Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dayton not sneaking up on UConn


UConn did not make it to the last seven Final Fours by counting their victories before they took place.

The Huskies and their coaches are fully aware that most people are expecting a similar score to the 105-54 beat down of Texas when the top-seeded Huskies meet No. 7 seed Dayton in the Albany Regional finale.

Dayton has 23 games with more turnovers than assists this season and lost three times to George Washington. On paper it looks very much like yet another UConn blowout. However, the UConn players have been reminded on multiple occasions that Dayton was supposed to lose to second-seeded Kentucky and certainly had to be considered the underdogs in the regional semifinal against No. 3 seed Louisville. Yet, here are the Flyers in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph, who had the scouting responsibility for the Albany Regional final, saw a grittiness in the Dayton players that she couldn't help but admire.

"The biggest thing with them is that they can score," Ralph said. "They are tough kids. Four of them (starters) can shoot 3s, they run ball screen offense and if you make a mistake they score. At this point of the year we are not going to face a team that is not any good, they deserve to be here, they are a great team."

UConn senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has few memories from the game the Huskies played against Dayton when she was a freshman even if she did drop 23 points on the Flyers as the Huskies won 78-38 in the only previous meeting between the teams.

However, Mosqueda-Lewis said the Flyers have the Huskies complete and undivided attention with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

"They have been overlooked and have continued to prove themselves by beating teams that people didn't think they could beat," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "For us, we are not going to overlook them and think 'it is just Dayton, maybe they got lucky.' They haven't, they have been playing great throughout the tournament."

Teammate Morgan Tuck echoed Mosqueda-Lewis' sentiments.

"They play really hard and they kind of play with a chip on their shoulder because a lot of people underestimate them and are going to underestimate them because they are Dayton and that means they are not as good," Tuck said. "I think they are playing with that chip that 'we are going to let people know who we are and make our name out there.'"

With Dayton expected to start a pair of 6-4 players, the Flyers do have some size to throw at the Huskies but it is a much different style of play from the post players than what the Huskies faced against Texas.

"The biggest difference is they have post players who can play outside and aren't really just post players so I think it will be a much different look than the Texas post players did," Tuck said.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the Dayton's style reminded him of a Green Bay team that was tied with the Huskies with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half in a game earlier this season. UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey sees similarities to another team the UConn fans might be more familiar with.

"It is a different kind of a style," Dailey said. "It reminds me of us in some ways, they play hard, they execute, they make 3s and have guys who come in off the bench and make 3s. They are a good team, a really good team."

Dayton also starts two seniors and two juniors. That experience was a major factor against a Louisville team whose top two scorers during the regular season where freshmen.

"Anytime you have experience it is an advantage, it just helps you become better prepared for games," Dailey said. "I think it helps because the experience and the older players on the court are like an extension of the coach, you know there is not a lot that is going to happen that you aren't going to prepared for and that allows your team to flow freely."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Star players live up to advanced billing for UConn, Dayton

Geno Auriemma has been known to say that this is the time of year when your best players need to be your best players.

Well, at the Times Union Center on Saturday, there was no question who the resident superstars are.

Breanna Stewart had 31 points (her highest scoring total in the NCAA tournament) to go with 12 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocked shots to lead the Huskies to a 105-54 win over Texas. The 51-point winning margin is the largest at the regional level in NCAA Division I women's basketball history.

"Breanna Stewart shot the ball really well today from every spot on the floor," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "She is a matchup nightmare and we don't have an answer for that. We knew that, we wanted to get Imani (McGee-Stafford) in to help and get our other players in to help so they can help in certain situations and it opened up things for other people."

Stewart missed her first two shots from the field and finished the game making 11 of 14. She scored by getting to the foul line eight times, making a pair of 3-pointers, scoring in transition and with mid-range jumpers. There was one stretch when she had a crossover dribble leading to a jumper and then hit back to back 3-pointers.
"I am making different shots whether it is in the post, on the outside and that is the kind of (balance) you (want) so we can have that inside/outside game," Stewart said.

For Dayton, it was Andrea Hoover who stole the show. She was 15 for 15 from the line (the most free throws attempting without missing at the regional round of the tournament). She had 26 points, five rebounds and five assists in an 82-66 win over Louisville.

Hoover went 6 for 6 from the line and also had a jumper after Louisville pulled within two points with 8:40 to play.

"At the beginning of the year we were kind of rushing our offense so one of the biggest keys is once we don't get anything in transition, to really ground it out and get the shot we want,' Hoover said.

"UConn is a great team and if you play against them in the NCAA tournament you know you went pretty far."

When Dayton arrived in Albany the story angle generating the most interest was head coach Jim Jabir promising to get a tattoo since his team reached the Sweet 16. Now it is the gritty play of a team that has knocked out second-seeded Kentucky and No. 3 seed Louisville.

"I thought the Kentucky (win) was the best day and now I think this is the best day," Jabir said. "In November if people said you are going to be in the Elite Eight, people would have laughed at you and maybe our guys would too.

It is about the journey and to have a group of people all fall in line, fight and trust for the same purpose. It doesn't even have to be in the Elite Eight, it could be a CYO team, or could be a knitting club and I am really proud of our guys."

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Familiar faces to cheer on UConn's Chong

Dan Ricci, who coached UConn sophomore guard Saniya Chong at Ossining High School, has been a regular visitor to the Huskies' home games over the last couple of years.

Ricci is expected to be in attendance at today's regional semifinal at the Times Union Center but he will not be alone. With the Ossining team playing Long Island Lutheran in the Federation Tournament of Champions semifinals in Albany last night, the plan is to have the entire team including plenty of former teammates as the top five scorers on this year's team (Jalay Knowles, Shadeen Samuels, Stefanie Svoboda, Abby Squirrell and Madison Strippoli) played on the 2012-13 Ossining team that Chong led to first of three AA state titles.

"They are coming to the game so he said he bought a pretty good amount of tickets so the players are going to be coming to watch," Chong said. "That is pretty cool, even with our distance we still find each other and I think it is pretty amazing."

There are those who figured Ossining would not reach the level of success it did during Chong's time there. However, they won state titles both in 2014 and 2015.

"It shows me how much the program has been amazing, that senior year and ever since then," Chong said.

"He helped me so much. I think my game has definitely improved. He has taught me things on and off the court."

With freshman Gabby Williams being converted into a forward, there aren't too many guard options off the bench for the Huskies. Chong has had a quietly effective sophomore season averaging 6 points per game and adding an impressive 73/41 assist to turnover ratio. However, those numbers don't indicate where she has made the largest strides and that is on the defensive end of the floor.

"I think that since the beginning of the (season), that was a huge issue," Chong said. "We all talk about the Stanford game and how my offense was good but at the end of the day my defense wasn't so great. It was pretty upsetting and I know ever since then I have been working really hard and I have grown since then. Obviously I have a ways to go but ever since then, it has been something I really want to improve in.

"A lot of times it is not about the points but it is about what else you can do to impact the game. I think my defense will impact the game. I don't want the other team to thinking give the girl I am guarding the ball and just score all the time. I want to help contribute to my team."

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Journey to Sweet 16 quite the experience for Texas

If a team was rated merely on how they handle adversity, Texas would be the favorite heading into today's regional semifinal against UConn.

The Longhorns have endured more twists and turns this season than most teams encounter in a decade.

The season began with an impressive string of 13 wins in a row including one over the Stanford team responsible for UConn's lone loss of the season. Then, after the loss of leading scorer Nneka Enemkpali, the Longhorns lost eight of 10 games and were being written off. However, the resilient Texas squad rediscovered its swagger just in time and now face UConn in the Sweet 16.

"It has been interesting," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "I feel like the team has been reinvented a couple of times, that is the best way I know to describe the season. We started off with a team that didn't have all of its parts because Imani (McGee-Stafford) and Nekia (Jones) were out earlier in the season We felt like we were getting a couple of our parts back and then a couple others get injured along the way Ariel (Atkins)  and Bri (Tayor) and of course the major loss was Nneka Enemkpali who was having such a phenomenal season. That was such a blow to us from a personal standpoint that it took a little bit of time. The reinvention was really everybody accepting some different roles, accepting a little more responsibility for leadership which was a challenge because Nneka was the leader of our basketball team. I thought we started to reinvent ourselves in a positive way and we are playing good basketball right now."

Looking at the numbers when Enemkpali was on the court and when she was sidelined, the only player who has made a dramatic jump in terms of minutes played and increased production is junior Imani McGee-Stafford.

"I don't think it is pressure, I think my injury took me out of a lot of things," McGee-Stafford said. "When Nneka got hurt, I was probably playing 10 minutes a game. I was fully cleared (after missing time earlier in season) , Coach was just trying to bring me along (slowly) until she was able to let me go.

"We have never been 100 percent healthy. In the beginning of the season when we went on that 13-0 run, I was out. As soon as I came back, Ariel went out, Bri went out and as soon as we got everybody, Nneka went down, Nekia is out.

"On the outside it seems a lot easier 'oh so and so went down, you can replace her.' We do have a deep bench but it is not like that, we have people who have to learn a new position. We have players who learn 'I am not a post player but I have to be a post player.' I think it is much easier to say you should be able to regroup than to actually do it."

Enemkpali did a little bit of everything for a pretty young Texas team so losing a player like that hurts more than anybody outside the program could truly realize.

"Playing with Nneka, you just feel so comfortable because you know if you miss a shot, she is going to and get that rebound because that is the type of player she is," Texas sophomore Kelsey Lang said. "You just feel really comfortable when you are playing. You are not worrying about missing your shots so when she got hurt, somebody needed to fill that rebounding role and I think that each one of our guards and our post players have stepped up. We all feel more comfortable now that everybody has taken a little piece and we are playing very, very confident right now."

Nobody might be more impressed with what the Texas coaching staff has done this season more than UConn's Geno Auriemma.

"Everybody knew this year or next year that they were going to be very good," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They just recruited really well the last couple of years. When you start the season, you think you have a certain team and then one kid is gone, then another team is gone and everything that you prepared for has to change. You have to start all over again, starting all over again on Oct. 15 one thing, but starting over in the middle of the season is totally different.

"Their coaching staff has done a great job of keeping it all together, playing well at the right time. They went through a stretch when they really, really struggled but like CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey) said, they have really found themselves and they are playing as well as anybody right now."

Friday, March 27, 2015

UConn's Nurse not only Hamilton native in Albany

When looking at the rosters of the four teams playing in the Albany Regional semifinals, the only town/city with more than one player represented isn't even in the United States. It happens to be Hamilton, Ontario.

What's interesting is that UConn freshman guard Kia Nurse and Dayton sophomore center Saicha Grant-Allen almost never crossed paths on the basketball court until they became teammates on a couple of Canada's junior national team.

"She actually played in a different club team than me," Grant-Allen said. "We are both from Hamilton but I played for Oakville and she played with Transway so we both ended up playing against each other."

So what does she think about two players from Hamilton in the same regional site?

"It is crazy," Grant-Allen said.

Grant-Allen said that Nurse's best attribute is that "she was always aggressive on both ends of the floor."

The best moment the two of them shared came when they led Canada to a third-place finish at the 2012 U17 World Championship for Women when Nurse was the team's top scorer and Grant-Allen led Canada in rebounding.

"I think Canada has made some huge steps in terms of the development and even upcoming players have made some huge strides these last few years so that is a building block moving forward," Grant-Allen said.

For Dayton's Jabir, the ink can wait

A year ago Jim Jabir promised his Dayton team that if they reached the Sweet 16 that he would get a tattoo.

Considering that much of the nucleus of that team is the same, he revisited his deal. Well, thanks to an upset of second-seeded Kentucky, Jabir and the Flyers have indeed made it to the regionals and he is ready to be true to his word - in true time.

I patiently waited for a few questioned to be asked of Jabir during Friday's press conference but when none of them included any inquiries about his tattoo and I did not see a skull and crossbones on his forehead, I decided to be the one to bring up the question that I am sure most of the people in the room would have eventually asked.

Jabir joked that he was going to respond by getting up, dropping his trousers to show off the artwork but instead he played it straight.

I don't have it yet," Jabir said. "We are going to get together as a team and watch me get a tattoo when all the fun is over.

"It is going to be so small, you'd have to really search for it and it will be very discreet. I am a 52 year old man , I don't need to be walking around getting tattoos."

Texas assistant big fan of UConn's Moriah Jefferson

There is no way of accurately estimating how many times that Texas assistant coach George Washington would snare rebounds and dutifully feed the ball back to UConn junior point guard Moriah Jefferson when both of them were members of the powerhouse DFW Elite AAU program.

While Washington wasn't always directly involved in coaching the team Jefferson was on, the two of them developed enough of a teacher/student relationship that Jefferson's parents still regularly communicate with him.

"She is a reflection of them," Washington said before the Longhorn's practice at Times Union Arena. "She has always had a positive outlook on everything, when things don't go her she just gets back in the gym, she doesn't pout about stuff and say 'I can't do it.' She just gets back in the gym.

"She is a different type of kid because she was always in the gym. She was always looking to get in whatever was a weakness in her game and she is a complete gym rat. She trained with boys all the time. The guy who worked with her always would come in and there would be a group of guys who trained really hard and she was always in there and she gave them all they could handle."

Jefferson is fully aware that Washington and the other coaches in the DFW Elite have played a huge role in her now being considered among the best guards in women's collegiate basketball.

"He was around all the time during the summers," Jefferson said. "We used to work out and hang out together so I have a really good relationship with George.

They were in Houston and we were in Dallas so sometimes he wasn't there but when he was, he gave me pointers.

Jefferson struggled during her freshman season but the fact that she has developed into an All-American candidate is not a surprise to Washington.

"I didn't expect anything different," Washington said. "Coaching the team in the summer, being on the bench and on those teams it is same Moriah that I am used to. Her first year in college, it was kind of a freshman adjustment but she is giving everybody exactly what I expected from her."



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Thursday, March 26, 2015

UConn freshmen making an impact in NCAA tournament

There are so many gaudy numbers associated with the UConn women's basketball program's performance in the NCAA tournament that I could blog nothing by statistical breakdowns every day and not run out of material for years to come.

However, there are some numbers that jump to the top of the list and certainly breaking down what Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams did in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament ranks with any freshman duo in program history.

The only set  of freshman teammates with more points in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament are current seniors Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes.

55: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (36)/Kiah Stokes (19), 2012
46: Kia Nurse (20)/Gabby Williams (26), 2015
45: Asjha Jones (20)/Tamika Williams (25), 1999
45: Stefanie Dolson (23)/Bria Hartley (22), 2011
44: Carla Berube (19)/Kara Wolters (25), 1994
41: Maya Moore (41)'Lorin Dixon (0), 2008

Williams had 15 points against St. Francis (N.Y.) and 11 against Rutgers. If she reached double digits in points on Saturday against Texas she would join a select group of UConn players to score at least 10 points in each of their first three NCAA tournament games as true freshman.

Paige Sauer, 1997 (17 vs. Lehigh, 13 vs. Iowa, 10 vs. Illinois)
Svetlana Abrosimova, 1998 (18 vs. Fairfield, 16 vs. George Washington, 12 vs. Arizona)
Tina Charles, 2007 (10 vs. Maryland Baltimore County, 22 vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay. 17 vs. North Carolina State)
Maya Moore, 2008 (17 vs. Cornell, 24 vs. Texas, 25 vs. Old Dominion)
Bria Hartley, 2011 (12 vs. Hartford, 10 vs. Purdue, 17 vs. Georgetown)
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, 2012 (21 vs. Prairie View, 15 vs. Kansas State, 12 vs. Penn State)
Breanna Stewart, 2013 (14 vs. Vanderbilt, 17 vs. Maryland, 21 vs. Kentucky)
- Note: Stewart missed 2013 NCAA opener against Idaho so games shown are No. 2, 3 and 4 played by UConn) 

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UConn's Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart Wade Trophy finalists

UConn senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and junior forward Breanna Stewart are among 12 finalists for the Wade Trophy, presented annually to the national player of the year.

Stewart leads the 34-1 Huskies in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game, and is also the top rebounder at 7.2 per game. She ranks second on the team with 111 assists, 89 blocked shots and 54 steals.

Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 15 points per game and with 109 3-pointers, is the first player in program history with two seasons with more than 100 3-pointers. She needs seven more assists to become the first UConn player with 100 assists and 3-pointers in the same season.

Here's the list of finalists

Brittany Boyd California Senior Guard
Nina Davis Baylor Sophomore Forward
Reshanda Gray California Senior Forward
Dearica Hamby Wake Forest Senior Forward
Brittany Hrynko DePaul Senior Guard
Jewell Loyd Notre Dame Junior Guard
Tiffany Mitchell South Carolina Junior Guard
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis Connecticut Senior Forward
Breanna Stewart Connecticut Junior Forward
Courtney Williams South Florida Junior Guard
Elizabeth Williams Duke Senior Center
Amanda Zahui B. Minnesota Sophomore Center

UConn's Jefferson admires fighting spirit of Texas team

When the Texas women's basketball team went into a tailspin after the team's leading scorer and rebounder suffered a season-ending knee injury, more than a few people wrote the Longhorns off.

UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson, who happens to be the first Texas native to play for the Huskies, was not one of them.

Jefferson played with plenty of the Texas players on the AAU circuit and got to know them  while growing up in Texas. So to see Texas in the Sweet 16, Jefferson is not shocked about that.

"I know all of those guys," Jefferson said. "I know they all have really big hearts so I am not really surprised. I knew a lot of their guards would step up and post players would come in to make the big shots in games so I am not surprised."

TICKET UPDATE FOR REGIONAL
Looks like there will be a few more people in the stands for UConn's next game than for the two NCAA tournament games held in Storrs.

As of Wednesday at noon, 6,785 tickets have been sold for Saturday's regional semifinals with 5,966 sold for Monday's regional final.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LSU, UConn agree to home and home series

LSU and UConn squared off six times between 2006-2010 but haven't met since. That is about to change.

The schools have agreed to a home and home series beginning on Dec. 21 with a game in Connecticut.

The last meeting between the teams came on Nov. 28, 2010 with the Huskies winning 81-51. There were a couple of barnburners when UConn played in Baton Rouge in 2007 and 2008, winning the two games by a total of six points.

Another confirmed date is the Colgate game as UConn will play in Hamilton, N.Y. in the homecoming game for Breanna Stewart on Dec. 2.

UConn trio on WBCA All-Region 1 team

UConn's Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart were named to the WBCA Region 1 team making their eligible for the WBCA All-American team.

Stewart leads UConn in scoring with an average of 17.1 points per game, is also the Huskies' top rebounder (7.1 per game) and second in assists, steals and blocked shots.

Mosqueda-Lewis, who averages 15 points per game, is the first player in program history to make more than 100 3-pointers in two different seasons.

Jefferson leads the team with 169 assists and 89 steals while contributing 12 points per game.

Former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes, a junior guard at West Virginia, is a member of the Region 5 team.

Also, UConn's Geno Auriemma was named the WBCA's Region 1 Coach of the Year making him eligible to be named the WBCA National Coach of the Year for a sixth time.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UConn's Auriemma thrilled to see recruit finish in style

Everybody I've spoken to about UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier can't speak highly enough about one of the three recruits signed by the Huskies.

The folks at USA Basketball including those who coached her rave about her performance on the court and way she carries herself off the court. Incarnate Word Academy coach Dan Rolfes obviously has loved coaching Collier for the last three seasons.

The UConn coaches haven't been shy is expressing their praise of the 6-foot-1 forward.

Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal Inquirer and I gave UConn coach Geno Auriemma another chance to talk up his incoming freshman after one of the press conferences at the subregional held at Gampel Pavilion.

Collier completed a dominant four-game run to lead Incarnate Word out of St. Louis to its third consecutive Missouri Class 4 title (one for each year Collier played there). Collier averaged 30 points (scoring 31, 31, 28 and 30 points in the tournament), 14.8 rebounds, 5.8 offensive rebounds, 3,5 assists, 4.3 steals and 5 blocks per game. She had a triple-double aided by a 10-steal game and another game with nine blocked shots. In the last three games of the tournament she was 40 of 50 from the field.

Obviously Auriemma was kind of busy here in Connecticut but he has seen Collier play enough that her postseason performance was not a surprise to him.

"She is a tremendous kid and their team wasn't as good as they were last year," Auriemma said. "They have a fabulous coach, he does a tremendous job and those kids are really lucky to be coached by a former college coach. I just think that goes a long way and they play really well together. she just kind of pulls it all into place because she is so versatile and so unselfish. I just love her as a person. She is a leader by nature, it just comes naturally to her and she is able to do it and it is kind of effortless. Some people have to work really hard at being (a leader).

"When you watch her play, you are amazed that she plays both ends of the floor equally hard. It is not some kids I see in high school, they do play both ends of the floor. You heard me say when they are on offense on this end, they play offense and when they are on offense  on that end, they play that end but rarely at the same time. She is one of those few kids who competes and competes really hard on both ends of the floor."

Collier finished her senior year averaging 26.7 points per game (shooting 70 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line), 13 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 4.1 steals and 4.1 blocked shots per game.

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UConn role players stepped out of comfort zone in 2nd round win

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Moriah Jefferson combined for 42 points
as UConn pulled away for 91-55 victory over Rutgers on Monday night
Often times it looks all so routine.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis starts hitting 3-pointers from seemingly everywhere, Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart take turns setting up the other for layups while Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse attack the basket with controlled abandon.

However, Stewart was on the bench with two fouls, neither Mosqueda-Lewis nor Nurse were involved in the offense as the Huskies found themselves with few answers and a precarious five-point lead as the NCAA second-round game approached the midway point of the first half.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is a Hall of Famer in large part due to being one of the top defensive minds in the history of women's college basketball and she was not about to make things easy for the Huskies.

For one of the few times this season, the Huskies seemed to be a bit rattled. Ill advised passes resulted in turnovers, poor shot selection contributed to some empty possessions. There wasn't much help coming from the bench either so for stretches it basically was Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck playing 2 on 5 on the offensive end of the court.

What followed next was seeing players contribute in different ways.

It started with freshman Gabby Williams, a 44 percent free-throw shooter, going 3 of 4 from the foul line. Then Mosqueda-Lewis, who had fallen into her old habit of standing in one spot waiting to fire up a 3-pointer, began to move with purpose. She hit a jumper in the lane, added a rebound, assist and steal before capping an 11-0 run with a 3-pointer. Kiah Stokes ripped down offensive rebounds with authority and before long, the Huskies were well on their way to another convincing win.

"You never know when somebody is going to go down, either get hurt or get into foul trouble so you have to be ready to step up at any time," said UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson, who had 19 points including the 1,000th of her career. "We needed (somebody) whether it was me or K (Mosqueda-Lewis) to step up and make the shots to get us into a rhythm and onto a
roll.
"I think games like this are really fun. When Stewie went out, I think a lot of people stepped up and that isn't even saying anything about Gabby, she was killing it. I am just excited for my team."
Williams had 11 points and 10 rebounds as she became the ninth UConn freshman to score in double figures in both the first and second round games. Stokes contributed more to the winning effort than her final line of four points, eight rebounds and two blocks would seem to indicate. Saniya Chong's stat line of two points, four rebounds and one turnover is not an indication of the impact she had. There was one flurry when Chong made the perfect defensive read to prevent a transition layup by Rutgers. Then UConn came down the court and Chong alertly vacated the area near Mosqueda-Lewis leading to one of her five 3-pointers.

"You have to be ready when you name is called," Stokes said. "You don't know when people are going to get into foul trouble like Stewie did. It is not a thing of hang your head because you're not starting or you are not the first one off the bench. When your name is called you have to be ready. I have taken that to heart. I have come in during certain games throughout my whole career and given the spark we needed. I know when my name is called I need to come in, block shots and
get rebounds. As long as I am doing that, I know I am doing my role."

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UConn senoors have perfect farewell to Gampel

So many of the games Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes have played at Gampel Pavilion over the last four years have been decided even before the first shot had been taken or first assist was ever recorded.

That was certainly not the case in Monday's NCAA second-round game.

Playing in their final game at Gampel Pavilion, Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes did what they do the best. Mosqueda-Lewis made some key shots, some from 3-point range and some from inside of it. Meanwhile Stokes was ripping offensive rebounds away from the tall, aggressive Rutgers players and also blocked a couple of shots.

Facing a Rutgers team drawing confidence from the fact that the Huskies' resident superstar was on the bench for most of the first half with two fouls, the Scarlet Knights were within six points as the game approached the midway point of the first half.

The final score (91-55) doesn't completely paint a picture of how interesting things may have gotten had the Huskies, led by their most experienced players, turned up the pressure.

"Today was pretty impressive when you consider how the game was played," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Stewie only played four minutes in the first half and it didn't look like we missed a beat. I was just really proud of the way we handled ourselves. I thought Moriah (Jefferson) was in charge of the game the whole time. I couldn't be happier or this group, they worked really hard and they deserve it."

Coming off a game when she scored a NCAA tournament low two points, Mosqueda-Lewis seemed to be disconnected from the events transpiring. Then in a span of 2:01 she hit two jumpers including a 3-pointer, had a rebound, assist and steal during an 11-0 run.

"Coach tried to emphasize that we kept moving, looking for open spots in their zones and making sure I was doing a lot of things was a key for us today," Mosqueda-Lewis said.

"It is good to go out on a high note specially with everybody playing so well. It is definitely how you want your last game at Gampel to go. Everything is going well for your team, everybody is playing like they have been practicing all year an everything is going right. It was like Coach said, it looked like everybody was connected."

Mosqueda-Lewis had 23 points and had five 3-pointers. She now had 386 in her career, six shy of the NCAA Division I career record. She also moved into fifth place on the NCAA Division I tournament career list with 40 3-pointers and is 14th on the NCAA Division I tournament career scoring list.

Stokes, who had four points, eight rebounds and two blocks, became the 16th Division I player with 140 blocks in a season. However. she was more concerned with helping her team to another trip to the Sweet 16.

"It is kind of tough thinking about it," Stokes said. "This is basically the last time I will walk off Gampel in a game setting. It was definitely emotional and it has kind of hit me that this is not really my home anymore and I have to move onto other things."

The seniors weren't the only players to reach milestones as Jefferson scored the 1,000th point of her career in the game.

Now UConn advances to play Texas at noon on Saturday in Albany in the regional semifinal. Louisville and Dayton will play at about 2:30 in the other regional semifinal.

Also, Morgan Tuck had her 100th assist of the season during the game to become the fourth UConn player with at least 100 assists during the game.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer said focus is on coaching not salary

Her Sunday morning press conference had come to an end but Rutgers' Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer wasn't done talking just yet.
The Asbury Park Press reported that Stringer was the third-highest paid state employee in the state of New Jersey in 2014 when she earned $1.6 million. A couple of reporters from New Jersey were interviewing Stringer about the reported $500,000 bonus she would receive if she were to beat two-time defending national champion UConn to advance to the Sweet 16, she took the opportunity to try to set the record straight.
"You guys have it all wrong in terms of my (salary) figures," Stringer said. "My pay has been cut in half so let's not get it twisted. When you talk about that (bonus), Vivian is trying to earn her way back. I would have to win a God-darn (national) championship to get the money I was getting before. It bothers me because I am just trying to win a basketball game. I have been trying to think about basketball, I don't know where you get those figures but it is not right and it needs to be straightened out because I don't want the people in the state thinking I am getting 1.6 (million). I am not getting 1.6 million. You give me some of that and I will give you some of it because that is not what is happening because my pay has been cut in half and for me to get anywhere near my pay, I would have to win a championship.

"I am just trying to win a basketball game. On the personal side, that is called an incentive. If you get a Pulitzer Prize, you get an incentive.  Why is it all of a sudden if you win the first round, you are going to win this (bonus)? That sends a bad message to the fans and to the kids. When I was at Cheyney State, I didn't get paid one dime, I still took the team to the Final Four, I still had one of the best records in the country. I was going to do it anyway, it is something I love. I hate the fact that you guys attach money to it because that is not the case. Do I like that my pay got cut? No, nobody likes to have their pay cut but I am grateful for the opportunity to earn it back. The truth of the matter is I would be busting my tail to win a national championship no matter what (she got paid), how much more clear do I have to be?"

Emotions on hold as UConn seniors set to play final game at Gampel

Neither Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis or Kiah Stokes know what the future has in store for them but one thing they are certain of is that they won't play at Gampel Pavilion again after tonight's NCAA second-round game against Rutgers comes to an end.

I've always found the whole concept of the emotional Senior Day/Night festivities to be rather interesting because invariably there are still conference and NCAA tournament games to be played in Connecticut after they play their final regular-season game at Gampel. However, both Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes admitted that going through the Senior Day festivities helped them deal with all of the emotions so they can focus fully on the survive and advance side of things once the NCAA tournament comes around.

"I am just thinking about the tournament and I am not thinking about it being my last game (in Connecticut)," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I kind of got that out of my system after Senior Night.

"I think it does help you get it out of the way and lets you focus on what is really important."

Stokes had a similar take on things as she prepares to step onto Gampel Pavilion for the last time as a Husky.
"It is one of our last games," Stokes said. "It is not a sad time because you still have hopefully we have five more games left so we have to keep on pushing until then. It is not over until we play our last game and we are just trying to make sure that isn't our game (today) or the weekend after that.

"It will definitely be weird because I will be practicing on it for four years and now tomorrow is going to be our game at Gampel. It is definitely emotional but right now I am trying not to think about it like that. I am just trying to make sure it is a great game tomorrow."

Both players have a chance at some milestones tonight.

Stokes has a UConn single-season record 138 blocks and she is two away from becoming the 16th Division I women's player with 140 blocked shots in a season.

Mosqueda-Lewis is currently eighth on the NCAA Division I women's career list with 381 3-pointers. Next up will be former Louisville star Shoni Schimmel and former James Madison standout Dawn Evans, who are tied for sixth with 387 3s. She needs five points to become the 18th player with at least 300 career points in the NCAA Division I tournament and is currently tied for ninth on the career 3-point list in the NCAA tournament. She has 35, one behind Maryland grad Kristi Toliver and two behind former Huskies Bria Hartley and Renee Montgomery.

Last but certainly not least, today is the last day to vote for Stokes in the balloting for the Senior CLASS Award. Stokes leads the voting at 29.4 percent followed by Tennessee's Isabelle Harrison (17.4) and Iowa's Samantha Logic (13.6). The voting is just one of the criteria for selecting the Senior CLASS Award winner which goes to the player who is successful on the court, in the classroom and also is a positive contributor to the community.

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