs. Sure, a three-point loss to UConn could be viewed by the selection committee as being more impressive than a win over another time but the positive impact from this performance is negated by the no show back in January.

While the style was much different, UConn's playing not to lose mindset is rather unusual but it has happened before. In some ways this game reminded me of the Huskies last loss to an unranked team five years to the date of tonight's near escape. On that night St. John's rode some clutch offensive plays from its veterans and a strong defensive effort to stun the Huskies 57-56. That St. John's team and this Tulane team couldn't be more different. The Red Storm had the ability to beat UConn off the dribble and was an outstanding offensive rebounding team. Despite Shenneika Smith's game-winning 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, the Red Storm usually did not make a living on the 3-point shot. Tulane can live and die at times on its perimeter offense and the Green Wave came into the game ranking 10th out of 11 AAC teams in offensive rebounds.

The good news is that for UConn it could be a throw some cold water in your face kind of a moment. It is also a reminder that even the best teams can get caught up in the moment. Was there a hangover from the win against South Carolina and hoopla from the 100th straight victory? Perhaps. But it was also a case of a Tulane team that could very well make the NCAA tournament (although the loss to Memphis is a killer) not backing down.  The next game is against a very good Temple team and the final game of the regular season will be at South Florida, a team with a lot to play for especially after a humbling 65-point loss to UConn on Jan. 10.

I'll end this post with a little housekeeping. If USF beats Temple tomorrow the Huskies will have clinched at least a share of the AAC regular-season title since both Temple and USF would be three games back with three games left. A win by USF would pretty much wrap up a top three seed for the Bulls leaving Tulane, Cincinnati, UCF and Memphis to fight it out for seeds No. 4-7. Currently SMU and Tulsa are sitting in the No. 8 and 9 slots meaning they would meet in the opening round of the AAC tournament with the winner drawing UConn in the quarterfinals. Wednesday's SMU/Memphis game could give SMU a chance to move out of the dreaded 8/9 game.

Former UConn star Rebecca Lobo a finalist for Naismith Hall of Fame

The Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2017 finalists were announcer today and leading the list on the women's side is former UConn star Rebecca Lobo.

Lobo was the national player of the year as a senior when she led the Huskies to their first undefeated season culminating with a victory in the 1995 national championship game.

When she graduated she ranked second in program history with 2,133 points (she is currently ninth) and was the career leader in rebounds and blocked shots. Lobo was also named the NCAA Woman of the Year and was the first of three Huskies to earn Academic All-American of the Year honors.

A member of the gold-medal winning 1996 Olympic team, Lobo's professional career was cut short due to injury but she has been a visible part of the game as an announcer for ESPN.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, whose Fighting Irish teams are responsible for seven of the last 11 losses suffered by UConn, is also a finalist as is Baylor coach Kim Mulkey along with the 1950s Wayland Baptist team which owns the women's basketball record with a 131-game winning streak.

Friday, February 17, 2017

UConn's Kia Nurse to be game-time decision

There's nothing new to report on Kia Nurse's tender right ankle.

Nurse was clearly hobbled a season-low 18 minutes in Monday's win over South Carolina. Nurse was able to play in the second half, although for only a total of 5:52.

Nurse is considered to be a game-time decision which means her status may not be determined until the shootaround the day of the game as the UConn medical staff will need to determine whether Nurse will benefit enough from sitting her out to have her miss Saturday's game at Tulane.

Nurse has never missed a game in her time at UConn and certainly if it is left up to her, she will play but we'll have to see how UConn proceeds tomorrow especially with UConn not playing again until Wednesday.

SNY is televising the game so I would expect sideline reporter Justine Ward to be at the shootaround, you can check her Twitter account (@JustineBWard) for an update at or after the shootaround.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

UConn signee Espinoza-Hunter a finalist for Miss New York Basketball

UConn incoming freshman Andra Espinoza-Hunter is one of five finalists for the Miss New York Basketball Award.

Espinoza-Hunter is averaging 37 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals per game as a senior at Ossining (N.Y.) High School.

Other finalists are Katherine Cain of Pine Bush, Annabelle Hinds of Northstar Christian Academy, Danielle Patterson of Mary Louis Academy, Caroline White of  Fairport High School.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Playoffs set for trio of UConn signees; Update on former Husky

While their future team still has four regular-season games left to play, it is one and done time for UConn signees Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Mikalya Coombs.

Espinoza-Hunter's Ossining High team earned the No. 1 seed in the New York Section 1 Class AA tournament and will host the winner of the White Plains/Clarkstown North game on Saturday at noon. The quarterfinals are set for Feb. 24 with Ossining hosting if it wins its opener. The semifinals and finals will be played on Mar. 2 and 5 at Westchester County Center.

Espinoza-Hunter is averaging 37.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.3 steals with 71 3-pointers in 19 games.

Coombs' Wesleyan School team received a first-round bye in the Georgia Class A tournament and will play the winner of the Savannah Christian/George Walton on Feb. 22. The quarterfinals are Feb. 28, the semifinals are March 4. The Holy Innocents' team that Wesleyan just beat to win the district title is on the other half of the bracket so a rematch wouldn't take place until the state final if both teams get there.

Coombs is averaging 16.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.1 steals per game in 28 games for Wesleyan.

Fellow UConn incoming freshman Megan Walker (averaging 26.1 points, 7..5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game) will have to wait for the state playoffs to start but did net 32 points to lead her Monacan (Va.) High School team to a 79-60 win over Huguenot to advance to Friday's Conference 20 title game.

Lexi Gordon, the other player in UConn's recruiting class, saw her high school career end when LD Bell lost to Plano 59-41 on Tuesday. Gordon finished with 21 points and five rebounds as she had more than 2,500 career points and exactly 1,000 rebounds in her career.

In her final game, LD Bell Sr @Lexi_g34 grabbed 5 rebs to finish her high school career with 1,000 boards #uconn #txhshoops @theroyreport

BOYKIN'S SEASON IS OVER
Former UConn commit De'Janae Boykin will miss the rest of Penn State's season according to a report.

Boykin averaged 4.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in six games. Since she transferred at the end of last year's fall semester, she wasn't eligible to play until the fall semester was completed.

The report indicates that Boykin suffered a lower leg/ankle injury.

Report: UConn to play Ohio State at site of 2018 Final Four

UConn didn't mess around in its non-conference schedule this season opening up on the road against Florida State before hosting Baylor. Well, it looks like there will be another tough test to open up the 2017-18 season.

There was a press conference today in Columbus, Ohio revealing the logo for the 2018 Final Four. It was also announced that Nationwide Arena will host a doubleheader on Nov. 12 with Ohio State playing UConn and Stanford meeting Louisville in the "Countdown to Columbus" event.

There's a chance that could be the first game for transfers Azura' Stevens and Batouly Camara as well as the debuts for incoming freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon and Megan Walker but we'll have to see on that is the case because the Huskies could play a game as early as Nov. 10 next season.

ANOTHER PRESTIGIOUS HONOR FOR WOLTERS
Former UConn star Kara Wolters will be a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class later this year and now comes word that she will receive the Red O'Neill Award on April 26, when The UConn Club hosts its 64th Annual Awards Ceremony at the Jorgensen Center For The Performing Arts.

Here's the release from UConn

The Red O'Neill Award is given annually by The UConn Club to a former Husky student-athlete who has mirrored the Red O'Neill-type attributes of character, leadership, athletic ability, and later, a successful career.

The UConn Club Awards Program begins with a social hour at 6:00 p.m. with heavy hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar. The awards ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. with a dessert reception to follow. The event is open to the public and ticket information will be announced soon.

Wolters played for the Huskies from 1993-97 and was a member of the 1995 national championship team and ’96 Final Four squad. She was the Associated Press National Player of the Year as a senior and was a two-time First Team All-American as a junior and senior by the AP.

Wolters’ selection to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame was announced last week and she will be inducted on June 10 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Wolters was the Big East Conference Player of the Year as a senior and the Big East Tournament MVP as a junior and senior.

Wolters remains eighth in school history in career rebounds with 927 and is third in blocks with 370.

She was a member of the 2000 United States Olympic team that won a gold medal and was also a member of the 1997 USA national team. In 1996, she won a gold medal with the United States at the World University Games. Wolters was an alternate for the 1996 United States Olympic team.

Wolters played five seasons in the WNBA for Houston, Indiana and Sacramento and also played for the New England Blizzard of the ABL in 1998. As a rookie, she was part of Houston’s 1998 WNBA championship team.

She is one of only nine women’s basketball players in history to win an NCAA Championship, an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA Championship. Wolters was a member of the inaugural class of the Huskies of Honor recognition program.

Wolters currently serves as a studio host for UConn women’s basketball games on SNY. Her broadcasting duties also included a stint as the color analyst for UConn games on WTIC NewsTalk.

She operates the Dream Big Basketball Camps each summer, gives private basketball lessons and serves as a motivational speaker.

Wolters is a native of Holliston, Mass., and played at Holliston High School. She and her husband, Sean Drinan, have two daughters -- Sydney Elizabeth and Delaney Katherine.

Wolters is involved in fundraising for The Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center in Hopkinton, Mass. The center provides emotional and physical support for individuals with disabilities and their families. Wolters’ sister, Katie, benefited greatly from the services of the center before passing away in 2004.
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Collier delivers again for UConn

The whistle blew and the news was not good for Napheesa Collier.

On a night when her team could not afford to have the sophomore forward on the bench, Collier was expecting to be take a seat after she picked up her second foul with 3:51 left in the second quarter. However, UConn coach Geno Auriemma never went to his bench except to give the hobbled Kia Nurse a break with 2:09 remaining in the first half.

Collier not only didn't pick up her third foul but scored all the points in a 7-0 run to end the half. No play was bigger than a steal and layup just before the second quarter came to an end. Instead of South Carolina hitting a basket so it could be a one-possession once again, she stepped in front of a Bianca Cuevas-Moore pass and went coast to coast for the layup.

"It was such a momentum changer going into halftime ending with a steal and a layup," Collier said.

The third foul came just 2:46 into the third quarter and once again she remained on the court. Collier delivered again with one of her most memorable plays of the season.  Collier had just scored to push the lead to nine points late in the third quarter. On the next possession she grabbed a rebound after a missed jumper by Kaela Davis. Two South Carolina players attempted to tie her up but she aggressively protected the ball and started up the court. Collier was rewarded with a pass from Saniya Chong en route to a three-point play with 3 seconds  left in the third qiuarter to give UConn a 12-point lead.

"It is just about hustle plays and that is what I try to do," Collier said.

Collier's issues with fouls did not end in the third quarter. She picked up foul No. 4 with 7:21 left. Classmate Katie Lou Samuelson also had four fouls and UConn's top two scorers this season went to the bench with the Huskies holding a 13-point lead.

When they came back in with 3:16 to play UConn's lead was pushed to 16 points. Collier wouldn't finish the game on the court as she was called for an offensive foul trying to score in transition just 15 seconds later.

"A lot of my fouls, I shouldn't have (committed) especially my fourth one I shouldn't have  pushed her from behind," Collier said. "I think what I should have done was let that go. I think I need to play a little smarter."

Collier finished with 18 points and nine rebounds despite playing less than three minutes in the fourth quarter as UConn extended its NCAA basketball all-division record for consecutive wins to 100 games.

Although the 6-foot-1 Collier and 5-foot-11 Gabby Williams gave up a total of nine inches to the South Carolina duo of Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson, they combined to outscore them 44-27 and outrebound them 23-20.

"There were some adjustments that we made and we tried to keep it out of the high post, we did a good  job with it," Collier said. :In the first half they got a couple of layups on us but I think we tried to adjust with our guards to trap, I think we made the right adjustments."

Collier also credited the energetic student section for making it an electric environment.

"Today was crazy," Collier said. "The student section was amazing. I don't think we've had that many students before since I have been here so having them all come out and support us and how great the environment was, I think that really helped us."

TOPPING THE CHARTS
Seeing a UConn team open the season with 25 straight wins is hardly a new phenomenon as it is something that has happened nine times since the 1994-95 season including five times in the last nine campaigns.

However, a quick look at the national standings provides an indication of how impressive of a run it has been for this UConn team.

UConn owns wins against the leaders and/or co-leaders in the ACC (Florida State and Notre Dame), Atlantic 10 (Dayton), Big 12 (Texas), Big 10 (Maryland), SEC (South Carolina, although UConn has not played co-leader Mississippi State) and Southern (Chattanooga). So UConn has beaten the first-place team in five of the top seven conferences in the latest RPI. One of those conferences the Huskies don't own a win over the No. 1 team is the American Athletic Conference since the Huskies can't beat themselves while there were no games scheduled against the Pac-12, the conference with the top RPI.

IMPRESSIVE RATINGS FOR 100TH STRAIGHT WIN
ESPN announced that top-ranked UConn’s 66-55 milestone 100th-consecutive victory over No. 6 South Carolina on Monday delivered a 0.9 overnight rating, marking the highest-rated college basketball game on ESPN2 this season among men’s and women’s telecasts, and the highest-rated women’s college basketball regular season game since 2010.

Online, the game also attracted 69,000 unique viewers with a total of 1,700,000 minutes watched, which makes this matchup the most streamed women’s college basketball regular-season game to date televised by ESPN. The Big Monday matchup ties Tennessee vs. Duke (Jan. 23, 2006) as the fourth-highest regular-season women’s college basketball game across all ESPN networks.

Local markets: Hartford/New Haven, the No. 1 local market, earned a 14.3 local rating, making this the highest-rated women’s college basketball game in market across all ESPN networks since 2010. Greenville was second with 2.3 rating, followed by Knoxville (2.0), Charlotte (1.7) and Cincinnati (1.6).

Williams, Collier lead UConn to 100th win in a row

Gabby Williams has had some masterful games this season but it could be argued that she never had a bigger impact from start to finish than she did in the 66-55 win over South Carolina, a victory that extended the Huskies' NCAA basketball all-division record for consecutive wins to 100.

Williams had a career-high 26 points to go with 14 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots despite going up against either 6-foot-5 A'ja Wilson or 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates for most of the game.

"You can't explain Gabby Williams ever having any expectations of ever being Maya Moore and with a Maya Moore performance tonight exactly when she needed it exactly when it needed to be done," Auriemma said. "Did we know when it was going to happen but we just know when we recruit kids, it is going to happen and they believe it because it is expected."

It just so happened that Moore was one of the alumni sitting behind the bench. Williams' former teammates Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were among the UConn alumni row.
"It felt great especially with the alumni there especially with Stewie and Tuck there because I think those guys have kind of watched me grow," Williams said. "This game was won by effort, I am really proud of how tough and composed we were today."
Collier finished with 18 points and nine rebounds as she teamed with Williams to outscored South Carolina's All-American frontcourt tandem of Wilson and Coates 44-27 they also had 23 rebounds, three more than Coates and Wilson combined for.

The Huskies wrapped up the non-conference portion of the schedule with a perfect 13-0 record playing eight ranked teams and another that would be ranked after the Huskies played them. Four games remain in the regular season beginning with Saturday's game at Tulane.

Kia Nurse only played in six minutes due to a tender ankle. She wanted no part of discussing her health after the game but she did see some time late in the game as she hit a key 3-pointer late. With Nurse scoring just three points and Katie Lou Samuelson finishing with a season-low six points, the Huskies still emerged with a hard-fought victory.

"Sometimes it is just meant to be, it is the best thing I can say," Auriemma said. "I didn't go into tonight's game with as much confidence as in the Maryland game, at Notre Dame and some of those other games. I thought tonight was going to be a really difficult game for us to win  under the best of circumstances because I could see happening what happened. I've been saying to anybody who was following our team all year long that we are one injury, a couple fouls away from just being average at best but it was meant to be. You could see the signs, Saniya took two charges, that is like (seeing) Haley's Comet, Lou got an offensive rebound and got fouled. That is the biggest phenomenon I've seen so things were happening out there that you can't explain."
Another key part to the win was freshman Crystal Dangerfield's 30 quality minutes as she had a game-high seven assists. There will be more on her coming up in Wednesday's paper.

Monday, February 13, 2017

UConn's crazy stat of the day

One of the things that caught my eye when I was doing my research on South Carolina is that in six games against ranked teams, the Gamecocks have drawn an average of 25 fouls per game (actually 24.5) including 29 called against Ohio State and Texas.

With that information, I started looking and UConn has lost its last seven games when being called for at least 24 fouls

Jan. 15, 2001 UConn called for 32 fouls and lost 92-76 at Notre Dame
Feb. 1, 2001: UConn called for 30 fouls and lost 92-88 at Tennessee
Mar. 30, 2001: UConn called for 28 fouls and lost 90-75 to Notre Dame in the Final Four
Jan. 7, 2006: UConn called for 30 fouls and lost 89-80 at Tennessee
Jan. 15, 2007: UConn called for 25 fouls and lost 82-76 at North Carolina
Mar. 4, 2013: UConn called for 27 fouls and lost 96-87 in triple overtime at Notre Dame
Nov. 17, 2014: UConn called for 24 fouls and lost 88-86 in overtime at Stanford

Obviously other than the Final Four loss to Notre Dame, the other games have been on the road.

My hope is that this is the last I have to write about fouls today and the top players from both teams can play for as long as their coaches want them in there.

UConn's streak: By the Numbers

Here's a breakdown of some numbers from UConn's 90-game winning streak during the Maya Moore era and the current run of 99 wins in a row

2007-10   2014-present
90 Games                   99
29 Ranked opponents 27
40 Games trailed         43
114:38 Time trailed 155:17
19 Players  18
82.7 Points scored 88.1
49.3 Points allowed 49.4
33.4 Scoring margin 38.7
1221 Off. rebounds 1255
3910 Rebounds 4110
1117 Rebound margin  1025
1785 Assists  2171
832   Steals  1074
481  Blocks  655
584 3-pointers 782
1269 Turnovers 1199
51.1 FG percentage 53.2
35.9 3-point pct. 39.1
73.1 Free throw pct. 76.8
31.6 FG defense 32.4
27.6 3-point defense 27.4
64.9 FT defense 67.3
Games decided by 20 points or less: 2008-10 20; 2014-present 15
Games decided by more than 40 points: 2008-10 28; 2014-present 59

Traffic alert for those driving to UConn/South Carolina game

A serious accident involving a tractor trailer on I-84 could create some issues for people driving into tonight's UConn/South Carolina women's basketball game.

The last update I've seen is that I-84 is currently closed caused by a crash near exit 68 on I-84.

UConn sent out a release recommending drivers take alternate routes to the game.

Interstate 384 east to Route 44 east through Coventry and into Mansfield, turning right on Discovery Drive to enter campus.

Interstate 84 east to Exit 67 (Route 31). Turn right at end of exit and follow Route 31 to Route 44 in Coventry. Turn left on Route 44 and continue through Coventry and into Mansfield, turning right on Discovery Drive to enter campus.

Westbound traffic on I-84 from Massachusetts and other points is not expected to be affected by the eastbound problems, and should still be able to take Exit 68 onto Route 195 to campus.

Drivers should be able to take their regular routes home after the game.

Not everybody ready to celebrate UConn's dominance

I have to admit that I've found the feedback to the UConn women's basketball team's winning ways to be a bit of a curiosity,

There certainly are those who appreciate what the Huskies do game in, game out and season in, season out but on days like today when UConn goes after its 100th win in a row it seems like they are in the silent minority,

There are the "anybody but UConn" women's basketball people who believe that ESPN's coverage is of the "all UConn all the time" variety. That could be close to being true the last couple of days when ESPN going from not even taking wins No. 89, 90 and 91 in a row as the UConn games it chose to broadcast this season to going somewhat overboard in the promotion of the game over these last few days. It has culminated with tonight's contest at South Carolina likely being the most heavily promoted regular season women's college basketball in history. I can't even imagine the mood of those "tired of UConn" people right about now or what they were feeling when their team had a game on one of ESPN's channels and there was constant chatter during the game and at halftime about UConn's dominance. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley referenced this when she said (with a smile on her face), "probably everybody in America is going to be cheering for us" after the Gamecocks' most recent game.

Those people I mentioned above aren't even close to being to people most annoyed by the attention UConn is receiving. I'm sure if I logged into Twitter right now it wouldn't take much effort to find the "you couldn't pay me to watch the UConn women's basketball team play" or "yawn, another 20-point win" or of course the, "why are they comparing this to men's basketball."

When ESPN college basketball college analyst calls Gabby Williams the most complete player in the game (meaning the men's and women's game) there have been plenty of social media posts wondering why she wasn't recruited by one of the elite men's programs. The next one of these that is as humorous as the person typing into their keyboard thinks that it is would be the first. Yes, players and teams in women's basketball can be celebrated without the men's basketball faithful being threatened. Not that anybody asked my advice but if you don't have an interest in women's college basketball, don't watch. My Twitter feed last night was inundated with posts about the Grammy Awards which is something I had zero interest in watching. I thought it's great that there are those who can't wait for that show to be shown on television and I wouldn't dream of posting my disdain at watching the Grammy Awards, I merely watched something else.

Auriemma has heard all of this before and he is the one who has to answer these questions even though he has never claimed that his program is superior to the UCLA men's basketball teams in the 1970s. Auriemma followed those teams especially when Philadelphia raised guards Walt Hazzard and Andre McCarter played for Wooden.

Naturally, the UCLA subject was raised in the press conference after UConn beat SMU for win No. 99 in a row.

"You couldn't tell me what UCLA stands for and I could put you a mile from their campus and you wouldn't know where it was," Auriemma said of the naysayers. "You've never seen them play back in those days, you don't know anything about their program, who they beat, how they got to the Final Four, how they won championships, you know nothing about them, you just know, 'I hate women's basketball and you are not UCLA.' I get that but back then the game of college basketball wasn't viewed as it was today, there was no competition."

Auriemma has incredible respect for what John Wooden accomplished and it has been well documented over the years. He still laughs when he recalls an unforgettable face to face meeting he had with Wooden only to see an interview with Wooden years later when he said he never met Auriemma.

Knowing how competitive Auriemma is, I am sure he would love for games like tonight to the rule and not the exception. If all he wanted to do was extend a winning streak, he wouldn't have scheduled games at Florida State, at Maryland, at Notre Dame or home games with Baylor and South Carolina since any or all of those teams could have beaten the Huskies. He wouldn't have pushed for the American Athletic Conference schedule to be cut from 18 to 16 games so he could add more challenging non-conference games to UConn's schedule, I'm sure he'd be just fine if things were like they were during the 2000-01 season when he had one of his most talented teams featuring seven future first-round WNBA draft picks and five future Olympians only to suffer losses to impressive Notre Dame and Tennessee teams. It forced all three programs to raise the level of their play. Those UConn/Tennessee games when Tamika Catchings and Svetlana Abrosimova were suiting up were women's basketball's version of must-see TV. If South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor, Maryland or another team rises to that level, that would be a good thing for that program and the sport. It wasn't that long ago when Notre Dame won seven out of eight games against UConn or Baylor was being touted as having potentially the best team in the sport's history when Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims shared the court for the Lady Bears. It is quite possible that one of those teams will be cutting down the nets at the Final Four or maybe it will title No. 12 for UConn.

Auriemma appreciates the teaching impact that a loss can bring. The stunning defeat to Villanova in the 2003 Big East tournament final set the stage for the Huskies winning the national title last year and the 2014 loss to Stanford forced some of the Huskies' role players to take a good, hard look in the mirror resulting in the history-making that followed. I'm not sure the 2001-02 team would have played as well as it did without being motivated by the loss to Notre Dame in the 2001 Final Four. Winning 59 of the last 99 games by at least 40 points or having 56 games during the streak when UConn won a game without trailing. Still, Auriemma expects his players to give as much effort when they play East Carolina or Tulsa as he does when South Carolina comes to town. It is an expectation level that starts in the recruiting process.

Gabby Williams is her own toughest critic. She wanted no part of a question of whether she thinks she should be a national player of year candidate earlier this week instead discussing the areas where she feels like she should be performing better. Napheesa Collier is in the midst of one of the best seasons a UConn forward has ever enjoyed and in a recent interview with me she mentioned that she wasn't being as aggressive as she needs to be. If a player is content to be good they probably aren't going to last at UConn or at least play a significant role. It is a subject I brought up in an interview with UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey earlier this season.

"They understand that there is a certain way because that is the expectation that we have, we are holding them to a standard every day," Dailey said. "Every second we are in the gym, you are being held to a certain standard and I think they understand that. I think what they have shown is that they too have embraced the challenge, they have embraced the schedule that we have this year, how tough it is when you are Connecticut and you are ranked No. 1. They have embraced all of that and have taken everybody's best shot including the coaches every day and have always gotten back up and performed. I think that is a credit to our players, a credit to the types of kids that we get."

Auriemma and Dailey have the ability to recruit nationally, something they didn't have when they first started. The Huskies' first Final Four team featured 13 of the 14 players being from New England, New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. When UConn won its first national title in 1995, eight of the 12 players were from New England. When the Huskies take the court tonight, there will be starters raised in California, Missouri, Nevada and Ontario but Auriemma and his staff look for many of the same attributes in today's players that he and they did back in 1985.

"Number one, the talent part is obvious so we are looking for the talent part but beyond that, a lot of the talented kids that we recruit, they happen to be on really good teams and then you are looking for, 'what kind of impact do they have on their teams,'" Auriemma said. "Just because you are a really talented kid doesn't mean you have an incredible impact on your team so when I see a kid playing high school and I see that she impacts the team in so many ways and that impact is directly related to how much she is doing to help her team win then you kind of go, 'hmm, I think we've got something here.' Then you can tell by what they ask you in the recruiting process and how they answer certain questions you ask them. The majority of kids that we get, they talk about winning championships so that implies that their main priority in going to college is winning championships, they have their priorities straight.

"I tell kids and their parents all the time that whenever kid goes to me, 'what position am I going to play or what is my role going to be on the team?' I go, 'you are probably not going to have one because you are probably not coming to Connecticut' because the players that I get that are not of that mode, Lou, Pheesa, Gabby they never asked me those questions, it's inherent to them who they are that, 'of course I can play, I'll decide my role, I will show Coach Auriemma I can do this, this and this and of course I am going to play. How many minutes am I going to play? I'll play as many minutes as I want to play because he is not going to take me out of the game.' You have kids who are supremely confident No. 1 or their own abilities. They walk into our facilities, look up on that wall and probably go home every night going am I going to be the first schmoe to screw this up and they probably come to practice scared every day that they don't want to be the one to screw it up."

Auriemma will do everything in his power to win tonight's game but if by chance the Huskies do lose, it doesn't impact the goals he had for this team. The only streak that matters to him in the six-game streak at the end of the season resulting in another national title.

Win or lose I am sure the "is UConn's dominance bad for the sport" will continue to come. He has come to terms with it and refuses to apologize for his team playing well and winning at a mind-boggling rate.

"I don't that something really,really good can be that bad," Auriemma said. "I am sure there are things, I can see why people would say it but the attention that we can bring to the game, that has to be a positive, that is not a negative. I can't do anything about what people say. I can't do anything about people's perception, all I know is somebody said this one time, he ran for office, any kind of publicity is good publicity. We are getting a lot of people who appreciate what we are doing and getting people who are paying attention saying that is bad for basketball. Obviously they are paying attention enough to know we are bad for women's basketball."

If UConn runs the table and posts the program's seventh undefeated season and wins an unprecedented 12th national title, Auriemma won't be apologizing and he has no need to. The scary thing is that everything this year's team is supposed to lack (size in the post, depth) won't be an issue moving forward with transfers Azura' Stevens and Batouly Camara being eligible next season and a stop-notch recruiting class headlined by Megan Walker coming in.

There are people who have a problem with UConn's dominance or with women's basketball being in the spotlight. Well, either turn the channel or stay off social media because this UConn program figures to get better and not worse in the coming years. It is not UConn's job to play down to the competition any more than it is sprinter Usain Bolt's responsibility to run slower so his fellow runners can win a race every once in a while. The Huskies will continue to strive for excellence, pursue the quest to play the perfect game. Teams that are good enough, perhaps that will be South Carolina tonight, will get to celebrate when they end the longest winning streak in NCAA basketball history. In the meantime, it will be business as usual for UConn.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Former UConn star Kara Wolters part of Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Kara Wolters is among those who will be inducted into Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Wolters, a member of UConn's first national championship team in 1995, joins Rebecca Lobo and Jen Rizzotti as three members of that 35-0 team to be selected into the Hall of Fame.

Wolters finished her career with 2,141 points, 927 rebounds and 370 blocks. At the time of her graduation Wolters' 694 points scored during her junior season was a program record.

Here are some of Geno Auriemma's thought on Wolters' prestigious honor.

"People weren't lining up from here to Chicago to recruit Kara and Jen Rizzotti," Auriemma said. "It goes to shows you that great players come in all shapes and sizes, we have a 5-5 kid and a 6-8 kid. That is the great story that you can become a great player and that team was such a special team because of the way it came together. We did have two high school All-American players that everybody knew these guys were going to special (Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales) but for the careers that Jamelle had, Kara had, Carla Berube had and Jen, it was a story book kind of story and that was exactly what it turned out to be.

"All three of them were national players of the year and Kara was maybe the most dominant player in college basketball so it is not surprise to be whatsoever thinking about where she came from, where she was as a senior in high school and to be today getting the highest honor that a basketball player can get it is just a remarkable story.."

Auriemma admits that when Wolters first arrived that he wasn't sure what kind of player she was going to be.

"I remember when she stepped on campus here, I don't think this is going to work because she just really hadn't come to grips with 'this is what it is going to take,'" Auriemma said. "It didn't take her long because once she did get it, she worked and worked and made herself into the player she became through her competitiveness and force of will. Nobody can ever take that away from her, it is an incredible story."

Louise O'Neal, who guided Southern Connecticut State to appearances in the Final Four in 1971, 1973 and 1974, is also among those being inducted on June 10 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
O'Neal also served on the NCAA Long-Range Planning Committee, Women's Basketball Rules Committee, and NACDA Executive Board. She was the recipient of 2004 WBCA Jostens-Berenson Lifetime Achievement Award and 2011 NACWAA Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Future Husky Coombs steals the show

Not long after the UConn women's basketball team dispatched SMU to win its 99th game in a row a member of the Huskies' incoming freshman class led the way in securing a memorable win of her own.

Mikayla Coombs had 27 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals (including the 300th of her career) and 1 blocked shot to lead the Wesleyan School to a 59-50 win over Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in the Georgia Region 5-A championship game.

Holy Innocents' owns five wins against Wesleyan in the last two seasons including a pair of regular-season victories this season and wins in the regional and state championship games last season.

Next up is the state tournament for a 24-4 Wesleyan team.

Also, UConn signee Andra Espinoza-Hunter recorded her 11th 40-point game of her senior season with 48 points as Ossining (N.Y.) wrapped up the regular season with a 91-70 win over Gill St. Bernard's.

Espinoza-Hunter had six 3-pointers giving her 71 in 19 games and she ended the regular season averaging 37.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.3 steals per game.