Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Final Four bound

There would be no net-cutting ceremonies, only an impromptu victory dance in front of the section holding the UConn band preceded by Kalana Greene hurling the ball in the air as time ran out on the scoreboard.

A ladder was provided but it was taken away when tournament officials were informed that UConn wasn't planning to cut the nets down. That will come only if UConn wins its next two games to secure the program's sixth national title.

As they have done all season, the "Big Three" of Maya Moore (25 points, nine rebounds), Renee Montgomery (22 points), Tina Charles (18 points, 13 rebounds) led the way for the Huskies against an Arizona State team that did not back down from the Huskies.

In the end, UConn just had too much speed and offensive explosiveness for Arizona State to handle. UConn hit six straight shots in one stretch in the second half to finally put away ASU.

"Everybody believes we are capable of going on a run like you saw," said Moore, who became the first UConn player to score at least 700 points in a season. "It is not necessarily something we are always conscious of but any time a team scores on us and they get a run, we are competitive. That is the kind of basketball we are trying to play. When they score, we are trying to score. That's just our style and we are comfortable playing that way."

ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne thought her team could handle UConn's vaunted transition offense but was quick to admit that she was wrong after the game.

"They were so quick in transition," Turner Thorne said. "I don't know why we couldn't find Moore and we were soft. I thought we could do better, that is usually a strength of ours taking away transition (baskets)."

UConn will play Stanford in the national semifinals on Sunday. Stanford ended UConn's national championship hopes in last year's Final Four.

Ticket and travel information will be on the UConn web site in the morning.


The clock just went under 40 minutes before UConn attempts to secure its 10th Final Four appearance.

UConn sophomore Maya Moore, the only unanimous selection to the Associated Press' All-American team, needs eight points to break Kara Wolters' single-season program scoring record. Wolters, who is the women's basketball color commentator for the UConn Radio Network, and is sitting about four seats away from me on press row joked that people should remember that Moore had the advantage of the 3-point shot. When I asked her how may 3-pointers she might have had during her UConn days, the 6-foot-7 Wolters laughed and said "good point."

Renee Montgomery will play in her 148th career game one shy of Ashley Battle's UConn record.

There are no surprises in the starting lineups. UConn will go with Moore, Montgomery, Tina Charles, Tifany Hayes and Kalana Greene. Arizona State's starting five is Kayli Murphy, Sybil Dosty, Kate Engelbrecht, Danielle Orsillo and Briann January.

Arizona State has already set program single-season records with 173 3-pointers and 133 blocks.

The officials are Lisa Mattingly, Clarke Stevens and Beverly Roberts with Norma Jones the standby official.

At the regional semifinals, Yale women's basketball coach Chris Gobrecht was in the stands and former Guilford High and University of New Haven softball pitcher Jo-Lynn Cimino was also among those in attendance at the Sovereign Bank Arena. If Gobrecht is here today, she has a different seat.

Moore, Montgomery first teamers

For the fourth time in UConn's history, two players have been named to the Associated Press All-American first team.

Senior guard Renee Montgomery and sophomore forward Maya Moore joins Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, the first player to be a four-time first team selection, Louisville's Angel McCoughtry and Maryland's Kristi Toliver as first teamers. Moore was the only unanimous selection.

UConn's Tina Charles was named to the second team along with Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Marissa Coleman of Maryland, Auburn's DeWanna Bonner and Stanford's Jayne Appel.

The last time two Huskies were named to the AP's first team came in 1999-2000 when Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph were selected. UConn also had multiple first team selections in 1996-97 (Nykesha Sales and Kara Wolters) and in 1995-96 (Jen Rizzotti, Wolters).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Packard top rookie coach

Ball State coach Kelly Packard was named the winner of the Maggie Dixon Award, beating out a field including Temple's Tonya Cardoza - a former UConn assistant - for the honor of being the best first-year coach. Packard will be honored during the Final Four.

Couple more records for Hayes

I was so busy looking up where Tiffany Hayes' scintillating performance in Sunday's win over Cal ranked in the UConn record book, I neglected to notice that she set Sovereign Bank Arena women's basketball records for points (Becky Hower of Rider had 27 against Mount St. Mary's on Dec. 18, 2002) and field-goal percentage as Hayes' 9 for 10 effort topped Georgia's Sherill Baker who was 12 of 16 against Hartford on Mar. 21, 2006. Hayes went 5 of 6 from 3-point range to match the arena record set by Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter on Mar. 21, 2006 against Texas Christian. It should be noted that Hayes scored 28 points on 10 shots while Hower needed an arena record 26 field goal attempts to reach her point total.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hayes to the rescue

This just in, Tiffany Hayes can play a little bit.

Hayes dropped 28 on a Cal team more focused on stopping the prolific scoring trio of Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles.

After missing her first shot, Hayes hit her final nine including five 3-pointers and had a couple scintillating coast to coast layups, had five rebounds, two steals, seven assists and ZERO turnovers. Of all the freshmen coming into the UConn program, none ever scored more points in a game than the 28 Hayes had. Maya Moore had the previous record of 25 set in the same round in the 2008 tournament.

Hayes has a style about her which is fun to watch. She has a little bit of Nykesha Sales in the flawlessness she plays with minus the scowl. Sure she can shoot but more than anything she can play. She can defend, rebound, set up her teammates, set screens, pretty much has the whole package. More than anything her style is steady as she goes. She never seems to get too high or too low. She said she was nervous before the game but you would never know it by the way she played.

"She is unique, she can do a lot of things," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's got that Florida 'hey what's the big deal. I'm good.' I said to her a few times on the bench 'do you need a breather?' She said 'no, I don't need a breather.' She looks like she is half asleep (on the bench) and then she goes by people. She just has this makeup which allows her to stay calm throughout the game. Freshmen have a tendency to get speeded up and she never gets ahead of herself."

If Hayes thrived in the starring role, the nominee for best performance in a supporting role is Kaili McLaren. With Tina Charles sitting for the final 14 minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls, McLaren was rock solid. Her only two points came with California holding an eight-point lead - the largest deficit the Huskies have faced this season. She had nine rebounds as well but her impact can not be measured by any statistics. The bottom line is when her team needed her the most, she delivered.

Up next is an Arizona State team people were writing off after losing leading scorer Dymond Simon (is that a great name or what?) with a season-ending knee injury. But the Sun Devils took out third-seeded Florida State and second-seeded Texas A&M to set up a 7 p.m. Tuesday showdown with UConn with a Final Four berth on the line.

After the game I caught up with ASU senior center Sybil Dosty, who played her first two seasons at Tennessee and is 2-0 against the Huskies. There will be some stuff from her regarding the exhiliration of playing in a UConn/Tennessee game.

She also addressed the Sun Devils' road to the Elite Eight.

"I think by pulling together, trusting each other and having confidence in each other and having confidence in ourselves," Dosty said. "We did have a slip up at the Pac-10 tournament against USC. But we came back, went back to practice, worked hard and never looked back."

Here's some other stuff from her which I didn't have space to get into my notebook running in Monday's edition of the Register.

We are going to have to try our best to take them out of the flow. We are going to have to play great defense and have a lot of flow on offense.

I was surprised. I watched the whole game and even when they were down, I thought they were going to come back. I knew they were going to pull it out and when they didn't I was very surprised. I felt sad for them because I know how hard they work down there. At the same time it is Tennessee, they are going to go back, work hard and come back ready next year.


Just doing a little deeper examination of the respective "Big Three's" for UConn and Cal.

Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles and Maya Moore have 4836 points, 1808 rebounds, 962 assists, 465 steals and 342 blocks in 328 career games. Ashley Walker, Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson have 5,032 points, 2,377 rebounds, 715 assists, 426 steals and 259 blocks in 350 career games.

The officials will be Scott Yarbrough, who has a past history with UConn coach Geno Auriemma, Susan Blauch and Karen Pence with Norma Jones the standby official.

UConn keeps its normal starting five of Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Kalana Greene while Cal counters with Ashley Walker, Devanei Hampton, Natasha Vital, Lauren Greif and Alexis Gray-Lawson.

I was out on court when the Huskies first came out and they were as relaxed as could be. Montgomery saw Gray-Lawson, who she played against during their AAU careers, and they exchanged a hug and spoke for a few minutes. Lorin Dixon then came over so she and Gray-Lawson could bit back to back and they did some sort of ritual extending their arms. Other than proving that Gray-Lawson has longer arms, not sure what the meaning of all that was but it certainly was entertaining.

The most compelling image from UConn's open practice on Saturday was Kalana Greene hit baseline jumpers from a foot or two inside the 3-point line with alarming regularity. If she does the same thing today, that does not bode well for Cal's hopes for an upset.

Just checking in

Tip-off is just over two hours away and all is quiet - relatively speaking - inside Sovereign Bank Arena.

Not much exciting came out of the four press conferences other than the request that the media not address the players as "girls." Apparently "ladies" is the preferred term. I guess I'm old fashioned, but I tend to address the players by their first names.

I found it curious that when I asked for a number of WNBA teams sending representatives to the games, I was told that "I'm not sure the NCAA allows us to release that information." I figured with UConn's Renee Montgomery, Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton of California, Briann January of Arizona State and the Texas A&M duo of Danielle Gant and Takia Starks all possibly to be off the WNBA draft board by the midway point of the second round, I assumed their would be a decent amount of WNBA coaches and/or GMs in the house.

I spoke to UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph on Saturday about her impending induction in the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I'm thankful for it," Ralph said. "It is never something I ever looked for but it is nice to have people think that highly of you. I am always grateful and thankful but that is part of my life that is in my past. I try not to make too big of a deal out of it. I am trying to go on and make my name as a coach now."

For those into such things, look for a video of Kalana Greene coming up shortly at the site.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On the defensive

Having arrived safely in Trenton (no easy feat when you combine construction-related delays approaching the George Washington Bridge and impatient New York drivers) and not much to report.

One issue which has been addressed before my me and others who cover the top-ranked Huskies but bears revisiting is the Huskies' ability to lock down other team's top scorers.

I've broken it down periodically but with the recent release of the 40 finalists for the State Farm All-American team, I thought I would take it a step further. UConn has faced 11 of the 40 candidates, holding them to 15.6 points and 39 percent shooting from the field. Doesn't sound that impressive? OK, how the fact that only Rutgers' Kia Vaughn (who did it twice) and DePaul's Natasha Williams made more field goals than they missed against UConn's defense.

Here's the breakdown

Sha Brooks, Florida 3-10 shooting 8 points
Allison Hightower, LSU 4-15 14 points
Angel McCoughtry, Louisville 11-35 33 points in two games
Rashanda McCants, North Carolina 5-15 13 points
Jene Morris, San Diego State 7-19 17 points
Deirdre Naughton, DePaul 7-21 21 points
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma 6-16 14 points
Epiphanny Prince, Rutgers 12-35 30 points in two games
Kia Vaughn, Rutgers 14-20, 32 points in two games
Natasha Williams, DePaul 9-13 21 points
Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh 6-16 16 points.

What does this mean? Well, the Huskies' high-flying offensive may bring in the fans, it is the defense which holds the key to UConn's national championship hopes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Air time for Sun

The Connecticut Sun will have seven games televised on MyTV9

Here are the games being televised
Sun June 7 @ New York 4 PM
Sun June 21 vs. San Antonio 3 PM
Sat July 11 vs. Detroit 7 PM
Sat Aug 1 @ Chicago 7 PM
Thurs Aug 13 vs. Seattle 7 PM
Sat Aug 29 @ Phoenix 10 PM
Sun Sept 13 vs. Indiana 3 PM

UConn trio finalists again

The WBCA just sent out a release with the 40 candidates for the State Farm All-American team (which happens to be the criteria to maake it up into the Huskies of Honor). It should come as no surprise that UConn's Big Three of Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles all made the cut.

Here's the list of finalists

Jayne Appel Stanford Jr. C 6’4
Chante Black Duke Sr. C 6’5
Whitney Boddie Auburn Sr. G 5’9
DeWanna Bonner Auburn Sr. G 6’4
Sha Brooks Florida Sr. G 5’8
Tina Charles Connecticut Jr. C 6’4
Kristi Cirone Illinois State Sr. G 5’8
Alysha Clark Middle Tennessee St. Jr. F 5’10
Marissa Coleman Maryland Sr. G/F 6’1
Siarre Evans East Tennessee State Jr. G 5’11
Danielle Gant Texas A&M Sr. G/F 5’11
Allison Hightower Louisiana State Jr. G 5’11
Ashley Houts Georgia Jr. G 5’6
Briann January Arizona State Sr. G 5’8
Jantel Lavender Ohio State So. C 6’4
Shalee Lehning Kansas State Sr. G 5’9
Lyndra Littles Virginia Sr. G/F 6’1
Rashanda McCants North Carolina Sr. G/F 6’1
Angel McCoughtry Louisville Sr. F 6’1
Danielle McCray Kansas Jr. G 5’11
Renee Montgomery Connecticut Sr. G 5’7
Maya Moore Connecticut So. F 6’0
Jené Morris San Diego State Jr. G 5’9
Deirdre Naughton DePaul Jr. G 5’10
Courtney Paris Oklahoma Sr. C 6’4
Ta’Shia Phillips Xavier So. C 6’6
Rachel Porath Wisconsin-Green Bay Sr. G 5’10
Epiphanny Prince Rutgers Jr. G 5’9
Takia Starks Texas A&M Sr. G 5’8
Kristi Toliver Maryland Sr. G 5’7
Courtney Vandersloot Gonzaga So. G 5’8
Kia Vaughn Rutgers Sr. C 6’4
Ashley Walker California Sr. F 6’0
Morgan Warburton Utah Sr. G 5’11
Natasha Williams DePaul Sr. F 6’3
Danielle Wilson Baylor Jr. C 6’3
Christina Wirth Vanderbilt Sr. F 6’1
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton Purdue Sr. F 6’2
Monica Wright Virginia Jr. G 5’11
Shavonte Zellous Pittsburgh Sr. G 5’11

The State Farm Coaches’ All-America team will be announced on Apr. 4 in St. Louis.

A no go for Jackson

Lauren Jackson will be coming to the Mohegan Sun Arena - as an opposing player.

The former WNBA MVP, who is currently a free agent who was pursued diligently by the Connecticut Sun, said she will play for either Phoenix or remain with Seattle.

The Phoenix Mercury are set to play at Connecticut on July 28 and Seattle will visit the Moehgan Sun Arena on Aug. 13.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Living a dream

Well to say that UConn's recruiting class is coming together nicely would be an understatement of immense proportions.

In my dealings with Montini Catholic coach Jason Nichols since his star player Michala Johnson returned from her visit to UConn, it was pretty much a case of when and not if Johnson would commit to UConn. It came a little earlier than expected as Johnson decided not to take visits to Vanderbilt or Georgia as she had originally planned to do. When Johnson informed Nichols she planned to commit to UConn on Monday, nobody was more surprised than Nichols. He asked her to think it over for a couple of days and when her intentions didn't waver, he told her to make the call to UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Nichols, Johnson is a high-energy, low-maintainence forward whose best finishing manuever is a spin move on the baseline. She is still recovering from surgery to repair the torn ACL in her left knee but believes she will be able to start running by May. Speed is the name of Johnson's game as she can fill the lane on the fast break with alarming regularity and also brings it on the defensive end.

The funniest part of the conversations I had with Nichols and Johnson centered around the recurring dream Johnson had about being a Husky. I don't want to steal my own thunder so you'll have to read the story in tomorrow's edition of the Register but it's pretty funny stuff and gives a peek into the engaging personality the newest UConn commit possesses.

It's funny that it didn't seem too long ago that there were concerns about UConn not being able to recruit size. Now all of a sudden UConn's 2010-11 roster will feature 6-3 Heather Buck, 6-5 Jessica McCormack, 6-5 Stephanie Dolson, 6-3 Michala Johnson and 6-1 Samarie Walker. It would seem as if UConn would be done recruiting in the frontcourt but it is possible UConn could take a flyer on a project type player like Orsi Szecsi, a 6-foot-3 forward from Hungary who plays at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. Add in guards like Caroline Doty, Tiffany Hayes and Kelly Faris all checking in around the 5-10/5-11 range and size is certainly not going to be an issue for the foreseeable future.

The focus is now on backcourt players for the UConn staff as well as eyeing prospects in the current sophomore class. I spoke with Dennis Hartley, the father of North Babylon junior guard Bria Hartley shortly after I got off the phone with Michala and he said they would like to visit when North Babylon is on break. That is from Apr. 6-10. Obviously the UConn players and coaches are hoping not to be in Connecticut on April 6 and 7 since the national championship game is on the 7th in St. Louis. There is a good chance they would make the trip to Connecticut once UConn returns to the Final Four (if the Huskies emerge out of the Trenton, N.J. Regional.

As for Lauren Engeln, the Laguna Hills junior guard who received a scholarship offer before returning home after her unofficial visit last month, her AAU coach said not to expect any sort of decision until the viewing period in April - at the earliest.

If UConn lands Hartley and Engeln, which is a very real possibility, to go with Walker, Dolson and Johnson it could be a remarkable class and a classic UConn group with five players with distinct strengths. It is a very important class since they will be among the players asked to prove there is like after Maya Moore since the two-time Big East Player of the Year will be a senior when this current group of recruits will be freshmen.

Johnson commits

Michala Johnson, a 6-foot-3 forward from Montini Catholic High in Lombard, Ill., became the third high school junior to commit to UConn.

I just got off the phone with Montini Catholic coach Jason Nichols who confirmed that Johnson called UConn coach Geno Auriemma during a lunch break and during about a 20-minute conversation, told Auriemma she was committing to UConn.

The original plan was for Johnson to take at least one more campus visit but first thing Monday morning she sought out Nichols to tell him she had made up her mind.

"It was 7:30 in the morning and she said 'I made up my mind, I'm going to UConn,'" Nichols said with a laugh. "I said 'what? I thought you were going to wait?' She said 'I thought it over and I know that's the right place for me.' She said 'I even had dreams about it.' I asked her 'are you feeling OK?' She said 'I'm serious, I had three dreams about it. She said 'I never had a doubt in my mind about UConn, some of the other places I went I had some questions but I didn't have any doubts about UConn.' I told her to chill on it for a couple of days and today she made the call. She called Geno and they had a pretty good conversation."

Headed to the Hall

Former UConn stars Shea Ralph and Meghan Pattyson Culmo are among seven honorees who will be inducted into the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on April 22 at the Cascade Banquet Facility on 480 Sherman Avenue in Hamden.

Former Shelton High coach Howie Gura, ex-Masuk star Robin Massari, former Norwich Free Academy star Krista Rappahahn (who played collegiately at Stanford), referee Robert Meyers and ex-Bristol Eastern standout Tami Chapman will make up the list of inductees.

Ticket information may be obtained from Executive Director Ann V. Fariss at [203] 378-6581.

Speaking of honors, congratulations to Cal coach Joanne Boyle (who will match wits with UConn's Geno Auriemma in the regional semifinal Sunday in Trenton, N.J.) for being named to the USA Basketball's 2009-2012 Women's Junior National Team Committee which will select coaches and athletes for USA Basketball college-aged competitions including the 2009 and 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships, the 2010 and 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championships, the 2009 and 2011 World University Games and the 2011 Pan American Games. Jamie Carey of the Connecticut Sun was named as the athlete representative for the USA Basketball Women's Development National Team Committee.

Faris is runner-up

UConn signee Kelly Faris, who was a perfect 4-for-4 when it came to leading her Heritage Christian team to Indiana 2A championships, finally tasted defeat. Faris finished a distant second to Notre Dame recruit Skylar Diggins in the voting for the Indiana Miss Basketball Award.

Diggins received 175 of the 288 votes, Faris was second with 54 followed by the Penn State bound Alex Bentley.

Here's some info on the Trenton Regional.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting or by calling Comcasttix at 800-298-4200. The Sovereign Bank Arena box office will be open weekdays from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The drill is the same as in Storrs as Saturday's practices are open to the public.

Here is the practice schedule
California noon-1 p.m.
UConn 1:05-2:05 p.m.
Arizona State 2:10-3:10 p.m.
Texas A&M 3:15-4:15 p.m.

One aspect of last night's game that pretty much slipped under the radar is that UConn will (gasp) actually have to play six games outside the state of Connecticut if the Huskies are to win the 2010 NCAA championship.

Since UConn made its NCAA tournament debut in 1989, the Huskies have played at least one tournament game in the Nutmeg State. Originally the streak was supposed to end this year but when the decision was made to revert back to the 16 subregionals and end the unsuccessful system of playing the first two rounds at eight predetermined sites, Gampel Pavilion was one of the eight sites added to the previously announced eight hosts sites.

Since tournament rules prohibit conference opponents from meeting in the first or second round, it is safe to assume that UConn won't be sent to Louisville, Notre Dame or Pittsburgh for the 2010 subregionals. I think you can cross off the subregional in Knoxville, Tennessee off the list as well leaving Albuquerque (New Mexico), Ames (Iowa), Austin (Texas), Berkeley (California), Cincinnati (Ohio), Durham (North Carolina), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Norfolk (Virginia), Norman (Oklahoma), Seattle (Washington), Tallahassee (Florida) and Temple (Arizona) as potential locales for UConn's first and second-round games. I would say that Norfolk and Minneapolis would be the early leaders in the clubhouse and don't be stunned if UConn ends up having to play a No. 8 or 9 seed on their home court just like Duke had to. Of course, UConn hopes to have a little more success than the Blue Devils who lost at Michigan State to end a run of 11 straight trip to the regionals for the Duke program.

The 2010 regionals are in Dayton (Ohio), Kansas City (Missouri), Memphis (Tennessee) and Sacramento (California) and the Final Four is in San Antonio, Texas.

Finally, there is an update on former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova on the FIBA Europe web site although it does not address her intentions regarding the WNBA.

Huskies/Bears up first

The UConn/California regional semifinal will tip around noon on Sunday (should know the exact time on Saturday) followed by the Texas A&M/Arizona State game at around 2:30 p.m. ESPN will televise the first game while ESPN2 will have the second game. Pam Ward, Debbie Antonelli and Rebecca Lobo will call all three of the games in Trenton for ESPN.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Next stop: Trenton

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma took some of the play for the ragged start to Tuesday night's second-round game by getting his team a little too fired up to play against Florida. But once the Huskies settled down, Florida never stood a chance as the Huskies won 87-59 to set up a Sunday showdown with California in Trenton, N.J.

A few thoughts from the game.

UConn's offensive rebounding in the effort in the first half was the best performance Auriemma said he has seen one of his teams have. UConn missed 22 shots and had 16 offensive rebounds. It is a ratio that absolutely boggles the mind.

Renee Montgomery took over, scoring nine straight points during a 13-0 run after Florida pulled within six points.

Tina Charles had her second straight monster game which can't be good news for any teams thinking of sidetracking UConn's national championship hopes.

Tiffany Hayes' right knee is just fine although the freshman was understandably shaken when she was injured midway through the first half.

"I guess I was just scared," Hayes said. "I just needed a little ice, that is all. I try not to think the worst. I was thinking 'oh my God, that is a lot of pain, I don't want the same thing to happen to me (as happened to fellow freshman guard Caroline Doty). I just wanted to reassure myself that I could still run on it and I was happy I could still and maneuver on it."


Heading out onto the court, I was treated to the UConn band's rendition of "Rocky" and the vision of Tahirah Williams beating her teammates to the court of the court. With their index fingers extended in the air, they followed with an impromptu dance. Yes, the nation's No. 1 team certainly looks nervous.

UConn is going with the starting lineup of Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene, Tina Charles and Maya Moore for the 12th time in the last 13 games (the lone exception coming when Williams and Cassie Kerns started in place of Hayes and Moore on the Feb. 28 "Senior Night" game against Seton Hall).

Florida counters with Sha Brooks, Steffi Sorensen, Trumae Lucas, Sharielle Smith and Marshae Dotson.

The officials are Denise Brooks, Kathleen Lynch and Luis Gonzalez with Kathy Lonergan set to sit at the scorer's table as the alternate.

Montgomery will set a UConn record following the opening tip when she breaks Jen Rizzotti's program record by making her 136th straight start. She needs 21 minutes to break Ann Strother's mark for career minutes played.

Game is set to tip off at 7:11.

"Big Three" make the cut

UConn's Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore were among the 12 finalists for the prestigious Wade Trophy. UConn was the only team with three candidates while Maryland (Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman) was the only other program with more than one player making the list.

The winner will be announced at the Final Four.

Here's the release from the WBCA

ATLANTA – The State Farm Wade Trophy Committee along with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) announced the 12 finalists in contention for The State Farm Wade Trophy.

“I look forward to announcing the 12 finalists for the State Farm Wade Trophy each year as it honors the best-of-the best, and this year is no exception,” said WBCA CEO Beth Bass. “This group of young women has a unique blend of talent on the court and despite their limited time, they also serve as positive role models to those in their communities. We want to applaud them for all they do.”

The candidates were selected by a vote of committee members comprised of leading basketball coaches, journalists and basketball administrators. Members of the committee will select the winner of The State Farm Wade Trophy from the 10-member Division I State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team and will be announced at the State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team Press Conference and The State Farm Wade Trophy Announcement during the WBCA National Convention on Saturday, April 4, 2009, at 9:45 a.m. CT.

“State Farm is extremely proud to recognize and congratulate these 12 outstanding athletes as finalists for the 2009 State Farm Wade Trophy”, said Pam El, Marketing Vice President for State Farm. “Their dedication and commitment epitomize the true meaning of student-athlete and they are all very deserving of this great honor”.

The State Farm Wade Trophy Finalists:
Player Name
Institution Year Position

Jayne Appel Stanford Univ. Jr. C
DeWanna Bonner Auburn Univ. Sr. G
Tina Charles Connecticut Jr. C
Marissa Coleman Maryland Sr. G/F
Jantel Lavender Ohio State Soph. C
Angel McCoughtry Louisville Sr. F
Renee Montgomery Connecticut Sr. G
Maya Moore Connecticut Soph. F
Courtney Paris Oklahoma Sr. C
Kristi Toliver Maryland Sr. G
Ashley Walker California Sr. F
Monica Wright Virginia Jr. G

The State Farm Wade Trophy, now in its 32nd year, is named after the late, legendary three-time national champion Delta State University coach, Lily Margaret Wade. This most prestigious award, regarded as “The Heisman of Women’s Basketball”, debuted in 1978 as the first-ever women's national player of the year award in college basketball.

Last year’s State Farm Wade Trophy winner was Stanford’s Candace Wiggins. The first recipient of the Wade Trophy was Carol Blazejowski of Montclair State in 1978. Other Wade Trophy/NCAA Division I Player of the Year recipients include many WNBA standouts such as Teresa Weatherspoon (1988), DeLisha Milton-Jones (1997), Candace Parker (2007), Ticha Penicheiro (1998), Sue Bird (2002) and Diana Taurasi (2003). Seimone Augustus (2005 and 2006) and Nancy Lieberman (1979 and 1980) are the award’s only two-time recipients.

The Wade Trophy Coalition was established in June of 2000 when the WBCA partnered with The National Association of Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS). For the past six years the two have worked together to present The State Farm Wade Trophy Player of the Year Award. A committee comprised of coaches, administrators and media from across the United States selects the winner.

The State Farm Wade Trophy winner will be formally presented her award at the WBCA Awards Luncheon presented by State Farm and Jostens on Tuesday, April 7, at Noon CT in the Hyatt Regency St. Louis Riverfront. The State Farm Wade Trophy Player of the Year presentation is part of the WBCA National Convention, held in conjunction with the NCAA® Women's Final Four® in St Louis, Mo.

A Pac (10) mentality

The field for the Trenton Regional is halfway set.

Arizona State, written off by some as a long shot to emerge out of the first two rounds after a season-ending injury suffered by its leading scorer Dymond Symon, punched its ticket to Trenton by topping third-seeded Florida State 63-58.

Briann January, who doesn't get as much ink as some of the nation's other top point guards, is still a dynamic player who could very well be earning a WNBA paycheck in a few months. For those people who were clamoring for a UConn/Tennessee meeting in Trenton, that won't be happening but if UConn gets by Florida tonight, they can take solace in the fact that Arizona State's Sybil Dosty - the Pac-10 Conference's Scholar-Athlete of the Year - began her college career playing for the Lady Volunteers. Dosty, a 6-foot-3 senior center, played for Tennessee in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and led the team in field-goal percentage both times.

Cal guaranteed that the Trenton field will have a decidedly Pac-10 flavor with an emphatic 99-73 humbling of Virginia Monday night. Cal's Big Three of Ashley Walker, Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson led the way, combining for 76 points. Point guard Lauren Greif chipped in with 10 points and nine assists as Cal advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time.

When the brackets came out, I said I believed Cal posed more potential matchup problems than any other team because of its inside tandem of Walker and Hampton as well as the guard play of Gray-Lawson. The trio has played a lot of basketball and I think the Pac-10 - or at least its premier teams - showed how good they are by going 3 for 3 in second-round games on Monday.

The final two spots in the Trenton regional semifinals will be determined tonight when UConn plays Florida and Texas A&M meets Minnesota.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Busy day at the old ballpark

Sources indicated that there was not a game at Gampel Pavilion today (it couldn't be confirmed because somebody placed some heavy-duty white paper over the windows looking into the arena.

However, there was no lack of action.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who celebrated his 55th birthday, kicked things off by waxing poetic about the changing times in the sport he has devoted his life to.

On the same day he was named the WBCA Coach of the Year for a record fifth time, Auriemma was asked to ponder what life must be like today for his foil after Tennessee's stunning loss to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA tournament ending Pat Summitt's streak of Sweet 16 appearances at 27.

"That is a reminder to everybody that as good as this is, as much fun as this is don't think you have exclusive rights on this because other people are entitled to some of this too," Auriemma said. "She wants to kill herself. That is how any coach would feel. Harry's (Villanova coach Harry Perretta) is the one who would go out to Utah and say 'I am glad I am going home.' I talked to Doug Bruno at DePaul, they lost to san Diego State and he is distraught. Here is a guy who lost last year in the first round so you can imagine the level of frustration the further up you go and the more you as a coach count on it. I remember when we lost to Iowa State, it was like members of your family had died. You say 'something is wrong there that we lost a game we weren't supposed to lose that we don't generally lose.' That is a bad way to go through life I think. When do you enjoy the good things that happen if all you are doing is trying to avoid the bad things."

Both UConn and Florida, who will meet at 7:11 p.m. Tuesday night in the second round, are using Tennessee's loss and Baylor's narrow escape against Texas San Antonio as motivation.

The Florida players and coaches believe Ball State proved that even the most glorious programs can be knocked off their pedestal and would love to repeat the feat.

The UConn camp is determined to make sure they don't follow the lead of Tennessee and Baylor and come out firing on Tuesday. There is one little difference, Tennessee lost 10 games in the regular season while UConn has yet to lose.

There will be on this story in Tuesday's edition of the Register as well as a story on Florida's coach Amanda Butler, who played for the Gators when Florida lost to UConn on Dec. 8, 1991 before a crowd of 2,217 at Gampel Pavilion. Playing on a team featuring future pro stars Bridget Pettis and Merlakia Jones, Butler finished with 11 points and two steals while playing at 40 minutes in a 71-48 loss. Wendy Davis was the UConn star with eight 3-pointers and 32 points.

The other story will be a look at Florida freshman Azania Stewart who just 29 weeks ago had one of her kidneys removed but will be out there battling UConn's physical post players with a berth in the regionals on the line.

I have to say I can't remember a more enthusiastic reception from a group of players than I received when I walked into the Florida locker room to speak with Stewart. It just shows you what the unknown will do for you. If they knew me like the UConn players, they probably would have been ducking for cover.

Geno is WBCA's pick

Geno Auriemma was named the WBCA Coach of the Year, the fifth time he has earned the honor including the second in a row.

The final balloting stage for the Naismith Coach and Player of the Year began today. Auriemma is one of the four finalists while Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery are two of the four finalists for player of the year honors.

Here are some highlights of the release from the WBCA

ATLANTA – The Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) has selected Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma as the 2009 RUSSELL ATHLETIC/WBCA National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Coach of the Year. This year marks the 27th year that this accolade has been presented, which has been selected by the WBCA since 1983.

This is Auriemma’s (fifth) RUSSELL ATHLETIC/WBCA National Coach of the Year honor as he received the award in (1997, 2000) 2002 and again last season. He is the only Division I head coach that has collected the award back-to-back years.

“On behalf of the WBCA, I would like to congratulate Geno Auriemma for an outstanding job this season, and we would like to honor your efforts with this award,” said WBCA CEO Beth Bass. “He is among the elite in the coaching profession and very deserving of this award.”

Auriemma, current WBCA Vice President, recently received his eighth BIG EAST Coach of the Year honor after leading his top-ranked Huskies to a 30-0 ledger; the only undefeated team in NCAA Division I. It marked the fifth time Auriemma coached his team to an undefeated record regular season play. This season UConn captured its 17th overall regular season title and 15th overall BIG EAST Tournament crown, marking the 13th time Auriemma has led his squad to both titles in the same season.

In 24 years in Storrs, Auriemma boasts an 85 percent winning percentage, the nation’s best, with a career ledger of 691-122. The Huskies, who have claimed three of the last seven NCAA titles (a total of five in the program’s history), their last coming in 2004, are making their 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and boast a 65-15 (.813) mark all-time in NCAA play. The Huskies, who have been ranked No. 1 in both national polls the entire season, received an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, marking the second consecutive and the 15th in the program’s history.

Connecticut has advanced to the Final Four nine times in the program’s history, including six of the last nine seasons overall. The Huskies have advanced to the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the past 15 seasons. During nine of the last 15 NCAA Tournaments (since 1994), the Huskies have either won the national championship or have lost to the eventual national champion.

Chomp, chomp

So is it just a coincidence that the first story I saw when I turned on Channel 30's 11 a.m. news is about an alligator roaming in South Windsor? The day before the Florida Gators play UConn in the second round of the NCAA tournament? I thought not.

Nobody will blame Kalana Greene if she starts donning a hockey mask armed with a shield. Not only is she still sporting a shiner under one of her eyes, she also received a bloody bottom lip courtesy of a wayward Maya Moore elbow in Sunday's win over Vermont.

Greene laughed as she made eye contact with Moore when addressing the subject following the game.

"Somebody pushed Maya into me and I split my lip," Greene said. "It happens."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gators up next

Florida just finished off Temple 70-57 spoiling the storyline of former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza playing against UConn in the second round.

Florida is a much better team than your typical No. 8 seed so the Tuesday night game could be a good one. Sha Brooks led four Gators in double figures with 18 points.

As for the Huskies, UConn shot the lights out - especially in the first half.

After missing the first two shots of the game, UConn hit the next seven and nine out of 10 to run by the outmanned Vermont team.

Tina Charles was the star, hitting 13 of 14 shots from the floor. She had 32 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. It was the best shooting effort for a UConn player in the NCAA tournament (among players with at least 10 field goals made) besting the 10 of 11 performance of Kara Wolters against Auburn in the 1994 tournament.

"Before the game Coach (Geno Auriemma) was harping on specifically that you go, perform really well and have great intensity. I went back to the Madison Square Garden game (against Penn State) and I wanted to prove I can be a part of the reason why we win games. Coach was talking about that I didn't have a good tournament and wanted this to be the one."

Charles' only miscue was a short jumper in the lane with 2:59 left in the first half. If she had made that shot, she would have set a single-game tournament record for shooting accuracy.

"It was kind of annoying," Charles said of the miss. "But Coach said I have to dominate inside and it is something I have to start doing."

Off the subject, I am beginning to believe that there has to be a common sense test to work the security detail at the Storrs subregional and if you test higher than a second grader you are prohibiting from donning a yellow jacket and going on a power trip. The latest bit of genius came when Maya Moore was leading her mom into the UConn locker room and one member of the security detail actually attempted to stop her from entering the locker room. Fortunately, neither mother or daughter heard the inquiry and the locker room door closed before the security detail had yet another moment that makes you want to ask them "what is wrong with you?" If Maya Moore wants to bring her mom into the locker room for goodness sake, what NCAA policy could that possibly be breaking. I doubt they read this blog but with two days left in the subregional, I implore the Yellow Coats to get over yourself.

Light's out

The best news for Vermont is UConn can't run its offense during the halftime break.

The Huskies came out sizzling, hitting 9 of its first 12 and never cooled off. UConn's 74.2 field-goal percentage is the highest total of any half for the Huskies this season. UConn finished 23 for 31 from floor en route to a 56-22 halftime lead. It was the best the Huskies have shot in any half this season, topping the .714 mark in the first half against Holy Cross on Dec. 3.


Getting a little early jump on this since Bob Joyce of the UConn Radio Network asked me to go on the air with him during the pre-game.

Although the game was advertised as a noon game, it will actually tip at 12:21 p.m. since it will be the last of the four noon games to tip.

I have been told that if you watch the game on ESPN2 in Connecticut, you will get the entire game with no cutaways. If was watch it on ESPN2 HD, you are taking your chances.

Vermont certainly looks loose although can't say I'm a big fan of the practice of their mile-high bounce passes to each other. As one ball came flying by, I had flashbacks of wayward tosses during infield practices at some of the little league games I have covered in my career.

The starting lineups have just been posted it is Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene, Tina Charles and Maya Moore for UConn, Vermont counters with May Kotsopoulos, Amy Rosenkrantz, Sy Janousek, Courtnay Pilypaitis and Alissa Sheftic (sounds more like one of the those European soccer lineups, who'd you like to have to spell those names all year round).

The officials are Kathleen Lynch, Kathy Lonergan and Kenneth Kelly. Kenneth Weiland is the standby official.

Former Vermont coach Cathy Inglese, a Wallingford native, said yesterday that she is planning to take in the games today. Nothing resembling any potential recruits sitting behind the UConn bench.

I find it ironic that not only did the Vermont women's basketball team have to go to Storrs to play UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament but the men's hockey team drew Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bridgeport.

At least I will have better UVM memories than my previous assignment as the Yale football beat writer. One of the years I had to make the trip to Vermont (when the Catamounts played in the ECAC) an ice storm shut down the state of Vermont and pushed the game back a day. I knew it was bad when the Weather Channel was doing a live remote from the snow and ice covered lawn of my hotel.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A couple more things

Just a couple items to add to my previous blog about Saturday's festivities at Gampel Pavilion.

Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said a regular-season game against UConn may happen but there are no openings in next year's schedule. It could happen the following year but there's still plenty of work that needs to be done with the two school's athletic directors before a Temple/UConn game lands on the schedule.

Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore joined Louisville's Angel McCoughtry and Courtney Paris of Oklahoma as finalists for the Naismith Trophy. No real surprises there.

Day one in the books

The media contigent at this house consists of myself and Rich Elliott of the Connecticut Post but not to worry, we both should be exiting Gampel Pavilion shortly.

Most ironic moment of the first day was the Renee Montgomery, the first active player to have her number displayed as part of the "Huskies of Honor" program does not have the pull to watch her former position coach Tonya Cardoza in action.

Montgomery hung around Gampel well after her teammates had left so she could meet up wth Cardoza, who spent 14 years as a UConn assistant before taking the head job at Temple. Montgomery was informed by two members of the typically over the top yellow-coated security detail that she was not allowed to watch the practice. Montgomery emerged from the locker room as Temple's practice ended and greeted Cardoza with a huge hug. The former pupil and student could be heard cackling in the UConn locker room as they caught up on old times.

It was also a homecoming for former UConn forward/center Brittany Hunter, who was hired by Cardoza at Temple although it didn't sound of if Hunter's coaching tenure will be a long one.

"I don't want to coach," Hunter said. "I've done it and it is cool and I see why some people would like to coach but it is not for me. It's OK. I love the girls, it is fun."

Hunter was planning to enroll in graduate school at UConn in her quest to become a sports agent when former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza offered her a spot on her staff when Cardoza was hired as Temple's new coach.

"Everyone was shocked when she (Cardoza) asked me and everyone was really shocked when I said yes," Hunter said. "I was shocked too. Why not? An experience comes like that, you don't ever want to look back. I could have always come back from it. I can always go back to grad school, go back to doing what I wanted to do but I don't ever want to go through life with this opportunity presented itself and I didn't really take advantage of it."

Hunter admitted she was oblivious about her returning to Storrs when Temple drew Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the subregional in Storrs.

"I'm slow. I am 'yes, we are in the tournament,'" Hunter said. "Maybe 20 minutes later somebody asked me 'are you excited to be going back to UConn?' I said 'why are we going to UConn?' I said every time we would go to the tournament at UConn (during her college career), we wanted to leave so bad. We wanted to go to Florida, we want to Texas. We go to Bridgeport and we would go 'why do we keep going places in Connecticut?' It takes three hours to drive in Connecticut and what are the odds that we end up back in Connecticut. No sooner than I leave, I go to Temple and the NCAA tournament and I end up back in Connecticut."

Staying on the reunion topic, another the 20-30 people in the seats when Temple came out for the practice was former Vermont and Boston College coach Cathy Inglese, a Wallingford native.

Inglese resigned as the BC head coach on Apr. 10, 2008 and has spent the season networking as she hopes to get another head coaching job.

Inglese coached at Vermont for seven seasons, leading the Catamounts to back-to-back undefeated seasons and appearances in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA tournament. She still has fond memories of her time at UVM.

"Vermont is such a special place," Inglese said. "They love women's basketball and it is nice to see to them (in the tournament). They had to beat Hartford in Hartford and beat BU (in the America East tournament). They were on the road in a bus when I called and you could just hear the excitement with her (Vermont coach Sharon Dawley) and the kids.

"I think it is great for the community. I know they are probably going to have a lot of fans. That's one of the advantages of being in the region, they get a lot of fans who can get in a bus and come down and watch them in this great atmosphere."

There will be more on Inglese's thoughts and her hopes of securing another head coaching job in Sunday's edition of the Register.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gotta love grandmas

Upon returning from Cincinnati and waiting for the plane to take off on January 25, it just so happened that Mel Thomas' grandmother was sitting behind me and she gave me the head's up on her granddaughter's future plans including an invitation to the Seattle Storm training camp.

There were a couple of newspapers reports disputing the accuracy of the information but upon hearing the news today that Mel did indeed get offered a training camp by Seattle, all I can say is never question the information of grandmas.

Reunion on hold

While the return of former UConn assistant coach Tonya Cardoza to Gampel Pavilion for the NCAA subregional has made headlines, there was another potential reunion which could have taken place if the NCAA selection committee seeded teams by records and RPIs rather than taking geography and travel costs into consideration.

Evansville is the only team in the tournament with a losing record and only Austin Peay has a lower RPI yet Evansville received the 15th seed in the Trenton bracket while Vermont was seeded 16th and earn the enviable task of playing at top-ranked, top-seeded and undefeated UConn in the first round.

Perhaps nobody was more disappointed that Evansville wasn't given the invite to Storrs more than UConn sophomore forward Maya Moore who was a high school teammate of Evansville senior guard and Missouri Valley Conference tournament MVP Ashley Austin at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Ga.

"I really hadn’t hooked up with her this year but I am happy to see them in the tournament," Moore said. I cheered when I saw them on TV. I haven’t had a chance to see my old teammates because I have gone so far away from Georgia."

Moore did find it ironic that two kids from Georgia would be going to the NCAA tournament with schools based in Connecticut and Indiana.

"It is great, it is a small world," Moore said.

Actually, Florida has a former Collins Hill star as well in Jordan Jones but if Jones plans on coming to Gampel Pavilion to watch the Gators play Temple on Sunday, she will have to pay her own way since the NCAA does not allow for schools to provide transportation to road games for transfer students. Jones played at South Carolina as a freshman before transferring to Florida.

There's no lack of UConn coverage in the Register this morning including an advance to the men's NCAA opener, a column on the men's team needing to regain its swagger as well as stories on Hasheem Thabeet and A.J. Price. On the women's side, there is a feature on the on-court bond between Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery and a report on Geno Auriemma being named a finalist for the Naismith Women's Coach of the Year award. The Maya/Renee story is not online yet but is expected to be put up this afternoon. A version of the story is available via the Bristol Press website. There is also a UConn trivia quiz in the paper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A memorable journey

As Michala Johnson prepared to step foot inside Gampel Pavilion on Monday, the butterflies were working overtime in her stomach.

The 6-foot-3 junior forward from Montini Catholic High in Lombard, Ill. had seen the top-ranked and undefeated UConn women's basketball team play when the Huskies won at Marquette on February. But the prospects of meeting UConn's Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma and the rest of the Huskies left the normally even-keeled Johnson a tad bit anxious. Those apprehensive feelings did not last very long.

"I was a little nervous before I met Coach Auriemma," Johnson said. "I didn't know what to expect. But he was funny and after talking to him for a little bit, I didn't feel that way anymore."

Johnson, her mother and younger sister actually arrived in Connecticut on Saturday night but didn't make it to Storrs until Monday. On Sunday they went to New York to meet up with her uncle and spent the day with him.

When Michala and her traveling party got to on Monday, they were greeted by the coaching staff. Then she had the chance to go to a class with freshman guard Caroline Doty and also was able to see the living quarters of the UConn players.

"I really liked meeting the coaches and players," Johnson said. "They were all really nice. I was able to check out the dorms and go to a class. It was a lot of fun, I really liked it."

Johnson saw about half of UConn's practice on Monday before leaving for the airport and compared it to some of the ones she had endured at the successful Montini Catholic program. She was not able to stay long enough to hang out with the Huskies when the NCAA pairings were announced on ESPN but still came away extremely impressed with her visit.

She told her Montini Catholic coach Jason Nichols the prospect of committing to UConn on the spot did cross her mind but she wants to make sure of her decision before making a commitment.

Johnson said she still wants to visit Georgia and Vanderbilt "sometime in the summer" and she is considering visiting Duke as well and doesn't want to make a decision until she is done with her campus visits.

"I just want to make sure I make the right decision," Johnson said.

Johnson saw her junior season end when she tore the ACL in her left knee in Montini Catholic's season opener. Johnson said the rehabilitation process is going well. The hope is she can get return to the court by May although she will not be playing any AAU ball this summer. She will be ready to go for her senior season at Montini Catholic where she will be joined by her younger sister Malayna (who already stands 6-foot-4 as an eighth grader).

Just a reminder that fans are invited to watch the four teams playing in the Storrs subregional practice on Saturday.

Here's the schedule:
Connecticut: noon-1 p.m.
Vermont: 1:05-2:05 p.m.
Florida: 2:10-3:10 p.m.
Temple: 3:15-4:15 p.m.

Monday's practices will not be open to the public. Tickets for Sunday's first round games (UConn/Vermont at noon, Florida/Temple at about 2:30 p.m.) as Tuesday's second-round game at 7 p.m. can be purchased at the Online Ticket Center at or by calling 1-877-AT-UCONN.

Geno a Naismith finalist

UConn's Geno Auriemma is one of four finalists for the Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year, an award he has won five times. The other finalists are Oklahoma's Sherri Coale, Nell Fortner of Auburn and South Dakota State's Aaron Johnston.

Here is the full release I received from the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

Auriemma, Coale, Fortner and Johnston Seek Top Coaching Honor

ATLANTA (March 18, 2009) – Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, head coach of the nation's top-ranked and only undefeated team (33-0), along with Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale, Auburn’s Nell Fortner and South Dakota State’s Aaron Johnston, make up the final ballot for the 2009 Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year award, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today.

The finalists were voted on by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The board based its criteria on coaching performances this season. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP. HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.

The Naismith Award is the most prestigious national award presented annually to the women’s college basketball coach of the year. The winner will be announced in early April.

“Each of these coaches has proven that success is a result of hard work, dedication and passion for the game, and that transcends throughout their programs,” said Gary Stokan, Atlanta Tipoff Club president. “We look forward to watching them compete throughout the tournament and seeing which candidate claims the Naismith award.”

Geno Auriemma: In his 24th season at the helm, Auriemma has led the Lady Huskies to its fifth perfect regular season (30-0). He was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the eighth time while guiding UCONN to BIG EAST regular season (17th overall) and BIG EAST Tournament (15th overall) titles, the 13th time in the program's history both have occurred in the same season. Auriemma has a career mark of 690-122 at the school.

Sherri Coale: Coale leads the Sooners into the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 overall record and a Big 12 regular-season title, which helped earn the program its second-ever No. 1 seed. Named the 2009 Big 12 Women’s Coach of the Year, her fourth such honor, she has six Big 12 regular season titles, four Big 12 tournament championships, 10 straight NCAA appearances, and five Sweet 16 appearances. In 13 seasons with Oklahoma Coale is 282-131.

Nell Fortner: The SEC Women’s Coach of the Year guided Auburn to a 20-0 start before finishing 29-3 overall and 12-2 in the Southeastern Conference to win the regular-season title and cement the school’s most successful season in 20 years. The Tigers earned a No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, Fortner’s second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The former Olympic and World Championship gold medal coach has amassed a 100-56 record in her five seasons at Auburn.

Aaron Johnston: In his ninth season as head coach, Johnston led South Dakota State to its second consecutive regular season Summit League title, posting a 17-1 record in conference play. This is the Jackrabbits initial trip to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility after a five-year transition from the Division II level. South Dakota State has attained the highest-ever national ranking by a league team as the Jackrabbits currently stand 16 th in the Associated Press rankings. Johnston was named Summit League Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season, and currently posts a 224-64 record at the school.

For more information, visit .

I spoke to Montini Catholic High coach Jason Lombard about an hour ago and he said Michala Johnson, a 6-foot-3 junior forward from the Lombard, Ill. school, came back rather impressed by her unofficial visit to UConn.

Although Johnson had to leave before the UConn team was hooting and hollering during their viewing of the Selection Show on ESPN and the Johnsons got lost en route to the airport, she still "absolutely loved it" Nichols said. "She loved the campus, was really impressed with Geno and had a great time."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A different world

For 14 years, Tonya Cardoza stood out of the glare of the spotlight despite her yeoman's work developing some of the greatest guards in the history of women's college basketball.

Even when ESPN would bring a camera crew to Storrs for the unveiling of the NCAA brackets, the center of attention would be her boss (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) or star pupils (Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and most recently Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore).

Now in her first season for the NCAA tournament bound Temple, Cardoza addressed the difference of the emotions on being on a staff like UConn where the intrigue concerning the making the NCAA tournament ended around mid-December to her current situation of being the head coach of a "bubble" team.

"I was really nervous" Cardoza said on a Tuesday morning conference call with the Connecticut media as well as a couple members of the national media. "One thing Coach Auriemma always said is you don’t leave it in somebody else’s hands. If it is something people can vote on, that is the last thing you sit around and hope they vote for you and we didn’t get the job done (losing in the Atlantic-10 Conference semifinals).

"It’s been difficult since we lost to Charlotte. I have never been in that situation. All we do (at UConn) is wait to see if we are going to get (shafted) and get sent some place else but sitting around and waiting was nervewracking for me and the players. It was relief and joy, we were really excited and we are just happy we are this point."

Cardoza admitted that when she walks into Gampel Pavilion and runs into her former players, it will be an emotional scene.

"When I see Renee, I am probably going to cry. We talk a lot and I haven’t been able to get to a game this year and I promised her that I would so last night we talked. She didn’t want me to come to Storrs because she said if we got to (play) each other it is going to be so weird but it is going to be great to see those guys I am going to be really happy and I am probably going to cry when I see Renee.

"It's unbelievable to see what they have done without Elena (Delle Donne), without Caroline (Doty) and for those guys to be undefeated ... They only play about seven guys that get a lot of minutes. Just to see the teams they are playing against and the dominance, I am so proud of those guys because I know how hard it is to be in that position when you are undefeated and everybody is coming after you. To be able to do that throughout the season is one of the toughest things and it is a credit to him, his staff and the players. It is something that they all want to go undefeated and be the best, that is what I am trying to get my kids to do to strive to be the very best."

Cardoza was asked about 10-12 questions before the subject of her opponent on Sunday came up.

"Florida is coming from a great conference, they are starting off the season really hot and the last few games in that conference it is hard to sustain that," Cardoza said. "They are a very athletic team, they shoot the ball really well and they play small ball too so it is going to be a tough matchup for us."

Honors rolling in

UConn's Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore and Tina Charles were among 52 players named regional finalists for the State Farm All-American team (formerly known as the Kodak All-American team) making them candidates to be named to the 10-player All-American team.

Also, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was named the WBCA Region I Coach of the Year making him one of eight finalists for the WBCA National Coach of the Year, an award he won last year for the fourth time.

Bracketology season is over

Finally have a chance to unwind after a long evening at Gampel Pavilion and a long season pondering what the NCAA tournament brackets might look like.

On the surface, it seems as if the selection committee did a pretty solid job. There don't seem to be any shenanigans like in past years (UConn and Rutgers in the same bracket a year ago comes to mind). I never bought into the hype that UConn and Tennessee would be paired in the same region. When the rivals finally meet again, something tells me that a regional semifinal in Trenton, N.J. isn't exactly the big stage ESPN is looking for.

Rutgers being sent out of the Trenton Regional has to be the biggest surprise of the bracket. Perhaps the committee felt the backlash from the decision to put UConn and Rutgers together last year or maybe somebody came to their senses and realized that a No. 7 seed doesn't deserve to play a regional in its home state. Whatever the reasons, I applaud the move. Maybe we are reaching a time in the sport where competitive balance rather than potential drawing power is viewed as being of paramount importance.

The second biggest surprise is that Louisville wasn't a No. 2 seed. My belief was the loser of the Big 12 final would drop to a No. 3 seed but instead it was Louisville which was bumped down to a No. 3 seed. In my opinion, the Raleigh bracket appears to be the toughest. Maryland earned the top seed followed by Big 12 tournament champion Baylor, a very dangerous Louisville squad followed by SEC tournament winner Vanderbilt.

The wild card in the Trenton Region could be California. It wasn't too long ago that the Bears were being touted as a potential No. 2 seed and perhaps even a No. 1 seed if they ended the season strong. Instead, Cal limped down the strength and are a No. 4 seed. On paper Cal could be an intriguing matchup for UConn because of its inside tandem of seniors Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton and junior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson.

I had a few teams I thought UConn might see in the first round (Dartmouth, Evansville, Austin Peay come to mind) but did not have Vermont in the mix. Shows how much I know. I know one person in the UConn camp upset that it wasn't Evansville whch got the invite to play UConn at noon on Sunday on ESPN2 as UConn sophomore forward Maya Moore would have loved to meet up with her former high school teammate Ashley Austin, a senior guard for Evansville.

Of course expect the story of former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza coaching her first NCAA tournament game at Gampel Pavilion to get plenty of play in the next few days but it will not be an easy chore for Cardoza's Temple team to oust Florida in Sunday's first-rouund game.

Not much to report on the unofficial visit of Michala Johnson, a 6-foot-3 forward from Montini Catholic High in Lombard, Ill. Johnson was on campus Monday but left midway through UConn's practice to head to the airport. It sounds as if Johnson is planning to practice due diligence and will make other campus visits before making a decision. North Babylon (N.Y.) junior guard Bria Hartley is attempting to set up an unofficial visit. The hope is it could happen during the NCAA tournament but with AAU as well as high school lacrosse commitments, it will not be easy for Hartley to make her way to Storrs. It will happen but if it can't be arranged by this weekend, it will be pushed back to a time when things aren't quite so hectic for Hartley.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Breaking down the bracketologists

In roughly seven hours, the UConn women's basketball team's path towards a sixth national championship will be revealed.

I have my own predictions of what will happen and they happen to resemble the bracket put up this morning by bracketologist Jerry Palm.

I decided to take a look at the bracket predictions of both Jerry Palm and Charlie Creme and provide my two cents.

Palm has UConn in Trenton with Auburn as the No. 2 seed, Florida State as the No. 3 and California as the fourth seed. In my top four picks which ran in Sunday's Register I had UConn, Auburn, Ohio State and Virginia as the top four seeds in the Trenton bracket. I think Florida State could happen although since the Huskies and Seminoles have already played, I placed FSU as the No. 3 out in the Berkeley portion of the draw. I think California's late-season struggles will knock it out of a top four seed.

My main beef with Palm's predictions centers around Duke. He has the Blue Devils as the No. 2 seed in the Raleigh region behind Maryland. While it makes sense from a geography and money-making standpoint. I think when you look at Duke's body of work, it should be enough to land a No. 1 seed. I realize Stanford swept the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament titles while Duke did not with either the ACC regular-season or tournament crown, Duke would still be my pick for the top seed out west.

Why? Well Duke is 3-3 against teams with the top 10 RPIs while Stanford is 0-2. Duke is also 8-4 and 11-4 against the RPI top 25 and 50 respectively to Stanford is 2-3 and 6-4 in the same categories. Then there is the ultimate tiebreaker, Duke 56, Stanford 52 on Dec. 5, 2008.

The wildcard in the top eight or 12 seeds is Baylor. Everybody seemed to write off the Bears after Danielle Wilson's knee injury but then Baylor went out and won the Big 12 tournament without Wilson. How do you drop the Bears down now?

I could see Oklahoma and Baylor being 1-2 in the Oklahoma City regional as Palm predicts meaning Louisville could go to Raleigh as the No. 2 seed behind Maryland and ahead of North Carolina (another placement based on the ability to bring in fans).

Both Palm and Creme had California as a No. 4 seed which seems generous since Cal is 6-4 in the last 10 games and among the losses on the Bears' docket as head-scratchers against TCU, UCLA and USC (in the Pac-10 tournament).

Creme's bracket does not seem to take into consideration previous committee's tendency to place teams in regionals based on their ability to draw fans to the regionals (something the men's tournament committee doesn't need to consider). That's why Rutgers being moved out to the Oklahoma City regional as well as neither Duke nor North Carolina in the Raleigh bracket just doesn't seem likely in my eyes.

I do wish the NCAA would provide a little more thought in the awarding of subregionals. Rutgers, LSU, Michigan State, Iowa and San Diego State all figure to be seeded somewhere between 7-10 meaning No. 1 or No. 2 seeds could be forced to play second-round games on the home courts of lower seeds. If San Diego State receives another at-large bid, another top 1 or 2 seed (most likely Stanford) would have to potentially play at San Diego State to reach the regionals. If Georgia receives an at-large bid, it will be another case of a lower seeded team having a home-court advantage even if the subregional is being held in Duluth, Ga.

ESPN will have a camera crew at Gampel Pavilion to provide live footage of UConn's reaction (if there is any) during the station's unveiling of the brackets (7-8 p.m.) At some point this evening, look for some video with reaction from UConn coach Geno Auriemma and a player/players on the New Haven Register's site at

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gatorade honors

The complete list of Gatorade state players of the year are out.

Although UConn signee Kelly Faris lost out for the Indiana award to Notre Dame recruit Skylar Diggins, three UConn recruiting targets were winners.

North Babylon junior guard Bria Hartley won the award in New York while the California winner was sophomore wing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis out of Mater Dei. Laurin Mincy out of University High in Newark was the honoree in New Jersey.

Former University of New Haven women's basketball player Nicole Myrick, who played her high school ball at Masuk, will be appearing in an episode of "Chuck" next month.

Here is the release I received on Nicole's appearance on the NBC show, tentatively scheduled to air on April 13.

If you knew her, you wouldn't suspect NICOLE MYRICK, of being a gun wielding tough chick. But, this 6-foot tall former Connecticut 2-time State-Champion and All-State Basketball Player from Masuk High School (Monroe, CT), has become exactly that.

After playing for the Hall-of-Fame coach David Strong of Masuk High School,
winning two State Championships, and acting as captain and all-league player
for University of New Haven, Nicole Myrick left Connecticut to pursue her
acting dream. Her natural ability as an athlete gave her a big head start, but
Myrick had to study hard and learn a whole new set of skills including
firearms handling, theatrical combat, and sword-fighting.

Currently a real-life special needs teacher in Los Angeles, Myrick is up for
any challenge, including portraying a test Proctor who gets caught in a gun
battle on the NBC action-comedy series "CHUCK."

Myrick explains, "I was able to use my acting, teaching and athletic skills
all together for this character, which is my favorite thing to do."

As the Proctor, Myrick portrays a woman who knows her job and is in complete
control of her department, which is something she works at every day. Myrick
admits, "You can't ever let the kids or audiences believe you're out of
your element. If they think you're's over!"

In addition to acting, Myrick is
producing two up-coming web projects: DATEMARE, a comedy about online dating
scheduled to shoot in March; and an Untitled Dramedy, which chronicles a female
assassin battling with weight issues.

Myrick continues to work with special needs students in academics, as well
as athletics, in collaboration with Los Angeles based charter schools and L.A.
Works, a nonprofit, volunteer action center that creates and implements
hands-on community service.

CHUCK airs Monday nights at 8:00pm on NBC. Myrick's episode titled "Chuck
VS. First Kill" is tentatively scheduled to air April 13, 2009.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Big news out of Delaware

Since there appears to be interest regarding former basketball players enrolled at the University of Delaware who are not playing for the top-ranked and undefeated UConn women's basketball program, I thought as a public service I would update you on former Lauralton Hall basketball player Kim Ovittore.

Now a senior infielder for the Blue Hens, Ovittore was 3 for 3 in the Delaware softball team's 11-2 loss to Seton Hall on Friday to take over the team batting lead. Unless you count Katie DeSalvo going 2 for 2 in her only game (which would not qualify her for the batting championship by any rules I know of), Ovittore's .381 average allowed her to move by Michelle Grap (who fell to .353 after going 0 for 2) and into the top spot.

What's that? That wasn't the Delaware athlete you were hoping to read about? Oops, my bad.

My only question is this? Do the Delaware women's sports teams get more coverage in Delaware or in Connecticut?

Maybe I was imagining things, but I could have sworn I heard the members of the selection committee unleashing an audible sigh of relief after they saw the score Utah 56, New Mexico 55. There will be some creative seeding this season since host teams in the subregionals are mandated to play at home if they are selected to the NCAA tournament. It's going to be tough enough to justify how teams like Rutgers and LSU figure to draw a seven or eight seed meaning that either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed may have to play at Rutgers or LSU in a second-round game just to reach the regionals. But could you imagine what would have happened if New Mexico (another of the 16 hosts for the subregionals) had earned an automatic bid by winning the Mountain West tournament? New Mexico likely would have been a 12 or 13 seed meaning the Lobos would have hosted either a 4 or 5 seed in the first round.

It wasn't a great day for former UConn players now serving as assistant coaches. Tamika Raymond, in her first season at Kansas, saw her Jayhawks lose to top-seeded Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Menawhile Towson, which includes Morgan Valley on its coaching staff, lost to Drexel in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

A little bracketology

I have been requested by my boss to come up with a list of who I think will be the top four seeds in each bracket for publication in Sunday's edition of the Register. I usually take a stab at predicting the bracket each year and decided to come up with my own system to see if I could make sense of it.

It's a little confusing to follow but this is what I came up with a formula.

I did away with RPI and strength of schedule since I am going to utilize the basic information in both categories in other ways. I took the top 25 teams according to the site and ranked them from 1-25 on winning percentage, games against top 10 RPI teams, top 25 RPI teams, top 50 RPI teams and record in the last 10 games using 25 points for first all the way to 1 point for 25th. Believing the name of the game is wins and losses, I gave double point values to the winning percentage rankings.

Next, I assigned five points for winning the regular-season conference title and five for winning the tournament title (giving top seeds Oklahoma and Stanford the benefit of the doubt as conference tournament champions since it is unfair to penalize them because the conference tourneys haven't been completed yet).

Finally, I rewarded teams for quality of wins and penalized them for bad losses giving teams 10 points for every win over a team in the top 10 of the RPI, five points for each win over a team from 26-50 and one point for teams from 51-75. I subtracted a point for every loss of a team ranked from 26-50, two points for losses of teams from 51-75, three points for defeats to teams with RPIs from 76-99, five points for a loss to a team from 100-150 and 10 points for a loss to a team with an RPI of 151 or higher.

With all that said, here are the results
1. UConn 200.5
2. Oklahoma 195
3. Maryland 190.5
4. Duke 172
5. North Carolina 141
6. Baylor 128 (before the result of their win on Friday was known)
7. Florida State 126.5
8. Auburn 126
9. Louisville 123.5
10. Tennessee 106.5
11. Ohio State 104
12. Stanford 102
13. Texas A&M 97
14. Vanderbilt 94 1/2
15. Pittsburgh 84
16. Virginia 80 1/2

Bear in mind that this system does not analyze the wins or losses. A 25-point road win means the same as a one-point home victory and I imagine that tournament committee will be more diligent in looking closer at the wins and losses. This system is far from perfect since I don't see Tennessee being a three seed with 10 loss but when you look at their resume and look past the 10 losses, it could happen. Before I started this, I looked at them more as a fith or sixth seed. I also think Baylor (unless it wins the Big 12 tournament) will likely not be a two seed without an injured Danielle Wilson so if that proves to be the case, the top eight seeds were what I expected them to be before I started my research. Just throwing it out there that the team with the lowest point total among the 25 in this case study was Temple, now coached by former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza.

Wooden ballot released

The national ballot for the Wooden Award was released today and while it is a little confusing the way it is presented, it appears as if Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore all made the cut.

The initial list had 19 names with Charles not on the list. But it was brought to my attention that if you look at the player tracker, Charles is among the 20 players listed so it seems to be a safe assumption that she was mistakenly left off the list but is among those on the final ballot. Here's a list of the other 19

Wooden Award National Ballot
First Last Height Position Class School
Jayne Appel 6-4 F/C Jr. Stanford
Chante Black 6-5 F/C Sr. Duke
DeWanna Bonner 6-4 G Sr. Auburn
Alysha Clark 5-10 F Jr. Middle Tennessee St.
Marissa Coleman 6-1 G/F Sr. Maryland
Jantel Lavender 6-4 C So. Ohio State
Shalee Lehning 5-9 G Sr. Kansas State
Angel McCoughtry 6-1 F Sr. Louisville
Renee Montgomery 5-7 G Jr. Connecticut
Maya Moore 6-0 F So. Connecticut
Courtney Paris 6-4 C Sr. Oklahoma
Ta'Shia Phillips 6-6 C So. Xavier
Epiphanny Prince 5-9 G Jr. Rutgers
Andrea Riley 5-5 G Jr. Oklahoma State
Kristi Toliver 5-7 G Sr. Maryland
Ashley Walker 6-1 F Sr. California
Danielle Wilson 6-3 G Jr. Baylor
Monica Wright 5-11 G Jr. Virginia
Shavonte Zellous 5-11 G Sr. Pittsburgh

The men's and women's winners will be honored at an April 11 banquet at the Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles.

I received one request to comment on the blog entry (which was not exactly complimentary of women's basketball) made by my co-worker Dave Borges, who covers the UConn men's basketball team. All I have to say is I have nothing to say. If you like women's basketball (as many obviously do in this state) you like women's basketball and there is no reason to have to defend that. Everybody has different tastes. Personally I can't stand broccoli but know plenty of people who swear by it. You couldn't pay me to watch amateurs attempt to sing only to be ripped apart by the show's creator and head judge on American Idol but millions of viewers each week tells me that not everybody shares that opinion. To each its own. If you are offended by the comments, I would suggest letting him know about it if that makes you feel better.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sun open with Liberty

The WNBA released the preseason schedule today and the Connecticut Sun will play its preseason opener on May 22 at Mohegan Sun Arena against the same New York Liberty team which knocked the Sun out of the playoffs. OK, maybe it won't be the same team as many of the stars on both teams figure to completing their playing obligations with their European teams.

The opener will be played at 7 p.m. on the 22nd. Connecticut will play at Atlanta on May 27 at 7:30 p.m. before wrapping up the preseason with a May 31 home matinee against Los Angeles.

Speaking of L.A., the Sparks signed free agent forward Tina Thompson on Thursday. The former Houston Comets star was being courted by the Sun among other teams before opting to play for her hometown team.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Leopard-free zone

The bubble just burst for Lafayette, which made an improbable run to the Patriot League final as the No. 7 seed. Had the Leopards defeated top-seeded Lehigh, they certainly would have drawn UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament courtesy of their 11-21 record and RPI hovering between 240-250.

However, with Lehigh holding off Lafayette for a 64-56 victory, it is looking more like Ivy League champion Dartmouth could be the No. 16 seed sent to play the Huskies on Mar. 22 at Gampel Pavilion barring unforeseen circumstances in some of the other mid-major tournaments yet to be completed.

Among those on the NCAA tournament bound Lehigh team is former Choate star Claire Sullivan, a senior point guard from Wallingford.

As previously reported, highly-touted 6-foot-3 junior Michala Johnson of Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill. will be headed to UConn this weekend for her unofficial visit.

I just got off the phone with Jason Nichols, the high school coach of the 6-foot-3 Johnson who said Michala, her younger sister Malayna (an eighth grader who already stands 6-4 and will join her sister at Montini Catholic in the fall) and mom are leaving for Connecticut on Saturday. Nichols said they are planning to be in Connecticut Saturday, Sunday and Monday. They will take in UConn practices over the weekend. It isn't a given since I am not sure whether they are planning to fly home on Monday or Tuesday but it won't be a surprise if the Johnsons are on hand when the NCAA pairings are announced Monday night. In the past UConn has invited recruits to be in the house when the pairings are revealed on ESPN. By the way, ESPN sending a camera crew to film the Huskies as well as Tennessee and South Dakota State as part of the selection show coverage.

Nichols said there isn't anything new on the recruiting front with Johnson. He said the family is extremely excited about the trip to UConn. Among the other schools in the hunt are Georgia and Vanderbilt although Nichols said Maryland is trying to set up a visit in the next couple of weeks. Of course all of this could be irrelevant if Johnson has a good visit to UConn.

"Who knows, UConn could wow her like they did with (Stefanie) Dolson and (Samarie Walker)," Nichols said.

Johnson played only one game as a junior before reinjuring her knee. She had successful surgery and should be back in time for preseason drills leading into her senior season at Montini.

Notre Dame signee Skylar Diggins of South Bend, Ind. has been named the Naismith High School Player of the Year.

UConn signees Elena Delle Donne in 2008 and Maya Moore in 2007 were the last two winners of the prestigious award.

Surgery a success

Here's the notebook that ran in today's edition of the Register focusing on Jess McCormack undergoing successful surgery last week.

By Jim Fuller
Register Staff
HARTFORD — This time there were no allergic reactions, no last-minute surprises and, most importantly, no more delays for UConn transfer Jess McCormack.
McCormack’s first attempt to have surgery to clean up the area around her Achilles tendon had to be rescheduled when her system did not agree with the anesthetic, forcing her to be placed into the intensive care unit.
Two and a half weeks later, McCormack’s procedure went off without a hitch as she had surgery on Wednesday.
“Surgery went really well, everything (went) completely according to plan,” McCormack said in an e-mail to the Register on Tuesday.
McCormack has a cast to protect the surgically repaired area. She is expected to have it removed on March 18.
“I will begin rehab as soon as I get the cast off,” McCormack said.
McCormack, a 6-foot-5 sophomore center, spent her freshman season at the University of Washington. A member of New Zealand’s team which competed in the 2008 Olympics and the youngest player to ever play for its senior national team, she averaged 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 19 games with Washington in the 2007-08.
When she returned from the Olympics, her progress was slowed by her ailing Achilles. When attempts to treat the injury at UConn failed, McCormack opted to return home to have surgery. Unfortunately, she came down with the flu on the trip home and then had the issue with the anaesthetic.
Since McCormack opted to withdraw from the spring semester to return home, she will not be eligible to play for UConn until the fall semester ends so she can sit out the mandatory two semesters the NCAA requires for Division I transfers.
She will have three years of eligibility remaining.
There have been no lack of WNBA teams making their way to the XL Center for the Big East tournament with likely first-round picks Angel McCoughtry of Louisville, Renee Montgomery of Connecticut and Shavonte Zellous of Pittsburgh leading the list of talented seniors taking part in the 16-team event.
Outside of Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault and his peers, there may not be another person able to handicap the abilities of the leading candidates more than Louisville coach Jeff Walz. Not only has he coached McCoughtry, the likely No. 1 pick, and Candyce Bingham, who also figures to be taken in next month’s draft, for the last two seasons, but he was an assistant at Maryland during the freshman and sophomore seasons of expected first-round selections Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver. He has also coached against projected first-round picks Montgomery and Zellous.
Walz sees a few similarities between McCoughtry and Coleman, quite possibly the two most talented wing players available in the draft.
“They are both going to be great pros,” Walz said. “They both have a great frame on them. Angel will put on some weight when she really gets into the weight room and starts to eat some more food. Marissa probably already has 10 of 15 more pounds to her, so they are going to be great pro players. Angel is more of a slasher, Marissa is more of a ‘I’ll back you down, I’ll make a move.’ She is stronger and can score off of you, but they can both knock down a 3, they can both compete hard. It was a joy to coach Coleman for two years, and it’s been great to coach Angel for two years.”
Jim Fuller can be reached at

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are you kidding me?

Back in the comfort of my own home after spending much of the last five days in Hartford and after watching UConn dismantle three likely NCAA-bound teams including a Louisville team that is a legit Final Four contender, I suddenly have the urge to do my best John McEnroe "YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS" impersonation.

I certainly did not see 75-36 coming and really the game wasn't even that close. UConn has played against Angel McCoughtry before but never made her look so ordinary.

"They were just everywhere," said McCoughtry, who was 3 for 16 shooting en route to just nine points. "Everywhere you went there was somebody there, they were active and aggressive. That is the kind of defense you need to win championships."

If Tiffany Hayes was impressive in the shutting down of Villanova's Laura Kurz in the semifinals, Kalana Greene's performance against McCoughtry was simply astonishing. So was the performance of Maya Moore (10 of 13 from the floor, a Big East tournament championship record 28 points). When Moore headed to the bench for the final time with 7:52 to play, the score was Maya Moore 28, Louisville 27.

Just think how many points UConn would have won the three games by if Renee Montgomery had her normal shooting performance? Seeing Tina Charles and Greene putting together three straight impressive games can't make the rest of the country too happy.

A few observations

I didn't do the math but it seemed as if Geno Auriemma stayed with his starters (even with foul trouble) more in the last two games than at any point this season. I guess it was the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality.

Are there are more questions who should have been named the Big East's Player of the Year? Looks like the coaches got it right.

There were a couple of impressive moves by the coaches tonight. First, Auriemma calling a timeout so Louisville could sub in for injured Louisville point guard Deseree Byrd was all class. By the way, Walz said in the post-game press conference that he didn't think the injury to Byrd was serious.

Louisville's Jeff Walz not bringing his seniors McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham back when Auriemma pulled all his starters tells me that Walz gets it. I can't tell you how many times I have seen teams spring to life feasting on UConn's reserves. Walz made the right move by matching reserves with reserves.

The perplexed look on Moore's face when she was asked why UConn didn't cut down the nets after winning the Big East title was priceless. If ever you needed to know how high the standards are at UConn, it was at that very moment. Kalana Greene stepped in and informed the question asker that UConn has never cut down the nets the three times she has been a member of the Big East championship team. I imagine the only time the scissors will be used on nets would be if UConn wins the national championship.

The last item is an update on Jess McCormack. I heard back from her this afternoon and she finally did have surgery to clean up the area around her Achilles tendon on Wednesday and will be on crutches and in a cast until March 18. When the cast comes off, she will start the rehabilitation. There will be more on the story in Wednesday's edition of the Register.


The Huskies just took the floor at 6:37 to start their warmups and of course the reaction was warm and fuzzy.

This will be the first time the same two teams have met in the Big East tournament in successive seasons since UConn beat Notre Dame in the 1996 and 1997 tournaments (both at Gampel Pavilion).

With the bright red sweatshirts, it is pretty hard to miss the Louisville cheering contigent sitting behind the bench. Of course, most of the rest of those inside the XL Center are decked out in UConn blue. Go figure.

While it may be a rematch, these are hardly the same teams. Reigning tournament MVP Charde Houston (13 points and 11 rebounds in the '08 final) and Ketia Swanier (nine points and three steals) have graduated.

Other than seniors Angel McCoughtry (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Candyce Bingham (11 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks) the only other active Louisville players to see action in last year's Big East final are Laura Terry, Keshia Hines and Deseree Byrd who combined for five points in 31 minutes.

"We're sitting here right now and we have only two starters back from that team. Chauntise Wright tears an ACL and everybody seems to forget that, they want to talk about every other team that has injuries and seem to forget how well Chauntice was playing for us in the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "It's a new experience of a lot of these kids but I am really excited with how they have responded to things."

Dennis DeMayo, Dee Kantner, Mark Zentz and Angie Lewis came onto the floor but not sure which one of the refs will be sitting courtside. UPDATED AT 6:55: Zentz is the one to sit this one out.

I saw Kara Wolters in the media workroom before the game so obviously she is feeling well enough to return to work as the color commentator on the UConn Radio Network. Wayne Norman filled in for Wolters on Sunday and Monday when a stomach bug kept Wolters home.

UPDATED AT 6:55: The starting lineups just went up on the scoreboard. It is the regular UConn lineup (Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes, Kalana Greene, Tina Charles and Maya Moore). Louisville counters with Deseree Byrd, Tiera Stephen, Angel McCoughtry, Candyce Bingham and Gwen Rucker. I thought Becky Burke might get the start for Stephen.

Bonding and winning

In the seven years I have been the UConn women's beat writer, I've had to opportunity to document in relationships the Huskies' Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma has had with some of his players good (Sue Bird, Renee Montgomery, Mel Thomas), not so good (Charde Houston) and hilarious (Diana Taurasi). I see many of the same traits when I look at Louisville coach Jeff Walz and his all-everything senior forward Angel McCoughtry.

When McCoughtry accidentally belched before giving an answer at the podium in Monday night's post-game press conference, Walz could only shake his head in disbelief before turning to her and saying "I can't believe you just did that."

McCoughtry apologized multiple times but never missed a beat - especially when she was throwing praise in her coach's direction when discussing the play he designed coming out of a timeout to lead to a game-decided three-point play for McCoughtry.

"Coach is a genius and we get the (basket) and one. But he is still young. He will be on Geno's level soon," McCoughtry said.

After the press conference Walz expounded on the relationship he has with his two seniors McCoughtry (who is the likely No. 1 overall pick in next month's WNBA draft) and Candyce Bingham (who Walz believes could be a first-round pick or at least go early in the second round).

"I can't even put it into the words. I kids laugh that Candyce is the mom and Angel is the crazy aunt and it is kind of the way it is," Walz said. "Candyce will get her calmed down when she needs to and I think Angel has benefitted from that tremendously. We are going miss both of them tremendously but I don't think people realize how much we are going to miss Candyce.

"When you see her (McCoughtry) play and she starts to get upset, our kids don't take it personally. In practice, she is off the wall. She came to practice one day with rollers in her hair, sponge rollers. I said 'hey, just tape them up, I don't care.' She went into the training room and got a pre wrap, wrapped her entire head. My assistants said 'you can't let her ...' I said 'if she plays hard, I don't care.' She went out and played as hard as she can with the pre wrap around her head. My kids look at her and say 'oh my God, I can't believe she is out here doing this.' But she practices like she plays. She is a special kid. It's just like today, this poor kid burbs when in being interviewed. Just things like that (happen), you look at her and you have to laugh because she has a personality that can laugh at herself."

If McCoughtry is the most talented wing player available in the draft, Maryland's Marissa Coleman may be a close second so I asked Walz, who was an assistant at Maryland during Coleman's first two seasons with the Terrapins how the two compare.

"They are both going to be great pros," Walz said. "They both have a great frame on them. Angel will put on some weight when she really gets into the weight room and starts to eat some more food. Marissa probably already has 10 of 15 more pounds to her so they are going to be great pro players. There are (similarities) but Angel is more of a slasher, Marissa is more of a 'I'll back you down, I'll make a move.' She is stronger and can score off of you but they can both knock down a 3, they can both compete hard. It was a joy to coach Coleman for two years and it's been great to coach Angel for two years."

So could the Ivy League champion draw UConn in the NCAA tournament opener for the second year in a row?

Well, we should have a pretty good idea in the next couple of days. Right now Ohio Valley champion Austin Peay has the lowest RPI (according to among those who have claimed automatic bid. That could change shortly. Tonight Dartmouth (with an RPI of 137) can win the Ivy League title with a win over Harvard and tomorrow Lafayette, No. 245 in the RPI listing, goes for Patriot League title with a game at top-seeded Lehigh. You can mark it down, if Lafayette wins it will be headed to Storrs to play top-seeded UConn at either noon or 2:30 p.m. on March 22.

I'll leave with a great parting line Walz had for McCoughtry after she and Bingham finished their portion of the post-game interview session last night.

"Nice job, except for that burbing thing."