Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, September 19, 2014

UConn's Stewart leads U.S. past Australia

In one of the most anticipated pre-FIBA World Championship for Women showdowns, UConn's Breanna Stewart had nine points, five rebounds, one assist and two blocked shots as the United Sttaes defeated Australia 72-66 in an international friendly in Paris.

Four former UConn stars were in the starting lineup as Maya Moore had seven points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot, Tina Charles and Sue Bird six points each and Diana Taurasi two points and a team-high six assists. Former UConn standout Stefanie Dolson added two points and two assists for the U.S.

The U.S. will play exhibitions in Paris against China on Saturday and France on Sunday before heading to play the host Czech Republic in the final showdown before the World Championships kick off in Turkey.

Also, Canada lost to Cuba 69-66 in overtime in an exhibition today played in Spain with UConn freshman Kia Nurse finishing with three points for Canada. There will be another tune-up tomorrow against Spain for Canada.

Here are quotes from U.S. and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, Moore, Taurasi and Stewart courtesy of USA Basketball.

On getting everyone involved (all 15 had checked in by the 15-minute mark):

We’re kind of in a little bit of a quandary. We obviously want to win the game, which is priority No. 1. But it’s a little unusual that priority No. 1-A is trying to get 15 players somewhat significant playing time as opposed to garbage time. So there’s no offensive flow, it’s tough on defense and we looked like it at times. But we’re trying to put our team together. We’re trying to find the right combination for everybody, and it’s important that we do that. I don’t want to sacrifice the game to do that, I’m glad we won, but I think you could see some things that we were doing that looked really, really good and some things that obviously we have to work on. Overall, we’re just going to get better all the time. I’ve been doing this long enough with USA Basketball that we don’t expect to look your best early on. As long as we keep improving, then I’m happy.

Who stood out for you today?
The veterans always do well. Dee (Taurasi) and Candice (Dupree), I told them that they looked like they were playing underwater. They just got here yesterday, so that was to be expected. I thought Sue gave us some great minutes. The veterans were good. I thought Seimone (Augustus) coming off the bench gave us some huge stuff. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) gave us a big spark, Nneka (Ogwumike) gave us some great minutes. Everybody else was good. Angel (McCoughtry) struggled a little bit in the first half with fouls, and she’s somebody we’re going to need. But, there were a lot of moments in there that I really liked.

Australia’s Liz Cambage left the game after falling down in the first half. Would you have liked to have seen her in longer?
I would have like to have seen her out there, because we need to be challenged in that area. Our big guys need to be challenged. That’s an area where we’re obviously concerned. There are a lot of really good post players that aren’t here, size-wise anyway. The ones that are here are so young, they really don’t have the kind experience that they need, playing against these kinds of players. So, yes it’s unfortunate. I hope she’s okay. There’s nobody like her. Brittney Griner’s big. Brittney Griner’s tall. This girl is tall (with emphasis), and she’s big (with emphasis) and that’s a deadly combination.

You talked to the team about the need to get better defensively. Is that something you want to work on before tomorrow’s game against China?

I think when the younger guys came in and we extended our defense a little bit, that helped. I told them, I said, ‘You guys are going to really have to take this to heart. Make this part of who you are, because some of these older guys … when I say press, they’re not jumping up and down about it.’ So, we’ve got great young legs and great energy coming off the bench, and those guys really made a big difference in that third quarter.

On tonight’s game:

Every time we face each other, both teams understand and respect each other. We understand the weight of the game; we respect the talent and the experience that’s on both sides. So, both teams are in an interesting place where they’ve got a few veteran players, but a lot of young players, too. It was good to see some of our young guys come in and experience Australia at this level for the first time.

On the fact that everyone checked into the game within the first 15 minutes and the coaching staff getting a look at different rotations:

We’re figuring it out; who works well, who works the best with each other. To start off the second half, the first five, we found a better rhythm with each other. And then there was a group there, Seimone (Augustus), Nneka (Ogwumike) and I think Lindsay (Whalen), that really got on a run for us and pushed the lead. Everyone was doing what they’re really good at. Angel (McCoughtry) was in there also. I was really, really excited for that group.

On her block that went into the Australian staff on the bench:

It was just one of those moments where they were running some action underneath and I was a little bit late, so I was trying to recover really quickly. I was able to get the elevation to block the shot. It was just a hustle play that I was trying to make up for a little bit of missed coverage. Hopefully it helped build the momentum for us.

On any insight she’s given Breanna Stewart, having been in this position four years ago as a college player:

I just try to drop little nuggets here and there. Mainly it’s just the physicality of the game for her. She’s getting used to that. She’s just so talented and has so many abilities. It’s just her getting a feel for the physicality at this level. She’s being strong, so she can finish through players instead of around players at this level. She’s doing a great job. She knows how to play the game. She’s never going to give up or hang her head. She’s always going to compete and end up making a play. She’ll definitely continue to grow. I’m excited to watch her grow as a USA Basketball player.

On going up against the Australia National Team:

It was very competitive. Obviously coming in we knew they were a really good team and they were going to give us a good fight. I think that after we went through our subs and picked the tempo up, we kind of got away from them a little bit.

You’ve had a lot of games against them at the junior level, are they all just as tough in this rivalry?

Yeah, they play the same on all levels, obviously. The talent just gets better. There are some familiar faces that I could see. I remember (Rebecca) Allen (from the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship), and China has a bunch of them. It’s just fun to be here and play against them.

On being the youngest member of this team:

Having been with the team for about two weeks now, it really helps me get a great comfort level with the players and stuff like that, and just get acclimated to their style of play and what they’re trying to do. I think this is a great tournament to help get you ready for the next one.

On the praise heaped on her by coach Geno Auriemma following the USA-Canada game:

It’s a great honor (for me) for him to say that. Obviously, he’s a great coach. He’s coached a lot of great players. The fact that I still want to become successful at higher things, I have higher goals, I just want to keep getting better and not let any of it get to my head.

On the game:
They are a tough team. They always play physical, and they have some of the best players in the world, so it was a tough game. But today for this group being together for the first time, I think we did a pretty good job.

On her six assists:
Sometimes you just have to slow everything down a little bit. I’m just trying to get used to playing with Sue again and some of the other players, so I think today was a pretty good game for us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Delle Donne won't play and Griner iffy to be part of U.S. World Championship team

USA Basketball announced that Elena Delle Donne won'y  be playing for the U.S. during the upcoming FIBA World Championships due to injury while Brittney Griner's status is up in the air.

The U.S. team currently has 15 players in contention for the 12 spots including UConn junior Breanna Stewart and former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. The team will need to cut three players before the start of the tournament (four if Griner gets added)..

With Sylvia Fowles both opting to skip the tournament to get healthy and if Griner's eye injury keeps her out, it will be interesting to see how the USA Basketball selection committee opts to fill the center spot behind Charles. Dolson and Jantel Lavender could be kept if the U.S. wants to have more of a true center presence although the duo played sparingly in the final tune-up on American soil.

With the addition of Candice Dupree, impressive play of Nneka Ogwumike during training camp and potential of Stewart, it remains to be seen if the U.S. thinks they add enough in the post to make up for the lack of a true center to bring off the bench,

I only saw the team live on Sunday and Monday in a practice and then a scrimmage against Canada and neither Dolson nor Lavender were especially productive. However, Lavender does have the added bonus of having been the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder during the EuroLeague season meaning she does have a track record against many of the players the U.S. will meet up with in the World Championships.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Filling in the blanks on UConn's schedule

When UConn recently announced the breakdown of home games for the upcoming season there were only a handful of games without announced times. Well, I can now provide you with that information as the game times for the Dec. 31 East Carolina, home game with South Carolina on Feb. 9 as well as games on the road against Memphis, Tulsa and Tulane are now known.

Here is the schedule with the update

PRESEASON11/02 vs. West Chester  (Gampel Pavilion) 1 p.m.
11/09 vs. Post University  (XL Center) 4:30 p.m.
REGULAR SEASON11/14 at UC Davis  10 p.m.
11/17 at Stanford 9 p.m.
11/23 vs. Creighton (Gampel Pavilion) 1 p.m.
 Gulf Coast Showcase 
11/28 vs. College of Charleston Estero, Fla. 8:30 p.m. 
11/29 Minnesota/Vanderbilt Estero, Fla. 2:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. 
11/30 TBD Estero, Fla. TBA 
Jimmy V Classic 
12/06 at Notre Dame TV South Bend, Ind. 3:15 p.m. 
12/19 vs. DePaul (Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport) 7:30 p.m.
12/21 vs. UCLA (Mohegan Sun Arena) 5 p.m.
12/27 vs. SMU  (XL Center) 1 p.m.
12/29 vs. Duke (XL Center) 9 p.m.
12/31 at East Carolina 3:30 p.m.
 Maggie Dixon Classic 
01/04 vs. St. John's Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. 1:00 p.m. 
01/07 vs. Tulsa  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
01/11 at SMU  3 p.m.
01/14 vs. Temple  (Gampel Pavilion) 7 p.m.
01/18 vs. USF  (Gampel Pavilion) noon.
01/21 at UCF, 7 p.m.
01/25 at Cincinnati 3 p.m.
01/28 vs. East Carolina  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/01 at Temple  2 p.m.
02/03 vs. Cincinnati  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/07 at Memphis 3:30 p.m.
02/09 vs. South Carolina (Gampel Pavilion) 8 p.m.
02 vs. Tulane  (Gampel Pavilion) 4 p.m.
02/17 vs. Houston  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/21 at Tulsa  3 p.m.
02/23 at Tulane 4 p.m.
02/28 vs. Memphis (Gampel Pavilion) 2 p.m.
03/02 at USF 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UCLA's Fields, UConn's Nurse to meet again

As the two youngest players on the Canadian national team, this has been a summer to remember for UCLA junior Nirra Fields and UConn freshman Kia Nurse.

After competing in the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women, the two will go their separate ways before meeting up again on Dec. 21 at Mohegan Sun Arena when the Bruins and Huskies meet in the Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.

I caught up with Fields (who unfortunately injured her shoulder and was unable to play in Monday's exhibition game between the U.S. and Canada) after Sunday's scrimmage between the two teams and she made it clear that the UCLA players are fired up about getting to square off with the two-time defending national champions.

"I am so excited for that game," said Fields, who was UCLA"s second-leading scorer last season. "It is probably one of the games that we are all circling on our calendar. It is really going to battle test us, we are a really young team and we are rebuilding. I am very excited.

"Our coach was really battling for us. She knew we were going to have a very talented team and wanted us to play the best teams in the country. She was like 'you guys better be prepared and work hard this season because we are really going to have a tough game this year.' I kind of anticipated UConn because that is the best team right now in the entire college women's game so I was really excited about that and wanted to let everyone else know that we need to work hard because everything we do now is going to affect us when we play that game."

As for Nurse, Fields loves the fiery competitiveness she brings to the floor.

"I like her energy," Fields said. "She is an energy giver and her young spirit always brings everyone up and having her in the mix just makes everyone energetic."

Fields believes her experience with the Canadian squad will help her in so many ways when she returns to college.

"It is just like seeing the game at another perspective," Fields said. "Just playing with more older players, they read the game and getting that perspective is going to help my game so much more when  I go back to UCLA."

While time will tell how many UConn products will be part of the U.S. team playing in the World Championships, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma knows he will have one of his former players along for the ride as Jen Rizzotti.

Rizzotti, the point guard on Auriemma's first national championship team at UCLA, will serve as an advance scout for the U.S. team.

Carol Callan, the U.S. women's national team director, is excited to have Rizzotti, who is no stranger to the folks at USA Basketball, be a part of the national team staff.

"Jen is, feisty isn't even the right word, she is energetic, passionate and the way she was as a player translates to the way she is as a coach," Callan said. "It is nice for Geno to have somebody who understands what he does. Even though Jen is at Hartford she played for him, she understands and she is somebody that the players can go to 'what do we do here?' and  she is not shy about going onto the floor and doing those things as well."

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Special night for future UConn teammates

As if the UConn flavor in the international friendly between the United States and Canada wasn't hard to miss, seeing four former Huskies, head coach Geno Auriemma, former star point guard Jen Rizzotti as well as resident superstar Breanna Stewart and incoming freshman Kia Nurse pose for a photo before the game serves as a reminder of just what Auriemma has built in Storrs.

With all due respect to Maya Moore (8 points, 4 assists, 6 steals). Tina Charles (7 points, 3 rebounds), Sue Bird (3 assists, 2 steals) and Stefanie Dolson (2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), the night belonged to the youngest players on both the U.S. and Canadian teams.

Stewart finished with seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter in the United States' 76-51 victory while Nurse had six points (hitting a pair of 3-pointers) for Team Canada.

Who better than highly-respected USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan to capture what Stewart and Nurse were able to accomplish.

"She (Stewart) is very comfortable with what she she is doing," Callan said. "I think she absolutely belongs with this group."

As for Nurse?

"Canada has done such a nice job with their women's program," Callan said. "They have spent a lot of time with their young players and her to play that well on the national team and this is not even her first year at UConn is amazing."

Nurse, true to her modest nature off the court, blushed she her veteran teammate Kim Goucher was asked to describe the impact Nurse had in the game and on the national team program.

"Kia has been great," Goucher said. "She is impressive, the way she can put pressure on the ball defensively is a game changer and I think she just has been getting smarter and learning a lot over the last few years. She has been a great addition to the team and will only continue to grow as a player. She will get smarter and her future is incredibly bright."

While a little shy away from the court, she is anything but when she starts playing.

Dolson mentioned that more than one player on the U.S. bench raved about what they saw from the 18-year-old Nurse.

"She is definitely a big guard, she brings a lot and is skilled player," U.S. guard Lindsay Whalen said. "She has a very big future, it will be fun to see her grow and continue to get better. She is going to have a chance her with the national team to keep getting better and play against some great competition."

Nurse was quick to credit her teammates for helping her hit the two shots from long distance.

"I started to read the defense a little more," Nurse said. "My teammates screened and they passed me the ball, that is pretty much what got me open.

"It is tremendously important to play the best players in the world. They are gifted individually and to gain experience to see what do against me and what I need to work on is (important) because they put the pressure on me and they push me to be better."

That is the same thing that Stewart is getting from her older U.S. teammates. While she played with Dolson for two seasons, getting a chance to share the court with some past UConn greats is something Stewart relished.

"Being with them and creating a bond with them is something that makes you realize that they set the standard at UConn," Stewart said. "They were the ones that were there years before I was there. They started the UConn tradition and now we are continuing it.

She also loved the environment from the fans in Bridgeport.

"Being here in Bridgeport, we get a lot of UConn fans and UConn players get a nice applause and just to see how many people have played at UConn and are currently playing at UConn or are going to be playing at UConn be so successful in basketball is really great to see."

Stewart was thrilled to see Nurse play well.

"It was good to see Kia play,' Stewart said. "She is obviously going to mature a lot playing with a national team, playing against so many great teams and great players. I think it is a learning experience for her as well. It just shows that this is the level that if you want to become really successful in basketball. this is the level that you have to play at. She will take it back to UConn, really work hard and be ready for the season.

"She is so intense, She is a strong, tall guard and she can really disrupt people on defense and when she needs to create for herself on offense, she can do that as well."

The 13 players who suited up for the U.S. will head to Paris for some more tune-ups. There could be as many as six others joining them including former UConn star Diana Taurasi as the players who took part in the Phoenix/Chicago series for the WNBA title have yet to join the team. Sylvia Fowles' foot injuries will keep her out of the FIBA World Championships and Callan said it was yet to be determined if the other five players will all be joining the squad in Europe. The roster has to be cut to 12 before the start of the World Championships.

"Up in the air still," Callan said. "There are still a couple that have to get cleared by doctors and working travel arrangements for others. Unknown yet (how many will be part of the player pool)."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Taurasi's late-game brilliance no shocker to UConn's Auriemma

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma sat with a group of friends and family and were checking out the third game of the WNBA Championship Series.

Phoenix, needing a win to clinch the franchise's third title, predictably put the ball in the hands of former UConn star Diana Taurasi with the game tied and less than 30 seconds to play. Taurasi was fouled while hitting a 16-foot jumper and completed the three-point play.

Taurasi had 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter, going 5 of 6 from the field, converting two three-point plays and draining a pair of 3-pointers as the Mercury finished off the Chicago Sky despite playing without an injured first team All-WNBA center Brittney Griner.

"I think UConn players have won a lot of WNBA championships in the last 10 years and it was something to be proud of and I can't say I am surprised," Auriemma said after Sunday's U.S./Canada scrimmage in Bridgeport. "When I found out Britney wasn't playing my first thought was she was going to pull a Magic Johnson against the Sixers (when Johnson scored 42 points filling in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to close out the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA final). Nothing Diana does surprises me. If anybody was surprised that she took that last shot and if anybody was surprised if she made it then they just haven't been watching long enough. We were all in the house with a bunch of guys on the team and we were all watching and everybody's reaction was 'huh' and we turn around to grab something to eat. Everybody knew exactly what was going to happen, they knew exactly what the outcome was going to be and it was 'that was about it.' She just does what she does and nobody does it better.

"I would venture to say that other than the one she gets reminded of all the time, the Final Four game in St. Louis when she was a freshman, I would venture to say that there is a big game in the NCAA tournament or in the WNBA playoffs where she hasn't played great. Some people are just able to play their best in those big moments and I have never seen anybody who is more ready, more focused and more able to rise to the occasion more than Diana. Diana sets her mind to do something it usually gets done."

Four years ago Tina Charles was one of the younger members of the U.S. national team preparing to head to the FIBA World Championship for Women.

This year current UConn star Breanna Stewart and former Husky Stefanie Dolson are in similar roles as they are trying to play their way onto the U.S. team seeking to win a second straight world title.

"She (Stewart) is doing great, she is taking the shots," Charles said. "I think it is easier for her and Stefanie Dolson coming from Coach (Aurienna's) system, just knowing how and what is expected and they definitely have asserted themselves well.

"They are both really confident in what they do. Stef, she is in the pros now and Stewie she definitely has arrived at UConn and doing things that everybody knows she is capable of doing."

The Connecticut Sun's Chiney Ogwumike, one of four players cut by USA Basketball today, also had incredible praise for Stewart.,

"For Stewie, the sky is the limit for her and she is halfway done with college and competing for a spot on the national team," Ogwumike said. "I think we are soaking it all in. I think it is normal for her because UConn has a lot of players there so she is well versed with Maya, well versed with Stef, she played with all of these players so she already has good confidence and a good flow."

There was no lack of material coming out of the interviews after today's scrimmage. Here are some of the highlights.

"I was just hoping she (Breanna Stewart) wouldn't block me. I knew I wasn't going to have to guard her and I am OK with that. It is definitely fun to be playing with some of the old UConn players." Kia Nurse

"There is a fine line of you want to be aggressive when you are out there but at the same time you don't want to force too much because there are so many great players and just playing basketball." Breanna Stewart

"She (UConn freshman Kia Nurse) is not normal. Probably the best thing about her is her toughness both mentally and physically. Mentally, you don't see her break down. She is the toughest competitor you are going to see out there. She is going to be a cornerstone of our program for a long time." Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis

"I am still trying to find my way. I don't take anything for granted, I don't get complacent and I don't think I have arrived and I am as hungry as I was in my first go-round in 2010." Tina Charles

"I am so excited for that game. It is probably one of the games that we are all circling on our calendar. It is really going to battle test us, we are a really young team and we are rebuilding. I am very exciting." Canada guard Nirra Fields, a member of UCLA team which will play UConn on Dec. 21

"I probably trust Lindsay (Whalen) as much as I trust anybody on that team." Geno Auriemma

"I got to play with my sister for the first time in forever so that was really neat and it was a really cool experience." Chiney Ogwumike

UConn's Stewart, four former Huskies make first of U.S. national team cuts

Former UConn star Bria Hartley and Chiney Ogwumike of the Connecticut Sun were among four players cut as USA Basketball works towards picking the 12-member team playing in FIBA World Championships.

Briann January and Danielle Robinson were also let go leaving the U.S. with 13 players available for tomorrow's exhibition game at Webster Bank Arena.

 Seven players, including former UConn star Diana Taurasi, are also in the player pool but not currently with the team since they were members of the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky, which just recently completed playing in the WNBA championship series. There's no guarantee that all seven will be invited to join the team when the squad leaves for Europe later this week.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart and former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson and Maya Moore are among the 13 players currently with the team.

One of the biggest issues facing the team is the health of the Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner and the Chicago Sky duo of Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles.

Based on what I saw today Robinson's release was the most surprising while Nneka Ogwumike is the non-Olympian making the best push to make the team.

Here is the official release

– The roster for the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s National Team, which tipped-off training camp on Sept. 8 in Annapolis, Maryland, with 17 of the nation’s top athletes, has been pared down to 13 for its Sept. 15 exhibition contest against 2013 FIBA Americas silver medalist Canada. Selections were made by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee, chaired by USA Basketball women’s national team director Carol Callan. 
Tickets for the USA-Canada contest are still available and can be purchased through the box office at Webster Bank Arena, by calling 1-800-745-3000 or online via Played at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the game tips-off at 7 p.m. (EDT) and will air nationally on ESPN2. 
Traveling on to Europe to compete in the Sept. 19-21 France International Tournament in Paris as finalists for the 2014 USA World Championship Team are: Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock), Stefanie Dolson (Washington Mystics), Jantel Lavender (Los Angeles Sparks), Kayla McBride (San Antonio Stars), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks), Odyssey Sims (Tulsa Shock), Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut) and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx). 
2014-16 USA Basketball Women’s National Team members DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix Mercury), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky), Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) were competing in the recently concluded WNBA Finals and unable to attend the USA’s domestic training camp. USA Basketball will announce at a later date which of these athletes will join the finalists in Europe. 
“All the players knew that today was going to be the day that we were going to try to get to 12,” said USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut. “As it turns out, the committee kind of got stuck between number 13 and number 12 so we decided to stay at 13 for tomorrow’s game and take 13 over to Europe with us. Then we’ll add those that are coming, that played in the championship series.
“The process itself is not an easy one because we don’t have a lot of time, so it is not ideal. But at the same time it gave us an opportunity to see what the players’ strengths are and how they fit into the puzzle. For the players who are not moving forward, it’s as much about timing in terms of who’s in their position, the number and experience of players in their position. They were great, they worked hard, they are devoted to USA Basketball and they did everything we have asked them to do. They all have a future in the game, in USA Basketball and we made sure they know that. But the 13 that we have represent the best that we have right now and we’re only going to get better when we add those guys that are coming later this week.”

Nurse has business to take care of before heading to UConn

Kia Nurse found it downright hilarious that she will take the court twice as an opponent of Geno Auriemma's before she suits up for the UConn Hall of Fame coach.

Nurse had two points as her Canada squad fell to the Auriemma-coached United States team on Sunday at Webster Bank Arena. Tomorrow night she will be back on the court again when the U.S. and Canada meet in an international friendly at 7 p.m.

"Playing against Coach (Auriemma) before playing for him always makes me laugh but it is just a great experience," Nurse said. "We are really lucky to be here and I am glad it is in Connecticut."

Being in Connecticut and seeing six current or former Huskies among the 17 U.S. players taking part in the scrimmage and exhibition game only increases Nurse's excitement for her future. So what is awaiting her in Storrs. Well, former UConn point guard Sue Bird has a pretty good idea.

"Everything is probably your fault even if it is not so just be ready for that, the advice I would give her," Bird said.

"It is extremely valuable. It wasn't until I played overseas that I understood what that was like (to play overseas) so to start at a young age I think it is cool for her."

Auriemma has seemingly experienced just about everything in his time calling the shots at UConn but he does not recall coaching against one of his players before they suited up for the Huskies for the first time.

"Very unique," Auriemma said, "I don't remember it ever happening. We haven't had a lot of international players to begin with so she is going to be in a very unique situation.

"Kia, she is trying to assimilate herself into that team and she is going to have to come back and assimilate herself to our team, it is a lot for a young player."

Another aspect of her hectic schedule this summer training with the Canadian national team in preparation for the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women is the amount of time she is going to spend away from school.

She was able to spend a few days on campus during the summer session and recently was at UConn for about a week in between her national-team commitments. Still, she feels pretty good about keeping up academically.

"I am actually doing pretty well with it," Nurse said. "I keep up with my agenda each and every day and I knew exactly what class I am doing and which readings I am doing that day so I have been really good at that and basing it on my schedule and my online classes so I have been keeping up pretty well. My academic advisors are in touch with me all the time and that is really helpful."

Even though her time on campus has been brief, she already has the feeling that it is the perfect place for her.

"I went to UConn because my best interests were in mind there and I wanted to be the best player I could be," Nurse said. "I am really striving for that. I am blessed for the opportunity to work for Coach Auriemma and the staff. I think I am going to try to bring my competitive fire and love for the game."

She has had some time to get to know fellow freshmen Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams while on campus.

"We are right beside each other, neighbors in our dorms and they are all really dedicated basketball players," Nurse said. "They want to be great, they decided to go to UConn for a reason and our dedication is definitely something that is similar for all of us.

"When I went there for the week, I loved it and I didn't want to leave. I can't wait to get back with the girls and practicing with them it is going to be exciting."

Nurse didn't have to guard her future UConn teammate Breanna Stewart, which is vying for a spot on the U.S. team looking to win its second straight world title but the did cross paths every once in a while.

"I was just hoping she wouldn't block me," Nurse said. "I knew I wasn't going to have to guard her and I am OK with that. It is definitely fun to be playing with some of the old UConn players."

She immediately found herself guarding reigning WNBA scoring champion Maya Moore, UConn's all-time leading scorer after checking into the scrimmage midway through the first quarter.

"I started out on her," Nurse said. "I have point guard (defensive assignments) and I was really confused. That was really fun, that was a really good experience. I got to play against her and she is an insane player so that was pretty cool."

Trying to guard one of the world's most gifted offensive players before playing a single college game might be frightening for some people but the fact that Nurse viewed it as "cool" provides a glimpse into the competitive fire burning inside of her.

"I like her energy," said UCLA junior guard Nirra Fields, also a member of the Canadian national team. "She is an energy giver. Her young spirit always brings everyone up and having her in the mix just makes everyone energetic."

Canada national team coach Lisa Thomaidis is no stranger to the Nurse family as she was a former teammate of Nurse's mother.

"She is a great athlete but she is still very inexperienced at the international level," Thomaidis said.

So what does Thomaidis like about Nurse's game?

"Her flat out speed and she has good length as a point guard, she is almost 6-feet, she is very fast," Thomaidis said. "Over the past year she can put on some muscle so she is not just this lanky kid, she is more like a mature athlete.

"She definitely wants to score which is great so we are working on the other side which is that vision,"


UConn's Stewart making a run at U.S. roster spot

The United States and Canada engaged in an entertaining scrimmage on Sunday morning at Webster Bank Arena before returning to the court tomorrow night for an international friendly being televised live on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.

It was the first time I was able to see UConn freshman Kia Nurse, a member of the Canadian national team, play live so that was the focus of the story I filed for tomorrow's paper but I did catch up with UConn junior Breanna Stewart who is hoping to secure one of the 12 roster spots for the defending champion U.S. squad for the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women.

Stewart hit a couple of early jumpers and finished with four points in the United States' 75-52 victory.

"I always want to play as best as I can but as it has gone on, I am getting more and more comfortable and today my shot started falling," Stewart said.

The selection committee will have some tough decisions as the roster needs to be cut from its current 24-player list (including seven players who competed in the WNBA championship series).

UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma is not on the selection committee but his opinion will certainly be known. He said nothing Stewart has done over the last week has surprised him.

"She's done what she has done," Auriemma said. "She has played well, she has done all the things that she does when she plays in college. I don't know is she has stood out more than anybody else."

Three-time Olympic gold medalist and former UConn star Sue Bird said Stewart's immense talent is pretty hard to miss.

"On paper as a player she has some skills," Bird said. "I think she can really establish herself and each day she has done a good job of that. It is all the things you might see in another player but she is 6-4. It is very difficult to guard her.

"This week has been really good for her to get her feet well, get established a little bit with all of us and get comfortable. We also go the hang out off the court and that kind of chemistry can help you off the court."

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Another WNBA title for former UConn star

Diana Taurasi can add another title to her growing collection.

The former UConn star had 24 points and five assists as the Phoenix Mercury, playing without star center Brittney Griner, defeated the Chicago Sky 87-82 to sweep the best of five series.

It is the third WNBA title for Diana Taurasi matching the record for a former Husky set by Swin Cash. It is also the 11th time in the last 16 years that a former UConn player has been a member of the WNBA title-winning team.

2014: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi) def. Chicago
2013: Minnesota (Maya Moore) def, Atlanta (Tiffany Hayes)
2012: Indiana def. Minnesota (Maya Moore)
2011: Minnesota (Maya Moore, Charde Houston) def. Atlanta
2010: Seattle (Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Svetlana Abrosimova) def. Atlanta
2009: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi, Ketia Swanier) def. Indiana (Jessica Moore)
2008: Detroit (Kelly Schumacher) def. SA
2007: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi, Kelly Schumacher) def. Detroit (Swin Cash)
2006: Detroit (Swin Cash) def. Sacramento
2005: Sacramento def. Connecticut (Nykesha Sales, Asjha Jones)
2004: Seattle (Bird) def. Connecticut (Nykesha Sales, Asjha Jones)
2003: Detroit (Swin Cash) def. LA
2000: Houston (Jen Rizzotti) def. NY
1999: Houston (Jen Rizzotti, Kara Wolters) def. New York (Rebecca Lobo-injured and did not play)
1997: Houston def. New York (Rebecca Lobo)

UConn's Nurse named to Canadian national team

Not that this should come as the world's largest shocker considering how prominent of a role she has been playing but UConn freshman Kia Nurse has been officially named to the Canadian national team for the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Nurse and the newly-named team will be in Bridgeport on Sunday for a scrimmage against the U.S. team and Monday for an international friendly at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Looking back at U.S. intrasquad scrimmage

Whoever made the final call on the way the teams were divided up for last night's U.S. women's national team intrasquad scrimmage in Delaware should take a bow because the game was entertaining and competitive right down to the very end.

Former Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen had 15 points and 11 assists while Angel McCoughtry led five players in double figures with 16 points as the Red team defeated the White 95-87.

Nneka Ogwumike led the White team with 26 points (on 13 of 15 shooting) and 12 rebounds. Former UConn star Tina Charles had 18 points and eight rebounds while current UConn star Breanna Stewart finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot.

The team is now headed for Connecticut. After spending today at ESPN headquarters in Bristol and getting a day off, the squad will hold a practice at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on Sunday before facing Canada at the same location in the final U.S.-based event before the team heads to Europe to prepare for the FIBA World Championship for Women.

If the WNBA championship series ending tonight that would bring the number of players available for the Canada game to 24 so there's a decent possibility that a few cuts will be made before the friendly against Canada.

It will be interesting to see how the selection committee proceeds especially if the WNBA series doesn't end tonight. Personaly, If Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne are healthy enough to proceed I would have to think they would be on the 12-member team along with Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles. If the rest of the available members from 2012 Olympic team are picked (which is a reasonable assumption) that leaves two available spots. In my opinion those spots could come down to front-court players. There are no lack of options. Although the committee is not going to base their picks solely off one intrasquad scrimmage, Nneka Ogwumike was spectacular last night, Candice Dupree was a shocking omission from the 2012 Olympic team in my eyes especially after she was the team's fourth-leading scorer and top rebounder at the 2010 World Championships and her play in the WNBA playoffs is a reminder of how incredibly talented she is. Then there is Stewart who has an incredible future in the sport and will be a mainstay on the U.S. national team for years but only time will tell if her tenure begins with this current four-year cycle.  It's going to be interesting to see what the 12-player roster (likely not to be finalized until the team is in Europe) is going to look like.

Here are quotes from U.S. and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma as well as former UConn stars Sue Bird and Maya Moore courtesy of USA Basketball.

On the significance of tonight’s game being played on 9/11:
From a USA Basketball National Team standpoint, we know what we have to do. We know that we have a finite time to do it. We make a commitment for a short period of time. By October 5, this will all be over for us. But what I think what days like today do is to try to instill in our players that it’s never over. Once you’re part of USA Basketball, once you make that commitment to be a part of our national team, it’s never over. Your commitment to the national team lasts forever. It’s just that sometimes you’re playing and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re part of the team that’s competing that year and sometimes you’re not. That’s the lesson that comes from being associated with the servicemen and women in our country: that that commitment is not only when you’re in active service, but it’s a lifetime commitment that you make.
Having it on September 11, it is significant, obviously, for all the reasons that we know. Sometimes we make it so that we have short memories and September 11 we want to think about and honor what happened on 9/11. And yet the rest of the year we may not give it the respect that it deserves. I think sometimes that’s true of our servicemen and women. That when it’s Veteran’s Day or when it’s a special occasion, you think about the commitment and the service that they make and we don’t do it the other days. We try to teach our players that it is a lifetime, 24/7, 12 months out of the year commitment and a day like today reinforces that for us. And the exchange of the dog tags and the coin that we had with the servicemen and women, that’s so that our players know that when they’re overseas and they’re competing for their country, that they’re not alone and that they represent the people that make this country what it is. It’s as much of an emotional and symbolic gesture as it is a reminder to them of who we are and what we stand for.

(Question inaudible)
When two great teams are playing against each other and we’re planning to win the gold medal, so we’re planning what would happen in the semifinals and finals, not that the other team’s aren’t as good, but those are the games that we really get tested, because those are the best teams that are left. Whatever play you want to run, whatever play you draw up, it’s not going to work. They’ve scouted it, they’ve studied it, they know what they’re planning for, they’ve game planned for it, so you go in thinking like these guys (military) do, there’s a Plan A, but there’s a Plan B, C and D, and we feel like against the best teams, your plays are not necessarily going to work. So what does work is individuals making great plays. So, when you have people like Sue (Bird) and Lindsay (Whalen) in the backcourt, they can see when something is just about ready to break down and then they make a play and make it all look great. Then you add to that, players that they can pass to that can make plays. Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore are great playmakers, not just finishers. You saw some of that today. We try to attract people that have that in them and then try to reinforce it.
What struck you about tonight, especially some of the younger players?
When we had this training camp in Las Vegas (in Oct. 2013), none of the Olympians participated, so all the young guys looked really good. And we all went away from there going ‘wow. We have some great young players, you should see these guys, they’re really, really good.’ Then, when the Olympians came back and we put them on the floor with the young guys, all of a sudden the young guys didn’t look so good. There’s a real gap between some of the players that have won two or three Olympic gold medals and the young guys that are trying to make the team. There’s a gap there.
But, having said that, there’s an athletic ability. There’s a youthful kind of hunger to play and somebody like Nneka (Ogwumike) who has not ever played on the national team, she did things today that makes you appreciate who she is and what she is. Everybody had their moments. Everybody had their moments. The young players all had moments where they looked great and they all had moments where they struggled. Now you have to look at, when those players that are in the pool who aren’t here, when they come back it’s going to be even harder for some of these younger guys. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us to find who that final 12 is going to be.

On tonight’s game and what the halftime ceremony meant:
The game I thought was great. Obviously you’re playing against each other and that can actually be harder than playing against other countries because we’re so familiar with one another, we run the same plays, so we cheat a little bit. But overall I think we got into a groove there.  And as far as the halftime ceremony, as you can see we are all very excited about our dog tags. Really just this whole week, being able to meet some of the members of the military and learn about them. There are so many similarities between us as athletes and them as members of the military. It’s really been a unique opportunity to first hand to get to learn about those things, so overall it has been a lot of fun
On playing for Geno the Olympic coach vs. Geno the college coach:
I think the better answer or question to your question is that it is really an adjustment for him in a lot of ways more so than it is for us. Obviously we played for him for four years, for me, I have been out of school a lot longer. And for all of us when you are in the WNBA you fall into that pattern, you play a certain way, a certain style, you are used to certain things, it’s a professional game, it’s different. So in a lot of ways he has to take his style of play and adjust to us, not necessarily the other way around. I think now it is, I guess, his fifth year with the national team and he has really done a great job. He has figured out a way to relate to us in other ways that maybe wouldn’t work if he was working with college kids, the same thing’s not going to work and I think he really has done a great job of adjusting and making us play his way without even know it, so I give him a lot of credit for that.
How do you feel about the chemistry and how well the team is already coming together?
One thing that I love about playing for USA Basketball is that you obviously have a collection of the best players in the country, without a doubt. But, we’re also very unselfish. There is not one player out there who is trying to make a play for their self. That’s something that coach Auriemma believes in and harps on. It works. It’s a perfect fit because every single player we had out there was really just trying to make the right play. What you saw is an example of that, us trying to make the right play. And because there’s so much talent, you might see spectacular things now and then. But really, it’s just about reading and reacting. You mentioned Lindsay (Whalen), Maya (Moore), myself, as well as many other players. Us three, we’re kind of veterans in this now. We’re kind of comfortable. I think we understand our own games, we understand each other’s games and how to make that work within a team setting. So, to be able to put it together this quickly is somewhat surprising, but not really.

On tonight’s game and what the halftime ceremony meant:
Totally I thought as the game went on you could see people getting more and more comfortable with each other and what we were running. That was the first time we played those plays and what we have been running in the game so the second half I thought was really exciting, there were some great plays made.
Like Sue said, this whole week has been really, I think humbling for all of us to be around so many men and women that serve and remind us of how much we represent these men and women who are putting their lives on the line and training and sacrificing some of their comforts for our freedoms is pretty much the motivation that any of us need to go out and work and fight and compete as hard as we can. So we carry those memories with us and this is very symbolic of what we have experienced this week and hopefully will continue to experience.

On playing for Geno the Olympic coach vs. Geno the college coach:
I found that I hear him in my head when I’m playing even though he’s not really yelling at me.
(reporter says “when you are in Minnesota?” to which Maya responds: “When I’m eating lunch, no,  I’m just kidding.”)
It is really actually pretty cool to come back as a pro and just to remember where I came from and all the things I’m doing well now, and all the things that Sue is doing well now, is a reason because of him and the Connecticut players and the other coaches that we were blessed to play with for our four years there. So all those little things that he harps on, he is really a great teacher of the fundamentals of basketball, and so that’s really refreshing actually to come back because you don’t necessarily have that time in the W to really focus on those fundamentals. So I have really enjoyed that and I think the players that really enjoy the game, which is all of us, enjoy that getting back to the basics and he does such a great job of teaching it. So like I said it is pretty refreshing whereas in Connecticut I wouldn’t call it refreshing, it’s hard because you are learning it hardcore, maybe for the first time, as a college student.

How do you feel about the chemistry and how well the team is already coming together?

Basketball is basketball. When you have great players, great plays are going to happen. What coach Auriemma puts us in offensively, it puts every player in a position to shine and to do their best. Also, we’re very familiar with each other. We’ve played with and against each other for so long. I know when Angel (McCoughtry) is streaking down the court, throw it at the rim and she’ll go get it and put it in. So, it’s really fun. I get excited to find as many ways to make those passes, because usually that’s the person I’m trying to beat. It’s been really fun for all of us to share the ball with each other and knowing a great finisher is on the other side.