Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Georgetown recap

There's plenty of subjects to address off Saturday's win at Georgetown.

First, what UConn is lacking in quantity it is making up for with quality as far as bench play.

With Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery throwing up more bricks than they normally do, other players had to step up to shake off the pesky Hoyas. Kaili McLaren, playing in her hometown, and Tiffany Hayes came off the bench to provide quality minutes. At game's end, five players including four starters hit double figures led by Tina Charles' 17 points but the impact of McLaren and Hayes should not be overlooked.

McLaren had an extra bounce in her step, especially in the first half. After the game, she dodged a question on whether her left knee was feeling any better but she seemed to be moving without restriction from my vantage point.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was unaware that his team's record (21-0) will be the same heading into Tuesday's Rutgers game as it was last year heading into the first contest against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers won the game, the only regular-season loss for the Huskies in the 2007-08 season.

"I don't really remember that kind of stuff," Auriemma said. "It's another game for us. We look at it, one weekend it was Syracuse/Carolina, another weekend it was Cincinnati/Louisville, this weekend it is Georgetown/Rutgers. Last year we lost to Rutgers, we went to the Final Four and they didn't. What happens in February doesn't really affect anything that is going to happen in March. We're going to play on Tuesday and we are going to play well. We always do against Rutgers."

Will Rutgers play well? The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 59-56 loss to South Florida and after the game Rutgers' coach C. Vivian Stringer wondered aloud if her team was good enough to get into the NCAA tournament.

"I think they knew they were going to struggle when they lose two kids like they did (WNBA first-round draft picks Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson) who were great players. That is not easy to replace and you have (four) freshmen who at times have struggled. I don't think their style of play has changed. I don't see them going out and getting 90 all of a sudden and giving up 80. Their games are played the same way, the tempo is the game, the goal is the same. That's Vivian's style and she's been pretty successful with it."

Auriemma also touched on his experience attending the calling hours for former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow on Friday.

"They said it (the hours) was going to be 10-2, I can't imagine they got everybody through there from 10-2. I was able to get there a little after 9 before it got crazy and get back for practice. I got a chance to see Kay's sisters and her brother and a lot of people who were involved when Kay started at NC State. It was good for me to get caught up on all of that. I got caught up with Debbie Yow, talking about what Kay means to the ACC and what she meant to women's basketball in general. I am glad I went."

One last item, UConn is working on trying to set up visits for a pair of talented juniors currently on their recruiting radar. Lauren Engeln, a wing from Laguna Hills, Calif. had planned on visiting in late November and be in Connecticut to watch the UConn/Oklahoma game. However, those plans fell through. Currently, Engeln and her family are hoping to be on campus when UConn hosts Pittsburgh on Feb. 15 although nothing is set in stone just yet. Things could be more challenging in setting up a visit for Michala Johnson, a 6-foot-3 forward/center from Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill. because Johnson recently had knee surgery and traveling with a surgically-repaired knee is never an easy chore. While the recruiting process is always in a state a flux, it appears as if they are the only two players UConn is trying to get onto campus at the current time.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Trade winds

I feel pretty certain in proclaiming that the next time Renee Montgomery will be returning to Washington, D.C. it will be as a member of the visiting team facing the Washington Mystics.

There was some rumbling that the Mystics might look at a point guard with the No. 2 overall pick (assuming Louisville's Angel McCoughtry goes first overall to Atlanta) and that Montgomery would be a likely choice. Well, that talk went out the window with the news that Washington acquired Lindsay Harding from the Minnesota Lynx.

Lynx traded Harding, their second-round draft picks in 2009 (23rd overall) and in 2010 to the Washington Mystics for their first-round (ninth overall) and second round (15th overall) draft picks in the 2009 draft.

Minnesota also acquired Kelly Miller and Latoya Pringle from Phoenix is exchange for Nicole Ohlde and picked up Christi Thomas for Vanessa Hayden. These moves could actually help the Connecticut Sun. Considering that Minnesota drafted Nicky Anosike and former UConn star Charde Houston in 2008, who were among the top rookies in the WNBA last season, you would have to think that picking more post players would not be in the plans for Minnesota leaving the Sun to have one of the better post players fall to them in April's WNBA draft.


Taurasi, Jones lead the way

Former UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Asjha Jones led their Russian-based teams to sweeps of their EuroLeague quarterfinal series.

Taurasi had 26 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and seven turnovers as two-time defending champion Spartak Moscow Region defeated ZVVK USK Prague 92-78 on Friday. Taurasi's former UConn teammate Sue Bird added 10 points, four assists and three steals for Spartak. For ZVVK USK Prague, ex-UConn star Swin Cash had seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals while Lindsay Whalen of the Connecticut Sun had 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Jones had 15 points and 10 rebounds as UMMC Ekaterinburg defeated TEO Vilnius 69-46 to complete a two-game sweep. Sandrine Gruda, also a teammate of Jones with the Connecticut Sun, had eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova missed all three of her field goal attempts and managed one point, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 18 minutes.

MiZo Pecs 2010 and Ros Casares also completed sweeps on Friday while the other four series will head to a winner take all game on Wednesday.

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D.C. bound

As I wait to board my flight, figured I could do a little housecleaning, UConn women's basketball blog style.

First, the pairing for the Indiana state tournament were released on Thursday. UConn signee Kelly Faris's Heritage Christian's bid for a 4-peat in Class 2A will begin in the Triton Central Regional. Heritage Christian received a first-round bye and will face either host Triton Central or Indian Creek in its state tournament opener. The regional runs from Feb. 9-14. Faris was one of the 111,265 players nominated to the McDonald's All-American team. OK, I exaggerated, only 111,264 made the cut. Wake me up when they cut the list under 100.

Sheronne Vails, a 6-foot-4 forward at Arundel High in Gambrills, Md., will be at Saturday's UConn/Georgetown game with her family. However, don't expect to be reading about her take on the game or UConn. I reached out to Sheronne's mother to see if they would be willing to speak to me before the game but she said she would prefer to just watch the game without dealing with any of the recruiting hoopla. I plan on honoring her request.

With Auburn's loss to Georgia on Thursday, UConn is the only undefeated team remaining in Division I basketball.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heading to D.C. by way of North Carolina

UConn coach Geno Auriemma will have a pretty good excuse is he is late for his team's practice on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Auriemma is planning to attend the wake for former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, who died on Saturday after a two-decade long fight against breast cancer before heading to D.C. for UConn's practice later on Friday.

"I am not sure what Friday is going to be like," Auriemma said after Thursday's practice at Gampel Pavilion. "There is such a limited amount of time that people can get in there and pay their respects. I hope it is something that everybody can do what they have to do between practices, games. It is going to be a madhouse logistically. I just want to make sure that I do what I need to do when I am down there, spend some time with those closest to Kay and take a couple minutes to kind of reflect on my relationship with her, try to hustle and get to practice.

"From a personal standpoint, it is very important (to pay his respects). I wish I could take my whole staff and they want to go but I can't do it. I think it is important to a lot of people to be down there. I kind of started to identify with her in the last couple of years with what she was going through."

Auriemma scoffed at the possibility that a game between UConn and Tennessee could be played in Yow's honor.

"I haven't had any discussions with anybody, I haven't given it one moment of thought," Auriemma said. "I don't intend to, I don't anticipate anybody bringing it up who would have any relevance or significance to me. There are a lot of things that we can do that I know we plan on doing down the road from a WBCA standpoint and from the Jimmy V Foundation that will involve Kay. Us playing Tennessee as far as I am concerned won't be one of them."

Personally, I am not certain how a game between UConn and Tennessee would help honor Kay Yow's memory any more than it would honor the memory of the late Maggie Dixon, who coached Army to a berth in the NCAA tournament.

So I asked Auriemma the following question on Thursday
"Do you find it strange that every time somebody dies, they turn it into a reason for you and Tennessee to play each other?"

"I think it would cheapen it," Auriemma said. "When Kay was alive she never called me and said 'hey you should play Tennessee and we should make a fundraiser out of it.' So my guess is when she is up in heaven, she is not sitting up there saying 'I should have told Geno and Pat to play each other.'"

Auriemma did say that donations spiked on his site since news of Yow's death became public.

"There were an awful lot of e-mails and calls, people wanting to know how to get involved," Auriemma said. "There were something like 200 the very first day that it was announced that Kay passed away. It is ironic that one school has had these two individuals (men's coach Jim Valvano and Yow), practicing on the same court, offices in the same building (both dying of cancer). It is a strange twist of fate."

As far as Saturday's game, both UConn junior forward/center Kaili McLaren and senior guard Renee Montgomery said the game was sold out. McLaren, a native of Washington, D.C., said some friends had attempted to buy tickets in addition to the 30 her mother purchased and they were told no tickets were available. Montgomery, who has relatives in Maryland, also heard from her family members that no tickets were available.

McLaren practiced without restriction on Thursday and appears good to go for Saturday.

Lastly, with the UConn men playing Providence at 4 p.m., the women's game will be carried only on WTIC 96.5 FM.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Engeln honored

For the second straight week, a California player on UConn's recruiting radar has been named the girls' basketball player of the week by the Orange County Register.

Last week it was Mater Dei sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and on Monday, Laguna Hills junior Lauren Engeln was honored after scoring a school-record 34 points in a win over Dana Hills. Engeln and Mosqueda-Lewis were also listed first and second in the paper's Top 10 Stars of the Week.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Georgetown's top scorer injured

Just saw the Associated Press' report on the Pittsburgh/Georgetown game and the first thing that caught my eye was news that Georgetown's leading scorer Jaleesa Butler appeared to suffer an ankle injury in the first half. OK, that wasn't exactly the first thing that caught my eye. How about the fact the Pittsburgh's Shavonte Zellous' name was spelled wrong and it was the very first word of the story. I know Shavonte is not as easy to spell as Renee or Tina but seriously, she has 1,938 career points and will soon become the 13th player in Big East history to score 2,000 points, went into the game as the leading scorer in the league and is a likely first-round pick in the WNBA draft. Hey, it is easy to miss a key stroke (I speak from experience on this) but shouldn't an AP editor had picked up on a misspelling of a player of Zellous' status?

As for the Pitt/Georgetown game, the Hoyas had a four-point lead at halftime before falling 50-39. Georgetown was already going to be up against it with top-ranked UConn coming into town on Saturday and now Butler's status is up in the air. Should be a fun one.

All you need to know about what transpired in the Big East on Tuesday night is that of the 10 teams in action, Rutgers scored the most points with 78. The Scarlet Knights' 10-point win at Notre Dame should allow Rutgers to return to the top 25 before next week's showdown with UConn provided that the Scarlet Knights don't stumble against South Florida on Saturday. How long they stay there could be determined by how the Scarlet Knights fare in the first of two regular-season meetings against UConn.

Yale to honor Yow

Received a release from Yale about the Bulldogs' plans to honor former North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 66 after a 20-year battle with breast cancer.

Here's the release:
Bulldogs Remember Kay Yow

Yale Hosts Cornell, Columbia in Ivy League Contests This Weekend

As women’s basketball programs across the country prepare for their WBCA Pink Zone events, an annual initiative dedicated to promoting breast cancer awareness, the spirit of the occasion has taken on a new meaning. On Saturday, January 24, long-time North Carolina State Head Women’s Basketball Coach Kay Yow passed away after a long, heroic battle with breast cancer at the age of 66. The Hall of Fame coach was the face, the heart and the driving force behind the success of the WBCA Pink Zone and t he Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. The Fund, launched in 2007 as the first women's initiative that the WBCA has chosen in its 27-year history, garnered the support of over 1,200 teams and organizations last season, reaching over 830,000 fans and raising more $930,000.

For the Yale University women’s basketball program, the passing of Coach Yow came just six days prior to the first of six Ivy League home contests dedicated to the WBCA Pink Zone initiative. The Bulldogs will host Columbia (Friday, 7 p.m.) and Cornell (Saturday, 6 p.m.) this weekend. Yale, with the support of local donors, raised over $5,000 for the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven as a part of last season’s event.

“Kay contributed so much to women’s basketball as a coach and as a person” said Chris Gobrecht, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at Yale. “She must be extremely proud of how widespread the WBCA Think Pink initiative has become. It’s a credit to her dedication and perseverance.”

The 2008-09 Bulldogs met Coach Yow in November, as they faced her North Carolina State squad in the Subway Classic hosted by the University of Minnesota. Yale earned the win over the Wolfpack, 65-61, but, for the Bulldogs, the impact of the meeting has lasted long after the final horn sounded.

“The opportunity to play against Coach Yow and NC State was an honor and a memory that will stick with me for a long time. We are fortunate to have experienced a game against one of the most influential women's basketball coaches of all time and thankful for all that she has done for the game,” said Yale captain Jamie Van Horne ’09.

"I was struck by how classy and hard-working her team was,” recalled Gobrecht. “You could see the type of person Kay was by watching her players. It was a privilege to play against them.”

Coach Yow once said, “When life kicks you, let it kick you forward”. Yale women’s basketball, among thousands of teams, organizations and fans across the country, felt that kick this past weekend upon hearing of Coach Yow’s passing. But when the Bulldogs don their pink apparel and take the court this weekend as a part of the WBCA Pink Zone initiative to play the game that they love- the game Coach Yow loved- that kick will most certainly be a kick forward.

Also, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said on his weekly show on WTIC that he is planning to be in North Carolina on Friday for Yow's funeral. I imagine it will be one of the most well-attended funerals in women's basketball history.

On a personal note, if UConn manages to reach the Final Four, I will do everything in my power to take part in the 4Kay Run which will begin on April 4 at 8 a.m. My participation will depend on two factors - first the press conference schedule that day and second how successful I am in getting off my butt and do a little bit of running in the weeks and months leading up to the event.

Changing gears, Tuesday was the kickoff of the EuroLeague quarterfinals. Former UConn stars and current Connecticut Sun players were well represented.

Defending champion Spartak Moscow Region opened with a 102-86 win over ZVVK USK Prague. Former UConn great Diana Taurasi had 23 points, her former UConn teammate Sue Bird added 13 points and five assists while Sylvia Fowles and Lauren Jackson combined for 52 points and 25 rebounds.

Former Connecticut Sun guard Evanthia Maltsi led ZVVK USK Prague with 27 points, Lindsay Whalen of the Sun added 20 points and Swin Cash, a teammate of Bird and Taurasi on the 2001-02 national championship team at UConn, had 11 points and nine rebounds but also had seven turnovers.

Former UConn teammates Asjha Jones and Svetlana Abrosimova combined for 22 points and eight rebounds and Sandrine Gruda, who played with both Jones and Abrosimova with the Connecticut Sun in 2008, added eight points in UMMC Ekaterinburg's 91-61 win over TEO Vilnius.

Amber Holt of the Sun had five points and eight rebounds as MGB Euroleasing opened with an 81-58 win over Wisla Can-Pack.

Bourges Basket, MiZo Pecs 2010, Halcon Avenida, Ros Casares and Fenebahce also won in the first game of the best of three game series. Game two for all the series will be Friday with the third game (if necessary) set for Feb. 4.

Louisville: the morning after

With my curiosity getting the better of me, I replayed the tape of last night's game to see who was guarding Angel McCoughtry when she had her 24 points. Here is my unofficial tally

When Kalana Greene was guarding her, McCoughtry had eight points (3 of 5 from the floor although all three shots were of the high degree of difficulty variety because of Greene's defense and was 2 for 2 from the line)

When Tiffany Hayes was on her McCoughtry was 3 for 10 (with the last field goal coming when Hayes appeared to draw a charge) from the field and 4 of 5 from the line for 10 points.

McCoughtry was 2 for 2 from the field and 2 for 2 from the line in transition. She missed one shot when Maya Moore was on her and had a desperation heave at the end of the first half. It's a sign of how good McCoughtry is that UConn can actually feel good about "holding" her to 24 points.

A couple things from the broadcast. First if anybody was engaging in a drinking game every time either Pam Ward or Carolyn Peck said this was the first year Deseree Byrd played point guard, hopefully you were able to make it to work this morning even with the mother of all hangovers.

The second comment took me by complete surprise when Peck said the No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft could come down to McCoughtry or Renee Montgomery of UConn. I've heard - hey I've even written - that Montgomery could go as high as No. 2 to Washington or more likely go third overall to Chicago. But this is the first time I've heard anybody speculate that Montgomery could be the first pick. Here's my take on it, I don't care that Chamique Holdsclaw is joining the Atlanta Dream, I would still take Angel McCoughtry first overall. If Atlanta wants to add a guard like Montgomery, hopefully they will have the common sense of trading down. I'm sure Washington would love to have a Baltimore native like McCoughtry to build the franchise around. Could you imagine the steal total McCoughtry and Alana Beard would compile over the next few years?

Louisville wrap

So let's sure I have this right, UConn put up 93 on Louisville even with Maya Moore going nearly nine minutes without taking a shot and Renee Montgomery never seeming to be in the flow offensively? Can't say I saw that coming.

Obviously the 14-0 run to end the first half and 16-0 run early in the second half did in Louisville as UConn proved once again that no one or two players will take down the Huskies.

The reaction of both benches when Tiffany Hayes hit three LONG 3-pointers in a span of 62 seconds was priceless. The UConn bench went nuts, throwing towels into the air. Over on the visiting sideline, Louisville coach Jeff Walz couldn't help but laugh. He said after the game that the plan was to let Hayes and Kalana Greene have the perimeter shots. Well, after Hayes was 6 for 10 from 3-point range en route to a career-high 23 points, Walz gave Hayes her props in the post-game press conference.

A couple of concerns: first with Kaili McLaren being slowed by tendonitis in her knee and being limited to eight minutes, UConn went primarily with a six-player rotation again. It's a pretty good six but still that could catch up with the Huskies at some point. Second, this is the second straight game where Lorin Dixon barely looked for her offense. She needs to get back to playing like she did against North Carolina and at least start looking for her own offense.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A few pre-game notes

There will be a couple of special presentations/ceremonies before the game.

Eight minutes before tip-off, a moment of silence will be observed in honor of North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, who passed away on Saturday after a two-decade battle with cancer.

Maya Moore will be presented a commemorative ball for scoring her 1,000th point of her career against Syracuse 4 1/2 minutes prior to the 7:32 tip-off.

In the new Associated Press poll, Louisville moved up a spot to No. 6. Rutgers, which began the season ranked fifth in the AP poll, dropped out.

According to the seating chart, representatives from four WNBA teams are expected to be in attendance.

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Michala Johnson: a closer look

With a well-placed source stating that Michala Johnson went about narrowing her list of schools and that UConn and Georgia have emerged as the two leaders, I figured it was time to do a little more research on the 6-foot-3 junior from Montini Catholic High in Lombard, Ill.

With Montini's junior season ending five minutes after it started after she reinjured the knee which she first hurt over the summer, I decided to look back at Johnson's first two years of high school.

As a sophomore she averaged 18.3 points (on 65.5 percent shooting) and hauled down 11.1 rebounds per game. The most impressive statistical item I picked up on was that she was the leading scorer 25 times and leading rebounder 29 times in 32 games. That tells me that she brings it each and every game.

As a freshman, Johnson was named the Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year after averaging 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. I ran across a story in the Addison Press which not only spoke of her achievements during her freshman season but also included quotes from Montini Catholic coach Jason Nichols which made me think Johnson may have what DePaul coach Doug Bruno terms "that UConn ilk."

“I marveled at her consistency,” Nichols said. “Every time you looked up, she was at 20 points and double-digit rebounds. You saw it every night and she did it against top players.”

“I’ve coached a lot of kids and she is one kid that has never smarted back to me,” Nichols said. “She has never given me a weird look or some attitude.
“She is unbelievable when it comes to being coached. She is a wonderful kid and that is what makes her so special.”

Johnson is currently recovering from surgery and will miss the AAU season. Johnson may return for some exposure tournaments in the fall, not so much to be seen by college coaches but just to shake some of the rust off.

With the mother of Arundel High of Gambrills, Md. Sheronne Vails saying in an e-mail to the Register that she didn't think her daughter was a priority in UConn's recruiting efforts and Orsi Szecsi, a forward from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., not expecting to make any campus visits until next fall according to her Oak Hill coach, it would seem as if Johnson is emerging at the top target to join Stefanie Dolson of Minisink Valley as post players in UConn's next recruiting class. If UConn coach Geno Auriemma is able to secure commitments from Johnson and Laguna Hills (Calif.) wing Lauren Engeln to go with Dolson and Samarie Walker out of Chaminade Julienne in Dayton, Ohio, this could potentially go down as one of UConn's best recruiting classes.

Last I've heard, UConn was hoping to sign four players and that would be a pretty impressive group of four. Of course, there is plenty of time for all of this to play out. Speaking of Engeln, I asked a recruiting source who is recruiting Engeln and the response was "who isn't? Everybody's looking at her."

Speaking of Walker, her team has a big game tonight against Beavercreek. The showdown between Walker and Stanford signee Mikaela Ruef should be worth the price of admission.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Seattle next stop for Thomas

DYou just never know who is going to be sitting behind you on planes.

As it turned out, the grandmother of former UConn star Mel Thomas was in the seat behind me on my flight this morning from Cincinnati to Philadelphia and in our five or 10 minute conversation I discovered that Mel will be headed to training camp with the Seattle Storm and UConn recruit Samarie Walker was able to make it to Saturday's game against Cincinnati after she had a double-double in leading her Chaminade Julienne team to a 38-28 win over Carroll High. Chaminade Julienne coach Marc Greenberg wasn't sure Samarie would be able to make it to the UConn game since her game was pushed back from 2 to 4 p.m. But Mel's grandmother told me that Samarie was sitting in the same section as the Thomas' family.

The story on how I discovered that the lady behind me was Mel's grandmother is quite interesting.

I was sitting on the plane this morning in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport hoping to get the heck out of dodge after a less than enjoyable trip (outside of a Friday night dinner at the Montgomery Inn) when Bill Tavares, responding to an e-mail I sent, called my cell. He could hear the announcement that the issue with the nose of the plane had been fixed and we were going to be able to take off after all (only about 90 minute later). He asked "where are you?" I told him that I was in Cincinnati and have been sitting on a plane for some time until the problem with the landing gear could be taken care of. I told him "I can't wait to get out of this Godforsaken city."

That got the attention of Mel's grandma. When I hung up with Bill, she asked me why I didn't like Cincinnati and I spared most of the details of getting lost countless times, being charged nearly three times the price I was quoted for my rental car, the airline attempting to charge me a $150 change fee twice even though they were the ones who changed my flight times, delays both coming into and leaving from Cincinnati, 30 minutes of having a fire alarm in the Philadelphia airport ripping through my eardrums, a nightmare leaving the garage following the Cincinnati game and so on and so forth.

She asked me if I went to the game and I said I did and I covered the team. She then told me who she was and of course the reporter instincts in me took over. When I spoke to Mel last month to write a story on her recently-released book, she was hoping to get herself into a WNBA camp and headed over to Ireland to play for the Waterford Wildcats. I asked me if Mel had any luck getting an invite and she told me Mel has agreed to a contract with the Storm. Mel will be returning to the U.S. in time to be ready for the start of Seattle's training camp. It could be a good fit as Seattle was second to last in the WNBA in 2008 in 3-point percentage. She will join former UConn stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash with the Storm.

One other tid bit of info (this one from Bill Tavares rather than Mel's grandma) is that the WNBA is going back to holding the draft in New Jersey rather than at the site of the Final Four. My boss wanted to get some prices on flights to St. Louis for the Final Four figuring booking flights now would be better than waiting until March. I wanted to find out when the draft was to decide whether it would be worth staying an extra day in St. Louis since Renee Montgomery figures to be a high pick and Bill let me know that is was on April 9, beginning at 3 p.m. in New Jersey. That was the first I had heard of that. I assumed it was going to be held the day after the national championship game in the St. Louis area. I approve of the retroactive move personally. Now I can cover the draft regardless of what happens with UConn in the NCAA tournament.

Speaking of Bird and Cash, they are two of the five UConn grads playing in the EuroLeague quarterfinals.

Bird and Diana Taurasi are key members of reigning champion Spartak Moscow Region (which also features Lauren Jackson and Sylvia Fowles). The defending champs will face a ZVVK USK Prague squad led by Cash and the Connecticut Sun's Lindsay Whalen.

Ex-Huskies Asjha Jones and Svetlana Abrosimova along with Sandrine Gruda, a teammate of Jones and Abrosimova with the 2008 Sun, are members of the UMMC Ekaterinburg squad which will play TEO Vilnius.

Amber Holt (MKB Euroleasing) and Tamika Whitmore (Gambrinus Brno) also are on teams in the hunt for the prestigious EuroLeague title.

The eight best of three quarterfinal series begin Tuesday. Game two will be played on Friday while game three (if necessary) set for Feb. 4.

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Remembering Kay

It should hardly come as a surprise that the passing of North Carolina State coach Kay Yow was a popular subject in UConn's post-game press conference following the Huskies' dismantling of Cincinnati.

Here are the thoughts of UConn coach Geno Auriemma
"She had a great spirit and I think God rewarded her for it. She was one to fight the fight. She was positive all the time. She never felt sorry for herself, she used it as a teaching tool and motivator for people that she came into contact with. She was given that mission for all those years so I guess it was time to go because she had done all she could do.

"When you think about most coaches who get to coach the Olympic team or get in the Hall of Fame, you think of national championships and Final Fours and all the accolades you accomplish. Kay went to one Final Four and I think her being in the Hall of Fame is (due to) what she contributed to the game and the people she touched. I think her Hall of Fame, her personality and who she is, she has no enemies because she is honest and she is genuinely nice human being unlike most of the coaches in the profession."

UConn sophomore forward Maya Moore appeared to get a little choked up when she remembered meeting Yow when her AAU team played in a tournament at NC State when Moore was in middle school.

"She was one of the first coaches I was able to be really recruited by," Moore said. "When I was playing with my AAU team at NC State. I got the chance to talk to her, she is just very inspiring. Her priorities were in line and she really cares about her players."

Cincinnati coach J. Kelley Hall, the only Big East coach not to pick UConn as the team to beat in the preseason Big East coaches' poll, was practicing a bit of damage control when he was asked about it after the game.

"What I tried to explain, the statement I was trying to make it was no disrespect towards Geno and his program. I was talking about the unbalanced schedule. Rutgers was 2 or 3 in the country and (UConn) had to play them twice so starting right there (UConn) had the toughest. I knew Rutgers went to Louisville and Louisville went to UConn so if they (UConn and Rutgers) split ...

"What I should have done is split
the vote but what I was doing was making a statement because I said this to Barb Jacobs and the conference, I don't think the schedule is balanced. I'm not
saying it wasn't fair but the point I was making was that it wasn't balanced. Looking back I should have split the vote."

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Geno's thoughts on Kay Yow

Sometimes my journalistic instincts serve me well although the last thing I want to be doing is writing this blog about the passing of North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow, one of the class acts in the sport.

However, with the news that Yow lost her fight with cancer and passed away on Saturday at the age of 66, I feel as if it is appropriate to report on what UConn coach Geno Auriemma had to say about her.

We were at practice on Thursday and the interview sessions were winding down. So with all the normal UConn-related issues having been addressed I figured I would ask Auriemma if there was any sense of how Yow was doing since Auriemma and the Huskies were just down in the North Carolina for Monday's game against UNC. I wasn't sure when or if I would need these quotes but I had a hunch that Yow would not be with us by Final Four time. Unfortunately, my instincts were correct.

Here's what Geno had to say:

"I talked to some people down there. Obviously since she is not coaching, it must have taken a turn in the other direction. I have not heard first-hand from anybody who is in her circle what they are doing right now but just by reading between the lines, it did not sound very encouraging.

"Sylvia Hatchell and I were talking about it before the game. Sylvia is very close to Kay. It really gets you thinking about you and your own mortality. When you are young other people die and now you get to an age where people who grew up with or people who you were in the profession with for a long time that you knew, now all of a sudden it is starting to happen and you think it is hitting close to home. It's pretty humbling."

People react differently in times of grief but those who have been moved by Yow's legacy and her fight against cancer can always visit Auriemma's website which was set up to help with his fundraising efforts in the fight against cancer and desire to aid with cancer research.

On a personal note, I can't say that I knew Kay Yow particularly well. I covered two NC State/UConn games and she was always commodating. Two years ago, the NC State team stayed at the same hotel as I did for the NCAA Regional in Fresno, Calif. I happened to stumble downstairs for breakfast one of the days (it may have been the morning after they were eliminated by UConn) and pretty much the entire NC State travel party was there. It was an amazing scene seeing how they acting towards one another. This was not for show, not for public viewing but a real glimpse of how much they truly cared for each other. I am sure they shared a few tears over the last few years but on this morning, they were exchaging infectious laughter between sips of coffee and bites of scrambled eggs. Although I never uttered a word to any of them except perhaps "excuse me" en route to getting more food, it was a breakfast experience I will never forget.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Another interesting Bradley experience

I'll say this, flying out of Bradley is never boring.

I get to my valet parking lot at about 5:10 and there is one frantic traveler who expects everybody to move out of the way because he has a 5:40 flight and he's not going to make it. He also gives the business to the driver who is not supposed to leave until he picks everybody up. It took every ounce of self restraint not to suggest to him that perhaps next time he get to the airport a tad bit earlier. Just saying.

Then I get to the kiosk and I am informed that since there was a change in my flight, I am being charged a $150 fee. Excuse me? My travel agent did inform me of a different schedule on my way back from Cincinnati. I got the attention of a ticket agent and even he chuckled at this little surprise. After taking care of me, I heard him telling a co-worker "this is a new one, they were going to charge $150 for a change."

Ran into West Haven football coach Ed McCarthy en route to the security line and saw the Hartford Courant's UConn men's basketball beat writer Mike Anthony as I went to buy some water for the flight.

Since this is a UConn women's basketball blog, I guess it would not be out of place to actually provide some UConn women's basketball-related news.

I touched base with Chaminade Julienne girls' basketball coach Marc Greenberg who coaches UConn commit Samarie Walker. He informed me that their game on Saturday was moved from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. so it is unlikely Walker will be able to be in attendance for Saturday's UConn/Cincinnati game. It's too bad Walker's game wasn't pushed back a couple of hours. If it started at noon, I likely would have made the hour drive to Dayton to see her play. With the game tipping off at 4, that is certainly not an option.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hayes regaining her edge

The half hour or so of practice that I watched at Gampel Pavilion Thursday afternoon turned into a showcase for freshman Tiffany Hayes, who managed more turnovers (8) than field goals (5) and didn't get off the bench in the second half on Monday against North Carolina until she was brought in during garbage time.

In 4 on 5 defensive drills, Hayes stole the ball on four straight possessions. Then when it went back to 5-on-5 full-court drills, Hayes calmly drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner and later hit a sweet layup straight down the lane.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't completely won over, however.

"If we played in our practice gear she'd be an All-American," Auriemma said.

When I headed over to speak to Tiffany, Auriemma said to me 'ask your fellow Florida girl (I lived in Miami my first two years out of high school) what it's like not to play.'

On a serious note, Auriemma knows he needs Hayes to give UConn consistent minutes off the bench and it will in interesting to see how her strong efforts in practice translates to the court.

There was some trash talk going on between UConn seniors Kalana Greene, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and Renee Montgomery, a Baltimore Ravens supporter, when the two teams met in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

"She was like 'we just scored' and I said 'it doesn't matter,'" Greene said with a laugh. "After they stopped scoring, she didn't say anything else. She shut up real quick."

Greene had some fun at Montgomery's expense, even waving a Steelers' Terrible Towel in Montgomery's face.

"She’s got a little towel that she has," Montgomery said. "She’s twirling it around. I’m like 'get it out of my face."

There were some interesting spectators at practice at the University of New Haven team sat in on the festivities. The Chargers are 11-7 including a 6-7 record in the Northeast-10.

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Surgery a success

UConn coach Geno Auriemma confirmed after practice that the surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in the left knee of freshman guard Caroline Doty was successful.

Doty, who tore her ACL late in the first half of Saturday's win over Syracuse, underwent the surgery Thursday at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. Dr. Robert Arciero performed the procedure.

"I haven't had a chance to speak to her but she came out of it and I will talk to her when I get back to my office after practice," Auriemma said. "From all indications from our doctors and our trainers she came out of it in great shape."

There were no complications or additional ligaments torn when Arciero went in and repaired the torn ACL.

"She were concerned that there might be more than that but once Bob (Arciero) got in there, it was pretty cut and dry," Auriemma said.

Auriemma doesn't want to set a time table for Doty's return to the court.

"That's the danger, if she sets a date and then pushes herself to make that date, it could be counterproductive," Auriemma said. "The way I look at it is when you are ready, you are ready. I don't see her being able to truly feel comfortable until at least November or December."

Doty started the first 17 games of the season, averaging 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds and hitting 30 3-pointers.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How dare she?

It appears as if Louisville's Candyce Bingham's post-game comments after Tuesday's win over Cincinnati have riled up some in Husky Nation.

So what did Bingham say to create such a stir?

Well, according to the Associated Press' recap, here are her words: "It's UConn, they're good, they're supposed to be good, but they're very beatable. It's not invincible. It's not anything undoable."

What's the big deal? Apparently Bingham didn't get the memo that all opponents are supposed to bow down to UConn. After all, didn't the season come to an end following UConn's 30-point win at No. 2 North Carolina Monday? Haven't they already awarded the Huskies the 2009 national-championship trophy after humbling the Tar Heels?

Apparently the No. 7 team in the country who are winners of 14 straight games and feature a player (Angel McCoughtry) who could very well be the No. 1 overall pick in April's WNBA draft isn't supposed to believe it can play with UConn.

Maybe it's time for some of the UConn faithful to reflect back on the last time Louisville played a game in the state of Connecticut. Despite McCoughtry and Bingham going a combined 13 for 37 from the floor, the Cardinals only trailed UConn by a point with 5:20 to play in the Big East tournament final at the XL Center, one of the Huskies' home courts. Had Bingham hit a jumper at the 5-minute mark, the Cardinals would have had the lead. UConn lost Charde Houston and Ketia Swanier, who combined for 22 points, 15 rebounds and five steals in UConn's hard-earned 65-59 win as well as Brittany Hunter while adding freshman Tiffany Hayes and welcoming Kalana Greene back from injury. Why shouldn't Louisville think they can come up and give UConn a game while facing pretty much the same team it went toe to toe with last March?

Why is it necessary that every UConn opponent has to proclaim that the undefeated Huskies are the greatest team in the history of the world? Let's not forget that Renee Montgomery was 4 for 19 from the floor in the Big East final and fellow All-Americans Maya Moore and Tina Charles were only 7 for 20. Lorin Dixon, recently inserted into the starting lineup after the season-ending knee injury suffered by freshman Caroline Doty, played just four minutes in the 2008 Big East final and did not score. Key reserve Kaili McLaren had just two points in 32 minutes. So remind me again why should Louisville be shaking in its shoes?

Will Louisville beat UConn? Only time will tell. Should they think they can beat UConn? Why not?

Spare me the garbage of UConn using Bingham's quotes as bulletin-board material. If any UConn players need Geno Auriemma or Chris Dailey to highlight Bingham's quotes in order to get fired up to play the only other team still undefeated in Big East play then they did a poor job in the recruiting process. I doubt that a Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Rebecca Lobo, Shea Ralph, Svetlana Abrosimova or Kerry Bascom would need some outside help to get ready to face the conference team best equipped to knock the Huskies off. If any UConn player needs any additional motivation for Monday's game, it is time to take a long look in the mirror. These are the kinds of games they should be clamoring to play in, facing a veteran, confident team with Final Four aspirations bulletin-board material or no bulletin-board material.

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Turner signs on dotted line

Just got off the phone with Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko who said the final bit of paperwork on Barbara Turner's contract came through and she is signed up for the upcoming season.

Turner's signing means that the Sun have its top six scorers returning. Turner, who averaged 8 points and 3.2 rebounds for the Sun in 2008, becomes the 10th player under contract for the coming season joining Lindsay Whalen, Ashja Jones, Tamika Whitmore, Amber Holt, Kerri Gardin, Sandrine Gruda, Erin Phillips, Ketia Swanier and Danielle Page on the roster. They accounted for 87 percent of Connecticut's points, 82 percent of the rebounds and 84 percent of the assists.

The Sun have offers out to unrestricted free agents Tamika Raymond and Svetlana Abrosimova and restricted free agent Jamie Carey. The team is continuing to negotiate with Anete Jekabsone, the fourth-leading scorer in the 2008 Olympics. Sienko said "we are not worried" about coming to terms with the 25-year-old guard. Lauren Ervin, the Sun's third-round pick, is also expected to be in training camp according to Sienko.

Although the roster limits have been cut from a maximum of 13 to 11, the training camp roster rules have not been altered. No WNBA team can have more than 15 players at camp at any time. With so many of the Sun players having European commitments, that should not be an issue or prohibit them from signing all the players from last year's team they want to.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Walker in the house?

According to her high school coach, UConn commit Samarie Walker is hoping to be in attendance when UConn plays at Cincinnati on Saturday.

Walker, a 6-foot-1 junior wing at Chaminade Julienne High in Dayton, Ohio, committed to UConn while on her campus visit in October. Chaminade Julienne will be playing a home game against Carroll High, also of Dayton, at 2 p.m. which would give Walker plenty of time to make the trip to Cincinnati to watch the Huskies.

I e-mailed Chaminade Julienne coach Marc Greenberg to see if Walker was considering taking in the game.

"No guarantees but she is planning on it" was the response I received back from Marc.

Chaminade-Julienne is 9-4 with one of the losses being a forfeit for failing to submit the proper paperwork regarding Nicky Disbrow who transferred from Oakwood.

I found it interesting to see the UConn connections at the top of the USA Today national high school poll.

No. 2 Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. featuring dynamic sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who made an unofficial visit to UConn over the weekend. As a matter of fact, the entire Mater Dei team sat behind the UConn bench in Saturday's game against Syracuse. ater Dei was in the area as they played a game in a tournament in Springfield, Mass.

Among the players on No. 4 Cardinal O'Hara of Springfield, Pa. is the younger sister of UConn junior forward Meghan Gardler.

Kelly Faris, the only member of UConn's next freshman class, is the leader in scoring, rebounding and steals for No. 5 Heritage Christian out of Indianapolis. As a side note, the Heritage Christian program is featured in an article in VYPE.

The younger sister of UConn sophomore guard Lorin Dixon is on the eighth-ranked Murry Bergtraum squad. The stars of No. 6 South Bend (Ind.) Washington and Dulles High of Sugar Land, Texas might sound familiar to those who follow the recruiting process as Washington guard Skylar Diggins and Dulles center Kelsey Bone were once on UConn's recruiting radar. Diggins signed with Notre Dame while Bone will wait until the late signing period to sign.

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Wobbly Walking Gate closed

From the much ado about nothing department, the Big East declared the matter of the post-game verbal exchange between UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and Syracuse junior forward Nicole Michael to be closed.

Here is the statement the conference released on Tuesday.


Following discussion and review with both Syracuse Director of Athletics Daryl Gross as well as Connecticut Director of Athletics Jeff Hathaway, BIG EAST Conference Commissioner Michael Tranghese has determined that there will be no action taken by the Conference office following the post-game hand shaking incident that occurred after this weekend’s women’s basketball game between Syracuse and Connecticut .

"Having been assured by both Connecticut Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway and Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross that there will be no reoccurrence of the events following the Connecticut and Syracuse game -- and that both are committed to our principles of sportsmanship -- the BIG EAST Conference has determined that there is no need for any formal Conference action.”

“Daryl and Jeff have also assured me that Geno and Nicole are prepared to move forward and to conclude the season without further incidents.”

While I do not condone Auriemma dressing down a member of another team and think he and his program would have been better served had he just ignored Michael after the game rather than ask her what her problem was, if words were exchanged and a coach stumbled over an opposing player's foot in the post-game handshake line in either college football or men's basketball, it would not rate a blimp on the sports radar screen. But ESPN turned this truly into a women's basketball version of a mountain out of a mole hill. Reminds me of their treatment of the issue of UConn facilitating a tour of the ESPN studios for Maya Moore and her mom. It's truly a shame that ESPN, a network which could be promoting women's basketball, instead continues to lower itself to being a step above Jerry Springer in its sensationalized coverage of women's basketball.

Changing gears, it took a little longer than anticipated but the Connecticut media returned from North Carolina. How do I know this? Well, four of the seven newspaper sports, the UConn Radio Network on-air team of Bob Joyce and Kara Wolters as well as Rebecca Lobo, who was the sideline reporter for the ESPN2 coverage of UConn's 88-58 win over North Carolina were on the same flight home. The non-stop flight from North Carolina to Windsor Locks took off 3 1/2 hours late because of the snow storm which hit the Raleigh/Durham area. It appears to me that airport officials were as ill-equipped to deal with the snow on Tuesday morning as the North Carolina team was in running a half-court offense on Monday night.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Putting on a brave face

Caroline Doty wasn't about to let a little thing like a season-ending knee injury keep her from joining her team for the much-anticipated showdown against No. 2 North Carolna.

Doty, speaking for the first time publicly since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in Saturday's win over Syracuse, said she has tried to stay positive even though her freshman season came to an end prematurely.

"Right now I am excited for the team but the past couple of days are kind of like a roller coaster," Doty said before Monday's game. "I tried to stay as positive as I can. My teammates and coaches are doing a great job of keeping my spirits up."

Doty said the tear was not as serious as the one she suffered in September of 2007 when she was a senior at Germantown Academy and won't have to wait as long for surgery. Doty said the plan is to undergo surgery on Thursday.

During Monday morning's shootaround, sophomore Lorin Dixon was playing with the starters and seems to be the early choice to take Doty's place in the starting lineup. If UConn goes that route, Dixon would play the point and Renee Montgomery would move over to shooting guard.

Lastly, a source close to the situation said that the next step in the post-game fiasco Saturday night will be handled by the two schools. The source said that administrators from UConn and Syracuse were contacted about the words exchanged between UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Syracuse junior forward Nicole Michael. If Syracuse and UConn deal with the issue to the Big East's satisfaction, there will be no further action or reprimands. But if the schools do not step up to the plate, the conference will take whatever action they deem necessary.

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Moore honored

Maya Moore was named the Big East Player of the Week (probably not the toughest choice conference officials have ever made). Below is the release. As a point of clarification, I am assuming the portion that states Moore set a Big East record with 10 3-pointers in a game includes only conference games since South Florida's Janae Stokes had 11 3-pointers in a Dec. 18 game against Grambling.

Here's the release:

Moore Breaks BIG EAST Single-Game Record and Garners BIG EAST Player of the Week Honors

PROVIDENCE , R.I. – A BIG EAST regular-season record fell as Connecticut’s Maya Moore netted 10 3-pointers in the Huskies’ win over Syracuse on Saturday. Moore earns BIG EAST Player of the Week honors for the first time this season. Cincinnati ’s Shanasa Sanders scored a career-high 25 points in the Bearcats win over Seton Hall, also on Saturday, to earn BIG EAST Freshman of the Week honors.

Moore averaged 29.0 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in UConn’s home wins over DePaul 77-62 on Jan. 13 and Syracuse 107-53 on Jan. 17. The sophomore forward scored her 1,000th career point against the Orange becoming the fastest player in UConn history to reach that feat, taking just 55 games. She tallied 40 points in the win, including the 10 3-pointers, a BIG EAST single-game record. She also added 13 rebounds and shot 60.9 percent from the field. In the DePaul win, Moore had 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and dealt three assists. For the week, Moore shot 56.8 percent from the field, was 11-of-18 from beyond the arc and 5-of-9 from the free throw line.

Sanders scored a career-high 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including a career-best four 3-pointers in Cincinnati ’s 72-62 win against Seton Hall on Jan. 17. The freshman point guard grabbed a career-best nine rebounds, added four assists and committed just one turnover, playing the full 40 minutes. Sanders also shot 5-of-6 from the free throw line, including 3-of-4 late in the game to seal the victory for the Bearcats.

BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll

Angel McCoughtry, Louisville, Sr., F ( Baltimore , Md. )

2-0; 22.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 spg. 3 apg; 28 pts. & 4 rebs. vs. Georgetown ; 17 pts., 12 rebs., & 5 asst., vs. USF

Epiphanny Prince, Rutgers, Jr., G ( Brooklyn , N.Y. )

2-0; 26.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg; 56.0 FG%, 5-of-8 3FG, 19-of-19 FT; 29 pts. at Villanova; 23 pts. vs. Marquette

Angel Robinson, Marquette, So., G ( St. Paul , Minn. )

1-1; 16.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg; 10-of-14 FT; 19 pts., 9 rebs., 6 asst. vs. ND; 13 pts. & 5 rebs. vs. RU

Natasha Williams, DePaul, Sr., F ( Stokie , Ill. )

1-1; 21.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg; 18-of-25 FG, 8-of-11 FT; 21 pts. vs. Providence & UConn; 8 rebs. & 2 blocks vs. UConn

Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh, Sr., G ( Orlando , Fla. )

1-0; 27 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 2 steals; 3-of-8 3FG, 8-of-9 FT vs. USF


Carolina on my mind

Game day is here as the much-anticipated showdown between No. 1 UConn and No. 2 North Carolina is only eight hours away.

Both teams figure to be down a starter. UConn guard Caroline Doty is out for the season after tearing a ligament in her left knee in Saturday's win over Syracuse. North Carolina forward Iman McFarland has a high ankle sprain and is not expected to play. Sylvia Hatchell said she expects Martina Wood to start. Look for freshman Chay Shegog to see plenty of action. Hatchell said Shegog has failed to complete a conditioning requirement and that is why she isn't starting.

Hatchell wanted no part of the question whether UConn/North Carolina has replaced UConn/Tennessee as the most anticipated regular-season game of the season.

"That wasn't my decision," Hatchell said of the end of the UConn/Tennessee series. "It happened because you have two great programs and when we scheduled this, the way it has played out is great because it has been built up as the game of the season. We are glad to be a part of it. We want to go out, play well and make it a great game."

The UConn/Carolina series will continue on as a two-year extension has been signed.

Hatchell was hoping today's game will break the Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball attendance record of 17,950 when the Tar Heels played at Maryland on Jan. 28, 2007. I spoke to North Carolina women's basketball sports information director Bobby Hundley on Sunday but he did not have an update on how ticket sales were going.

There's no word from the Big East Conference whether there will be any fall out from the actions of UConn coach Geno Auriemma or Syracuse forward Nicole Michael following their exchange of words. Maybe we can just start calling it "Wobbly Walking Gate."

Kind of curious what the reaction of the Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. girls' basketball team was to the events which unfolded on Saturday night. They were in New England playing in a game in a tournament in Springfield, Mass. and were invited to sit behind the UConn bench for the Syracuse game. Of course, the fact that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, arguably the best high school sophomore in the country, plays for Mater Dei might have a little to do with the special invite. Mosqueda-Lewis got to see the emotional side of Auriemma. I have never seen Auriemma as was as worked up or taking as much issue with another coach (Syracuse's Quintin Hillsman) as he was on Saturday.

Changing gears, after watching the antics of receivers like Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Plaxico Burress and Randy Moss, it is refreshing to see a stud receiver like Larry Fitzgerald of the Super Bowl bound Arizona Cardinals just play the game without all the excess garbage that the NFL's receiving divas bring to the equation.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Doty tears ACL

UConn freshman guard Caroline Doty will miss the rest of the season after an examination revealed that she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee with 27.9 seconds left in the first half of Saturday's game against Syracuse.

Doty, who tore her left ACL for the second time in 17 months, started the first 17 games for top-ranked Huskies' first 17 games. The 5-foot-10 guard from Doylestown, Pa. was fourth on the team in scoring at 8.6 points per game and was third on the team with 30 3-pointers.

UConn released a statement on Doty's injury on Sunday afternoon.
"UConn freshman Caroline Doty suffered a torn ACL in her left knee during the Huskies' 107-53 win over Syracuse Saturday. She is expected to miss the remainder of the season. No surgery date has been set."

After Saturday's win over Syracuse, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was leaning towards starting junior Kaili McLaren in Doty's place. If he inserts McLaren into the starting lineup, she would likely play the power forward while Maya Moore would shift to either the small forward or shooting guard positions.

"We are going to have to change the way we play a little," Auriemma said. "We are not going to be able to be as full court as much and not play as much man to man. We are a while different team, we have one less shooter out on the floor, one less ballhandler. We'll have to kind of adapt and go from there."

The other viable options would be to insert freshman Tiffany Hayes into Doty's spot while which allow the other UConn starters to remain in the same position. Sophomore Lorin Dixon could be inserted into the lineup at point guard and Renee Montgomery would shift over to the shooting guard. That is what the Huskies did a year ago when starting shooting guard Mel Thomas suffered a season-ending knee injury against Syracuse. Two games later Dixon had just one turnover in 23 minutes in a win over North Carolina.

Whoever moves into the starting lineup will leave a gap on UConn's already short bench. Auriemma may have to rely more on Meghan Gardler or Tahirah Williams to return to an eight-player rotation.

"I can check the waiver wire but it doesn't work that way in college so you have to go with what you've got," Auriemma said. "There is nothing you can do about it. It is not like we have any kinds of choices."

Because she appeared in 17 games this season, Doty is not eligible to apply for an additional year of eligibility.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Status quo in jeapordy

For 17 straight games the starting five was pretty much a foregone conclusion. However, in a matter of seconds that may have changed as starting shooting guard Caroline Doty reinjured her surgically-repaired left knee late in the first half.

Until we get the results from the MRI on Doty's knee, we will not know her status. It was called a knee sprain initially but that is standard operating procedure until the results of the MRI come in.

At first glance, Doty's injury bore little resemblance to some of the previous ACL injuries I have seen. There seemed to be little doubt when Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas went down last year. They had the hard pivots which led to the severe injuries. Doty was trying to control the ball when she suddenly grabbed her knee. There were no quick movements, no hard plants putting pressure on her knee ligaments. However, since she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee in September of 2007, the likelihood of it being another ACL tear can not be ignored no matter how innocent it looked. I still remember Shea Ralph walking with no difficulty after injuring her knee as a senior. I remember saying at the time that she probably would be fine. Well, she never played another game for the Huskies. That won't be the case for Doty, who has a bright future for the Huskies.

If she can't go, there seem to be three feasible options for UConn. UConn coach Geno Auriemma started Kaili McLaren in the second half and indicated that would be the direction he would go on Monday against North Carolina. Certainly it will make UConn tougher to handle inside but will force Maya Moore to move out of the power forward position she was playing so well and will leave the Huskies with no post players to bring off the bench.

Auriemma could go the same route he went in last year's UConn/North Carolina game. Thomas, the starting shooting guard for Connecticut, saw her UConn career end with a knee injury against Syracuse. Auriemma plugged Lorin Dixon in at point guard in the next two games against Cincinnati and North Carolina and moved Renee Montgomery over to shooting guard. Considering the pressure UConn will face against North Carolina, Dixon could play a key ballhandling role. In last year's game against Carolina, Dixon had just one turnover in 23 minutes in one of the 10 games she started as a freshman. Just a fact to keep in mind.

Or the option that seems to make the most sense is to use Tiffany Hayes in Doty's spot. She offers some of the 3-point threat that Doty brought although she is currently in the funk with her long-range shooting. That would allow Moore to remain at the power forward while McLaren and Dixon could be the top post player and guard off the bench. In this scenario, UConn would need another player (likely either Meghan Gardler or Tahirah Williams) to step up and provide some minutes off the bench. Hayes played arguably her worst game of her brief UConn career so asking her to start against North Carolina could be a daunting task.

Stay tuned.

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Knee sprains, tempers flaring and blowout win

It was an interesting afternoon at the XL Center.

The biggest news was UConn freshman guard Caroline Doty reinjuring her surgically-repaired left knee with 27.9 seconds left in the first half. UConn officials report that Doty suffered a knee sprain. She had 17 points, one shy of her career-high, before the injury.

Maya Moore became the second UConn player with a 40-point game, dropping 40 on Syracuse. She became the fastest UConn player to reach 1,000 points, doing it in her 55th game.

In the post-game handshakes following UConn's 107-53 victory, UConn coach Geno Auriemma had some words with Syracuse junior forward Nicole Michael. Auriemma was clearly perturbed by the Orange's rough-house tactics. Michael turned around to say something drawing a reaction from UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey. UConn senior guard Renee Montgomery played the role of peacemaker which is usually left up to Dailey as she escorted Auriemma away from Syracuse players.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Tar Heels roll

North Carolina took care of its end of the bargain with a victory over Virginia.

My gut feeling was that Virginia would win this game. Maybe I was just having a case of indigestion because the final score was 103-74.

Rashanda McCants, a former AAU teammate of UConn's Kalana Greene, had 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals to lead five North Carolina players in double figures. Perhaps the most impressive stat of the night is the Tar Heels' 26 for 29 performance at the free-throw line.

The only thing that stands between the much-anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown is a UConn win over Syracuse on Saturday. Obviously Syracuse gained a lot of confidence from its near upset of UConn last year in Syracuse and believe they can play with the Huskies.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he admires that attitude and doesn't think the shadow of Monday's game at North Carolina will lead to his team underestimating a Syracuse team coming off a loss at home to Seton Hall.

"I haven't believed in them and I don't want to start believing in them now,'' Auriemma said. "If your team is any good and if you're doing the right things then you prepare for each game. Each game's supposed to be as important as the next game. I don't know why the North Carolina game would be more important to our players than the Syracuse game if we're trying to win the Big East championship."

The last item for the evening or early morning is that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' trip to UConn's campus on Friday didn't seem to take too much out of her as the highly-touted 6-foot- sophomore from Matei Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. had 33 points, 12rebounds and five assists, four steals and two blocks in a 74-46 win over defending Massachusetts Division I state champion Northampton Friday night in Springfield, Mass. It was her third 30-point game of the season.

A bit of this, a little of that

It was another eventful day at Gampel Pavilion.

Circumstances being what they are, there was a teleconference set up so UConn coach Geno Auriemma could speak to the national media. With the exception of one Syracuse reporter, the rest of the callers wanted to talk about Monday's game against North Carolina. There's one problem, UConn actually has a game against Syracuse on Saturday. So when the call was over, Auriemma begged "does anybody have a question about our game (Saturday)."

Auriemma's point was well taken but with a game on Saturday and travel day on Sunday, there was little choice but to do the conference call on Friday.

A few things of note. First, highly-touted sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. took an unofficial visit to UConn on Friday. Mater Dei is playing Northampton (Mass.) High in Springfield, Mass. tonight so she took the opportunity to stop by on Friday. Mosqueda-Lewis, who is averaging 21.5 points for undefeated Mater Dei, could be the most highly-touted California prospect since Diana Taurasi before her high school career is over. I guess my question is - if UConn gets Laguna Hills junior Lauren Engeln and Mosqueda-Lewis to come East, will California schools give the Huskies as much of a cold shoulder as the schools in Georgia and Tennessee did after Auriemma secured a commitment from Maya Moore?

Auriemma and Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon will be featured on ESPN's "Sunday Conversation." Both undefeated and top-ranked teams have games on the ESPN network on Monday night. Pitt will play Syracuse at 7 p.m. on ESPN while UConn and North Carolina will be on at the same time on ESPN2.

I noticed that Syracuse has been talking the talk about being able to come to Connecticut and beat the Huskies. Confidence is a wonderful thing and I would rather have a team come in with a bit of a swagger but my only question is where was that swagger when the Orange were losing at home to Seton Hall the last time out?

You'd never know that Gampel Pavilion was a basketball haven based on the conversations going on. Auriemma, a long-time Eagles fan, is crowing about his team being one win away from the Super Bowl while seniors Renee Montgomery and Kalana Greene are Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers fans and can only imagine the trash talk the good friends will be engaging in. To the best of my knowledge, UConn does not have an Arizona Cardinals fan. As for me, I've been a Buccaneers fans since the mid-1980s when I lived in Florida and the football season ended with Tampa's loss to Oakland, a loss that Auriemma was quick to remind me recently put the Eagles in the playoffs. All I have to say is I can not root for the Steelers simply because of the utter silliness of the Pittsburgh mayor legally changing his last name because it starts with "Raven". Give me a break. If they started a show based on the misplaced priorities of politicians, Mr. Pittsburgh Mayor's pathetic publicity stunt would rank second behind only Utah's attorney general starting an investigation into the legality of the system to decide which two Bowl Championship Series meet for the national title game in college football.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three unbeatens remain

With Oklahoma's 64-48 win over Kansas State Wednesday, there are now three undefeated teams remaining in Division I women's basketball.

Auburn is 17-0 with a game at Arkansas on Sunday next up. The other two teams with perfect records (UConn and North Carolina) will meet on Monday. UConn has a game Saturday against Syracuse while Carolina faces Virginia on Friday. I could be way off base on this prediction, but I think Virginia will defeat the Tar Heels.

Wednesday morning quarterback

UConn has officially kicked off the second half of the regular season with one of the most bizarre games I have witnessed in the seven seasons as the UConn women's basketball team's beat writer.

The Huskies couldn't miss early on, hitting 10 of their first 14 shots. UConn had 22 points in the first 6:10 of the first half and 16 points in the opening 4:57 of the second half. If my math is correct (and that is usually a rather large "if") the Huskies would have put 136 points up on DePaul if they maintained that pace. However, they had just 39 points in the rest of the game, a stretch of nearly 29 minutes. Had the Huskies scored at that rate for the entire contest, they would have scored 54 points which would have been the worst offensive output since a 55-47 loss to Rutgers in the 2007 Big East tournament.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma chalked up the choppy game to a few factors. First, he felt his team seemed a bit tired after a long road trip. He credited much of the inconsistent nature of the contest to DePaul's relentless nature and also believes that the stretch of games before class in back in session are always difficult ones for his players since they are not back into their normal rhythm.

Tuesday's game was just the second in the last 10 games where UConn had five players score in double figures. The Big Three of Maya Moore (18 points), Renee Montgomery (12 points) and Tina Charles (11) did their part. Freshmen Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes added 12 and 10 points respectively. Hayes may have challenged Ashley Valley's unofficial record for most times a UConn player fell down in a game. I counted eight and a majority of those were Hayes just tumbling to the ground. Doty laughed when I asked her about that in the post-game press conference and said maybe Tiffany sometimes gets her feet going faster than the rest of her body. Doty was 6 for 31 from 3-point range since the last time UConn played at Gampel Pavilion. She rediscovered her shooting touch, hitting 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno has a unique ability to communicate basketball insights to the media. I don't always make it into the press conference for the opposing coach but I never miss a second of Bruno's press conferences because I usually leave the room more knowledgeable than I was before I arrived.

Bruno's best tidbit about UConn was that freshmen Doty and Hayes have that "UConn ilk." Basically what that means is that Auriemma and his staff look for a certain type of player. Intangibles and unselfishness are among the qualities the UConn staff seeks out. So when the recruiting-obsessive UConn fans clamor for the Huskies to go after players A, B and C because they are rated third, fourth and fifth in the rankings of these so-called "recruiting gurus" they might want to take several deep breaths into the closest available paper bag and realize that there is a method to the UConn recruiting madness.

For those into recruiting, I reached out to the coaches of four players I know UConn is interested in to see when Laguna Hills (Calif.) guard Lauren Engeln, Arundel (Md.) High forward Sheronne Vails, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) forward Orsi Szecsi and Montini (Ill.) High forward Michala Johnson might be visiting UConn. There is a story in today's Register about the future plans of those four prospects

The condensed version of the story is that Vails is hoping to attend UConn's game at Georgetown, although it is more as a fan than anything to do with the recruiting process. Szecsi, a native of Hungary, isn't anywhere near making campus visits. Engeln and Johnson would like to visit UConn between the end of their respective team's regular seasons in early February and the start of state tournament play in March. UConn has home games on consecutive February Sundays against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame so my opinion is that those are the two most likely options. If I were a betting man (which I am not) I would guess that the weekend of the Notre Dame game makes the most sense. Despite Notre Dame's loss to Marquette, the Fighting Irish are emerging as one of the few teams likely to hang with UConn. The UConn men's team has a home game against South Florida on Feb. 21 and the chance to take in a men's and women's game is always a big selling point for recruits during these visits.

You may have noticed that Meghan Culmo was not providing color commentary on the CPTV broadcast. Culmo's mother in law Katherine passed away on Friday after a five-year battle with cancer. Calling hours for Kay Culmo will be from 4-8 p.m. today at the Jenkins-King Funeral Home (12 Franklin St. Ansonia). Funeral services will be held on Thursday at 10 a.m. from Holy Rosary Church (10 Father Salemi Drive, Ansonia). Burial will follow in Pine Grove Cemetery Ansonia.

Culmo will not be on the broadcast Saturday either but it has nothing to do with her loss of her mother in law. With SNY also televising the game, Beth Mowins and Brooke Weisbrod were contracted to call the game instead of CPTV's normal team of Bob Picozzi and Culmo.

The last item is news that Jacquie Fernandes' scholarship has been renewed for her senior season. I'm not sure if this is really too newsworthy since the only way Fernandes was going be in danger of not having a scholarship for her final season would be if the Huskies ran out of scholarships. Even if Kalana Greene opts to return for a fifth season of eligibility, UConn will have four scholarships left unfilled so extending Fernandes' scholarship was really a no-brainer for Auriemma.

"Jacquie made the decision to come here and I hope she doesn’t regret
it and never will regret it," Auriemma said after Tuesday's game. "There’s not a kid on our team that doesn’t appreciate her being here and all the things she does for us."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reunion time

No introductions were needed between DePaul coach Doug Bruno and UConn junior center Tina Charles and sophomore forward Maya Moore.

Bruno coached both Charles and Moore on the USA Basketball Under-18 national team in 2006. Charles led the team in scoring (12 points per game) and rebounding (9.5) while Moore led the team with 15 steals in four games and was the fifth-leading scorer at 9.5 points per game as the U.S. went 4-0 in winning the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women. Moore was also a member of the Under 19 national team which won the 2007 World Championship which was coached by Bruno.

"I love Coach Bruno," Moore said. "He is a great guy. he is similar to Coach Auriemma in that they are very passionate about the game, they both have high expectations. He helped prepare me to come in to the University of Connecticut. His toughness, playing for him was fun. He gave us a lot of opportunities more than anything, the 3/4 spot that Kayla (Pedersen) and I both play he put a lot of demands to defend on the perimeter, he is going to expect us to rebound no matter what position we are playing."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sun closing in on shooter

The announcement could come in a few days or perhaps as long as a week or two, but it seems as if the Connecticut Sun have found themselves the shooter they vowed to add to the team following an early exit from the 2008 WNBA playoffs.

I spoke with head coach Mike Thibault and general manager Chris Sienko today who confirmed the reports that they are pursuing Latvia Olympic team captain Anete Jekabsone.

The 25-year-old Jekabsone is a skilled offensive player who finished third in scoring, second in assists and seventh in 3-pointers at the 2008 Olympics. It was actually at the pre-Olympic FIBA Diamond Ball Classic in China where Jekabsone made a huge splash on the international scene. The 5-foot-9 Jekabsone was 5 for 5 from 3-point range en route to scoring 34 points in 28 minutes in a 75-69 upset of Russia. In the next game against the eventual gold-medal winning U.S. team Jekabsone had 24 points including another five 3-pointers to go with three rebounds, three assists and five steals. Averaging 29 points against teams that would win the gold and bronze medals at the Olympics certainly gives an indication of Jekabsone's offensive potential.

One story states that Jekabsone will be replacing former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova on the 2009 Connecticut Sun roster. Thibault said he is uncertain of Abrosimova's status. She is an unrestricted free agent and will be welcomed back by the Sun. However, Thibault didn't think Abrosimova would make a decision until her European playing commitments are over. That will not be until around June 20 which would mean she would miss at least the first six games of the season. Jekabsone, who plays with the Moscow-based Dynamo squad, faces the same restrictions.

I asked Sienko what the best-case scenario was in terms of finalizing a contract with Jekabsone and his answer was "a couple of days." With the EuroLeague on break, contract talks have been challenging. But it sounds as if it will happen and she most certainly fills a need for a 3-point shooter.

There's much more news to report in terms of the Sun's offseason roster molding.

Kerri Gardin and Danielle Page recently signed contracts so they join Sandrine Gruda, Amber Holt, Asjha Jones, Erin Phillips, Ketia Swanier, Lindsay Whalen and Tamika Whitmore as members of the 2008 Connecticut Sun under contract. Barbara Turner, one of five ex-UConn players on the Sun last season, is very close to finalizing a contract extension. Sienko said it could happen in a day or two. Lauren Ervin, a third-round pick of the Sun in 2008, also figures to sign with the team.

The Sun's only unrestricted free agents are Abrosimova and her former UConn teammate Tamika Raymond. Both Thibault and Sienko said Raymond expressed her desire to return to the team but as an assistant coach for the Kansas women's team, she obviously has some other things to concern herself with at the current time.

The only restricted free agent is guard Jamie Carey, who is in her first year at the head coach at Legacy High in Broomfield, Colo. Sienko said Carey has been offered the same training-camp contract she played under in the last three seasons but he has not heard back from her. That is not a cause for concern as Carey's situation is similar to Raymond's. The Sun like both veterans who offer off-court leadership and have developed on-court niches as well. If Carey wants to come to training camp, she will be welcomed that's for sure. It is looking extremely unlikely that Evanthia Maltsi will be playing for the Sun in 2009.

If the Sun do sign Jekabsone, Raymond and Carey, it will have 15 players under contract even without Abrosimova and Maltsi. Also, the Sun have two of the top 18 picks in April's WNBA draft. Being able to carry a maximum of 13 players, expect the fight for the final few roster spots to be as challenging this season as it has ever been.

Thibault, who was in Durham, N.C. on Monday for the Maryland/Duke game, said he has not heard anything new on the intentions of high-profile free agents Lauren Jackson and Tina Thompson.

Thibault said he will not be in attendance at Monday's game between No. 1 UConn and No. 2 North Carolina but is planning to be at Gampel Pavilion for the Jan. 26 UConn/Louisville game and the Feb. 3 Rutgers/UConn contest at the XL Center in Hartford. He said he may take in Saturday's game between the Huskies and Syracuse at the XL Center.

Hearing the news of Mohegan Sun cutting salaries and expenses, I asked Thibault whether those cutbacks impacted his travel plans. He said they did not. He said he has tried to be prudent in his scouting trips and was conservative when devising the travel budget because of the slumping economy.

One last bit of info, for those who so desire to take part, voting for the EuroLeague Women's All-Star game began on Monday. Fan voting will determine the starting five for both teams and voting will be open until Feb. 9.

Former UConn stars Sue Bird (Spartak), Diana Taurasi (Spartak), Asjha Jones (UMMC Ekaterinburg) and Swin Cash (ZVVK USK Prague) are on the ballot for the "Rest of the World" team while Abrosimova (UMMC Ekaterinburg) is the only ex-Husky on the ballot for Europe's team.

Jones is joined on the "Rest of the World" ballot by fellow Connecticut Sun players Gardin (Jolly JBS Sibenik), Whitmore (Gambrinus), Holt (MKB Euroleasing) and Whalen (ZVVK USK Prague). Gruda (UMMC Ekaterinburg), Maltsi (ZVVK USK Prague) and Abrosimova are all on the ballot for Europe.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ghost town

Being the team player that I am, I decided to drop my rental car off a little early so my company doesn't get charged for an additional day.

So I arrive at the Morgantown airport around 11:30 and I am the only person here. Both rental car counters are locked up (not that surprising since I had to wait for 45 minutes for the Hertz employee to show up when I arrived on Friday). I have yet to see anybody at the United Airlines front desk. In fact, I was here for a half hour before I laid eyes on another human being. It was a photographer (I assume from a local paper) asking me about arriving flights. I suggested he check the arrival board. I have now been here for more than an hour and have seen four people. Unfortunately none of them work for the airport restaurant because I am extremely hungry.

There is a TV in the waiting area which seems on only get one channel. That's the bad news. The good news is the station is airing the best of Kathy Griffin

Leaving here, I think I will forever consider Tweed-New Haven Airport to be the second coming of JFK compared to this place.

UConn signee Kelly Faris scored eight of her 25 points in overtime as her Heritage Christian squad remained undefeated with a 59-48 win over Fishers on Saturday. Faris was 6 for 6 from the line in overtime and also had 10 rebounds as the Indianapolis-based Heritage Christian improved to 14-0.

Faris' future UConn teammate Samarie Walker was not as fortunate as her Chaminade-Julienne squad lost to Detroit Country Day 51-34. Walker had 18 points including 12 of her team's 14 points

Moving on up

With each game, UConn senior guard Renee Montgomery continues her ascension up the UConn career lists and just as quickly deflects any talk about her place among the greats in UConn history.

Montgomery moved past Jen Rizzotti to become the highest scoring point guard in UConn history in a Dec. 31 game against the Rizzotti-coached University of Hartford. On Saturday she passed Swin Cash to become the 10th all-time leading scorer in UConn history and join Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph as the only players in the top 10 in scoring, assists and steals in the UConn record books.

There is another potential landmark for Montgomery to reach - the 2,000-point club, a plateau only 12 Big East players have reached. Montgomery has 1,603 career points. If UConn were to reach the Big East and NCAA tournament finals, Montgomery would have a maximum of 24 points and would need to average 16.5 points to reach 2,000. Montgomery is currently averaging 17.1 points.

Here's a look at the players who have scored 2,000 points in Big East history (counting only the seasons that teams played in the Big East)

Sarah Behn, Boston College (1989-93) 2,523
Shelly Pennefather, Villanova (1983-87) 2408
Tracy Lis, Providence (1988-92) 2,534
Lorri Johnson, Pittsburgh (1987-91) 2,312
Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers (2002-06) 2,211
Angel McCoughtry, Louisville (2005-current) 2,207*
Nykesha Sales, UConn (1994-98) 2,178
Kerry Bascom, UConn (1987-91) 120-2,177
Diana Taurasi, UConn (2000-04) 144-2,156
Kara Wolters, UConn (1994-97) 137-2,141
Rebecca Lobo, UConn (1991-95) 126-2,133
Ruth Riley, Notre Dame (1997-01) 131-2,072
*-not including Sunday's game against Rutgers

Montgomery is one of five current Big East players with a chance of hitting the 2,000-point mark. As the chart above indicates, that would shatter the previous record of two players reaching the 2,000-point plateau. In the 1990-91 Pittsburgh's Lorri Johnson and UConn's Kerry Bascom each scored their 2,000th career point.

Here's a look at the other four players with a chance to join McCoughtry in the 2,000-point club.
Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh 1,858
Krystal Ellis, Marquette 1,762
Shantia Grace, South Florida 1,661
Renee Montgomery, UConn 1,603

Saturday, January 10, 2009

West Virginia: A look back

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Saturday night inside the WVU Coliseum was the emotional tirade West Virginia coach Mike Carey was giving to his Mountaineers behind closed doors.

I made my way down to the interview room after UConn's 85-55 win and I could hear Carey just ripping into his team.

He wasn't in a better frame of mind a few minutes later when he attended the post-game press conference. A local reporter opened the interview session asking Carey about "moral victories." Oops. Not the best way to start the question and answer session off with a riled up coach. I began taping Carey as he responded to the initial question and shut off my tape recorder when he left the room. Let the record show that I had exactly 1 minute and 12 seconds of tape on Carey. With some cleaning up of the language, here are the highlights from Carey.

"I am so tired of the (stuff) that is going on. You all got beat by 30, I don't give a (rip) if you get beat by one or 30. These two seniors are not going to play. I will play the freshmen and sophomores. I don't give a (rip) if I get down to five players, I am tired of it.

"I know I am frustrated right now but I told them in the locker room, this stuff is going to change. We are going to start doing things the right way and play hard or they are going to get the hell out of the way. We let that team do stuff we hadn't let any team this whole year do. They were driving from the corner, from the top of the key and getting layups. I don't know where our weakside help was, what we were doing or what."

I asked West Virginia's Liz Repella what she thought the next practice would be like considering the frustration her coach expressed. Repella took a couple seconds and admitted that she was glad there was no practice planned for Sunday.

Before the game, I spoke with first-year West Virginia assistant coach George Porcha who I covered when he was a defensive back on a pair of NCAA tournament football team at the University of New Haven in the early to mid 1990s. We were underneath the basket UConn was shooting at during pre-game warmups. Porcha was spotted by UConn's Kaili McLaren who played for Porcha for the highly-successful Boo Williams AAU tournament. McLaren didn't know Porcha took the job at West Virginia and gave him some good-natured ribbing about his inability to drop her a text message or e-mail.

Porcha has fond memories of the one year he coached McLaren.

"Just how popular she is. I told her when her playing days are over, she could end up being th governor of Maryland or something like that. On the court, it is just her basketball IQ for being that size. Just her skill, her passing and she keeps all of her teammates up. You spend so much time together, all of July together and you never have a dull moment with Kaili around."

Now switching gears to UConn since this is a UConn blog after all.

Renee Montgomery, the only West Virginia native in UConn history, had quite the sizeable rooting section on hand and she gave them plenty to cheer about. Montgomery had 28 points, two shy of her career high set earlier this season against Oklahoma. She had an open 3 which would have given her the career high but was off the mark and her layup attempt on the next possession was blocked.

Maya Moore had another solid effort with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Tiffany Hayes continued her strong play with 10 points. Auriemma limited starters Caroline Doty and Tina Charles to 19 and 14 minutes respectively and I inquired about the reasons for leaving them on the bench for more than half the game.

"There was no one out there that she (Charles) could match up with and I don't know that she took advantage of some of the situations that she had. I thought Kaili would be much more difficult to play against. Tiffany, I just felt like defensively and in some other areas I thought she matched up better than Caroline did."

A few statistical notes, Montgomery passed Swin Cash to move into 10th on UConn's career scoring list while Charles moved into the No. 25 spot on the Huskies' career scoring list.

Price is right

The expectations have a crowd of at least 2,000 heading to the WVU Coliseum as West Virginia hosts the undefeated, top-ranked UConn women's basketball team. It certainly won't be the ticket prices that keeps people away as tickets are $5 per person, come with a group of 10 and tickets cost just $2. Wait, there is even a better bargain. Stop in a local Dairy Mart and you can pick up coupons which will lower the ticket price to $1.

A crowd of 2,000 may not seem too noteworthy to UConn fans but as a point of reference, West Virginia has attracted an average of 821 in its first nine home games. The weather could impact that attendance number with a snow storm fast approaching.

Look for a large contigent of family members and friends of Renee Montgomery who will brave the wintery conditions to see the St. Albans, W. Va. play in her home state for the final time.

Now for a couple of other items.
Tennessee and Baylor will be playing each both next season but it will not be a part of the November doubleheader in San Antonio, Texas which will UConn is playing in. Texas Tech and not Baylor will face Tennessee in one game at the Alamodome while UConn and Texas will play in the other game. The official announcement is expected from ESPN shortly.

Kelly Faris, the player to sign a letter of intent with UConn in the early signing period, will lead her undefeated Heritage Christian of Indianapolis team against a talented Fishers team tonight. The Indianpolis Star has a preview of the game .

Stefanie Dolson, who committed to UConn on Christmas Day, had 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in Minisink Valley's 57-36 win over Port Jervis on Friday. The junior center has the Slate Hill, N.Y. team off to a 6-3 start.

Samarie Walker, who joins Dolson as the high school juniors who have committed to UConn, will led her Chaminade-Julienne team against Detroit Country Day today in a game in Dayton, Ohio.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Team of the week

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association appears to have UConn on its mind.

Not only are Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli featuring the top-ranked Huskies on its weekly Shootaround with Beth and Debbie (available on the WBCA website), but the site also features a poll question asking whether Maya Moore, Tina Charles or Renee Montgomery should be UConn's MVP this season.

Finally, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is featured prominently in another poll

WBCA Announces 2009 Superlative Winners for Division I and Division II
ATLANTA - The Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) announced its winners for the 2009 WBCA Superlatives for NCAA Division I and Division II.

Division I:
Most Inspirational: Kay Yow (N.C. State)
Most Likely to get a Technical Foul: Geno Auriemma (Connecticut)
Best Pep Band: Tennessee
Rising Star: Joanne Boyle (California, Berkley)
Best Coaching Combo: Geno Auriemma/Chris Dailey (Connecticut)
Most Entertaining on the Sideline: Geno Auriemma (Connecticut)
Most Intense on the Court but Laidback off the Court: Pat Summitt (Tennessee)
Best Tradition: Tennessee
Best WBCA Pink Zone™ Event: N.C. State
Best Away Locker Room: Arizona State

Division II:
Most Inspirational: Karen Haag (College of Saint Rose)
Most Likely to get a Technical Foul: Helen Williams (Merrimack)
Best Pep Band: Nebraska, Kearney
Rising Star: Mike Jewitt (Southwest Minnesota State)
Best Coaching Combo: Barbara Stevens/C White (Bentley)
Most Entertaining on the Sideline: Kerry Phayre (Assumption)
Most Intense on the Court but Laidback off the Court: Jeanne Murphy (Le Moyne)
Best Tradition: Bentley
Best WBCA Pink Zone™ Event: Armstrong Atlantic
Best Away Locker Room: Colorado School of Mines

Nominations for the WBCA Superlatives were submitted through an online survey form. The top vote-getters for each superlative were then voted on through a balloting process, with the top vote-getter for each category being named the winner.

Shooting blanks

South Florida might have come into the game leading all Division I teams in scoring at 89.9 points a game but the Bulls were no match for the vaunted UConn defense.

After Saturday's win over LSU, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was not thrilled with the direction his team was headed in so at practice the next day, there were no offensive sets run until the last half hour. Judging by the performance on Tuesday, his players got the message. Outside of one open 3 in the left corner by Shantia Grace last in the first half, UConn didn't let the duo of Grace and Jazmine Sepulveda breath as they were a combined 2 for 20 from the floor (with the other basket a fluke 3-pointer by Grace which missed so badly that is caught glass and bounced through the net).

It was a physical game. Lorin Dixon was shaken up after colliding with a South Florida player and Tiffany Hayes suffered a scratched eye late in the game. I thought it was ironic that Kalana Greene's lasting memory from her homecoming game at South Carolina was a shiner under her right eye. Now Hayes, who grew up 30 miles away from Tampa, has the discomfort in her eye to deal with.

"It is just a part of basketball, Greene said. "The next game, you kind of get scared and say 'you have scratches, you are tough.' It is a tough team, they play really hard and I can see why they led the nation in scoring."

UConn will remain in Tampa until Friday before heading to Morgantown for Saturday's game against West Virginia.

The rambunctious student section was moved to being directly behind press row meaning we were able to hear all of their creative barbs.

I thought their best line was directed at official Bob Trammell after he made a call which went against the home team.

"You blew it, we were going to give you a box of Rogaine," one fan bellowed at the folically-challenged Trammell.

UConn junior Kaili McLaren was again the subject of taunting as she was back in February of 2007 the last time UConn played at the Sun Dome. They reprised the "cheeseburger" chants when McLaren touched the ball. They also came up with "if Queen Latifah can do it (lose weight) so can you." To her credit, McLaren took the verbal abuse in stride. As she left the court before the game, she turned and smiled back at her tormentors when they started in with the "have another cheeseburger" business. McLaren got the last laugh with five points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot in 19 minutes off the bench.