Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, July 31, 2009

U.S. into semifinals

It wasn't easy but the United States advanced to the semifinals of the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women with an 88-75 win over France.

The U.S. trailed by six at the end of the first quarter before taking control of the game. Team captains Nneka Ogwumike, a rising sophomore at Stanford, and Skylar Diggins, a freshman to be at Notre Dame, led the way with 16 points each with Ogwumike adding nine rebounds. South Carolina incoming freshman Kelsey Bone added 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks while Miami rising sophomore Shenise Johnson had 10 points and eight rebounds. UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had six points, four rebounds and two steals.

The U.S. will face Canada, which stunned previously undefeated Australia 50-49, at 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Australia lost despite 26 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks from dynamic 6-foot-8 Elizabeth Cambage but her teammates were 8 for 49 from the floor.

Spain and Argentina will meet in the other semifinal.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vanguard to face UConn

It will be a showdown of national champions when 2008 NAIA Division I champion Vanguard faces 2009 NCAA Division I champ UConn in an exhibition game on Nov. 9 in Connecticut (either at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center).

Vanguard has an aggressive slate of games against Division I powers beginning on Nov. 1 against Stanford and ending with the game against UConn.

Vanguard is coached by Russ Davis, who also happens to be the AAU coach of UConn commit Lauren Engeln as well as Cassie Harberts, who is also on the Huskies' recruiting radar.

UConn's complete schedule is expected to be released either in late August or early September. Historically, it usually comes out shortly after Labor Day. UConn's first exhibition game is expected to be against a Division II team from the Northeast.


Not idle chatter

If Maya Moore had her way, she would be working on her game during her time on the UConn campus.

But after straining her right knee during training for the World University Games, Moore was not only told it was not a good idea for her to play for the U.S. in the tournament but that her knee needed some time to rest.

Moore was told to stay away from basketball activities for six weeks and she will extend her hiatus for a couple additional two week. Moore recently passed the four-week mark of her rest and recovery process or "active rest" as Maya calls it and is planning to cool it for another four weeks which would have her returning to the court either in late August or early September.

"When I first stopped playing, I felt really weird," Moore said. "I don't really feel like myself, I am kind of not in my rhythm but right now I am feeling pretty good. When you haven't played for a while, you kind of try to remember how does it feel to go in the gym for five hours every day. Sit back and realize how much you do put into it when you think about it. It is definitely weird when you don't have that basketball routine, getting that extra sleep the next few weeks."


UConn trio on "Wade" list

Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes were among the 25 players named to the preseason "Wade Watch" list, which was released on Thursday.

Moore, who won the Wade Trophy (which is annually given to the best women's basketball player in the country) last season was thrilled to be joined by two of her UConn teammates.

"It makes me proud to see my other teammates on here as well," Moore said. "I probably get more excited about that."

Stanford, which will play at UConn on Dec. 23, is the only other team with three candidates (Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen).

The other candidates are North Carolina's Jessica Breland, Middle Tennessee's Alysha Clark, Allyssa DeHaan of Michigan State, California's Alexis Gray-Lawson, Allison Hightower of LSU, Georgia's Ashley Houts, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Kansas' Danielle McCray, Jacinta Monroe of Florida State, San Diego State's Jene Morris, Deirdre Naughton of DePaul, Ta'Shia Phillips of Xavier, Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis, Andrea Riley of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson, Illinois' Jenna Smith, Carolyn Swords of Boston College, Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga and Virginia's Monica Wright. All 12 members of the United States team which won the gold medal at the World University Games (Charles, Gray-Lawson, Hayes, Houts, Lavender, McCray, Monroe, Moore, Pedersen, Phillips, Pohlen and Robinson) are among the 25 candidates.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

U.S. roll into quarters

The final round-robin game against Japan was supposed to be no problem for the United States squad at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women and that is exactly how it played out.

Six players hit double figures in scoring led by Tennessee's incoming freshman Taber Spani who had 15 points including three of the team's 10 3-pointers. Lasondra Barrett (14 points, six rebounds), Kelsey Bone (13 points, 5 rebounds), Samantha Prahalis (12 points, four assists), Shenice Johnson (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Skylar Diggins (11 points) powered the U.S. to its 109-68 win over Japan. UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had six points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

The U.S. has won five straight games since its loss to Spain and finished second in Group F. The squad will face France in the quarterfinals on Friday at 4:15 a.m. Eastern time. A likely semifinal showdown with undefeated Australia, led by the towering Elizabeth Cambage, would be played on Saturday if both the U.S. and Australia win tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S, headed to quarterfinals

It was really just a formality and more of a case of when and not if the United States would clinch a spot in the quarterfinals of the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women. But the U.S. secured a berth in style, rolling past previously undefeated Russia 75-56 Tuesday in Bangkok, Thailand.

Stanford rising sophomore Nneka Ogwumike had eight points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as the U.S. outscored Russia 20-6 to win going away. Ogwumike finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Also scoring in double figures for the United States were Miami sophomore to be Shenise Johnson (11 points and nine rebounds), Ohio State rising sophomore Samantha Prahalis (10 points and seven assists and Notre Dame incoming freshman Skylar Diggins, who finished with 10 points after missing Monday's game against Canada with the flu. UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had two points, one rebound and one steal in 11 minutes.

The win guaranteed that the U.S. would finish no worse than third in Group F which will prevent it from having to play undefeated Australia in the quarterfinals. The U.S. wraps up play in Group F on Wednesday at 2 a.m. against Japan. Wednesday's Spain/Russia game will also have a major role in which place the U.S. finishes in Group F. Assuming Spain beats Canada (it currently holds a double-digit lead in the third quarter), the Spaniards can wrap up the Group F title with a win tomorrow against Russia. If Russia and the U.S. both win, there will be a three-way tie atop Group F and we'll have to wait and see how the tiebreaking system determines the order of seeding.

Outside of Australia earning the top seed, the deal in Group E is pretty jumbled. Assuming Argentina holds on to beat Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania and Czech Republic would all be 3-2 with Brazil and France 2-3 heading into the final day of pool play. Only four teams would advance to the quarterfinals.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Putting it all into perspective

I know more than a few hearts in the state probably skipped a beat when word first came that UConn rising junior Maya Moore was dealing with a knee injury forcing the consensus national player of the year to sit out the recent World University Games.

Hey, I even brought up the topic when the media met with UConn coach Geno Auriemma at halftime of Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

But I would encourage even the most ardent of UConn fans to take a step back and realize how fortunate they are that their favorite players only have to deal with strained knees or other assorted ailments.

There is a Knoxville News Sentinel story written about a much more serious health scare facing Tennessee rising sophomore Amber Gray. Gray, part of Tennessee's highly-touted freshman class last season, underwent 12 1/2 hours of brain surgery after it was discovered that Gray had a brain aneurysm which was starting to hemorrhage. Had Gray not gone into the hospital for shoulder surgery which led to the aneurysm being detected, who knows what could have happened.

The next time you want to obsess on whether UConn will land gifted New York point guard Bria Hartley or if Tina Charles will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, I would suggest taking a deep breath and ponder the struggles that somebody like Gray and North Carolina's Jessica Breland, who is fighting cancer, will have to endure in the coming days, months and years. It does make one realize how precious life is and yes there are things even more important than Final Four appearances and national championship games.

UConn lovefest continues

A couple days after a record five former UConn players played in - and stole the show at - the WNBA All-Star Game, ex-Huskies Asjha Jones and Sue Bird were named to WNBA's Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week respectively.

Jones had a season-high 28 points to go with 10 rebounds in a win against Sacramento to earn her fourth player of the week award of her career but first of the season.

Bird scored nine of her season-high 23 points in the third overtime in Seattle's win over Los Angeles. Bird has seven 3-pointers, a Seattle franchise record. She also did not commit a turnover in a career-high 49 minutes.

Jones leads the Connecticut Sun against Western Conference leading Phoenix on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena in a game being televised on ESPN2.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris did not score but drew praise for her play from U.S. coach Carol Owens as the United States defeated Canada 64-50 on Monday at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women in Bangkok, Thailand.

The win moved to the U.S. to 3-1 in Group F heading into today's game at Group F co-leader Russia. A win would guarantee the U.S. a spot in the quarterfinals.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

"The Boss" chimes in

In most parts of the country, "The Boss" may refer to Bruce Springsteen but when it comes to UConn women's basketball, it refers to only one person - UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

At halftime and for much of the third quarter Auriemma held court with the media. Considering that five of his former players were in the WNBA All-Star Game and former Husky Rebecca Lobo was announced as a member of the next class which will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Auriemma got a little misty eyed when he tried to put the entire day into perspective.

"I've probably coached long enough now to be able to come back and people always tell me the impact that we had, the impact Connecticut basketball has had and
I just kind of shrug it off and move on. A day like today makes you sit back for the first time get a sense of what Connecticut basketball means to the world of basketball in college, in the pros and in the Olympics. It still makes me smile when I think about that."

Auriemma was asked about what he said to Diana Taurasi, who has drunk driving charges to contend with after being pulled over in Phoenix on July 2.

"I spent a lot of time alone talking about a lot of things," Auriemma said. "Diana's not much different. When Diana was in high school, the reason why everybody wanted her was that she was this carefree, free spirit who lived life to the fullest and had a great time on and off the court. That is why people loved her and that's why she is the player that she is. This time it got the best of her.

"Going forward she understands some of the changes that she has to make. She is at the stage right now where we talked about this is the best she ever played, this is the best she has ever looked and an incident like this can make you even better. It forces you to make some changes. We have all been in that situation where something bad could have happened to us. Some of us got caught and some of us didn't. This is going to turn out to be a good thing for her, I really believe that."

Auriemma also addressed the health of his current star - rising junior Maya Moore who missed the World University Games with a strained knee.

"She's great, there's nothing wrong with her," Auriemma said. "She is fine. She called me when it happened and said she felt something. It was the same thing that happened during the season so it wasn't significant enough that anything had to be done. People at USA Basketball were probably like 'we are not going to play her and have anything happen.'"

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Lobo headed to Hall

Former UConn star Rebecca Lobo is among the six-player class which will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame class. The induction is set for June 12, 2010 in Knoxville, Tennessee. She will become the first former UConn player to be inducted.

Here is the release from the Hall of Fame.

July 25, 2009 – The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 12th group of inductees, the Class of 2010, on ABC during the WNBA All-Star game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. today.

The six members of the Class of 2010 are:

Andrews is the winningest high school girls’ basketball coach in the country with a 1,312-282 career record. In her 47 seasons at Granbury High School, she has taken her team to 16 State Final Four appearances, winning the state title in 1990. She is a member of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and coached the 2004 McDonald’s All-America Game. In 1993 Andrews was named the Outstanding American Coach/Teacher of the Year by the Walt Disney Company. Will be entering her 48 th season as head coach at Granbury.

Edwards is the most decorated Olympic basketball player on the planet, men or women, owning four gold medals and one bronze medal in five Olympics. She is the youngest (1984) and the oldest (2000) U.S. Olympic basketball player to ever win a gold medal. Edwards is a member of the historic 1996 USA Olympic and 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National teams that compiled a combined 60-0 record. She played 4 seasons in the ABL, three of those with the Atlanta Glory. Named the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year a record four times.

Lobo attended the University of Connecticut and helped lead the Huskies to the program’s first National Championship with an undefeated 35-0 record in 1995. She was a two-time Kodak All-American, 1995 Wade Trophy Winner and 1995 Naismith Player of the Year. A member of the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal Team, Lobo joined the WNBA for its inaugural season and spent the first five years of her career with the New York Liberty. In 1996, Lobo and her mother wrote a book, The Home Team, which dealt with her mom’s battle with breast cancer. Lobo is currently a sideline reporter and color analyst for ESPN.

As a woman of many firsts, Ray oversaw the Lady Vols’ first national championship in 1987 as the first women’s Athletic Director at the University of Tennessee. She led the drive to plan and construct the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, which opened in June 1999. The University of Tennessee Lady Vol Leadership Award is named in her honor and she was recognized by Business Tennessee as one of the most powerful people in Tennessee. A former teacher and coach, Ray is currently the President and CEO of the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation.

One of the original players of the WNBA, Weatherspoon started 220 straight games for the New York Liberty while leading the Liberty to three WNBA Championship appearances. She was a four-time WNBA All-Star and a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. In April, Weatherspoon was named head coach at Louisiana Tech, where she was a two-time Kodak All American and led the Lady Techsters to the 1988 National Championship. She was the 1988 Wade Trophy winner and was also a member of the 1988 Olympic Gold Medal Team.

Weller is one of a few coaches, men’s of women’s, to coach 25 seasons at the same institution. She averaged nearly 20 wins per season and completed 26 seasons as head coach of her alma mater, University of Maryland. She guided Maryland to three Final Fours, eight Elite Eights, 10 Sweet Sixteen appearances and eight ACC Championships. Was named ACC Coach of the Year twice and was the 1992 Naismith Coach of the Year. Served as chair of the WBCA Legislative Committee and was a member of the USA Women’s Basketball Olympic Committee.

The WNBA All-Star Game is nearing its conclusion with all four former Huskies on the winning Western Conference team (Swin Cash, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Charde Houston) in double figures in the scoring column.

Asjha Jones, the lone ex-Husky on the Eastern Conference squad, just got a nice ovation after coming out of the game for the final time.

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Hammon wins 3-point contest

Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars won the 3-point shooting contest, hitting 14 of 25 shots in the final. Two of the shots were two-point "money balls" giving her 16 points as she beat out former UConn star Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and the Detroit Shock's Katie Smith total of 12 points.

Hammon was also the top scorer in the preliminary round with 14 points. Smith was second with 12 and Bird needed to make her final shot to edge out the New York Liberty's Shameka Christon 11-10 for the final spot in the championship round.

In the skills challenge, former UConn forward Charde Houston of the Minnesota Lynx combined with Cappie Pondexter of the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio's Sophia Young to beat out the three other teams.

Faris leads the way

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had a team-high 13 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes as the United States defeated Mali 100-38 to finish second in Group D at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women in Bangkok, Thailand.

Here's the write-up courtesy of USA Basketball

Faris had a pair of 3-pointers and was 5 for 6 from the line to the U.S. improved to 2-1. Miami rising sophomore Shenise Johnson had 12 points while incoming freshmen Destiny Williams (Illinois), Taber Spani (Tennessee) and Kelsey Bone (South Carolina) had 11 points each.

The U.S. moves into the second round of pool play. The win against China and loss to Spain carry over. The U.S. will play Canada on Monday and will also play Russia and Japan. The United States will need to finish in the top three among the six teams in Group F to move onto the quarterfinals.

Since columnist Dave Solomon's piece on former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who was arrested on July 2 on suspicion of drunk driving, is the most read story on the Register's website, I don't think I need to provide a link to the piece but just in case, here it is. Here are the stories on the reunion of UConn teammates and classmates at the WNBA All-Star Game and former Husky Rebecca Lobo on what it would mean to be a Hall of Famer The 2010 induction class into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced at halftime of today's game and Lobo is in the running to be one of the three players named. I am actually being politically correct with the term "in the running." It would be a stunned if Lobo wasn't among the trio of players who will be honored on June 12 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

WNBA media day in the book

It was a rather interesting day at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The No. 1 image I'll take from the day was the mass of media surrounding former UConn star Diana Taurasi. Taurasi was arrested on July on suspicion of drunk driving and two driving infractions. Whether it was Friday or on Sunday when the Phoenix Mercury played at New York, Taurasi was going to be the focus of attention because of the legal bind she finds herself in. It happened on Friday. It was a scene right out of Super Bowl media day. I didn't speak to Diana since the Register's columnist Dave Solomon was handling the story but when I looked over, I saw the media three or four deep around Taurasi.

After one of the first questions about the DUI charge, one staff member asked with and I am paraphrasing "can we keep the questions to basketball related topics." Yeah, right. True to her nature, Diana answered all the questions. She wasn't happy with some of them but also made no attempt to bolt, not that she could have made it more than half a step considering all the media surrounding her.

I focused my attention on speaking to former UConn stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird for my story focusing on Bird, Asjha Jones (who I interview on Wednesday) and Cash who were teammates for four years at UConn. The stuff from Swin about how she dealt with the persistent back pain which threatened to sidetrack her career was pretty compelling stuff. Not sure when I'll be able to write all that stuff but trust me, it will be written.

I also spoke with Charde Houston as well as another former UConn star. Rebecca Lobo is a strong candidate to be including in the latest class which will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June in Knoxville, Tennessee. Naturally, Lobo was not about to spill the beans but I would be shocked if she wasn't one of the three players on the list that will be announced tomorrow at halftime of the all-star game.

"It would obviously mean a lot to me, it would be great," Lobo said. It doesn't seem like I have been out of the game to even be considered for something like that (she retired in 2003, playing her final season in the WNBA with the Connecticut Sun) but I would be thrilled. I wasn't even aware I was even eligible so if it were to happen, I would be surprised, awed and really thrilled."

I also asked Lobo about having five UConn players in tomorrow's game and to compare the difference between UConn fans and Connecticut Sun fans.

"It's so great that you have five UConn people playing in this arena, one of them currently representing the Connecticut Sun because it is such a great program," Lobo said. "Coach Auriemma does such a great job with his players and his teams. It is not a surprise but especially when you look at that 2002 group, that team including Diana too, it is pretty amazing."

"They are both pretty passionate," Lobo said of the different fan bases. "I think people are surprised when I tell them it is two different fan groups. it is not UConn fans coming to the Connecticut Sun games, it is the Connecticut Sun fans."

My first interview of the day was Chicago center Sylvia Fowles. There was a half-court shooting competition with the winner earning $100. Former Connecticut Sun center Erika de Souza delighted the fans in attendance by hitting two half-court heaves but those were during warmups. Each of the 11 Eastern Conference players had three shots at it. It appeared as if nobody would connect when Fowles was dead, solid perfect on her final attempt.

"I don't wish to discuss the money. No, it was $100," Fowles said with a laugh when I asked her what her reward was for hitting the shot. "I am paying my teammates off, they pumped me up and helped me do it. A lot of pressure. I guess it was a good thing being the youngest on the team (the players went in order of age, oldest (Katie Smith) to youngest (Fowles)."

The doors will open tomorrow at 1:30 with the 3-point shooting and skills competitions being held from 2-3 p.m. before the game starts at 3:30 p.m.

The seven all-stars who were members of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team (Bird, Taurasi, Fowles, Katie Smith, Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings and Cappie Pondexter) as well as Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault, one of Anne Donovan's Olympic assistant, will be honored at halftime for the run to the gold medal.

Got it confirmed from both Cash and Bird that UConn coach Geno Auriemma and their former teammate Tamika (Williams) Raymond will be among those in attendance at tomorrow's all-star game.

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U.S. bounces back

Led by 18 points and 14 rebounds from Stanford rising sophomore Nneka Ogwumike, the United States defeated China 88-53 to move to 1-1 in Group D play at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women.

Former UConn recruiting targets Kelsey Bone and Skylar Diggins, who will be freshmen at South Carolina and Notre Dame respectively, added 16 and 13 points.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had four points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 14 minutes.

The U.S. will wrap up preliminary play against winless Mali on Saturday. The U.S. will finish second in Pool D with a win.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

UConn's Fab Five to be reunited?

Considering that the WNBA will give the assorted media 30 minutes to speak to the 22 WNBA All-Stars tomorrow, I decided to corner Asjha Jones before yesterday's game to get a jump of the UConn reunion stories.

I'll save the details of the interview for the stories I will be writing but she did say that Tamika (Williams) Raymond is hoping to make it to Connecticut for the festivities. If that is the case, I believe it would be the first time all five members of the starting lineup of UConn's 2001-02 national championship team will be together since the celebrations after leading the Huskies to the third of the program's six national titles. As I am sure you have heard, the other four starters on that team (Jones, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi) will be playing in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

The big question is whether Tamika will be the approval to make the trip since the all-star weekend falls during the recruiting evaluation period and she is an assistant coach at Kansas. It would certainly add to a memorable weekend if she could be there to see her former teammates playing back in the state where they matured from gifted high school players to stars on quite possibly the best women's college basketball team of all time.

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U.S. loses opener

The United States' bid for the FIBA Under-19 World Championship of Women title got off to a sluggish start as the U.S. lost to Spain 90-86 in the first round of pool play.

The U.S. rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a two-point lead into the final quarter but couldn't hold off Spain as the United States saw its 18-game winning streak in the U-19 tournament end.

Leonor Rodriguez Manso led Spain with 23 points. Marta Tudanca Acedo and Marta Xargay Casademont added 21 and 19 points respectively as Spain moves to 1-0 in Group D.

Stanford rising sophomore Nneka Ogwumike led five U.S. players in double figures with 16 points to go with eight rebounds. Chay Shegog (North Carolina) and Notre Dame incoming freshman Skylar Diggins added 13 points each. Shenice Johnson (Miami) and Samantha Prahalis (Ohio State) had 10 points each. UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris missed her only field-goal attempt and had one assist in two minutes. I just heard back from the always helpful Caroline Williams of USA Basketball who confirmed that Faris' playing time was not injury related. Considering that the U.S. was playing from behind for most of the game, U.S. coach Carol Owens opted to go with more offensive-minded players in an attemp to catch up.

The U.S., which will play China on Friday and will play Mali on Saturday, is still in contention for the championship. The U.S. only needs to finish in the top three in Group D to advance to the quarterfinals although the results from the preliminary round will carry over so the loss to Spain will stay on the U.S. resume for the next round. Assuming the U.S. finishes in the top three in Group D, it will be placed in Group F with the top three finishers in Group C and the other top two teams in Group D. The U.S. would have to finish in the top four in Group F to advance to the quarterfinal stage.

It is somewhat ironic that the last time the U.S. lost in this competition came in 2001 when UConn's Geno Auriemma was the head coach and the United States fell to host Czech Republic in the semifinals. It should be noted that five players who will be in Connecticut for Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game were members of the U.S. squad (Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Alana Beard, Nicole Powell and Shameka Christon). The U.S. would beat Australia to win the bronze medal. Taurasi's former UConn teammates Jessica Moore and Ann Strother were also members of that squad.

Former UConn stars Sue Bird and Taurasi will join Christon, Katie Smith, Katie Douglas and Becky Hammon in the Three-Point Shootout while former UConn stars Asjha Jones, Charde Houston and Swin Cash will take part in the Skills Challenge before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

In the shooting competition, players will have one minute to make as many 3-pointers as they can from five shooting stations behind the arc. Each spot consists of five basketballs - four WNBA balls worth one point apiece and one All-Star ball worth two points. The top three scorers will advance to compete in the final round.

The All-Star Skills Challenge will feature four teams comprised of three All-Stars. Two teams from the Eastern Conference and two teams from the Western Conference will compete to make a series of baskets while navigating an obstacle course.

Here are the teams:
Team 1 (East)

Jia Perkins Chicago Sky
Tamika Catchings Indiana Fever
Sancho Lyttle Atlanta Dream

Team 2 (East)

Alana Beard Washington Mystics
Asjha Jones Connecticut Sun
Sylvia Fowles Chicago Sky

Team 1 (West)

Cappie Pondexter Phoenix Mercury
Sophia Young San Antonio Silver Stars
Charde Houston Minnesota Lynx

Team 2 (West)
Swin Cash Seattle Storm
Nicole Powell Sacramento Monarchs
Nicky Anosike Minnesota Lynx

The only players not taking part in either competition are Tina Thompson of the Los Angeles Sparks, Chicago's Candice Dupree, Lauren Jackson of Phoenix and Erika de Souza of Atlanta.

Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with the shooting and skills competitions preceding the 3:30 p.m. WNBA All-Star Game.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Powell to replace Leslie

With Lisa Leslie unable to play in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game because of a knee injury, Nicole Powell of the Sacramento Monarchs has been added to the Western Conference team.

Powell headed into Wednesday's game against the Connecticut Sun averaging a career-high 15.1 points per game and is second on the team in rebounding pulling down 5.1 a game. She also went into Wednesday second in the league with 42 3-pointers made and is 44 for 44 from the free-throw line this season.

Western Conference coach Dan Hughes of the San Antonio Silver Stars will name a replacement for Leslie in the starting lineup.

Word is a handful of tickets are still available for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Geno's take on All-Stars

One of the first things I did when I got word that Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi and Charde Houston were named as reserves for Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game was fire off an e-mail to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

I figured I would post his reply:

"It's pretty amazing. I'm not surprised at all. These women were the best in the country in college and now they have become the best in the pros. I'm proud of them and how hard they have continued to work. It says a lot about them and how we prepare players here at UConn."

There will be more on UConn's five WNBA All-Stars (Sue Bird and Swin Cash were voted by the fans to be Western Conference starters) in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

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Cablevision lone ESPNU dissenter

After receiving the e-mail about Comcast joining the cabe providers who carry ESPNU, I got in touch with Tilea Coleman, who handles women's basketball media inquiries for ESPN so see which other companies don't offer ESPNU.

Here's her response:
"All cable systems in CT carry ESPNU, except for Cablevision. Charter, Cox, Comcast, Groton Utilities, Metrocast Cable are in the state of CT. These cable companies as well as AT&T (telco) and the satellite companies (Dish/DTV) all carry ESPNU."

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as if Cablevision intends to join the club. It has taken a bit longer than anticipated. I still remember speaking to an ESPN executive before UConn's Dec. 18, 2006 game at Virginia. That game was carried on ESPNU with the hope that UConn fans would raise enough of a ruckus to get more Connecticut cable companies to add ESPNU to the channel lineup.

Here's the lead to the notebook which ran in the Dec. 19, 2006 Register.

University of Connecticut women's basketball fans live for game nights. They sit back in their chairs or couches, click on the television and intently watch their beloved Huskies. That was not the case on Monday without either DirecTV or a satellite dish. The UConn/Virginia game was televised on ESPNU, but in the Greater New Haven very few cable providers offer it.
The "blackout" could serve as a dress rehearsal for the Big East tournament as the quarterfinals and semifinals are also scheduled to be broadcast on ESPNU.
There could be some good news on the horizon, however. ESPNU is in negotiations with Comcast.
"You never know (when an agreement will be reached). It does take time," said Burke Magnus, general manager and vice president of ESPNU.
Magnus said the talks are amicable, and he is hoping a deal could be reached before the start of the Big East tournament in March.
"We have a way to go, but it is not an adversarial relationship. This is not like the NFL Network versus Time-Warner," Magnus said.
ESPNU debuted on Mar. 4, 2005 as a way to increase the ESPN network's college sports coverage.
ESPN saw an opening with the UConn-Virginia game and landed the rights through the Atlantic Coast Conference. With ESPN and ESPN2 unavailable, the decision was made to air the game on ESPNU.
"College sports are very important to us," Magnus said. "We take it upon ourselves to provide quality programming."
If ESPN did not acquire the rights to the game, Connecticut Public Television would have shown the game. Unlike the College Sports Television network, which owns the rights to the Jan. 2 UConn-West Virginia game, there is no agreement for ESPN to allow an area station like CPTV to air the game, so the result is the "blackout" situation for the loyal UConn women's basketball fans, who have grown accustomed to seeing every game.
One direct result of not seeing Monday's game could be an increased volume of calls from viewers to their cable providers requesting the addition of ESPNU to the channels offered.
UConn's associate athletic director/communications Mike Enright likened the current ESPNU situation to the infancy of ESPN2. Using high-profile college basketball games as tantalizing bait, ESPN2 began being added by cable providers nationwide.
Will history be repeated with ESPNU? Only time will tell.

Monday, July 20, 2009

UConn tops the charts

It probably doesn't come as a huge shock to hear that UConn leads the way both in the number of players selected to play in the WNBA All-Star Game but also in having the most players from one school play in the same mid-season classic.

Charde Houston of the Minnesota Lynx became the eighth former Husky named to play in the All-Star Game. Along with fellow Western Conference reserve Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, Western Conference starters Sue Bird and Swin Cash (both of the Seattle Storm) and Eastern Conference reserve Asjha Jones of the Connecticut Sun, UConn will top the previous mark it shares with Southern California. In 2003 All-Star regulars Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson were joined by Adrian Williams. However, Cooper did not play. The next two years the former UConn quartet of Nykesha Sales, Bird, Cash and Taurasi were all-stars and all played in the games. On Saturday, UConn's five all-stars will make history.

Not surprisingly, Tennessee is second with seven all-stars. If you count the alum who played in the all-star game, UConn and Tennessee are tied atop the list with seven each as Rebecca Lobo was selected to the 1999 Eastern Conference team but did not play.

It's not exactly a new development as word of ESPNU being brought to Comcast cable subscribers was announced a couple months back but it is still worth mentioning that it is a done deal. While there are still pockets in the state who do not get ESPNU who will likely voice their displeasure when a future UConn game is on ESPNU, it should be noted that your voices have been heard. Whenever I received e-mails about this ESPNU deal, I suggested placing a call to your cable provider. Obviously, Comcast took note and that is good news for the UConn fans who were unable to watch the games on ESPNU before.

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Five ex-Huskies in All-Star game

With Asjha Jones of the Connecticut Sun being named as an Eastern Conference reserve and Charde Houston (Minnesota) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) selected as reserves for the Western Conference, there will be five former UConn players in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Seattle Storm teammates Sue Bird and Swin Cash, members of UConn's 2000 and 2002 national championship teams, were voted as Western Conference starters.

Here's the list of players selected to play in the 3:30 p.m. game

F Tamika Catchings (Indiana) F Swin Cash (Seattle)
F Candice Dupree (Chicago) F Lauren Jackson (Seattle)
C Sylvia Fowles (Chicago) C Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles)
G Katie Douglas (Indiana) G Sue Bird (Seattle)
G Alana Beard (Washington) G Becky Hammon (San Antonio)
F/G Shameka Christon (New York) F/C Nicky Anosike (Minnesota)
F/C Erika de Souza (Atlanta) F Charde Houston (Minnesota)
F Asjha Jones (Connecticut) G Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix)
F Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta) G/F Diana Taurasi (Phoenix)
G Jia Perkins (Chicago) F Tina Thompson (Los Angeles)
G/F Katie Smith (Detroit) F Sophia Young (San Antonio)

Bear in mind, Leslie and Jackson are dealing with injuries so it's likely two players will be added to the Western Conference squad to replace them. Douglas and de Souza are former members of the Connecticut Sun so there will be no lack of Connecticut connections even if the Sun, currently in second place in the Eastern Conference with an 8-6 record, have just one representative.

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Faris, U.S. win exhibition

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had four points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals as the U.S. Under-19 team defeated France 86-46 in a tune-up for the FIBA Under-19 World Championships which begin Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand.

Shenice Johnson (Miami) and C'eira Ricketts (Arkansas) had 12 points each to lead five players in double figures.

The U.S. figures to face a tougher test when it plays Australia on Tuesday in another exhibition game.

The U.S. will begin pool play with a game against Spain on Thursday.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

WNBA state of mind

Having returned from one of the most bizarre basketball games I have ever witnessed as the Connecticut Sun somehow saw a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter sliced to four in the final minute. The Sun, which gave away a game to Detroit at home earlier this month, managed to hold on for a 67-61 win, snapping Indiana's 11-game winning streak.

The reserves for the Eastern and Western teams in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game are expected to be announced Monday afternoon. Six reserves will be picked by the league coaches. I would consider Asjha Jones of the Connecticut Sun to be a lock to be named. The big question is whether her former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi will be among the Western Conference reserves. There's no questioning Taurasi's basketball resume, she is the league's leading scorer (not including the injured Seimone Augustus of Minnesota) but she is also serving a two-game suspension for being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving earlier this month. If she doesn't get named, obviously something is up. I've been going back and forth on the issue but will find out soon enough. Obviously, Taurasi will be walking into the hornet's nest with the Connecticut media waiting for her at Friday's media availability. But if she decides she isn't ready for the media scrunity (which has never been Taurasi's way), the Mercury's next two games after the all-star break are at New York and Connecticut so she will face a sizeable media contigent one way or the other.

Another ex-Husky is also in the mix as Charde Houston is enjoying an all-star caliber season in her second season with the Minnesota Lynx. Heading into Sunday's schedule, Houston was tied for 14th in scoring with an average of 14.6 points per game while averaging 6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks. One thing which could hurt Houston is that her Minnesota teammates Nicky Anosike and Candice Wiggins are also in contention for all-star berths. Then again, with Western Conference starters Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson both ailing, Anosike could always be named as a replacement starter opening a spot for Houston.

Former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Swin Cash, in their second season together in Seattle, were both voted as Western Conference starters.

I couldn't help but noticed that former UConn guard Renee Montgomery drew her first career start Sunday for Minnesota against Seattle meaning the two starting point guard (Montgomery and Bird are former UConn stars who led the Huskies to an undefeated season in their final college season). On Saturday, Montgomery's former UConn teammate Ketia Swanier had 13 points, five rebounds and one assist as the Taurasi-less Phoenix Mercury defeated Detroit 97-90. Swanier, who was waived by the Sun in training camp, has had an interesting first season with Phoenix. She has 28 points between Saturday's win and a June 25 win at Washington but has a total of 21 points in the other 13 games.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stars limping into All-Star "break"

My first question is can I really call one day with no games the "All-Star break?"

Well, that is the deal with the WNBA this year since the schedule was already put together before the All-Star game details were finalized.

There are three games on July 23, although fortunately two of the three are held on the East Coast. After the July 25 All-Star game, there will be two games the following day as Phoenix plays at New York and Sacramento playing at Washington.

Now back to the all-star game, I wonder how many of the 10 players voted into the starting lineup will actually be able to play.

Sylvia Fowles, the starting center for the Eastern Conference, missed Chicago's last game with a shoulder injury. Lisa Leslie, the Western Conference's starting center, has missed the last seven games with a sprained right knee while Seattle forward Lauren Jackson, voted as one of the West's starting forwards, didn't even make the trip to Sacramento because of a strained Achilles tendon.

It should be an interesting weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena.

When the Connecticut media caught up with Brittany Hunter during the NCAA tournament, the former UConn forward/center made it clear that coaching was not a part of her future plans. I guess she wasn't kidding as her name no longer appears among head coach Tonya Cardoza's assistants on the Temple website.

The Indiana Fever brings its 11-game winning streak into Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday for a 3 p.m. game. A win will allow the Fever to equal Connecticut's 12-game streak in 2006 for the second longest in WNBA history behind Los Angeles' 18 straight wins in 2001.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Taurasi suspended for two games

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi has been suspended for the Phoenix Mercury's next two games without pay as a result of her arrest on the suspicion of driving under the influence.

Officially, the suspension is for "conduct detrimental to the team."

Taurasi will miss Saturday's game against Detroit and the July 22 game against Minnesota, which happens to be the day Taurasi is due in court.

“I am deeply sorry and embarrassed for causing this distraction for my teammates, the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA, family and fans," Taurasi said in a statement. "While I cannot say more with regards to the specifics of the case, I do want to make sure that everyone knows how much I appreciate their support and that I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I am committed to making sure a lot of good comes from this experience.”

Taurasi was arrested at around 2:30 a.m., a few hours after the Mercury played against the Seattle Storm. Police charge that she was driving about 20 miles over the speed limit and refused to take a breath test. She was given a blood test and police reported that her blood alcohol content was .17, more than twice the legal limit in the state of Arizona.

The WNBA released a statement saying:
"The WNBA supports the actions taken today by the Mercury and we don't believe further action by the league will be necessary."

Taurasi was not voted as a Western Conference starter for the WNBA All-State game which will be held on July 25 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Taurasi, the league's leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. All-Star reserves have not been named.

Taurasi played at UConn from 2000-04 and led the Huskies to three consecutive national titles. She graduated as UConn's third all-time leading scorer and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA draft by Phoenix.


Maya wins ESPY

Maya Moore won the Best Female College Athlete of the Year award as the ESPYs last night after the sophomore lead UConn to an undefeated season and the program's sixth national championship.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fuzzy math

I'm just trying to see if I am fully comprehending this - from the beginning of the WNBA All-Star balloting on June 14 to the time the first numbers were released on July 2, Diana Taurasi received more votes (32,921) than any other player. However, when the final votes were tabulated, she finished seventh among Western Conference players (third among guards) with 75,263 votes. That's one heck of a shift in a span of a couple of weeks.

There are a few scenarios for the voting results:
1) San Antonio and Seattle fans decided to stuff the ballot box leading to Taurasi being beat out by San Antonio's Becky Hammon and Sue Bird of Seattle. OK, there might be some merit to this theory since Seattle's Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash were the top two vote getters among forward followed by San Antonio's Sophia Young. Also, San Antonio's Ruth Riley and Janelle Burse of Seattle ended up second and third among Western Conference centers thanks to their scoring averages of 8.8 and 5.5 respectively.

2) Taurasi quietly asked the league not to include her in the starting lineup because she simply does not want to deal with heading back to Connecticut for what will be a media feeding frenzy.

3) The league simply does not want to have a person arrest on suspicion of drunk driving to be a starter in the All-Star game.

The silence coming from the league has been deafening which is a whole other story but I guess we'll know soon enough if there is a plan to keep Taurasi out of the All-Star game when the list of reserves are announced. If she is not listed among the reserves, obviously something is up since she is the league's leading scorer.

Considering that the All-Star game is supposed to be a celebration of the best the WNBA has to offer, how the league handles the Taurasi situation will be interesting to watch. Will they view a player with serious legal issues hanging over her head to be too big of a distraction in a showcase event like the All-Star game. Personally, I have read the reports of her .17 blood alcohol content which is more than twice over the legal limit but also know she has not been convicted of any crime.

There is some precedence as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been known to levy penalties before due process plays out. However, the WNBA proved last year in the absolute joke of a slap on the wrist given to Candace Parker for her role in the brawl between Los Angeles and Detroit that it seems to care more for protecting its stars than it does punishing them.

The ball is in the WNBA's court and because of Taurasi's stature in the sport and the charges she faces, plenty of people will be watching.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bird, Cash are All-Star game starters

Former UConn stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash were named starters for the Western Conference squad for the July 25 WNBA All-Star game which will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena.

In a remarkably tight vote, Bird finished as the third leading vote getter in the Western Conference finishing 400 votes behind fellow guard Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars and 94 behind her Seattle Storm teammate Lauren Jackson. Lisa Leslie of Los Angeles, who missed her seventh straight game with a knee injury, was named the Western Conference's starting center while Cash beat out San Antonio's Sophia Young, Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter and Tina Thompson to earn the second starting forward position alongside Jackson, her Seattle teammate.

The biggest surprise had to be that former UConn star Diana Taurasi and her Phoenix teammate Pondexter, the league's top two scorers, were not voted onto the starting lineup. One has to wonder how much Taurasi's July 2 arrest on suspicion of DUI hurt her voting tally.

For the Eastern Conference, Indiana's Tamika Catchings was the runaway leader in votes with 94,316. She is joined in the starting lineup by Chicago's Candice Dupree and Sylvia Fowles, Indiana's Katie Douglas and Alana Beard of Washington. I have to admit to being a bit stunned that former UConn star Asjha Jones of the Connecticut Sun finished 19th among Eastern Conference players and seventh among Eastern Conference forwards in voting.

I would expect to see Jones and Lindsay Whalen named as Eastern Conference reserves. Taurasi, assuming not punishment is handed down before July 25, I would imagine would also earn an invite. Another former UConn star, Minnesota's second-year forward Charde Houston would also have to be considered a candidate for a spot on the Western Conference although I think her Minnesota teammate Candice Wiggins may get the nod. I found it interesting that only three of the top 10 players in efficiency rating (No. 2 Jackson, No. 6 Hammon and No. 8 Catchings) were named starters.

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Taurasi's DUI results are in

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi's blood alcohol content when she was pulled over on July 2 on suspicion of DUI was 0.17, more than twice the legal limit in the state of Arizona according to a report in today's Arizona Republic.

She is due in court on July 22, two days before she is expected in Connecticut as a member of the Western Conference All-Star team for an open practice the day before the WNBA All-Star game on July 25 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Taurasi finished as the third leading vote-getter among Western Conference guards for the WNBA All-Star game but is the leading scorer in the WNBA, averaging 20.6 points per game so barring any action from the league, it is a safe assumption that she will be named to the Western Conference squad.

Taurasi played at UConn from 2000-04, leading the Huskies to the 2002, 2003 and 2004 national titles and finishing as the Huskies' third all-time leading scorer with 2,156 points.

Taurasi faces an extreme DUI charge which includes a $500-2,500 fine, revocation of her license and between 30 days to six months in jail.

Ironically, the lineups for the July 25 WNBA All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena are expected to be announced in a couple of hours, likely at halftime of the nationally-televised game between the Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks.


A bit of this, a bunch of that

After spending some time with UConn's Tina Charles and Kalana Greene at Gampel Pavilion this morning, there's no lack of subjects to cover.

Leading the list is Charles addressing the health of teammate Maya Moore, who missed the World University Games with a sprained knee.

"It was kind of emotional for me just hearing her on the sidelines just saying ‘TC do this’ and ‘post up harder,’" said Charles, the leading scorer and rebounder on the gold-medal winning U.S. squad. "We were playing against Poland and they were the only (team) that gave us a little bit of a scare, them and Russia. I know there were game situations where she could just come down and shoot a 3 and get us out of that drought we were in. She handled it in stride, she is going to rehab it well.

"Just playing with Maya, any time she goes down and whoever is on the floor will huddle around her and she said ‘guys, I am going to get up in five seconds.’ She would pop up and the crowd would all be clapping. When she went down, she didn’t get up that quick. I was on the bench at that time and popped up. I was getting nervous a little bit.

"Tiffany and I were really concerned. A lot of my teammates were rallying around her, we were praying. Just the fact that everything is turning out positive, I am really happy."

Charles also spoke of a less than welcoming response from Serbian fans when the U.S. team went to watch the U.S. men's team play against Serbia in the World University Games.

"It was pretty overwhelming. A lot of the people there were still stuck on the fact that we had bombed them in 1999. Just the fact that they had to walk by the buildings we bombed in 1999, they still hold a little grudge about it. I was able to take a tour and see the memorial for the kids that we had killed, the village was.

"We went to see our men play against Serbia. There were like 10,000 fans and just us 50 USA athletes right behind the bench," Charles said. "As soon as Serbia would score, you would talk about Serbia (fans) showing the middle finger to us, saying all these crazy things to us. Once you get to talk to them, you tell them it (the bombing of Serbia and Yugoslavia in 1999 as part of Operation Noble Anvil) was the past and I was 9/10 years old and I didn’t even know what happened until I got there. They just let it go and they were really nice people."

Greene has stayed up at UConn and worked on her mid-range offensive game as well as her 3-point shot. Rather than start graduate school, she is leaning towards adding a second major (political science) to the urban studies major she has completed. With former roommate Renee Montgomery now in the WNBA, Greene was uncertain who she would be living with but thought it would be Cassie Kerns, Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty.

She also spoke of a joke she played on her mom. On the morning of graduation (of which Greene was not taking part in) she called her mother to ask why she wasn't there to see her receive her degree.

"I kind of tricked my mom," Greene said. "I said ‘yo, where are you?’ She said ‘what are you talking about?’ I said 'I am about to go the gym (for graduation).' She said ‘you are not serious?’"

Greene admitted her mom fell for it and was a little annoyed when Kalana told her it was just a joke.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Charles powers U.S.

This just in, Tina Charles seems to have the hang of this championship game deal.

Charles' performance in the 2009 national championship game will go down as one of the best effort in the glorious history of the UConn women's basketball program.

Charles delivered with a title on the line again on Saturday in Belgrade, Serbia.

Charles had 28 points and 18 rebounds (one shy of Ayana Walker's U.S. single-game record) as the U.S. defeated Russia 83-64 to win the gold medal at the World University Games.

"I just wanted to go out and play the way I know how to play," Charles said. "I treated this like it was a national championship game or a Big East Conference championship game. I know everybody worked hard, everybody wanted to win, and that's what was always on my mind."

Charles finished as the leading scorer (16.1 points per game) and rebounder (6.5 average in the seven games) for the undefeated U.S. squad.

Even with her UConn teammate Maya Moore forced to miss the tournament with a sprained knee, Charles had plenty of help. Danielle McCray of Kansas and Ohio State's Jantel Lavender were also double-figure scorers, averaging 12 and 10.4 points respectively.

UConn rising sophomore Tiffany Hayes led the U.S. with nine 3-pointers, was the fourth-leading scorer with an average of 8.9 points per game, tied for second with 12 steals and was third with 12 assists.

For those who get Fox College Sports, USA Basketball is saying the game will be aired on that station at 7 p.m.

Here's the info:

Belgrade, SERBIA (July 11, 2009) - Fox College Sports will air the 2009 Women's World University Games Gold Medal Game online at the following link
. The broadcast will air at 7 p.m. EDT and loop three times.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Leedham nets 24 in finale

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham's 24 points, seven rebounds and five steals were not enough as Great Britain lost to Poland 89-94 in overtime in the fifth-place game in the World University Games Friday in Belgrade, Serbia.

Unless Katerina Elhotova of the Czech Republic scores 31 points and/or Australia's Elyse Penaluba has 34 points in Saturday's bronze-medal game, Leedham will finish in a tie for third in scoring at the World University Games with an average of 18.9 points per game. The rising senior at Franklin Pierce is also tied for fourth in steals (2.4 a game) and tied for fifth with 17 3-pointers.

Leedham's older sister Jennifer, who also played at Cheshire Academy and Franklin Pierce, averaged 6.4 points and tied her sister for the team lead with 22 assists.

The U.S. will play Russia at 9 a.m. Eastern time in Saturday's gold-medal game. UConn's Tina Charles leads the 6-0 U.S. in scoring (14.2 points per game), is second behind Ohio State's Jantel Lavender in rebounding (6 per game). Charles' UConn teammate Tiffany Hayes leads the U.S. with nine 3-pointers, is fourth in scoring (9.7), third with 12 assists and second in 12 steals in the first six games of the tournament.

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Holt in the lineup?

There's a chance that Amber Holt will play her first regular-season game with the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night.

Holt has been out since breaking a bone in her right hand in a May 27 preseason game against Atlanta. She practiced without restriction for the first time since suffering the injury on Thursday and went again on Friday.

Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault and head athletic trainer Jeremy Norman will meet before the game to decide whether to let Holt play against Detroit or hold her out until Tuesday when Los Angeles comes to Mohegan Sun Arena.

"The doctor said it is my decision if I want to play tomorrow but I am going to leave it up to Coach (Thibault)," Holt said. "Hopefully I’ll play."

Holt is not the only player who will be a game-time decision. Tamika Whitmore missed half of Friday's practice as one of the muscles under her knee is still a bit tender.

"Some days it feels great, some days it is pretty sore," Thibault said of Whitmore.

If Whitmore sits the game out, that would be noteworthy based on her ironwoman reputation.

Whitmore missed five games as a rookie with the New York Liberty in 1999 with a left ankle sprain. Since the beginning of the 2000 season, she has missed just one game (on June 25, 2003 when the Liberty played the Phoenix Mercury because of a sprained right foot.) Whitmore has played in 169 straight regular-season games.

Mohegan Sun Arena will host open practices for the East and West All Stars on Friday, July 24th, the day before the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game.

The East All Stars are scheduled to practice from 3-3:45 p.m. The West All
Stars will follow, practicing from 4:15-5 p.m. Arena doors will open at
2:30 p.m. and there will be no admission charged.

The All-Star lineups will be announced on Tuesday during the nationally-televised game between Connecticut and Los Angeles.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Charles delivers again

UConn rising senior Tina Charles had her second double-double of the tournament and scored in double figures for the fifth time in six games to lead the U.S. past Australia 81-66 and into Saturday's gold-medal game in the World University Games.

Charles finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Kansas' Danielle McCray had a team-high 15 points (her fifth double-digit scoring game) as the U.S. set up a showdown with Russia on Saturday at 9 a.m. Eastern time for the title.

Alexis Gray-Lawson of California and Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson added 10 points each while UConn's Tiffany Hayes had four points and six rebounds. In the first six games, nine of the 11 U.S. players (Maya Moore of UConn is sitting out the tournament with a sprained knee) had scored in double figures at least once led by Charles and McCray. Gray-Lawson and Ohio State's Jantel Lavender had three double-figure games while Hayes and Georgia's Ashley Houts have a pair of double-digit scoring games.

Russia earned a spot in the final with an 106-64 win over the Czech Republic.

Dan Hughes of the San Antonio Silver Stars and Lin Dunn of the Indiana Fever will be the coaches in the July 25 WNBA All-Star game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Hughes earned the honor by virtue of leading San Antonio to the 2008 Western Conference title but with Bill Laimbeer of the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock having stepped down, the nod went to Dunn as she has led the Fever to the best record in the Eastern Conference (8-2).

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Charles, Hayes star for U.S.

UConn teammates Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes combined for 36 points as the United States defeated the Czech Republic 115-78 to advance to the semifinals of the World University Games.

Charles had 20 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes while Hayes 16 points and four 3-pointers in 16 minutes. Danielle McCray of Kansas had 15 points and seven rebounds, Ashley Houts (Georgia) had 13 points, Jantel Lavender (Ohio State) 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Kayla Pedersen of Stanford nine points and 11 rebounds for the U.S., which will face Australia in the semifinals on Thursday (11:30 a.m. Eastern time). Russia and Czech Republic play in the other semifinals on Thursday. The semifinal losers play in the bronze-medal game on Saturday (6:30 a.m. Eastern time) with the gold-medal game set for 9 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Charles leads the 5-0 U.S. squad in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game and is third in rebounding (5.8). Hayes is fourth in scoring (10.8), tied for the team lead with 11 steals and third with 12 assists. Maya Moore, the consensus national player of the year, is sitting out the tournament with a strained right knee.

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham headed into Tuesday's play third in scoring (21.3) and steals (12) and tied for the tournament lead with 11 3-pointers. Leedham and her Great Britain team lost to Poland 74-64 on Tuesday. Great Britain plays Taiwan on Thursday. With a win, Great Britain will play in the fifth-place game on Friday. With a loss, it will take part in the seventh-place game on Friday.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris was named to the U.S. Under-19 team which will begin training camp on Thursday.

Faris originally was named one of the 14 finalists for the team following tryouts in May. With Stanford’s Sarah Boothe and Pepper Wilson of Pittsburgh pulling their names from consideration because of injuries, the remaining candidates were named to the final U.S. roster.

Faris and the U.S. will open play in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships against Spain on July 23 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Gruda joins Sun

The last piece of the puzzle (unless you include the wait for second-year forward Amber Holt to recover from the hand injury she suffered in the preseason) for the Connecticut Sun has arrived.

Sandrine Gruda, a gifted 6-foot-4 forward, joined the Sun on its midwest road trip and will play in Sunday's game at Detroit. Connecticut waived rookie forward/center Lauren Ervin to stay at the WNBA maximum 11-player limit.

Gruda averaged 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and tied for the team lead with 26 blocks in 31 games last season. Her arrival was delayed as she led France to the Eurobasket championship and was given permission to take some time to visit her family before joining the Sun.

Gruda had an outstanding performance at the Eurobasket championship and was one of the leading candidates for the tournament's MVP honor which went to former Connecticut Sun guard Evanthia Maltsi. She joins a Connecticut team which ranks last in field-goal percentage, 11th in scoring offense and 10th in rebounding margin.

Not only is Gruda further along as a player than she was a year ago but watching an interview (in English) of Gruda after the Eurobasket semifinals, I barely recognized Gruda's confident, easy-going persona. It was a stark contrast to the shy, reserved way she carried herself around the media with the Sun.

I spoke recently to Asjha Jones, a teammate of Gruda's on the UMMC Ekaterinburg (Russia) squad and Connecticut coach Mike Thibault about how much she has matured in the last year.

"There is a lot of growth," Jones said. "Last year was her first year in America and she is a young player, she didn't go to college and didn't have that experience that we all had. I thiink she tries to treat it as a learning experience and grow every year."

Jones credits the work of Los Angeles Sparks assistant coach Marianne Stanley, who was an assistant for UMMC Ekaterinburg, for helping Gruda grow as a player on the court to the point where she is considered to be one of Europe's top players.

"She came here (last season) as kind of the young kid on the team and for the (French) team she has become a leader and expected to be a leader. I think it will change her demeanor towards how she plays in the league."

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Charles, U.S. top hosts

Led by 17 points from UConn rising senior Tina Charles, the U.S. defeated host Serbia 84-50 to wrap up the Group A title with a 3-0 record at the World University Games.

Danielle McCray of Kansas and Georgia's Ashley Houts added 12 points each and California's Alexis Gray-Lawson added 10 points and four steals for the U.S. UConn's Tiffany Hayes added six points, three rebounds and five assists for the U.S., which now heads into the second stage of round robin play in Group E along with Great Britain, Czech Republic and Poland. The United States will be given credit for its previous win against Great Britain. After a day off tomorrow, the U.S. will face Poland on Sunday and the Czech Republic on Monday. The top two teams in each of the four groups advance into the championship bracket with the third and fourth-place teams relegated to the consolation bracket.

UConn's Maya Moore missed her third straight game with a sore knee. I reached out to USA Basketball and the early word confirmed early reports that the move was simply a precautionary one. When or if further details become available, I will pass them on but it should be noted that after every game I have seen Maya play, she was worn ice packs on both knees. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, there's no way they are going to risk Maya's health even if it means holding out the team's best player.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham was the tournament's leading scorer through two games, averaging 22 points a game for Great Britain. Some day somebody can explain to me how it is she ended up playing at Franklin Pierce and not for a Big East team or one of the other Division I teams in the state. Something tells me she would be an All-Big East candidate if she went to Seton Hall, Providence or other teams who would use a versatile 5-foot-11 offensive dynamo. It should be noted that Leedham had 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals (as well as seven turnovers) while her sister and Jennifer (who also went from Cheshire Academy to Franklin Pierce) had eight points and four steals in a loss to the U.S. so it's not like they are padding their stats against inferior competition. Unfortunately, the stats are not available for the other games on Friday other than the U.S. so I can't update how the Leedhams did in Great Britain's 80-56 win over France. Johannah Leedham, the 2008 WBCA Division II national player of the year, has one year remaining with the Ravens while Jennifer will stay with the program as an assistant coach after graduating. Personally, if UConn schedules a Division II opponent in the preseason for the third straight season, let's hope it is Franklin Pierce.

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DUI troubles for Taurasi

With the news that former UConn star and perennial WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury Diana Taurasi was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol the question is what's next for one of the game's most well-known players.

Let's start with this, Taurasi has not been convicted of a crime and the ramifications of the citation she received for suspicion of DUI won't be known until the results of her blood test come in.

The Mercury addressed the story by stating that they are aware of Taurasi's situation. Taurasi was quoted in a Phoenix publication but said very little other than the standard public relations spiel I sure she was instructed to repeat.

I reached out to a Connecticut lawyer who has handled DUI cases in the past to try to get an idea of the time frame of getting blood tests back and he said in Connecticut it is a very long, drawn out process. He also questioned the fact that Taurasi refused to take a breath, opting for a blood test instead stating that would be up to the discretion of the arresting officer. Now it is possible Taurasi, who was said to have been cooperative during her arrest, requested a blood test rather than a breath test. In Connecticut, refusal to take the breath test results in automatic suspension of your license. A report shows that to also be the case in Arizona so if Taurasi is said to have refused to take the breath test, she will be without a license regardless of the outcome of her court case.

Arizona is notorious for its strict DUI laws. so it figures to be a rough road for her if she is shown to have been over the legal limit.

Something tells me that Taurasi, always a popular interview with the Connecticut media, will receive even more attention when she comes to town for the WNBA All-Star game which is being held on July 25 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

On a brighter note for Taurasi, her powerhouse Spartak Moscow Region team just got stronger with the news that Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, who played in her first game with the Connecticut Sun on Friday, will join the squad already featuring Taurasi, Bird, Lauren Jackson and Sylvia Fowles. Jekabsone-Zogota had been playing for Moscow Dynamo since 2006.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Time to catch up

Having this week off, I haven't exactly been in a blogging state of mind. I think I have been too busy pondering the impending farewell of my trusty old couch which will leave on the back of the (shameless plug alert) Pilgrim Furniture truck in the morning. I'm not saying my couch is old, but it's very likely Geno Auriemma was still an assistant at Virginia when it first made its way to my former apartment.

Since I assume you don't read this blog for couch updates (for those who do, you can't say I don't offer a bit of versatility), I will get down to the matter at hand.

UConn teammates Tina Charles (18 points, six rebounds in 15 minutes) and Tiffany Hayes (15 points, five steals in 22 minutes) as the U.S. opened play in the World University Games with an 115-30 win (sounds like a score of a few UConn games). Maya Moore did not play because of soreness in her knee. I haven't heard any further updates on Maya but I wouldn't try to panic about that. USA Basketball does everything first-class and the medical personnel on the trip with the team are among the best in the business. They will not do anything to jeapordize Maya's health. I would expect more on the subject in the coming days. The U.S. plays Great Britain on Thursday with the winner taking over sole possession of first place in Group A.

Now here's a little update on a former teammate of Moore, Charles and Hayes. Renee Montgomery is holding her first Renee Montgomery Basketball Camp in South Charleston, W. Va. on July 25 (that happens to be the same day as the WNBA All-Star game so I guess she didn't think she would be selected to play when she started planning the event). Among those scheduled to be on hand are her former UConn teammates Kaili McLaren and Kalana Greene.

Speaking of ex-Huskies, four of them are in action tonight as Seattle (featuring Sue Bird and Swin Cash) meet Diana Taurasi, Ketia Swanier and the rest of the Phoenix Mercury. The game is nearing the end of the first quarter. Cash has seven points and Bird five as Seattle leads 21-19. Swanier has two points and Taurasi one for Phoenix.

Last but certainly not least, congratulations to former UConn star Jennifer Rizzotti for being elected to the Jackie Robinson Professional Wing of the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame. She will be inducted in a ceremony on Oct. 19 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich.

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