Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Chong delivers again for UConn

In Saniya Chong's first three seasons, when UConn reached the regional round of the NCAA tournament there was no guaranteed she would even step onto the court until the game's outcome was no longer in question.

Chong did play 10 minutes against Texas as a sophomore and 10 more against Mississippi State a season ago in the Sweet 16 game but that was more of a case of somebody needing to eat up some minutes in a blowout victory.

Here minutes in today's regional semifinal came about because they were earned. Chong was out there for 38 minutes and often times she was the one asked to break UCLA's press. She hit some clutch shots, fought hard for some rebounds, had a couple of huge assists in the 86-71 victory.

The win the 151st since Chong and fellow senior Tierney Lawlor arrived at UConn matching the NCAA women's Division I record for wins in a career set by UConn's Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore from 2007-11.

"I left really good, I was out there just enjoying my time playing," said Chong, who had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in the UCLA win. "I had to go out there and do whatever my team needed of me and that was to handle the ball.

"That was my main thing, just having my teammates trust me, I am out there contributing any way that I can. Not just me but T (Lawlor), she has the number just like me and it has been a great ride and a lot of memories."

Chong's performance wasn't lost on her teammates or coaches.

"Saniya has done a great job this year, stepped into a huge role and done it flawlessly and today especially when we had a lot of pressure on us, she did a great job finding an opening, getting to the basket and making plays," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said. "It was a good ending and obviously we want to have a good ending for her and T this season and this is a good step from her.

"What we've saw from her was her talent and her ability to read the game before the play happens. I think the biggest thing that has changed for her is her confidence in herself and her understanding that her teammates have as much confidence in her as anybody else. She has really understood that we trust in her that she can make those plays."

Chong's career at UConn has followed a different script. With the way the Huskies bring in elite talent on an annual basis, if a player hasn't carved out a significant role by the end of their sophomore season it usually doesn't happen. However. Chong went from playing a total of nine minutes in UConn's final three NCAA tournament games a season ago to becoming a vital cog on a team three wins away from an unprecedented fifth straight national title.

"She has been really consistent this year in practice and in games," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "She played great today, she is our quickest player with the ball and having a ball screen, I don't know if anybody could stop her. She is a great 3-point shooters. She is another ball hander, she is a great free throw shooter so we are going to need her in the clutch but I thought she played really well.

"In the past I don't know if Saniya was either ready or capable of doing that but this year she had a great opportunity. She has taken it and been one of our most consistent players."

Memorable March continues for Samuelson family

Jon Samuelson, the patriarch of the sweet-shooting Samuelson family, is certainly racking up the frequent flyer miles these days.

Samuelson was in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday to watch Karlie score 15 points in Stanford's victory over Texas to advance to the Elite Eight. The plan was for him to board a flight to so he could be in the stands when his youngest daughter Katie Lou leads her UConn team against UCLA later on today.

Samuelson's wife is staying behind "with Bonnie and my dogs," Katie Lou said on Friday. "Dad just got to Lexington. He is going to stay for that game and he will probably get here right before our game."

There are many remarkable aspects about the success of the Samuelson sisters. When Katie Lou makes eight more 3-pointers, it will mean all three sisters have hit the 200 mark.

Bonnie, who graduated in 2015, had 237 in 141 games at Stanford. Karlie is at 244 in 132 games with the Cardinal while Katie Lou stands at 192 in 71 games. I checked in with the NCAA earlier this season to see if I could get a list of all the players with at least 200 3-pointers in NCAA Division I women's basketball history but they don't have that information so I am not sure if another sister combination both surpassed the 200 3-pointer mark never mind having three siblings accomplish the feat.

That is far from the only impressive aspect of the Samuelson sisters. Bonnie appeared in the regionals in all four of her seasons at Stanford as has Karlie while Katie Lou is 2 for 2 in that regard.

"Our parents are proud of all of us and gives them a chance to watch all of us play," Katie Lou Samuelson said. "A lot of people don't get that opportunity to watch their daughters for that long so just being able to get that far is an opportunity for our parents and grandparents to see each of us play."

There was much more on the youngest of the Samuelsons in today's paper. My advance was on how sophomores Napheesa Collier and Samuelson have taken on larger roles aided by the lessons they learned last season from Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart. Also, UCLA happens to have Samuelson's former high school teammate Ally Rosenblum on its roster so I checked in with her to get some insight from a player who has been a teammate of Samuelson's for more than a decade.


Friday, March 24, 2017

UConn's Auriemma shows love for Cinderella Quinnipiac team

As UConn's five starters made their way to their interviews with ESPN and head coach Geno Auriemma was about to emerge from the locker room to head to the interview with the media, UConn women's basketball sports information director Pat McKenna dropped a hint that Auriemma had something special planned at his presser.

 As it was winding down, Auriemma unzipped his jacket to reveal a Quinnipiac t-shirt. Auriemma took it a step further as he explained why he was wearing a shirt for the first Connecticut team other than UConn to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.

 "I'm just glad we're not in their bracket because I'll tell you what, I wouldn't want to be in their bracket," Auriemma said. "They remind me of our '91 team. I watched them play the other day. There was about 10 minutes left -- eight minutes left in the game, and I remember saying, 'I think they're going to win.' I couldn't believe it. And everybody in the place was going nuts. I thought, 'oh, my God, this is like 1991, replaying itself.' And Trish, that potty-mouth coach of theirs, if I ever said some of the stuff that she said, I'd get crucified. I told her that, too. Catholic school girl like herself? She should be ashamed of herself."

Word got out to Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri of Auriemma's wardrobe choice before the start of the Bobcats' press conference in Stockton, California.

"Well, first of all, Geno has been such a mentor for me going way back," Fabbri said. "He helped me in this process, get a job at Quinnipiac a long, long time ago, 22 years ago. But really just a gold standard, a great guy, and then he was so excited. He reached out as soon as we won, and so complimentary of what we were able to accomplish over the weekend.The fact that he is wearing our shirt in support of our team in this tournament at this time, just so thankful, and very grateful for his support and UConn women's basketball's support of Quinnipiac's women's basketball, and the two teams in Connecticut here representing women's basketball in the Sweet 16."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

WBCA honors pouring in for UConn's Auriemma and his star players

At this time of the year it is seemingly a daily occurrence for either Geno Auriemma or his players to receive some sort of national award or be among the list of finalists for such an award. It just so happens that all of this is the case today.

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association announced that Auriemma has been named the women's Division I coach of the year for the seventh time after leading his team to another undefeated regular season even after the graduation of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.

Also, Napheesa Collier joins Washington's Kelsey Plum, Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina as finalists for the Wade Trophy, the top individual award bestowed to a women's basketball player. Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams were also named to the WBCA's all-region team making them eligible to be selected to the WBCA All-American team which is the criteria required to be part of the Huskies of Honor.

Collier is averaging 20.2 points per game (shooting 69.3 percent from the field), she leads the Huskies in rebounding (8.9 per game) and has a team-best 68 blocked shots.

Samuelson is the team leader in scoring (20.9 points per game), her 114 3-pointers is seven shy of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' single-season program record. She also has 111 assists and 50 steals.

Williams is averaging 13.7 points per game, leads the Huskies with 179 rebounds and 93 steals and is second on the team in rebounding and blocked shots.

In case anybody is wondering why Kia Nurse is not on this list, the way the WBCA does things, there is a limit of three players per team who can receive all-region honors. That is why Asjha Jones is not up on the Huskies of Honor even though she had the kind of senior year that normally ends with All-American recognition. Nurse is certainly one of the best 40 players in women's college basketball but only three Huskies can make this list.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Quinnipiac headed to Sweet 16

UConn advancing to regionals isn't exactly a stunning turn of events but seeing Quinnipiac getting to the Sweet 16 is really something to behold.

The Bobcats became the first Connecticut women's team other than UConn to advance out of the subregionals in the Division I tournament beating Miami at home after topping Marquette in the first round. Next up is a test against No. 1 seed South Carolina, a team that could be missing two starters.

My colleague David Borges is down in Coral Gables covering the tournament so feel free to check out his coverage from his remarkable accomplishment.

I did a couple of stories this season on Quinnipiac, a preseason feature focusing on seniors Morgan Manz and Adily Martucci and then wrote a story off a late season game against Iona about how a balanced offensive attack could prove to be beneficial.

Just think about what a last few months it has been for Quinnipiac's women's teams.

The story of the volleyball team going from being a conference doormat to coming a match away from earning an NCAA tournament appearance.

UConn puts on another passing, shooting display

The day before UConn hosted Syracuse in a rematch of the 2016 national championship game I caught up with Kia Nurse to address the Huskies' impressive passing ability which could very well result in them setting the NCAA women's Division I record for assists in a season. It was during that interview when I mentioned the team's impressive finishing ability.

She took particular glee in being asked about her teammates' finishing ability. Well, in Monday night's 30-point win over Syracuse it was Nurse doing much of the finishing with 29 points thanks in large part to her tying the NCAA Division I women's tournament record by making nine 3-pointers.

With Nurse leading three players in double figures, the Huskies finished the third quarter with a staggering ratio of 30 assists on 31 baskets.

"I think in this tournament, we are going to need to share the ball and play completely as a team with everyone contributing as much as we can rather than trying to go 1 on 1," UConn sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson said. "We want to make sure we use every single person to try to find that open shot every time."

The Huskies assists on 26 consecutive baskets at one point and even without handing out an assist in the fourth quarter, they had 30 assists. According to the research I did earlier this season, the 64 assists in back to back games are the most in program history.
Here's the chart I put together with the previous or next game listed depending on which one had the larger number of assists

34 vs. Western Michigan (95-46) Nov. 23, 2003 NEXT GAME: 19
34 vs. Quinnipiac (117-20) Dec. 27, 1998 PREVIOUS GAME 20
33 vs. Georgetown (107-45) Jan. 2, 2001 PREVIOUS GAME 20
32 vs. Tulsa (96-50) Feb. 5, 2017 NEXT GAME: 31
32 vs. Charleston (103-39) Nov. 11, 2012 NEXT GAME: 27
32 vs. Dartmouth (95-47) Mar. 20, 2005 NEXT GAME: 14
32 at Providence (95-68) Feb. 2, 1997 NEXT GAME: 16
32 vs. Northeastern (96-34) Dec. 29, 1995 NEXT GAME 16
32 vs. Iona (101-42) Dec. 23, 1994 NEXT GAME 31
31 vs. South Florida (102-37) Jan. 10, 2017: PREVIOUS/NEXT GAME 25
31 vs. SMU (102-41) Feb. 4, 2014: PREVIOUS GAME 25
31 at Temple (93-56) Jan. 28, 2014: PREVIOUS/NEXT GAME: 25
31 vs. Florida State (83-71) Dec. 21, 2008 NEXT GAME 20
31 vs. St. John's (118-44) Feb. 23, 2001 PREVIOUS GAME 19
31 vs. Syracuse (100-74) Feb. 18, 2000 NEXT GAME 22
31 at Seton Hall (88-45) Dec. 8, 1999 NEXT GAME 28
31 vs. California (99-52) Dec. 28, 1994 NEXT GAME 32
30 vs. Oregon (114-68) Nov. 20, 2013 NEXT GAME: 26
30 vs. Holy Cross (117-37) Nov. 14, 2010 NEXT GAME 12
30 vs. Stony Brook (98-35) Nov. 11, 2007 NEXT GAME 29
30 vs. Buffalo (107-40) Nov. 19, 2004 NEXT GAME 16
30 vs. Hampton (116-45) Mar. 17, 2000 PREVIOUS GAME 17
30 vs. Georgetown (94-75) Feb. 5, 1995 NEXT GAME 22

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Syracuse hot-shot freshman Cooper familiar with UConn fans

Precocious Syracuse freshman Gabby Cooper finds humor in her seating selection during last year's national title game even almost a year later.

As a native of Lansing, Illinois, it was an easy decision for Cooper's family to buy tickets to the 2016 Final Four after Syracuse punched their ticket. However, getting a spot in the Syracuse section proved to be a little more difficult that anticipated.

"The first game we got those tickets late so I sat in the second section kind of behind the rim," Cooper said. "For the UConn game, (Cooper's mother) went to buy the tickets. I have a two-year-old niece and she started to act up as she was in the middle of buying tickets. When she came back to  buy tickets, all the seats by the Orange were sold out so we actually sat in the middle of the UConn section right behind the UConn bench basically."

Hold on, a Syracuse commit is watching UConn beat the Orange while sitting a couple of rows behind the bench?

"It was kind of weird because everywhere you look everybody has on Navy (blue) and everybody has UConn gear," Cooper said with a laugh. "My trainer from back home, he trained Morgan Tuck so he was there, my family and it was all WNBA players who played for UConn, they were right behind us. it was kind of weird. We had our Orange and blue on."

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey was a bit on the nervous side as she watched the final moments as Quinnipiac held on for an upset win over Big East tournament champion Marquette to become the first double-digit seed to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"I am so happy for them," Dailey said. "I ran into Trish at a game (on the recruiting trail), we text back and forth and she thought her staff might come up to maybe watch a practice. I was nervous on that 3 (by Marquette that rattled in and out at the buzzer) but as soon as it was over, I texted her.

"She has done a great job. I am so old that I remember her as a player, I remember her back in the day at Fairfield. She is one of the good people in the game. She does it the right way, she works hard, she has a philosophy and she sticks with it and you have to admire that. It is great for women's basketball
to have two teams in our state win their first game and move forward."

Chong ready for final home game at UConn

Saniya Chong joined fellow senior Tierney Lawlor as part of the emotional Senior Day festivities before she played her final regular-season home game at Gampel Pavilion.

There will be no such ceremonies before tomorrow night's game as Chong will play at Gampel Pavilion for the final time as a Husky.

If UConn wins, the seniors will become the fourth class in program history not to lose a game at Gampel in their four years.

Chong still remembers her first game at Gampel Pavilion when she had six points, three assists and two steals in 76-57 win over No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 11, 2014.

"It was pretty amazing," Chong said. "It was my first game. I remember it was my first time putting on a UConn uniform and you never know what to expect going out there. It was really a day that I will remember forever."

UConn is 9-0 at Gampel Pavilion this season including the win over Albany in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Overall, the record is 36-0. The Class of 2004 headlined by Diana Taurasi and Derby native Maria Conlon finished 43-0 at Gampel, the Tina Charles-led Class of 2010 went 47-0 while Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon finished 40-0 at Gampel during their time.

"When you are a freshman and you don't expect to have this record or expect much," Chong said.."It has been an amazing experience and I have a lot of memories and looking back it to know that
I made history and I made so many new friends."

There was no guarantee that Chong was going to have a significant role as a senior. Typically, if a player doesn't carve out a role by the end of their sophomore years they often get passed by in the playing rotation by the new patch of recruits. That is not the case with Chong who went from averaging 17.1, 19.0 and 12.4 minutes per game to being out there for 30.3 minutes as a senior.

"I couldn't be happier for anybody that I am for Saniya." UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "This year she has been able to put it all together, she has been able to everything off the court in a good place and anything on the court, she is the quickest player we have with the ball, she is great with ball screens. She stayed engaged, she has worked really hard and she plays the majority of the time. There aren't many minutes in the game when Saniya isn't on the court whether it is with the first group or with the second group, she has done a great job with the second group. She has really grown up and it nice to see."

Chong is also a part of the last class at UConn that can remember having practices at Gampel Pavilion on the regular basis as the Huskies began practicing at the Werth Family Champions Center during Chong's sophomore season.

"It was like last year I was just in here (practicing)," Chong said, "I know some of the new girls they don't realize we were in here and how different it is compared to our new facility. I am happy
I had the ability to experience both."

It was not all good news for Chong. The former Ossining High School star heard that they fell to Baldwin 73-45 in the New York AA state title game ending a run of four consecutive state titles, a run that began when Chong was a senior.

"I felt really bad for them and I heard Coach (Dan) Ricci got thrown out so I knew it must have been a bad game but they still came a long way and I am very proud of them," Chong said.

UConn signee Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 19 points in the game. Espinoza-Hunter was an eighth grader on the first of Ossining's teams that won the AA title before playing at Blair Academy for the next three seasons. She returned for her senior season and the 995 points she scored broke the NYSPHSAA single-season record set by Karen O'Connor in 1987.

I am proud of her, she worked so hard to get where she is and I know she is over there breaking records. I am happy for her to come her and continue her career.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

UConn's Nurse hitting her stride

Geno Auriemma questioned whether junior guard Kia Nurse would even be at 100 percent for the rest of the season on the night that the pairings were announced.

Well, I'm not sure if she is 100 percent or not but she certainly looked as healthy as she has been since she injured her right ankle against South Carolina on February 13.

The first indication I had that she was feeling better came when Saniya Chong was the first starter subbed out instead of Nurse. Nurse may have played the entire first quarter had she not picked up her second foul with 1:40 left in the quarter. By that point she already had 10 points (making all three of her shots, both of her 3-pointers and both of her foul shots). She would finish with 24 points going 6 for 7 from 3-point range in just 24 minutes.

"Having Kia back puts out rotation back in place so everybody feels comfortable for where they are," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It allows the other players to know that we are going to be the right offense, we are going to be getting the ball to the right places as the right time. Saniya (Chong) and Crystal (Dangerfield) have been great but they have never been in these kinds of games and played in these kinds of games. One of them was in high school and the other one really didn't play much last year. Kia gives them confidence, she gives the entire team confidence but she especially gives Crystal and Saniya a tremendous amount of confidence.

"If you put Kia out there with the other four starters and you are one of the other teams that are playing against us, you start looking at your scouting report and who do we want shooting the ball? She is probably somebody who is going to be open more times than not. You saw today that when Kia gets is going from the perimeter, she makes everything."
While both Auriemma and Nurse had their game faces on thee was a light moment after Nurse made a layup early in the third quarter but it was a bit of an awkward looking shot.

"She shoots layups the Canadian way, they taught her how to shoot layups over there," Auriemma said. "She doesn't know if she should shoot it backhand or slap shot so I was trying to show her yesterday how to shoot it the American way and when she (nearly)missed, I was just shaking my head and she started laughing because she knows what I am talking about. She goes so hard to the basket she forgets to shoot it. That is why I am a great coach, I am taking the starting point guard n the Canadian national team trying to show her how to shoot a layup, who's better than me."

Nurse was told to stay off her ankle and not take part in any basketball activities, not even shooting drills for a couple of weeks. Only recently has she been able to get back in the gym putting in the extra work she is known for.

"I was getting in the gym this weekend getting some shots up trying to get that feel back, that helped," Nurse said. "The Wednesday that I came back ,that was the first time I was able to shoot, everything else was wait for it to heal, bike work.

"I was shooting decently (in practices leading into the game). I think individual (workouts) s in the gym all alone, that was when I was shooting better but in practice it was coming back."

A few notes from the game.

Katie Lou Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield both recorded their 100th assist of the season giving the Huskies five players with 100 assists the season matching the program record.

The 34 assists are the most for UConn in an NCAA tournament game and the third most in NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament history as Stanford had 37 against Arkansas in 1990 and 35 versus Howard in 1997.

Dating back to the 1994-95 season, it is the most in a game for UConn as the Huskies have 34 against Western Michigan on  Nov. 23, 2003 and against Quinnipiac on Dec. 27, 1998.

It was the eighth time UConn scored at least 100 points in a first-round game, the most in NCAA Division I women's tournament history.

Perhaps the most frightening stat of all, since 1995 UConn's margin of victory in first round games is 48.4 points and the opposing teams have averaging 46.5 points per game.

This was the 60th NCAA tournament game played at Gampel Pavilion only Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena and Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

When UConn and Syracuse play on Monday, it will be the sixth time the teams which played in the NCAA title game will meet the next year in the tournament but the first time such a game has taken place before the Final Four.

1984: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BEAT Louisiana Tech in national semifinals 62-57
1988: Louisiana Tech defeated TENNESSEE in national semifinals 68-59
1989: Auburn defeated LOUISIANA TECH 76-71 in national semifinals
1996: Tennessee defeated UCONN 88-83 (OT) in national semifinals
2004: UCONN defeated Tennessee 70-61 in national championship
2015: UCONN defeated Notre Dame 63-53 in national championship

Relationship between UConn's Auriemma, Albany's Griffith goes way back

One of the things on Geno Auriemma's to-do list yesterday was to reconnect with a person who he considered to be a dream to coach when he was an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympics.

The mission was accomplished as Auriemma spent a few minutes with Albany assistant coach Yolanda Grffith.

"A lot of his stories he used to tell ...," Griffith said. "Every day when we go out and I see him on the road recruiting, he brings back memories of letting me know that I was one of the players he appreciated and loved to work with when he did the Olympics because I just went out and did my job, no questions asked. I do my job, I compete evry day in practice and we formed a good bond, a good relationship.
Auriemma, facing Griffith for the first time with both of them in a coaching capacity, wasn't about to limit his characterization at merely being a "good relationship."
"She was by far my favorite player to coach on that Olympic team," Auriemma said. "She was the toughest, most competitive, I think most talented, the smartest. She was relentless in everything she did. You could count on her every day in practice every game. Up to that point I had only seen her play at a distance  but getting a chance to spend time and actually work with her, I came out of there thinking this kid is something special, she is a special human being. I respect the fact that she enjoyed being coached."
Griffith was the leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer on a U.S. team that won the Olympic gold medal despite playing without the injured Chamique Holdsclaw.
At the time when Auriemma was one of U.S. head coach Nell Fortner's assistant coaches he was coming off his second national championship as the head coach at UConn. He is now at 11 and his Huskies are the No. 1 overall seed as they head for their fifth in a row and 12th overall title.
"Geno has established a strong organization, a strong pedigree as far as women's basketball goes," Griffith said. "His footprint is all over women's basketball and he is winning no matter who he puts on the court, what individual puts the uniform on, they know the pressure is on them to help the program to win. I had that experience in 2000 when he was an assistant with our Olympic team. He was very competitive bringing the best out of players. He is hard on you and that is one thing about being a competitive player, you want them to be hard so they can teach you the good, the bad of the game and that is what he's done. Hat's off to him, he's been successful with this program and that it what you want, you want not just one strong program but multiple programs in women's sports to continue to be successful."
Griffith is 10th in rebounding, 16th in blocked shots and 26th in scoring in WNBA history even though she played her final game in the league in 2009. There have been prominent WNBA legends who have used their fame to secure high-profile coaching jobs before they were ready. Griffith has been willing to pay her dues serving as an assistant coach at Dartmouth, Lafayette and UMass before joining the staff of first-year Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee after former Great Danes coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson took the job at UCF,
"If you look at where she comes from, it is not one of entitlement," Auriemma said. "It was not one of, 'do you know who I am and do you know what I deserve?' She is willing  to do it the way she did it as a player. She is going to work for everything she gets and she expects to start at the bottom and work her way up because that is how it has always been for her and she will get to the top because that is who she is."
Griffith is one of eight players to be named the WNBA MVP and Finals MVP and a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Coaching was something that Griffith knew she wanted to pursue even during her Hall of Fame career. When she suffered a career-ending torn Achilles' tendon early in the 2009 season, her opportunity came sooner than she imagined as the WNBA's Indiana Fever made her an adjunct assistant coach in 2009.
"It was just in me when I was playing," Griffith said. "I was a mentor, a coach, a player so I just felt like it was in me to be my next journey."
Griffith enjoys the process whether it is recruiting or seeing young prospects emerge into reliable veterans.
"When you start working with players when they are freshmen until they are seniors, you see their development," Griffith said. "You form that relationship and knowing that you are just a phone call away. It is not a matter of what you do with them on the court but what you do for them when they leave."
Her first season at Albany has not been always smooth sailing. When the Great Danes suffered an overtime loss at Yale on Dec. 3, they were sitting with a 3-5 record. America East Conference play began with three wins and three losses which was quite the struggle for the dominant program in the America East. Albany finished the season going 12-1 including the three wins in the conference tournament to secure a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
"The players from last year, the experience they have with Imani (Tate), Bailey (Hixson) and with Cassie (Edwards) the veterans understanding what they did last year and wanting to come back again this year," Griffith said. "That is the competitiveness of them, they wanted another opportunity before they graduate. They wanted to continue the tradition the streak, it is an amazing run. We had one point where we went on a 10 or 11 game winning streak, hit a bump in a road and then we found a way to bounce back."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ontario well represented in Storrs subregional

There are plenty of questions that Albany freshman Mackenzie Trpcic has heading into her first NCAA tournament game.

It's safe to say that the mode of transportation used by two influential men in her basketball career is not at the top of the list.

Trpcic's dad is making the trip from Hamilton, Ontario as will her former AAU coach Richard Nurse, who happens to be the father of UConn guard Kia Nurse.

"Obviously my dad is going to be there tomorrow, her dad is going to be there tomorrow, I don't if they are going to car pool," Trpcic said with a laugh.

If there was a constant at today's press conferences it is that all four teams in the Storrs subregional were represented by Ontario natives. It started with UConn's Nurse, then Brampton's Cassandra Edwards was one of the three players at the podium for Albany. Julia Chandler of Toronto was among those entertaining questions for Syracuse while Chatham's Bridget Carleton will be heading up to the media interview room when it is Iowa State's turn to speak to the media.

"It is fantastic that we have this many Ontario kids and I've played against pretty much all of them," Nurse said. "It is fun to be in this environment. It is something we talked about when we were younger, kind of getting to play in an NCAA tournament. I am super excited for them, proud of their success and a testament to what has been growing back home."

Trpcic is two years younger than Nurse but growing up in the same town as Nurse, it was only natural that they crossed paths on the basketball court in their younger days.

"Her father is my AAU could and we went to rival schools so we always battled against each other so it is always great meeting up with her," Trpcic said.

"I know her personally, our families are close and it is always nice seeing someone who is from the hometown who I know well succeed, she has been doing really well."

So what does Trpcic think of Richard Nurse (who also coached Edwards) as a coach?

"He is a tough coach but he is a character," Trpcic said. "He is a very good coach. He is always around basketball. You will see him. He will be up on his feet for her tomorrow and maybe for me, I don't know probably not."

Nurse is a key member of Canadian national team program so obviously she is a kind of a big deal when she returns to Hamilton.

"Her dad is still a coach so she is still in the scene," Trpcic said. "A lot of young girls look up to her, she is a big role model back home so it has been an amazing past few years in basketball just in Hamilton in general for girls. It is a hotbed in Hamilton right now, in all of Ontario and now we are getting a lot of recognition.

"It is just exciting, we are on ESPN so it is a much bigger stage and the fact that we played in high school gyms against each other and now we are here. There's a lot of kids coing through now especially now that they have us to look up to with us being on national televison and on the national stage, it is just a start."

The second opening round game features close friends Chandler and Carleton.

"Julia and I grew up playing each other through club basketball and that sort of thing and getting to play on the national team, provincial teams, we got really close these past few summers," Carleton said. "It is going to be awesome to get the chance to play against each other at the collegiate level. It is kind of a new experience for both of us, we are excited and looking forward to it."

Carleton, who is second on Iowa State in scoring with an average of 15.2 points per game and is working herself into position to compete for a spot on the 2020 Canadian Olympic team, feels plenty of pride seeing the success enjoyed by the Ontario natives in Storrs for the subregional.

"It says a lot about our province and what kind of basketball players are coming out," Carleton said. "I think it is really exciting. Canada basketball is kind of on the rise so it is awesome having Canadian players on all four teams that are in this area. Kia Nurse and I are pretty close, we trained together this summer, Mackenzie is a great player too, Chelayane and Julia on Syracuse, it has been a great to reunite with all of these girls. It kind of says a lot about the growth of Canada basketball for sure."

UConn's Collier, Samuelson finalists for Naismith Trophy

UConn sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson join Washington's Kelsey Plum and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina as the four finalists for the Naismith Trophy.

Fans can vote for the winner between Monday-March 31 by visiting

Here is the release

Kelsey Plum, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history, headlines the four finalists vying to win the 2017 James A. Naismith Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding women’s college basketball player. The University of Washington standout is joined by South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, and UConn teammates Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today.

The four finalists were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former award winners and conference commissioners, who based their selections on outstanding on-court performances during the 2016-17 college basketball season. The vote was tabulated and certified by Aprio, formerly Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, the largest full-service, independent CPA-led business advisory firm based in Atlanta.

This year, fans have a say in the choosing the winner. Between March 20-31 fans can visit to cast their ballot for one of these four Naismith Trophy finalists. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 31 and fans are limited to one vote per day. The fan vote will account for 5% of the total vote.
The 2017 Naismith Trophy women’s winner will be announced on April 1.
“After watching these four women play this season it’s evident just how incredibly talented they are, and that alone has elevated them to a status worthy of winning the Naismith Trophy,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “Their teams’ success is a direct result of these women’s work ethic and leadership – qualities that are embodied by the long line of past Naismith winners.”
About the finalists:

Napheesa Collier, Sophomore, UConn
 2017 American Conference Co-Player of the Year with teammate Katie Lou Samuelson
 Four-time American Athletic Conference Player of the Week
 Enters the NCAA Tournament second nationally at 68.9 percent FG shooting
 Scored a career-high 39 points in the regular-season finale at USF, which marked the fifth-highest single-game scoring total in school history
 Team leader in rebounding at 8.9 rebounds per game

Kelsey Plum, Senior, University of Washington
 Leads the nation in scoring at 31.7 ppg, while shooting 53.3 percent from the field overall, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 88.8 percent from the foul line
 Became the first player in Pac-12 history, female or male, to score 3,000 career points
 Broke all-time NCAA and Pac-12 scoring records
 Named Pac-12 Player of the Year
 Has scored 21 or more points in all 31 games
 Became third player in NCAA history to reach 1,000 points in a single season
 Became just the second player in Pac-12 history to record 300 career three-pointers

Katie Lou Samuelson, Sophomore, UConn
 Led UConn in scoring during the regular season, averaging 20.7 points per game
 Named American Conference Co-Player of the Year with teammate Napheesa Collier
 Named Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 American Athletic Tournament
 Scored a career-high 40 points in 28 minutes during the AAC Final, becoming only the third Husky all-time to score 40+ points in a game
 Went 10-10 from three-point range in the AAC final, establishing a new NCAA record for most 3-point FG made in a game without a miss
 Won the 2015 Naismith National High School Trophy as the most outstanding high school girls basketball player in the country

A’ja Wilson, Junior, University of South Carolina
 Claimed her second consecutive SEC Player of the Year and was named SEC Tournament MVP
 Led the Gamecocks in scoring this year and was third in the SEC (17.4), while ranking ninth in rebounds (7.6) and third in blocks (2.2)
 Powered Gamecocks to third-straight SEC Tournament title (just second program in league history to win three straight) with 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game
 Career-high 11 20-point games, including five against top-25 opponents
 Holds school record for career blocked shots, setting the record in her 74th career game – fewer than anyone else on the top-10 list
 Won the 2014 Naismith National High School Trophy as the most outstanding high school girls basketball player in the country

The Naismith Trophy women’s honor was first presented to Anne Donovan (Old Dominion University) in 1983. Other notable winners include Cheryl Miller (1984-86, University of Southern California), Dawn Staley (1991-92, University of Virginia), Lisa Leslie (1994, University of Southern California) and Diana Taurasi (2003-04, UConn).