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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

UConn freshmen deliver in blowout win

Breanna Stewart has reached such a level at UConn that a game when she goes 10 for 10 from the field is hardly worthy of huge headlines.

We already knew that Stewart is a dynamic offensive player and she certainly showed that during Sunday's 96-60 win over Creighton finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Rebecca Lobo, who was 11 for 11 in a Dec. 23, 1994 win over Iona, is the only Husky to attempt more shots without missing than Stewart. However, after she hit baskets 26 seconds apart, she was 8 of 8 from the floor with 18:08 left to play. She spent the most of her time on the floor looking to get her younger teammates more involved in the action.

"It is wonderful playing with her," said UConn freshman Kia Nurse, who had 22 points in her first career start. " For her to hit 10 for 10, she is a great shooter so that doesn't blow my mind, To have her on the team, she makes us all better. She is a great teammate, she is a great leader and she works as hard as anybody. I think she helps us with our confidence."

Nurse joined a list including Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi as the only UConn players to go perfect from 3-point range while attempting at least four treys.

"There are a lot of people who question that I am a good cook because I never cook a thing so it is hard to know if I am a good cook," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Kia Nurse, watching the Canadian national team play, it was hard to see if she was a good 3-point shooter because she was never allowed to shoot the ball. We have encouraged her to find her offense. There are days in practice when she does when she doesn't miss and other days when ... I am not ready to say she is a great 3-point shooter but she is better than people think, no question about it."

Nurse also drew the defensive assignment on Creighton's Marissa Janning, the Big East's preseason player of the year. Janning had a team-high 15 points but was just 6 of 21 from the field.
"It motivated me and I knew I had to get this assignment right just because of how I felt about myself in the last game," Nurse said. "It was definitely a big motivation. I am glad I had the challenge and I am probably going to have more challenges in the future."

Nurse was among the UConn players who took the loss to Stanford the hardest according to Auriemma.
"I watched the game film on the plane and saw where I definitely could have been better," Nurse said. "I talked to the older players, the veterans and told them exactly how I felt. I think it is taking it as motivation and that I can make a difference."

While Nurse didn't think she played well against Stanford, Williams didn't play at all and she understands why.

"It was a wakeup call for me," Williams said. "I haven't given the coaches any reason to trust me more. I really needed to step it up in practice, working hard in practice made it easy to have fun out
there. I definitely saw where I could help but I also knew why I didn't play at the same time. I think it is effort, not picking and choosing when to go hard, just keep going on every play, keep going, keep talking, keep being a good teammate."

Before the game it came out that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' flu-like symptoms would keep her out of the game. Auriemma said Mosqueda-Lewis will make the trip to Florida for the upcoming Gulf Coast Showcase but it remains to be seen if she has recovered well enough for her to return to the court. Auriemma said it is merely the flu and not a return of the mononucleosis

Also, freshman Courtney Ekmark is out 4-6 weeks with a stress reaction in her right foot.

"Just in the last couple of weeks she has been complaining about it," Ekmark said."Last night we got the MRI back, she has a stress reaction and it is the usual."

Nurse is Ekmark's roommate and said she is taking the news hard.

"She is a workhorse, she is in the gym all the time and to have an injury, especially this early it can be a little bit of a confidence buster," Nurse said. "I know she is going to keep doing what she is doing in practice, making sure she is bringing energy and maybe this will be a learning experience."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Class is in session after UConn's loss to Stanford

Perhaps the only thing worse than experiencing the bitter taste of defeat is sitting there and watching the replay of Monday's loss to Stanford over and over again.

Such is the life of a UConn women's basketball player.

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma wasn't as disturbed that the Huskies lost on the road to a very good Stanford team but it was the manner in which the Huskies let a 10-point second-half lead evaporate.

With nearly a week between games there was plenty of time to break down the tape and then work on fixing the flaws exposed by the Cardinal.

"The young guys, they don't know what to make of it but the older guys I think are a little disappointed more with what we didn't do (as opposed to) some of the things we did do that defy explanation in some cases," Auriemma said. "We talk a lot of about when you win, it rally masks a lot of things that maybe we don't do well. When you shoot well it masks sometimes that your offense is not that good because if you make shots, it makes the offense look good."

The players, especially the five upperclassmen, knew the replay of the game was not going to be pretty and they were right.
"I am not saying it is ever good to lose but it is better to lose now than in the tournament," UConn senior center Kiah Stokes said. "It is a good test for us because we don't want to go through the season thinking we are really good and when we get tested later on, that is what happens. It is better that we got it out of the way now rather than later because we can work on it and focus on it. If we would have won the game, the feeling would have been different that 'this is a great play to help us win' now it is 'those are the plays that help us lose.' I saw a lot of things I could have done better and there were so many things we could have done. Film can only go so far to make sure we fixed it."

The players would love to see a team the caliber of Stanford coming into Gampel Pavilion. However, tomorrow's game against Creighton is the first of four straight against unranked opponents.

Still, the UConn players know a strong performance can wash away some of the bad taste left by the loss to Stanford.

"I watched the game, I learned from it and I can build on it," UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson said. "It helped a lot. There's a lot of stuff that you feel in the game but you don't know what it looks like until you watch it. Looking back, it is something you don't ever want to see again so that is motivation to make sure I am pushing myself and my team as hard as I can.

"I am ready to get back on the court and show the type of team that we are because that team was obviously not the type of team that we are . We know that, we will learn from it and you will see a completely different team on Sunday."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nurse moving into starting lineup for UConn

Considering how much UConn struggled defensively in Monday's loss to Stanford it was hardly a surprise to see the Huskies working on nothing but defense in the 40 or so minutes we were able to watch practice.

"We are not as good of a defensive team and that bothers me and we are not as good of an offensive team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

If the UConn players were not aware of their defensive shortcomings before, they are now.

"Defensively, we didn't stick to the scout that the coaches gave us," UConn sophomore forward Morgan Tuck said. "We really need to focus on what the coaches are saying and actually executing."
When the Huskies return to the court on Sunday against Creighton, the desire to become a better defensive team will also result in a change in the starting lineup as Auriemma said he intends to start freshman Kia Nurse at shooting guard and will bring Saniya Chong off the bench. Nurse is a much better defensive player than Chong and Auriemma is confident Chong will thrive coming off the bench just as she did as a starter.

Auriemma admitted that Morgan Tuck, who has he said has been practicing as well as anybody in the last three weeks, could eventually find herself starting as well.

"I would probably in the last three weeks Tuck has been at a whole other level, she is playing great right now," Auriemma said. "We are going to find a way to start her down the road too, she is playing great."

Tuck wasn't wearing a brace on her surgically-repaired right knee but she said it was more of a case of its being so hot inside the practice facility than her proceeding without a knee brace.
Other than Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis missing practice as she continues to fight the flu, there's not much else to report off today's practice.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

UConn commit Dangerfield's team No. 1 in national rankings

USA Today released its first high school poll of the season and the No. 1 team is Blackman High out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee which is led by UConn commit and junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield.

Dangerfield had 11 assists as Blackman opened the season with a 67-57 win over Southwest DeKalb.

UConn signee Katie Lou Samuelson's Mater Dei squad checks in at No. 3. Mater Dei kicks off the 2014-15 season by playing Long Beach Jordan HS in the Palisades Beach Invitational.

Bridgeport to host 2016 & 2017 regionals

The NCAA announced the regional sites for the women's basketball Division I tournaments from 2016-2018.

Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport will host regionals in 2016 and 2017 with Albany getting the regional closest to UConn in 2018.

Lexington, Kentucky was the only city to receive regionals for all three years.

Bridgeport hosted regionals in 2006 and 2013 and subregionals in 2008 and 2012. UConn was sent to Bridgeport each time and the only loss came to Duke in the 2006 regional final.

With the NCAA going back to having the top 16 seeds hosting the first and second rounds, the Huskies likely won't have to play a game outside of Connecticut to reach the 2016 and 2017 Final Fours. The 2016 regionals will run from Mar. 25-28 with the dates of the 2017 regionals being Mar. 24-27.

Here's the list
2016: Bridgeport, Dallas, Lexington, Sioux Falls
2017: Bridgeport, Lexington, Oklahoma City, Stockton
2018: Albany, Kansas City, Lexington, Spokane

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

UConn signees Boykin, Collier, Samuelson on USA Today Preseason All-American team

USA Today posted its preseason All-American team and UConn incoming freshmen De'Jane Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield are among the 15 players on the team.

Jaelyn Brown, Natalie Chou, Lauren Cox and Joyner Holmes, who are all on UConn's recruiting radar, also made the team.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts after UConn's loss to Stanford

I know there are UConn fans despondent right now because the Huskies return home with a loss, albeit a hard-fought one. But for me, this was a lot of fun very reminiscent of some of the classic UConn-Tennessee games.

In men's basketball if the No. 1 team went on the road and lost in overtime to the No. 6 team, a program perennially in the Final Four, it would barely cause a raised eyebrow. However, with the methodical way UConn dismantles even top 10 teams both at home and on the road the expectation is that the Huskies were going to win this game by 25.

The best thing about this game is that more lessons will be learned than in 20 of the 104-55 games the Huskies are sure to play this season. Each player will be able to look at what transpired and see what could have been done better. The ones who didn't make an appearance need to practice in such a fashion that they become rotation players in the upcoming big games.

If there were three stars like in hockey I would go:
1. Tara VanDerveer whose defensive game plan was brilliant of shadowing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with Karlie Samuelson, who had the length to contest her shots, and then allow the frontcourt players in the game to collapse on Breanna Stewart whenever she got the ball in the lane.
2. Lili Thompson. The sophomore guard was spectacular. She had 24 points but it felt more like 44. She made so many key plays and fearlessly attacked the rim.
3. Karlie Samuelson. The sophomore didn't start but played 40 minutes. Her line of eight points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal may not blow anybody away but I wouldn't have thought she could have checked Mosqueda-Lewis as well as she did. Of course some of that falls onto Mosqueda-Lewis for allowing herself to be slowed down as much as she was.

There was a lot made of Chiney Ogwumike's graduation forcing Stanford players to have different roles. However, the departures of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were clearly felt by the Huskies. Other than Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis, every other UConn player has a different role this season. Moriah Jefferson and Kiah Stokes are now being asked to be more of offensive threats than they were a season ago when it didn't matter whether they made a shot. Morgan Tuck missed the second half of the season due to her knee issues while Saniya Chong was rarely used in the games against ranked opponents in the second half of last season.

Chong did what she could to become a secondary scorer as she finished with a career-high 20 points, Tuck had it going late in the second half and in overtime before she fouled out and Nurse had some nice moments as well. But the reality is that when UConn needed shots to take some of the pressure off of Stewart, they weren't being made.

"They had a really great game plan which I am sure everybody else is going to copy, put three guys on Stewie and let everybody else shoot," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Nobody else wanted to make a shot except Saniya (Chong)."

Even with six of the seven UConn players who got into the game missing more shots than they made, UConn was in position to snap Stanford's 27-game home winning streak.
Mosqueda-Lewis, who tied a program record by sinking 10 3-pointers in a season-opening win over UC Davis on Friday, got free to hit her second and final trey to put the Huskies up by seven with 3:37 to play. The Huskies would make just one more field goal in rest of the second half to give Stanford a chance to steal the game.
Tuck grabbed the missed front end of a 1 and 1 by Jefferson to draw a foul and she made both free throws to put the Huskies up by three with 11.8 seconds left. On the ensuing possession UConn was so concerned about keeping Bonnie Samuelson from taking a 3 that they left Amber Orrange open. Orrange's 3-pointer was dead, solid perfect to force overtime.
"We ran a play for Bonnie, when she got the ball everybody kind of snuck over to her," Orrange said. "I was surprisingly calm when I took the shot."
On the other side of things, UConn Geno Auriemma immediately questioned his decision not to commit a foul which would have prevented Stanford from tying the game.
"Don't remind me of that," Auriemma said. "That is just inexcusable. I keep going back and forth, should I, should I and so far I haven't made the right decision very often. The kid makes a really, really tough shot."

The reality is that Orrange had a wide open 3 and I would think that in the chaos of everything that happened he was thinking about Orrange's tough runner in the lane in overtime and not the game-tying 3.
Three times in overtime UConn (1-1) had a three-point lead. But once Morgan Tuck fouled out with 3:23 left to play, the Huskies lost one of the performers making the most impact late in the second half and in overtime.
It didn't help matters that Stewart attempted just one shot in overtime. The only shot UConn made in the final 2 1/2 minutes was a layup by Chong when a 3-pointer was needed.
The game ended with seniors Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes in the backcourt and Mosqueda-Lewis not even attempting a desperation heave at the buzzer.
"I am frustrated because there are things you wish you could have done better," said Stewart, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. "My free throws were awful. After the coaches came in we talking about and pointed out that things have to change. This is not going to be one of those Connecticut teams as super successful if we don't change what we are doing now."
It should be noted that while UConn has won five national championships with perfect records, four other times there have been losses the Huskies suffered that have toughened them up. Time will tell if that is what happens with this group.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stanford/UConn series has staying power

The list of prominent non-conference that have come and gone is a rather distinguished list.

The more dominant the UConn women's basketball team is the more difficult it is to get teams to sign up to play the Huskies. Some of it has to do with the realization that the Huskies are going to win and other times the opposing coach will get their feathers ruffled by outspoken UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Through it all, however, the one constant is the UConn/Stanford series. This will be the sixth straight regular season that the Huskies and Cardinal will square off and seventh time in the last eight seasons. There are no plans to pull the plug on the series any time in the near future.

"I have never heard anybody say 'oh we have to rethink (the series) after this one,'" Auriemma said. "I think it is just 'hey we enjoy doing it. ' I think it benefits both sides. Things are kind of cyclical, there was a time when we played Stanford and we knew we couldn't beat them. We wanted to play them anyway. Then there was a time when we knew we were as good as them and we wanted to play them. There have been years when we knew we were better than them and it goes back to where we had won 90 in a row and they have beaten us. We recruit a lot of the same players, I think it is good for us, good for women's basketball and I hope it is good for them."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer relishes the challenges of playing the best teams in the country and has always been that way during her Hall of Fame career. She also seems somewhat immune to Auriemma's caustic barbs that often alienate some other high-profile coaches.

"It might be that we are on the west coast, it is hard to fight with somebody 3,000 miles away," VanDerveer said. "We are not in the same conference, for the most part we don't recruit the same kids. I respect the job that Geno has done. The job that he does that I think benefits women's basketball the most is how he has female assistants and how he doesn't a great job of mentoring them, helping them get other jobs. You guys know him, he can get under people's skin, either I have a thick skin or I am oblivious but I like Geno and I basically say 'I am not fighting with you.' We always get along. I think we respect each other. I don't look for fights with people. I feel like life is too short and I don't have that much tread on my tire to be into individual battles. I am really about us leaders of women's basketball whether it is myself, Geno, (Notre Dame coach) Muffet (McGraw), (Baylor coach) Kim (Mulkey) whoever, we really need to stick together and get women's basketball better, we need more fans in the stands, we need to do things that create more enthusiasm."

Stanford also faces No. 4 Tennessee, No. 10 Texas and No. 11 North Carolina during the non-conference portion of the schedule while UConn has non-league showdowns with No. 2 South Carolina, No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Duke.

"That is the goal," Auriemma said. "If you are in the situation we are in and you don't play those games it is kind of disrespectful. You have fans who wants to see you compete against those people. We are always complaining in women's basketball that we don't get the respect that some other sports get, we don't get the recognition that the game deserves but all of a sudden you ask these big-time coaches why aren't you playing the kind of schedule you should be playing? They don't have a really legitimate answer for that. When you are at the level that Stanford is at, that Connecticut is at, you have to play that kind of schedule. You owe it to your players when you recruit them. You can't receive high-level players, you can't recruit high school all-americans and then say we are afraid to play so and so, so and so and so and so. Why don't you tell them that ahead of time and then they probably wouldn't go there."

Both Auriemma and VanDerveer know that national championships are not determined in November. Stanford and UConn have both reached the Final Four the same season that they lost a regular-season game in this season.

"Playing really good teams is good for the staff, it is good for our players," VanDerveer said. "They have great players and have a great team. They are a very well coached team and it just helps you get better. If you play a team, you win by 30 or 35 and kids don't box out it is hard to get their attention. If you don't box out against UConn they are going to get an O (offensive) board."

The live blog for tonight's UConn/Stanford game is now active so feel free to check it out.


No introductions needed for UConn and Stanford backcourt stars

Just in case people haven't been paying attention to the staggering amount of elite guards to come out of the DFW Elite AAU program, tonight's UConn/Stanford game will be reminder that as many top-flight backcourt phenoms come out of that part of the country.

UConn's starting point guard Moriah Jefferson hails from Glenn Heights, Texas while Stanford's high-scoring guard tandem of Lili Thompson and Amber Orrange are from Mansfield and Houston respectively.

"I played with both of them in the same AAU program and during the summer we have practices together so I know them well," Jefferson said.

"They are both really good players. I think they both bring something different to the table. Amber has always been really good getting to the rim and now she is knocking down open shots."

In a season-opening win over Boston College Thompson was 3 of 4 from 3-point range as she had a game-high 26 points. Orrange only attempted five shots as she finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

They both certainly know what Jefferson is capable of.
"She is a great guard," Orrange said. "She is a great defensive player so we have to take care of the ball when she is around the ball.

"She is competitive, she wants to win and wants to do whatever dirty work it takes for her team to win. She may not be the focal point of their offense but she does what they need her to do well."

The last time UConn and Stanford met in Maples Pavilion Jefferson played just four minutes and missed her only field-goal attempt in a 61-35 UConn win. Orrange played 29 minutes, missed all six of her shots, had no assists and four turnovers.

"It was just a learning experience," Orrange said. "You don't like the feeling of losing on your home court especially that way but I think we really learned from it."

Post players pile up assists in UConn's opener

When Stefanie Dolson walked off the court for the final time the UConn women's basketball program was bidding adieu to one of the best passing post players to ever play. UConn coach Geno Auriemma admitted that he was curious how the Huskies were going to replace that aspect of Dolson's game.

While it is dangerous to make too much out of a 59-point win over UC Davis on opening night, it should be noted that of the three players tying for the team lead with seven assists on Friday night two of them were forwards.

Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck not only had a career-high seven assists each but three of those 14 assists were either of the Stewart to Tuck or Tuck to Stewart variety.

"We have known each other for a very long time so I am sure that helps our connection on the court a lot," Tuck said. "A part of Stef's game that we really miss is her passing. I think everybody is trying to put in an effort to make up what we are missing from her."

Here is the breakdown of the assists
Moriah Jefferson 7 assists: 3 to Stewart, 3 to Mosqueda-Lewis, 1 to Chong
Breanna Stewart 7 assists: 2 to Mosqueda-Lewis, 1 each to Chong, Jefferson, Nurse, Stokes and Tuck
Morgan Tuck 7 assists: 2 each to Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, Williams, 1 to Chong
Saniya Chong 2 assists: 1 each to Jefferson and Mosqueda-Lewis
Courtney Ekmark 2 assists: 1 each to Chong and Tuck
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis 2 assists: 1 each to Nurse and Stewart
Kia Nurse 2 assists: 1 each to Mosqueda-Lewis and Williams

Speaking of Tuck, she downplayed the importance of her wearing a brace on her knee against UC Davis. She has been fitted with a few different braces and finally found one that fits the best.

"I prefer to not wear the brace but our trainer (Rosemary Ragle) thinks it is something I should do," Tuck said.

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