Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Special night for Maya Moore

From fighting back tears when her seemingly endless string of accomplishments over the last four seasons or seeing her No. 23 added to the Huskies of Honor, this was a night that Maya Moore won't soon forget.

She will forever recall the unabashed enthusiasm displayed by her 81 year old grandfather and will never forget how incredibly well the top-ranked Huskies played in the final regular season home game of her collegiate career.

Once Moore saw fellow senior Lorin Dixon crying when she was introduced just before her, she knew there was no way she was going to be dry eyed when she made the walk to center court to embrace UConn coach Geno Auriemma before holding a framed No. 23 jersey over her head.

"I don't know what triggered it," Moore said of her emotional reaction before Monday's game against Syracuse. "To hear it, I don't think about it just the accomplishements and a lot of history is something I don't generally think about a lot. When it is said all at once, it was all overwhelming. I have been given so many opportunities and the fact that I was able to reach my potential with this team, reach moarks that nobody could have predicted. I think it started when Lorin went out and started crying and I started crying.

"He (her grandfather( made this night, I loved it. I was happy. I know it was our Senior Night but he was the happiest one in the building. I love seeing a smile on his face. Even if I wasn't here, if I was somewhere else, he would be just as proud. He just loves me unconditionally and I am glad he was able to be here, see it and be a part of it. I know he will never forget it and he brought so much joy to people around here. I get a lot of the way I treat people, I had a great exasmple from him. He is somebody who will go out of his way to make sure you will feel comfortable. I know when I do that, it makes him proud. I am just being like him when I try to do the same thing. He has a blast. I hope I can see some of the pictures."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma claimed no part in Moore's ascension to greatness, saying it would have happened no matter where Moore went to school but the fact is that the guidance of Auriemma and his assistant coaches have allowed Moore go from highly-touted recruit to become one of the sport's greatest players.

"If you try to put into words all the things she has done, you are not going to be able to do it," Auriemma said. "Trying to do that with Maya, it is going to take you, five, six, seven minutes non-stop 'and this, and she was the first one to do this.' On and on, after all of that is done and you look beyond that, how she did it, how she carries herself. What she has had to do this year has probably made it maybe a little more rewarding.

"She has gone through a whole gamut since freshman year of I am just going to run around and every time I touch it, I am going to shoot it to senior year 'I have to be a leader on this team. I am going to lead by example. I am going to show that I can do other things. Some players never make that jumop an that is why their teams struggle and she was able to make that jump. Everything that she gets, she deserves. I know I would have gotten all of the blame if she had turned out to be a schlep but I don't think I should get any credit. It is all her."

UConn earned the top seed and won't play until Sunday's quarterfinals. The game will start at 2 at Hartford's XL Center. Here's the unofficial schedule:

Game 1: No. 12 Pittsburgh vs. No. 13 South Florida, noon
Game 2: No. 9 Syracuse vs. No. 16 Seton Hall, 2 p.m.
Game 3: No. 10 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Cincinnati, 6 p.m.
Game 4: No. 11 Providence vs. 14 Villanova, 8 p.m.
Game 5: Pittsburgh/South Florida winner vs. No.5 Marquette, noon
Game 6: Syracuse/Seton Hall winner vs. No. 8 Georgetown, 2 p.m.
Game 7: West Virginia/Cincinnat winner vs. No. 7 St. John's, 6 p.m.
Game 8: Providence/Villanova winner vs. No. 6 Louisville, 8 p.m.
Game 9: No. 4 Rutgers vs. Game 5 winner, noon
Game 10: No. 1 UConn vs. Game 6 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 11: No. 2 DePaul vs. Game 7 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 12: No. 3 Notre Dame vs. Game 8 winner, 8 p.m.
Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, 7 p.m.

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Busy schedule at Gampel Pavilion

Tonight's regular-season finale against Syracuse is far from the only activity on the docket.

Before the game seniors Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore will be honored as part of "Senior Night" festivities. Moore will also be the 13th women's player to be inducted into the Huskies of Honor.

At halftime Moore, Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty and Heather Buck will be among the UConn student-athletes to be honored for attaining at least a 3.0 grade point average in either the fall or spring semester.

After the game, UConn will be presented the Big East regular-season trophy. UConn has clinched the program's 19th Big East title.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

UConn recruits continue champion quests

While UConn is wrapping up the regular season with a home game against Syracuse on Monday, the Huskies' three incoming freshman continue postseason play in the coming days.

Brianna Banks headed into postseason play averaging 16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 5.1 steals per game. After helping her Fayette County team to a 64-41 win over Northside in the first round of Georgia's AAAA state tournament, Banks and Fayette County play Mundy's Hill on Tuesday.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, recently named the Women's Basketball Coaches Association high school player of the year, will get to try to lead Mater Dei to the CIF Southern Section IAA title in her hometown of Anaheim. Mater Dei faces Santa Monica in Tuesday's semifinals at the Anaheim Arena.

Mosqueda-Lewis, who has posted six straight 20-point games, is averaging 22 points per game and has 92 3-pointers in 27 games for the Monarchs.

Kiah Stokes and Linn-Mar of Marion, Iowa will face Ankeny in Iowa's Class 4A quarterfinals on Wednesday. Stokes is averaging 25 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks as a senior.

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Dixon looks back at her time at UConn

Obviously Maya Moore will be the center of attention before Monday's regular-season finale against Syracuse as she all-time leading scorer in UConn history will be honored during "Senior Night" festivities but also, her No. 23 is expected to be added to the "Huskies of Honor."

While Moore's run at UConn has been nothing short of spectacular, fellow senior Lorin Dixon also will receive a well-earned ovation for working her way into a key role for the top-ranked Huskies.

Unlike Moore, Dixon was not an instant sensation from the second she stepped onto the UConn campus. She was left behind to tend to some academic issues when UConn played in the Bridgeport NCAA tournament subregional in 2008. Other than some electrifying games against North Carolina, the early portion of Dixon's collegiate career was one of unfulfilled promise.

However, it has all come together for her this season. Although Dixon will likely get the start tonight as seniors tend to do in their final home game, it is her ability to provide a consistent spark off the bench which has made her senior year one she will always remember.

"It is an enjoyment to play," Dixon said. "Everybody is telling us we are going to be young this year, we aren't that deep and just to see all of that come together, this is what we've been working for the last four years. Watching Bria, watching Tiffany be a part of it, playing a bigger role it is just a great feeling especially this being my senior year for it to happen like this.

"I came in there were the Ketia Swanier's, the Mel Thomas', Renee Montgomery's so I came behind a lot of great guards Kalana (Greene) too so it is really a great accomplishment for me. I came in and was like 'wow, I am never going to play here. These girls are good.' To work my way up and be a part of it, my feeling is that you came far, you worked for it so enjoy it and that is what I am doing in my last year."

Dixon and Moore expect to be emotional when they walk out to midcourt to greet UConn coach Geno Auriemma and be saluted by the crowd.

"When they announce it, we can look at each other and say we worked hard to get here, we've won two national championships, we have been to the Final Four every year," Dixon said. "It shows that hard work does mean a lot, me and Maya have been here, we've been through the grind, through the wins and the losses. I feel like we have (experienced) it all and for this to be our senior year and have it happening like this is a great feeling that we can look at each other, appreciate it and say 'we did it.'"

UConn officials are encouraging fans to get to the 7:30 p.m. game a little early as the Senior Night festivities will begin at 7:13 p.m.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Heather Buck to be sidelined

Reserve forward/center Heather Buck injured her left ankle during UConn's practice on Thursday. Although the former Stonington High star and three-time New Haven Register State Girls' Basketball MVP said that her wearing a walking boot on her left foot and having crutches to help her get around was merely precautionary, UConn officials have confirmed that she suffered a stress reaction and is expected to miss a minimum of two weeks.

Buck appeared in all 28 games and averaged 2.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 9.3 minutes per game.


Mosqueda-Lewis is WBCA national player of the year

UConn signee is following in the footsteps of current Husky star Maya Moore by earning national high school player of the year honors from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association before heading to Storrs.

Here is the release from the WBCA

Mosqueda-Lewis leads her Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. squad against Santa Monica on Tuesday in the CIF Southern Section I-AA semifinals. Santa Monica upset Long Beach Poly, the team which handed Mater Dei its only loss of the season, in the quarterfinals. If Mater Dei wins, the Monarchs will play either Brea-Olinda (the nation's top-ranked high school team) or Santiago-Corona in the championship game.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Maya's reaction to being named Academic All-American of the year

Maya Moore's take on being named the women's basketball Academic All-American of the Year in the University Division for the second year in a row isn't too much different from her reaction to any other honors she has received during her remarkable run at UConn both on the off the court.

"It has been something that makes me think back to high school, taking AP (advanced placement) classes, always having a challenging schedule and having a positive educational experience so when I got to college, I wanted to be a good student and try to soak up as much of the academic environment as I could," Moore said.

Moore has a 3.70 grade point average in her individualized sports media and promotion major.

She joins Jen Rizzotti and Rebecca Lobo as UConn stars who were named the National Academic All-American of the Year and is the first UConn women's basketball player to be a three-time Academic All-American.

"I think it is just an extension of who Maya is," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Maya is a lot like Jen Rizzotti in that respect, the same intensity level, the same passion, the same attention to detail and same focus that you see on the court every time you watch them play. Some kids get rewards because they are naturally gifted. That might be the case in Maya's career, she is naturally gifted but you don't get to where Maya is without taking those gifts and working really hard, harder than anybody."

At halftime of Monday's regular-season finale against Syracuse, Moore will be honored along with teammates Heather Buck, Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris as UConn student-athletes who attained 3.09 GPAs either during the spring or fall, 2010 semesters. She will also have her No. 23 jersey inducted into the Huskies of Honor program.

Sophomore center Heather Buck hurt her left ankle in Thursday's practice and was seen on crutches and wearing a boot. However, Buck said the injury was not serious and the boot/crutches were for precautionary reasons.

Maya Moore Academic All-American of the Year

UConn senior forward Maya Moore was named to the Capital One Academic All-American team for the third time and was named the Academic All-American of the Year in the University Division for a second time.

Moore had previously joined Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Leigh Curl as the only players in program history to be named an Academic All-American multiple times but she is the first Husky to earn the honor three times. She is the first player to be named Academic All-American in the University Division more than once.

Moore, who carries a 3.70 grade point average with an individualized major titled “sports, media and promotion", leads the top-ranked Huskies in scoring (23.6 points per game), rebounding (7.8) and also leads the team with 124 assists, 64 steals and 35 blocked shots.

She was joined on the University Division first team by Army's Erin Anthony, Kathleen Barry of Columbia, Amanda Johnson of Oregon and West Virginia's Liz Repella.

Speaking of grade point averages, UConn will honor the student/athletes with 3.0 GPA during halftime of Monday's game against Syracuse.

A total of 327 student-athletes from all 24 of UConn’s athletic teams will be honored for earning a 3.0 grade point average in the spring 2010 and/or fall 2010 semester.

There will be a special recognition for the 16 student-athletes who earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in either semester. Those exceptional scholar-athletes are: junior Michelle Bashaw (Salisbury) of the women’s track and field team, an elementary education major, who earned a 4.0 in both semesters; senior Robert Brickley (Wethersfield) of the men’s soccer team, a civil engineering major; freshman Courtney Gregorian (Burlington, Ont.) of the women’s swimming and diving team, a nursing major; freshman Julia Hamer (Burlington, Ont.) of the volleyball team, a kinesiology major; senior Angelika Johansson (Falkenberg, Sweden) of the women’s soccer team, a doctoral student in math; senior Greg King (Queensland, Australia) of the men’s soccer team, a psychology major who graduated in December; sophomore Hillary Lackman (Storrs) of the women’s soccer team, a psychology major; junior Megan Lally (Westwood, Mass.) of the women’s lacrosse team, a biology major.

Also: freshman Scott McCummings (Natick, Mass.) of the football team, a management major; senior Kathleen Moritz (York, Pa.) of the women’s tennis team, an exercise science major; senior Mike Rutt (Sinking Springs, Pa.) of the men’s track and field team, an exercise science major; senior Lauren Sparks (West Chester, Pa.) of the women’s lacrosse team, a communication and English major; junior Jens Peter Traff (Lyngby, Denmark) of the men’s swimming and diving team, a computer engineering major; sophomore Siobhan Wilcox (Glastonbury) of the women’s lacrosse team, a nursing major; sophomore Hillary Wiles-Lafayette (Litchfield) of the women’s rowing team, a ecology and evolutionary biology major; and senior Annie Yi (Indianapolis, Ind.) of the women’s soccer team, a doctoral student in physical therapy.

In addition, 11 teams will be honored for having a cumulative 3.0 squad grade point average for the fall semester: field hockey, women’s lacrosse, men’s tennis, women’s rowing, softball, volleyball, women’s ice hockey, women’s soccer, women’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis and women’s track and field.

The women’s soccer team will be honored for having the highest grade point average for both the fall 2010 semester and the combined spring 2010 and fall 2010 semesters.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

UConn clinches top seed in Big East tournament

Even with UConn having the day off, the Huskies turned out to be winners as DePaul's 68-55 loss to Louisville allowed UConn to clinch the top seed in the upcoming Big East tournament as well as a share of the Huskies' record 19th Big East regular-season title.

UConn leads DePaul and Notre Dame by two games with two games remaining and the Huskies own the tiebreaker against both teams thanks to its victory over DePaul and sweep of the two games against Notre Dame. UConn can secure the outright conference championship with a win Saturday at Georgetown or by winning at home against Syracuse on Monday.

This will be the 18th time in the last 23 years that the Huskies have earned the top seed in the conference tournament and fifth year in a row they go in as the No. 1 seed. UConn has won the Big East tournament 14 times as the top seed and reached the finals 16 times. The only time the Huskies earned the top seed and failed to reach the championship game came in 2004 when fifth-ranked Boston College upset the Huskies in the semifinals en route to becoming the lowest seed to win the title since fifth-seeded Syracuse captured the 1985 Big East tournament championship.

UConn will receive a bye into the quarterfinals and will play at 2 p.m. on March 6. With a win, UConn would play at 6 p.m. on March 7 in the first of the two semifinals. The Big East final is March 8 at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

UConn happy with win but not effort against Seton Hall

UConn's standard of success and high-quality play is at such an elite level that even a 21-point victory can be a cause of discontent.

Playing disjointed and lethargic for long stretches, UConn was never in danger of losing to Seton Hall but was left longing for a better performance than the one it put forth on Tuesday night.

"I don't remember the last time someone made 10 3's on us, so credit to them for making some tough shots," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Seton Hall which had a season-high 11 3-pointers. "Except for a 7-10 minute stretch at the beginning of the second half where it began to look like the Connecticut team that we are used to seeing, the other 25-30 minutes it was more about Seton Hall than it was about Connecticut.

"I think it also illustrates that when you make shots like we did in the second half, we made free throws, it covers up a lot of things. This was one of those nights where we didn't turn the ball over, we shot great from the free throw line, we played well for a stretch of minutes in the second half but it wasn't one of those games where you feel like you got everything accomplished that you wanted to get accomplished."

With the Seton Hall game sandwiched between the Huskies' impressive win over Notre Dame and Saturday's game at Georgetown, it was only natural that there would be a bit of a letdown by the Huskies.

"It's a natural occurrence, especially when one day you are playing a game that was for first place in the league and the next day you are playing the team that is tied for last in the league," Auriemma said. "That's probably when a thin bench shows itself, because if you were consistently playing eight or nine players you would be able to kind of keep running people out there and not having to tax people mentally as much. Do I understand it? 'Yes.' I just thought that we played, we won and its time to move on. But it wasn't anything that we can go back tomorrow and look at as something that was really, really helpful to us for the most part. I understand it. I know these things happen. It didn't matter what the final score was. Us winning by 20, 30 or 40 - it just didn't play out right. There were just too many moments, too many minutes, too many long stretches of just ok basketball. On to the next one. We have two left, do the same thing we've done all year long. Saturday/Monday, one on the road, one at home. It seems like the last couple of years we've had a million of those and I hope this Saturday/Monday go as well as a whole bunch of the other Saturday/Mondays have gone."

If DePaul loses to Louisville on Wednesday, UConn will clinch a share of the Big East title. If DePaul wins out, UConn can still secure at least a share of the program's 19th Big East regular-season title and the top seed in the Big East tournament with a win at Georgetown on Saturday or victory against Syracuse in Monday's regular-season finale.

"It was probably not a great thing to talk about with some of our guys, because I brought it up something the other day that the freshman can enjoy something that was meaningful for them, that they had something to do, which is hopefully win a regular season championship in the toughest league in the country," Auriemma said with a sly grin. "If they did what I think they are capable of doing and go undefeated in the league, at this time when seven teams in the league are in the top 25, that would be something really, really meaningful if they can pull it off. They were so inspired and jacked up that they came out tonight and just let me know `We've got our own agenda. We're not really interested in what you have to say all of the time.' Saturday and Monday will be interesting."


Setting the stage for UConn/Seton Hall

We're about 10 minutes away from the start of the UConn/Seton Hall game.

This is the 12th game in a row that UConn started Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes, Kelly Faris, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley.

Seton Hall countered with Kashmere Joseph, Ka-Deirdre Simmons, Jazzmine Johnson, Jasmine Crew and Whitney Wood.

UConn moved back to the top spot in the Associated Press national poll on Monday so this will be the 298th game the Huskies have played as the No. 1 team in the AP poll. UConn's record as the top-ranked team is 285-12.

UConn has won its last 26 games against Seton Hall, 41 of the last 42 and UConn coach Geno Auriemma is 43-2 all time against the Pirates.

The game features a pair of Olympic coaches as Seton Hall's Anne Donovan led the United States to the 2008 gold medal while UConn's Geno Auriemma will be coaching the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics.

Bria Hartley, coming off a career-high 29 points against Notre Dame on Saturday, is looking to become the first UConn freshman with consecutive 20-point games since Maya Moore had 24 and 25 points against Texas and Old Dominion in the 2008 NCAA tournament.

Moore needs 28 points to move by former Oklahoma State star Andrea Riley and into 13th place on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list.

UConn tops coaches poll

UConn received 30 of the 31 first place votes in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. Second ranked Stanford picked up the other No. 1 vote,

UConn urging fans to arrive early for Senior Night

With seniors Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore being honored before Monday's regular-season finale against Syracuse, UConn officials are urging fans to get to Gampel Pavilion a little earlier than normal.

While the game against Syracuse will tip at 7:36 p.m., the Senior Night festivities will begin at 7:13 p.m. An added bonus is that Moore's No. 23 is expected to be added to the Huskies of Honor that evening as well. Also, if DePaul and UConn both take care of business leading up to that game, fans could see UConn win its record 19th Big East regular-season title.

Here is CPTV's broadcast schedule for the 28th.

6 p.m.: A look back at the careers of seniors Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon.
7 p.m.: UConn Senior Ceremony
7:30 p.m.: UConn vs. Syracuse
9:45 p.m. (approx.): UConn Women’s Basketball: A Tribute to the Class of 2011 (encore presentation)
11 p.m. The Geno Auriemma Show: Special Edition – Taped earlier this month at the Rocky Hill Marriott, head coach Geno Auriemma and players Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes and Kelly Faris are interviewed by host Meghan Culmo.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Bria Holmes update

As if there was a question regarding UConn's interest in Hillhouse junior Bria Holmes, assistant coach Shea Ralph was sitting four rows behind the Academics' bench at the TD Bank Sports Center during Monday's Southern Connecticut Conference tournament semifinal.

Holmes had 16 points (on 7 of 11 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and five turnovers while playing all 32 minutes as Hillhouse held on for a 51-50 victory over Career.

Holmes saved her best for the early portion of the third quarter, grabbing half of her eight rebounds in that quarter as the Academics built up a commanding lead only to come back behind the play of Bria Moore, who had 16 of her game-high 17 points in the second half and also had 11 rebounds.

Career had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds but Nicole Bentley missed a driving layup. However, a foul was called during the ensuing scramble sending Nicole Anderson to the line with 0.6 seconds to play. Anderson made the first foul shot but miss the second as Hillhouse escaped with a 51-50 victory.

When I was there, I heard rumblings that Rutgers is the leader in the clubhouse for Holmes so I spoke with Hillhouse coach Catrina Hawley-Stewart to get an update on where her star player is in the recruiting process.

"It's not just Rutgers, the entire Big East is interested," Hawley-Stewart said. "Baylor, Duke, the top 10 is interested. Obviously she will be interested in UConn. It's an honor to have Coach Shea Ralph up here."

Hawley-Stewart said it was hard to pinpoint how many times a member of the UConn staff has been in attendance at one of the Hillhouse games this year. I said "three or four?" and Hawley-Stewart said that was about right.

Holmes, who plays both in the post and on the wing for Hillhouse but projects as a wing player at the next level, is not close to making a decision or even narrowing her list of schools.

"It is still a ways away," Hawley-Stewart said. "I don't think the coaches are putting on the pressure. She is the kind of kid who teams would like to have. Bria likes a family atmosphere and there is no rush unless a coach says now or never and then she would kind of figure out what she would like to do. Right now she is taking advantage of getting to know the coaches, what kind of style they play, what their home life is like and what the team does together. Bria wants to be a part of a happy, winning family."

UConn, Rutgers, St. John's and Providence (where Hawley-Stewart played) are among the schools Holmes has visits.

"She wants to go down to West Virginia, to Louisville," Hawley-Stewart said. "She just wants to see what (options) she has and I think she wants to stay close."

Holmes' main focus is on leading Hillhouse to its third consecutive state title but come April, she'll "be able to use every weekend to go and see schools," Hawley-Stewart said.

"She is overwhelmed (by the recruiting process)," Hawley-Stewart said. "Every time you go to the mailbox and it is overflowing. They haven't even been able to call her yet so just imagine when all the calls start rushing in."

I asked Hawley-Stewart about how much Bria has connected with Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

"Everybody loves Vivian but she also loves Coach Geno (Auriemma)," Hawley-Stewart said. "She likes the (UConn) style of play, she really likes (UConn associate head) Coach (Chris) Dailey. She loves and wants to talk to her often. She really likes the UConn family and we'll see what happens. Her mother will go up there with her (for another visit) and she is excited to see them win another championship."

Speaking of UConn, here is a link to the advance I wrote for tomorrow's game against Seton Hall which focuses on the on-court chemistry between Maya Moore and Kelly Faris.

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Hartley honored by Big East

UConn guard Bria Hartley, fresh off a career-high 29 points in Saturday's win over Notre Dame, has been named the Big East's Freshman of the Week for the sixth time.

Hartley averaged 20 points per game and shot 62.5 percent from the field, including 42.9 percent from 3-point range in wins over Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

The six FOW honors ties Hartley for third place all time with seven players including former UConn stars Svetlana Abrosimova and Tina Charles. If she wins the award next week, she would tie ex-Husky Rebecca Lobo for second with seven selections. Maya Moore won the award a record 10 times during the 2007-08 season.

As expected, UConn has returned to the top spot in the Associated Press national poll after extending its winning streak to 14 games and aided by former No. 1 Baylor's loss to Texas Tech. UConn received 37 of the 40 first-place votes.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stokes sets Iowa blocks record

UConn signee Kiah Stokes became Iowa's all-time leader in blocked shots during Linn-Mar's 54-22 win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Saturday.

Stokes had eight blocks giving her 500 in her high school career topping Jessica Nikkel of Lynnville-Sully, who graduated in 1999 with 497 blocked shots. Stokes also had 29 points and 14 rebounds (moving into the No. 3 on Iowa's all-time list in that department) as Linn-Mar rolled to victory in the Class 4A semifinals. Stokes and Linn-Mar will face Cedar Rapids Xavier in Tuesday's regional final.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Conversation with Hartley paid dividends

Following Saturday's 78-57 win over Notre Dame, many of the questions in the postgame press conferences centered around UConn freshman guard Bria Hartley, who had a career-high 29 points.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma recalled some recent conversations he's had with Hartley, who has been in a bit of an offensive funk after scoring in double figures in 17 of her first 20 games.

"She's been awful," Auriemma said. "I am not kidding. She made more shots in that second half than she has made in warmups, practices, everything. I had a conversation with her and said 'what seems to be your problem. Why are you acting like a 12 year old.' She is saying 'why do you keep calling me a 12 year old?' I said 'because that's what 12 year olds do, when they don't get what they want, they pout.' She said 'I am frustrated.' I said 'why, because your shots aren't falling?' She said 'yes.' I said 'well, that is called pouting.' I said because your shots aren't going in, you are pouting. I said 'isn't there something else you can do? Get a couple of assists, get a couple of steals. Can't you do something to help us.' So if you are making shots you are helping us, if you not making shots 'sorry Coach, you can't count on me today.' That is a huge step for her to go beyond that and make the plays that she made today."

The win kept UConn in control of the Big East race. With three games remaining, UConn leads second-place DePaul by 1 1/2 games and own the tiebreaker based on the 89-46 win over DePaul on Feb. 5. DePaul plays Georgetown on Sunday and has games remaining at Louisville, at Marquette before ending the regular season by hosting Notre Dame.

UConn figures to move back into the No. 1 spot when the two major national polls come out early next week since top-ranked Baylor lost at Texas Tech on Saturday.

When the Baylor/Texas Tech score was announced at Gampel Pavilion, the crowd and in particular the UConn student section roared its approval bringing a curious response from Auriemma.

"When they made the announcement that Texas Tech beat Baylor, that is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard anybody do," Auriemma said. "A standing ovation because a team in the Big 12 lost a game. That is about the dumbest thing. Everybody should have gone 'ooh.' Why would you cheer that? So we can wake up on Monday and say we are No. 1? So that makes us different all of a sudden. When I heard everybody yelling, I didn't understand what it was. We are No. 1, we've always been No. 1."

Maya Moore didn't think the move back to No. 1, a place the Huskies had been for a record 51 straight weeks before a Dec. 30 loss at Stanford knocked them out of the top spot, would be such a big deal especially if the Huskies head into the NCAA tournament ranked first in the polls.

"It doesn't matter," Moore said. "That is something that is kind of out of our control. I am used to going in as the No. 1 team so I know it has worked for us before.

"I think it is harder sometimes going in as the No. 1 because it is easier to get complacent. You can lose your composure because you think you have already arrived so I think it is actually harder going in. It is easier to get motivated that way. No. 1, 2, 3, 4 or whatever, you can find motivation."

Among those in the crowd was Twinsburg (Ohio) High junior forward/center Malina Howard, a member of the 2010 Under-18 national team. Howard, who also took in UConn's practice on Friday, sat two rows behind the UConn bench along with her parents and younger sister.

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Great line from ND coach

Thankfully there were no ESPN executives in the interview room when Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw delivered the best line during the postseason press conferences after UConn's 78-57 victory.

I asked McGraw about that stretch in the beginning of the second half when the Huskies turned an eight-point halftime lead into a 20-point advantage.

"It was really ugly, I was hoping they went to the split screen and everybody would turn the TV off," McGraw said in an obvious dig at the recent 'Maya cam' experiment at ESPN when the Oklahoma/UConn game featured a split screen with half the screen focused on a camera following Maya Moore's every move.

"That did it, that was it," McGraw said. "We had a chance to stay in the game. We had a couple of possessions in a row. We couldn't get to the line, we weren't attacking as much and they hit some 3's."


Moore moving up

While Maya Moore became the all-time leading women's scorer in Big East history in her last game, she is still climbing the list in the scoring record that the conference recognizes.

Moore has 1,195 points in 60 career Big East regular season games, the eighth best total in Big East history. She needs 19 points to pass former Georgetown star Kris Witfill for seventh. The only other UConn player on the list is Rebecca Lobo, who is sixth with 1,232 points.

Moore is currently tied with Mercer's Andrea Congreaves for 15th on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list with 2,796 points and with eight points would move past ex-Western Kentucky star Crystal Kelly for 14th.

No surprises in the respective starting lineups as Tiffany Hayes, Moore, Kelly Faris, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley start for UConn. Notre Dame will counter with Skylar Diggins, Devereaux Peters, Natalie Novosel, Brittany Mallory and Becca Bruszewski.

Twinsburg (Ohio) High junior forward Malina Howard is sitting two rows behind the UConn bench with her parents and younger sister. The Howards also took in UConn's practice on Friday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Geno expecting another tussle from Notre Dame

You could see a certain twinkle in Geno Auriemma's eyes when he looked ahead to Saturday's showdown against Notre Dame.

Auriemma remembers the first meeting of the season between the two when UConn trailed by seven with 13:29 to play and by five with 4:23 remaining before escaping South Bend with a 79-76 victory.

Now comes the rematch and it could be another game which comes down to the wire.

"I've said this for 15 years now. when the day comes when people walk into the gym expecting them to lose, then there is no point having a program," Auriemma said. "Or you go on the road and you are supposed to win every game, there is no point of having a program any more. Tomorrow's game is supposed to go into triple overtime, somebody makes a big shot and the crowd goes home feeling like they all saw one of the best games they have ever seen."

Auriemma admits it was far from his team's best effort so the Huskies could gain some confidence from winning on the road against a very good team playing a so-so game while Notre Dame can take solace in the fact that it went toe to toe with the two-time defending national champions.

"After the game, in the locker room, we felt like we competed with them down to the wire and if we had done some things differently (they could have won)," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think that gave us some confidence so as we went into the next eight or nine games, we kind of went in thinking how much better can we get today and what do we have to do to get better and keep playing at this level. A lot of times you will play a game like that, you will compete hard and then the next game 'uh, not as good.' That is the one thing I am so pleased about with this group, no matter who we are playing they have the same approach. We have gotten a lot better defensively. I think that has a lot to do with how ready you are for the game."

Malina Howard, a 6-foot-4 forward at Twinsburg, Ohio, was in attendance at UConn's practice on FridaY with her parents and younger sister and is planning to take in Saturday's game as well.

Howard, a member of the U-18 national team which also included UConn freshmen Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields, is averaging 21.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks for 20-0 Twinsburg. She has 14 double-doubles and had 39 points in a Feb. 5 win over Hudson. Despite being one of the youngest players on the U.S. team, Howard started all five games and posted averages of 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Jeff Goldberg, a former UConn beat writer for the Hartford Courant, will be signing copies of his "Bird at the Buzzer" board beginning at noon at the UConn Co-Op and again after the game. The book looks back at the 2000-01 season and especially the games between UConn and Notre Dame. The title comes from former UConn star Sue Bird's game-winning shot in the 2001 Big East tournament final.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Teresa Edwards are among 12 finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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No decision imminent for McDaniel

Considering that Xylina McDaniel made her way to watch UConn play against DePaul and UConn coach Geno Auriemma headed down to South Carolina for the second time this season to see the talented 6-foot-2 forward from Spring Valley High School in action, I figured I would see if anything has changed since I spoke to McDaniel's high school and AAU coach earlier this month.

Spring Valley coach Anne Long said that although McDaniel had a very enjoyable trip to UConn and "UConn is a strong contender" in the recruitment of McDaniel, the main focus is on Spring Valley's run at a state title and no commitment would be coming before the end of this season.

Long does think McDaniel will come up with a concrete list of schools, perhaps by the end of the season and that a visit to Tennessee is a possibility before the South Carolina state championships wrap up on Mar. 4.

Long said that the college decision for McDaniel could be completed before the summer AAU season gets rolling.

On a funny note, Long said that McDaniel was so excited that Auriemma was coming down to see her play again that she had her dad (former NBA star Xavier McDaniel) bring some barbeque chicken to the game for Auriemma to bring home with him to show him "there's nothing like South Carolina barbeque."

Auriemma saw McDaniel score 29 points as Spring Valley opened postseason play with a 95-47 win over Northwestern on Tuesday. Spring Valley hosts Mann tonight and with a win, would host the winner of the Spartanburg/Dorman game on Monday in the South Carolina AAAA quarterfinals.

McDaniel is averaging 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocked shots for 25-0 Spring Valley.

For those who are curious whether she has a scholarship offer from UConn, if a kid visits UConn and then you read of a member of the Connecticut staff going to see them play you can rest assured that a scholarship has been offered.

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Story on Asjha Jones' shoe line

Loyd, Tuck championship drives alive

UConn signee Morgan Tuck had 19 points as Bolingbrook defeated Romeoville 85-33 to move forward in the Illinois 4A tournament. Next up is the winner of tonight's Naperville Central/Neuqua Valley game on Monday in the Romeoville Regional.

UConn recruiting target Jewell Loyd had 26 points, including the game-winning basket in the closing seconds, and 12 rebounds as Niles West edged New Trier in the Niles West Regional final on Thursday. Niles West will play Glenbrook South in the Maine East Sectional semifinals on Monday.

Bolingbrook and Niles West are in opposite sides of the bracket so they couldn't meet unless both teams reach the state championship game on Mar. 5.

UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as her Mater Dei squad defeated King 74-17 in the CIF Southern Section IAA tournament opener on Thursday.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Notre Dame's Peters returning next season

When the Connecticut Sun hierarchy met with the media before Monday's UConn/Oklahoma game, Sun coach and director of player personnel Mike Thibault highlighted the 32 players that are considered the top prospects in April's WNBA draft.

Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters was among those on the list handed out by the Sun but when I spoke with Peters on Wednesday to get some advance stuff for Saturday's showdown between UConn and Notre Dame, she said she definitely plans on returning for a fifth season of eligibility.

"I am going to come back for my last year," said Peters, who is eligible for an additional season because she played in just three games during the 2008-09 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Coming into the season, Peters took a wait and see approach regarding her decision to leave with her graduating class or come back for another season.

"I think it was seeing how I am playing, seeing how I am feeling, how I was holding up but I definitely want to come back for next year now," Peters said. "I think everything happens for a reason and I love the team I am playing with. We only lose one person next year if Brittany (Mallory, who also had an injury-shortened 2008-09 season) comes back so to have the same team and have the opportunity to do it all again, I love the coaches, I love the school. If you are going to give me an extra year, I am not going to turn that down."

Peters is Notre Dame's third-leading scorer with an average of 11.6 points per game while she leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots.

When the latest RPI numbers came out on Monday, Duke held the top spot ahead of UConn. However, with Duke's loss to Maryland it would be reasonable to assume that the Huskies would move to No. 1 in RPI with a win over Notre Dame. Bear in mind that when the NCAA selection committee meets to come up with the bracket, RPI is just one of the factors that will be examined but it certainly couldn't hurt UConn's chances of being the No. 1 overall seed if the Huskies end up with the best RPI.

Mosqueda-Lewis a Naismith finalist

UConn signee Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is one of five finalists for the Naismith High School National Player of the Year award.

Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot wing from Anaheim, Calif., is averaging 21.7 points as a senior at Mater Dei High.

The other finalists are Cierra Burdick, Krystal Forthan, Ariel Massengale and Elizabeth Williams. The winner will be announced on Mar. 21. If Mosqueda-Lewis wins the award, she would become the sixth UConn commit to earn the prestigious honor joining Tamika Williams, Diana Taurasi, Ann Strother, Maya Moore (one of two players to win the award twice) and Elena Delle Donne (who committed to UConn but never suited up for the Huskies).

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Postseason is here for UConn recruits

While UConn has five regular-season games remaining, the Huskies' three incoming freshmen are already in postseason mode.

Brianna Banks and Fayette County defeated Dutchtown 69-45 in the Georgia 3-AAAA quarterfinals on Tuesday and will play Woodland at 4 p.m. on Friday

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. opens play in the CIF Southern Section 1AA playoffs by hosting King tonight. With a win, the Monarchs would play the winner of the Warren/Schnurr game on Saturday.

Kiah Stokes and Linn-Mar of Marion, Iowa will face either Dubuque Senior or Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Tuesday in the Iowa Class 4A tournament.

As for the high school juniors who have either committed to UConn or are high on the Huskies' wish list:

Breanna Stewart's next game with her Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) squad is a home game against Liverpool on Friday. Fellow commit Morgan Tuck will lead her Bolingbrook (Ill.) squad will play Romeoville in the Class 4A Plainfield East Regional final tonight.

UConn recruiting target Jewell Loyd also has her Niles West in contention for Illinois' 4A title as Niles West faces Skokie tonight in the Skokie (Niles West) Regional final.

Xylina McDaniel had 29 points, four rebounds, four assists and four blocks as Spring Valley of Columbia, S.C. began play in the South Carolina 4A playoffs with a 95-47 win over Northwestern on Tuesday. Next up is J.L. Mann on Friday.
Staying closer to home, Bria Holmes helped Hillhouse to the No. 2 seed in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament which begins tonight with four games. Hillhouse plays the winner of the Guilford/Foran game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at West Haven High School (which would answer the question I have received whether Holmes would be in attendance at the Notre Dame game). If the Academics win, they would play in the semifinals at 6 p.m. on Monday at Quinnipiac's TD Bank Sports Center. That will be the site of the championship game, slated for 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Moriah Jefferson and her THESA Raiders will play in the state tournament next week with their eyes on a fifth straight National Homeschool Championship next month.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ND coach thinks Maya stands alone

Over the last couple of years I've heard more than my share of opposing coaches rave about the skills and work ethic of Maya Moore but today Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw took it to a new level by calling her "the best player ever in the game."

Now those words would be impressive coming from anybody but the fact that they were uttered by a coach who led Notre Dame to the 2001 national title and whose 2000-01 squad beat perhaps the most talented UConn squad of all time (before injuries sidelined Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph) and who will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame later this year made her proclamation carry even more weight in my eyes.

Here is what she said about Moore in an interview I had with her earlier today.

"She's, I think, the best player ever in the game and not just at Connecticut but at the game. She is a really special player who can do pretty much everything that she wants because she works so hard at her game. She can obviously score from the 3-point line, she can drive the ball, she can block shots, she can rebound, she can pass. She has a really complete game. When you watch her work, you have so much respect for her and her accomplishments. She is now the Big East leader in scoring is something she deserves. She is amazing. She is one in a million and she has had just a fantastic career."

Having never heard McGraw speak in such reverent tones about Moore, I was naturally curious when Moore ascended into the "best ever" category in her eyes.

"She has been national player of the year but last year I felt Tina Charles had a great year too so I think with Tina playing so well, I don't think Maya was ever overshadowed but if you looked at what Tina Charles brought, she is pretty good too. Maya is in a class by herself this year and she is head and shoulders above anybody else in the country."


Turkish Federation lifts ban on Taurasi

The Turkish Basketball Federation, which had banned former UConn star Diana Taurasi after she tested positive for the banned substance modafinil, lifted the provisional ban after the lab in question retracted its findings.

The lab did not come out and admit that there had been a mistake in the testing of Taurasi's urine sample but as a result of the action, Taurasi is able to continue her basketball career.

In a statement from the federation said: "The Federation has decided to lift the precautionary ban imposed on player Diana Lorena Taurasi to prevent the club and the player from being aggrieved further."

Taurasi was the leading scorer in the EuroLeague when her contract with Fenerbahce was voided when her backup sample reconfirmed the initial result of Taurasi having a banned substance in her system.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Taurasi addressed the relief she felt when she heard the news.

"I got the news this morning at 5 a.m. and was in shock," Taurasi said. "It was kind of like the first time when I heard the test result had come back positive. It's really good that the facts came out and the truth came out.

"Life can throw you curveballs at any given time. I can be mad and angry, but I will move forward. Not everyone has the same financial resources I did. Hopefully this will let people know every process has holes and to wait for the facts to come out before making decisions."

Taurasi said it was unlikely she would be returning to Europe as she would continue to stay in Phoenix and prepare for the upcoming WNBA season while attempting to put the events of the last few months behind her.

"I tried to handle it as best as possible," Taurasi said. "There might have been times in my own private moments when I was angry or questioned 'why me?' But I am glad the truth came out. It's scary that our careers can be taken away from us."

Taurasi has proclaimed her innocence and the lab which administered the test had a checkered past including a recent suspension of performing the tests for banned substances like the one they flagged Taurasi for.

Taurasi can now continue her basketball career and plans to play for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and today's actions erases any concerns about her availability for the 2012 Olympics.

"I was thrilled to read today’s report that the precautionary ban on Diana had been lifted by the Turkish Federation," said UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma in a statement. "Throughout this entire ordeal, (Taurasi) maintained her innocence and for her to be exonerated makes me incredibly happy for her. I hope she can put this behind her and focus all her efforts on continuing to be the best player in the world.”

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Monday, February 14, 2011

UConn rolls by Oklahoma

If ever there was a textbook example of why the UConn women's basketball team can dispatch ranked teams with such alarming ease and regularity, I provide you exhibit A.

UConn is up 29-6 when Oklahoma's Lauren Willis launched a 3-pointer. Kelly Faris, fighting off a screen, raised up and blocked the shot drawing a roar of approval from the crowd. However, nobody cheered any louder than Faris' own teammates as she raced down the court. It mattered little that Faris missed the layup only to be bailed out by teammate Bria Hartley, who grabbed the miss and scored herself. The fact that Faris would be going all out with the Huskies well on their way to dismantling Oklahoma speaks volumes for the basketball values that the UConn program holds dearest to their hearts.

"We always get so much more momentum when our defense is like that," Moore said. "It's so much more fun to play. We were out in the passing lanes. One of the plays that defined the first half was Kelly's (Faris) blocked shot. That was great, the whole place went crazy. I almost stopped running because I was so excited I almost stopped and stared at it. When everybody gets involved like that, we are all on the same page communicating. We were diving on the floor after loose balls. You can't ask for anything more.

"It's something Coach Auriemma reminds us of every so often, that we aren't the most talented team in the country. We have a lot of youth and players who haven't necessarily made a lot of national recognition but that's why we have to outwork people when it comes down to it. We can't win it on talent alone. He's right, but I know we still have a lot of talent on our team and we have to take confidence in that. He's right because when we meet teams that are deeper, more talented, whatever, we'll know when it comes down to it that we're going to outwork you. We are going to do all the little things it takes to get the win."

Moore certainly did more than her share of that. She had 27 points, moving by former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry to become the highest scoring women's Big East player and into a tie for 15th on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring lists. She also had seven rebounds, seven assists and a career-record tying six steals. She became the first Division I player with at least 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists, 250 steals and 150 blocked shots.

As is her nature, she turned her individual accomplishments into a team event.

"It's the icing on the cake because if we had come out and played really poorly, it would be hard to celebrate," Moore said. "It makes me feel good because my teammates are excited for me. Just seeing them excited makes me excited. If nobody had told me anything, I wouldn't have known and wouldn't have thought about it. When I have their respect, that makes me feel the best."

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Maya Moore on verge of more milestones

Two things to look for tonight for Maya Moore - with 11 points to pass Angel McCoughtry and become the highest scoring Big East women's basketball player and two assists to hit the 500 plateau. She would become the first NCAA Division I women's player with 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists, 250 steals and 150 blocked shots.

For more during the game, you can follow me on twitter @NHRJimFuller


More on how Erin Phillips landed in Seattle

As promised, I am following up on how Erin Phillips went from being a reserved player by WNBA standards to become an unrestricted free agent and what follows does not reflect well on the Connecticut Sun.

At a luncheon in Hartford before the Oklahoma/UConn game, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault and general manager Chris Sienko addressed the situation and admitted it was mess up on their part allowing Phillips to sign with defending champion Seattle as an unrestricted free agent.

"We had to do that by Jan. 15," Sienko said. "We sent out a qualifying offer to Erin but we did not track it. it was a mistake on my office's part. Because it was untracked, we can't prove we sent it. By the collective bargaining agreement, it is (stipulated) that is had to be tracked. The players union (classified) her a free agent so we lost her rights."

Compounding matters is that the Sun sent the paperwork to the wrong address and by the time they attempted to rectify the sitation, it was after the Jan. 15 deadline and she was declared a free agent.

Let's be clear, there was never a chance of Phillips returning to the Sun but she could have been packaged with the Sun's second round pick to move up into the first round in what has been touted as a pretty strong draft.

The Sun is planning to head into training camp without counting on late arriving European players. Sandrine Gruda is still under contract while the Sun own the rights to Alba Torrens and Johannah Leedham but Thibault isn't expected any of them before July because of their European Championship commitments.

"The options are because we are in a different situation with the salary cap we can go into the season with 11 players whether she is here or not and we can have a player we can replace if she comes," Thibault said. "Last year we had an above .500 record before she came, DeMya (Walker) played well. We are assuming we are going to start the season with a healthy Asjha (Jones), Tina (Charles) will have been in a league for a year, we will everybody in training camp for the entire training camp. We are not going to be dependent on Sandrine Gruda.

"I haven't had any conversation with her in two months. My conversation the last time I had it with her is that she would not come until after European championships because She was going to devote her energy to helping France qualify for the Olympics. That was her first goal and she could play after that.

"Alba Torrens is kind of in the same situation that she is kind of in the same situation. The understanding I have is if we have a roster spot available when she is done with that. If we just keep somebody to hold that spot, we'll bring her in. If not, she will come the following year. But it is our decision. I have no problem with that."

McCray signs with Connecticut Sun

Danielle McCray, taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth season with the Connecticut Sun on Monday.

McCray, a former star at Kansas, missed the entire 2010 WNBA season as she recovered from a knee injury suffered during her senior season at Kansas. She made her pro debut playing in Israel with Hapoel Rishon Lezion. In 18 games she is averaging 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals with seven 20-point performances.

Here is the release from the Sun:
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (February 14, 2011) – The Connecticut Sun announced today
that guard Danielle McCray has been signed to a three-year contract with a
team option for a fourth season.

As per team policy, no terms were released.

“Had she been healthy, we think Danielle would have been a top three pick
in the draft last year,” coach Mike Thibault said. “It is like having a
first round pick this year be a lottery pick. She is having a great year in
Israel and we are looking forward to having her here in May.”

Selected by the Sun with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft,
McCray missed the entire 2010 season after tearing the anterior cruciate
ligament in her left knee during her senior season at Kansas. With the
Jayhawks, McCray scored 1,934 career points and was a preseason Big 12
Player of the Year candidate prior to her injury.

The 5-foot-11 guard is currently playing overseas for Hapoel Rishon Le-Zion
in Israel. She is averaging 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 18
games for the Israeli club.

The Connecticut Sun will open its ninth season at Mohegan Sun Arena on
Saturday, June 4th by hosting the Washington Mystics at 7 p.m. Sun season
tickets and Mini Plans for the 2011 season are currently on sale and can be
reserved by calling a Sun Ticket Sales Representative at 1.877.SUN.TIXX or
by e-mailing the Sun at

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Ticket special being offered

For those considering spending their Valentine's Day evening at the XL Center for the UConn/Oklahoma game or thinking about checking out the home games against Seton Hall and Syracuse on Feb. 22 and 28 can check into WTIC's 2 for 1 ticket deal.

You go to
3/ExecMacro/evenue/ev69/se/DisplayPromoList.d2w/report?linkID=uconn&Rsrc="images/sp.gif"&RDAT=&caller=PR and type in WTIC as the promotion code.

There are no tickets remaining for Saturday's game against Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion.

Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes on Naismith midseason "watch" list

UConn senior forward Maya Moore and junior guard Tiffany Hayes were among of 30 players named to the midseason candidate for the Naismith Trophy. Moore won the award in 2009 while teammate Tina Charles was last year's winner.

Here is the list
Danielle Adams Texas A&M Forward/Center Senior
Kachine Alexander Iowa Guard Senior
Angie Bjorklund Tennessee Guard/Forward Senior
Jessica Breland North Carolina Forward Senior
Skylar Diggins Notre Dame Guard Sophomore
Jasmine Dixon UCLA Forward Junior
Victoria Dunlap Kentucky Forward Senior
Dawn Evans James Madison Guard Senior
Brittney Griner Baylor Power Forward Sophomore
Keisha Hampton DePaul Forward Junior
Amber Harris Xavier Forward Senior
Tiffany Hayes Connecticut Guard Junior
Courtney Hurt VCU Forward Junior
Amy Jaeschke Northwestern Center Senior
Shenise Johnson Miami (Florida) Guard Junior
Jantel Lavender Ohio State Center Senior
Italee Lucas North Carolina Guard Senior
Maya Moore Connecticut Forward Senior
Nnemkadi Ogwumike Stanford Forward Junior
Kayla Pedersen Stanford Forward Senior
Ta’Shia Phillips Xavier Center Senior
Jeanette Pohlen Stanford Guard Senior
Lauren Prochaska Bowling Green Guard/Forward Senior
Danielle Robinson Oklahoma Guard Senior
Ta’Shauna Rodgers Georgetown Guard Sophomore
Meighan Simmons Tennessee Guard Freshman
Carolyn Swords Boston College Center Senior
Jasmine Thomas Duke Guard Senior
Courtney Vandersloot Gonzaga Guard Senior
Riquna Williams Miami (Florida) Guard Junior

UConn's Stefanie Dolson was named the Big East Freshman of the Week for the second straight time after averaging 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, shooting 72.2 percent in wins over West Virginia and Providence.

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins was named the player of the week (after averaging 17 points, 6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Seton Hall and Rutgers.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maya about to stand alone

If Maya Moore gets two assists in Monday's game against Oklahoma, she will become the first women's Division I player with at least 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists, 250 steals and 150 blocked shots.

Earlier this season she came the 24th player with 2,500 points and 1,000 rebounds which was select enough company but considering most of the players on that list are post players and not asked to pile up the assists, I figured there wouldn't be too many who would accomplish that feat. However, after a bit of research, I was able to discover that she will be the only one to accomplish that feat.

For the record, Moore heads into Monday's game with 2,769 points (good for 17th in NCAA Division I history), 1,162 rebounds, 498 assists, 277 steals and 189 blocks in 141 career games.


Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes named to WBCA game

UConn signees Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot wing from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., and Kiah Stokes, a 6-foot-3 post out of Linn-Mar High in Marion, Iowa, were among 20 high school seniors selected to play in the WBCA High School All-American game.

Brianna Banks, a 5-9 guard at Fayette County High in Fayetteville, Ga., who was selected to play in the McDonald's All-American game along with Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes did not make the cut for the WBCA game which will be played on April 2 in Indianapolis.

Speaking of Mosqueda-Lewis, her Mater Dei squad will face King in the first round of the CIF Southern Section I-AA tournament on Thursday. Barring a major upset, Mater Dei would play either Warren or Schurr in the second round on Saturday. A potential semifinal opponent would be the Long Beach Poly squad which is handed Mater Dei it's only loss of the season while Brea Olinda, the top-ranked team in the country, is on the other half of the bracket.

Banks and Fayette County will play Dutchtown on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the Georgia Regiona 3-AAAA tournament.

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First-year phenoms abound

With Oklahoma coming to the XL Center Monday night to face UConn, two of the nation's top freshmen guards will be on display.

Bria Hartley is third on the second-ranked Huskies in scoring with an average of 12.4 points per game while Aaryn Ellenberg of Oklahoma is averaging 17.1 points per game, second only to senior All-American candidate Danielle Robinson in scoring for Oklahoma. With Baylor's Odyssey Sims, Tennessee's Meighan Simmons, Duke's Chelsea Gray, Hartley and Ellenberg, it seems as if more top teams have been relying heavily on freshman guards than is typically the case.

"I haven't seen this many in a while," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They all seem to be a little different too, you can't say that there are a lot of similarities other than they seem to play unafraid. I am glad I got the one I got.

Here's a look at freshmen guards who have made immediate impacts at some of the nation's best programs.
No. 1 Baylor: Odysssey Sims (second on team in scoring at 13.4 points per game, first with 43 3-pointers and second with 68 assists).
No. 2 UConn: Bria Hartley (third on team in scoring at 12.4 points per game, first with 48 3-pointers, fifth with 68 assists).
No. 4 Tennessee: Meighan Simmons (leads with team with 14.4 points per game and 71 assists
No. 5 Duke: Chelsea Gray (third on the team with average of 8.7 points per game, second on squad with 61 assists and 48 steals).
No. 14 Oklahoma: Aaryn Ellenberg (second on team with an average of 17.1 points per game keyed by a team-best 70 3-pointers).
No. 15 Kentucky: Bernisha Pinkett, Meagan Conwright and Jennifer O'Neill (fourth, fifth and sixth leading scorers with 43 3-pointers between the three of them).

The list does not include the nation's leading freshman scorer (Heather Butler of Tennessee-Martin), the top freshman scorer in the Big East (Shoni Schimmel of Louisville) or other key freshmen for teams who have been ranked this season like Chassidy Fussell of Texas, Maggie Lucas of Penn State and Ty Marshall of Georgia Tech.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dolson comes up big again

Seeing Maya Moore and Stefanie Dolson entering the interview area inside Alumni Hall gave UConn coach Geno Auriemma a chance to go to work.

Over the years I have discovered that there is a direct correlation between how much he likes and respects his players and the amount of times he lobs playful jabs at them through the media.

So as Dolson took a seat after matching her career high with 21 points in Saturday's 68-38 victory over Providence, Auriemma could barely resist having some fun at Dolson's expense especially when discussing her ability to run the floor and score in transition.

"There is a correlation between getting out in transition, finishing and being a horrendous defensive rebounder," Auriemma said with a chuckle. "The only worse defensive rebounder than Stefanie Dolson was Tina Charles. While Maya and Kelly are rebounding, Stefanie is running the floor, wow that kid can really get out in transition.

"Stefanie, she looks slow, but she can run. You know why? She runs hard and that is the biggest difference. She just runs hard. People think you have to be fast, you don't have to be fast, you just have to run hard and that is what she does."

Dolson has made great strides in the conditioning department since arriving at UConn and while fellow freshman Bria Hartley is struggling to reclaim the form she displayed earlier in the season, Dolson is just hitting her stride. In the last three games she is 23 of 31 from the field and she matched her career high with three straight double-digit scoring games.

"Every game, every practice I try to go in with the mindset that I am going to go in and play as hard as I can and it has worked out for me," Dolson said. "I have been focusing on my defense, running the floor and getting my conditioning level up so I can do those things without getting tired."

Dolson was joined in double digits in the scoring column by Maya Moore, who finished with 11 points. Moore set a career high nine assists and may have posted her first career triple-double at UConn had she played more than 23 minutes since there is a game against.

"I had no idea (how many assists she had)," Moore said. "Sometimes because I have a scorers' mentality I don't keep of how many assists I have so it does make it good to know that I can positively help finding my hard-cutting teammates. I can't get nine assists with my teammates standing around and not working hard so it is a combination of my teammates knocking down some tough shots."

With a game against Oklahoma on Monday and the game well in control, Auriemma sat both Moore and Dolson as both were out of the game for good with 13 minutes to play.

"I think it (the substitution pattern) is more game to game, you kind of gauge the situation inside the game itself, create a recipe for moving people around but it is just going to be that way for the remainder," Auriemma said. "There just isn't the luxury of being able to go two deep on a regular basis. It works both ways sometimes that is why the chemistry between the five starters can get so good sometimes because they spend so much time on the court together."

Providence played without freshman Lauren "Lady" Okafor as the former Hopkins star suffered a concussion in Wednesday's win over Villanova.

"Hopefully when her tests come ack around by tomorrow she will be a little better," Seymore said. "She was going for a rebound, fell back and hit her head. I didn't think she would hurt herself with all that hair back there. I thought it would serve as a cushion.

"We need her for these five games, she is important for us. She is going to get better, be a better scorer. She is going to learn how to pass better but scoring wise she has to improve in that area."

Seymore said he challenged his team at halftime as Providence trailed 41-12 and the game didn't feel like it was that close.

"I was upset with the way we played in the first half because even if you are playing against a great team and they are playing well, you want your team to be able to execute and play hard," Seymore said. "Our transition defense wasn't good. They got a lot of baskets off our transition defense. The second half I just told them that you are entertainers and any entertainer who is worth their salt wants to go out and put a good show on. You have to go out there and put on a good show, do the things we need to do out there in terms of passing, demanding the basketball, being aggressive, rebounding the basketball. I think they did a little bit better but they had some of their players out too so it was more of a matchup (issue)."

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Okafor not playing for Providence

Former Hopkins standout Lauren "Lady" Okafor is not going to play today because of an undisclosed injury.

Okafor, a 6-foot-3 forward/center, has played in Providence's first 22 games and is averaging 4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More info on SNY's profile of Geno Auriemma

SNY will be airing an in-depth interview with Geno Auriemma on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. as part of its SNY Spotlight series. Here are some of the topics host Gary Apple touched on with the Hall of Fame coach.

Gary Apple (Host): “Did you enjoy the attention during the streak”
Geno: “No, no I didn’t enjoy it because it’s not real, the attention I think that the game got I thought was real good, I thought people were talking about women’s basketball that ordinarily would never talk about it. So in that sense it was good, but the constant questions about the streak, for me, for the players, for everybody, that got old really, really fast.”

Geno: “My personal feeling is no other college team has won 90-games in a row, and we have, so if you want to say “wow that’s like one of the greatest things that’s ever happened in college sports” I’m good with that. If you want to say something other than that, it’s fine. I happen to think that down the road, years down the road, we will come to see how incredible it was.”

Gary Apple (Host): “Was there any sense of relief when you lost at Stanford?”
Geno: “Yeah I think after the game I wasn’t as upset about the loss as I normally would be, I was more upset with the way we played.”

Host: “I read in your book that in 1997 when your dad passed away you got to the house and your mom told you that he was gone.”
Geno: “Yeah I walked in and I think for the first time, ever, I saw my mother kind of lose her composure and kind of break down, because from the time I was born I don’t ever, ever, ever remember my mother losing her composure. I never remember her being less than this pillar of strength and that’s when I knew, not only did I lose my father but there was a whole big piece of here that was gone and at that point is when it really hit me. I think I got most emotional when I saw the way my mother reacted rather then when I saw my father because I had prepared myself for that because he had been sick for a while, but when I saw the affect it had on my mother that probably had the biggest affect on me, that’s probably a moment I will never forget.”

Host: “How did you build this into one of the great sports franchises in, really when you break it down, in history?”
Geno: When we started there was 200 people at our very first game, and that’s counting people working there, family, friends, both teams, the officials, people at the scorers table. So you get 200 people there, 250 max and I coached like my life depended on it and so did my coaching staff and my players played like, you know, this possession means whether we were going to be able to eat tomorrow or not, that’s kind of how hard we played. And then we kind of started winning and we started to attract a little bit better of a player and then we won more but it was always a struggle. It wasn’t until 1995 when Rebecca Lobo got here and we had that special team that it all turned.

Host: “Rebecca was the one?”
Geno: “I think so, I think uh the fact that she was a local kid, she was the first All-American we signed. Everyone in the country wanted her, she’s 6’5”, she can pass, she can dribble, can shoot, she’s smart, tremendously personably and came in and all of a sudden we started winning.”

Host: “Who is the best player you’ve had?
Geno: “Best ever? Diana Taurasi”

In another television note of interest, there will be a camera trained on UConn's Maya Moore at all times during Monday's game against Oklahoma.

Here is part of the release from ESPN pertaining to this issue:
As part of the Big Monday games, Connecticut’s Maya Moore and Baylor’s Brittney Griner will have a camera solely dedicated to each player while they are on the court. In addition to segments during the game, will provide fans with both isolated camera views of nation’s top two players.

These games are part of the fourth annual February Frenzy, in which ESPN supports the Kay Yow Cancer Fund in partnership with The V Foundation and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) for women’s cancer research, Sunday, Feb. 13, and Monday, Feb. 14. The Fund is named in memory of legendary North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow, who died Jan. 24, 2009, after a courageous battle with cancer.

Making for two of the biggest days of women’s basketball regular-season play, February Frenzy will showcase eight regionalized games in high definition within two ESPN2 telecast windows Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET and 5 p.m., plus a game on ESPNU at 6 p.m. Also included in the frenzy are two Big Monday Presented by Bud Light games on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. During the games, ESPN will encourage fans to contribute to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund in partnership with The V Foundation and WBCA via The V Foundation at 1-800-4JimmyV or the foundation website at

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hartley getting back into the swing things

Bria Hartley scored in double figures in 17 of her first 20 games at UConn so when she ripped off four straight games where she failed to hit double digits, it was something worth noting.

Hartley's lack of offensive production seemed to coincide with the UConn coaching staff limiting her practice time as she hurt her right ankle and foot in a Jan. 17 game at North Carolina. Actually, she ended up playing 69 minutes in the next two games after rolling her ankle against the Tar Heels.

With games coming up against Duke, DePaul and West Virginia, the UConn braintrust decided to limit Hartley's practice time late last month.

There was a certain amount of indecisiveness and maybe even a bit of rust in the recent four-game stretch.

"It has been annoying at times not being able to do certain things but it is getting stronger," Hartley said after Thursday's practice. "I think it hurts (her performance) a little bit anytime you are not practicing full time. We still have to be able to watch and do things, (have) a different way or learning and picking things up. It will continue to feel better. I have been getting more into my rhythm, get more shots up and continue to get better."

Hartley returned to practice on a full-time basis earlier this week so it will be worth watching to see if she can be more of an offensive threat against Providence on Saturday after managing 28 points while having six assists and 14 turnovers in the last four games.

"She just hasn't been as much a part of it," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Maya (Moore), there are only going to be so many shots to go around. I think with Kelly (Faris) taking more of an offensive role. Maya, Stefanie (Dolson), Kelly and Tiffany (Hayes) there are only going to be so many shots to go around. I think she is taking a back seat herself. I don't think anybody said anything about it. I think we are still running the same stuff we have always run but I think she is probably a little bit out of rhythm right now. I don't think she is in a real good flow and that happens.

"When you are a senior, you don't get affected by that stuff. When you are a freshman, you get affected by everything. A turnover, a bad call, a missed shot, it doesn't matter. You just don't have the experience, the kind of composure that upperclassmen do to be able to blow that off."

Auriemma will be the subject of the SNY Spotlight which will premier on Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

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Three UConn recruits to play in McDonald's All-American game

UConn signees Brianna Banks, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes will be teammates for the West team in next month's McDonald's All-American Game.

Banks, a 5-foot-9 guard for Fayette County (Ga.), 6-foot wing Mosqueda-Lewis out of Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, Calif. and Stokes, a 6-foot-3 post for Linn-Mar HS in Marion, Iowa, are three of the 12 players named to the West team for the Mar. 30 game at the United Center in Chicago.

Banks is averaging 16.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 5 steals for 18-5 Fayette County. Banks has 21 3-pointers and is shooting 44 percent from 3-point rrange.

Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 21.7 points and has 76 3-pointers in 24 games for 23-1 Mater Dei. Mosqueda-Lewis had 16 20-point games and has more than one 3-pointer in 23 of 24 games as a senior.

Stokes is averaging 25.1 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.1 blocks for 19-1 Linn-Mar.

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Moore closing in

Over the next couple of days, there will be much written about Maya Moore closing in on Angel McCoughtry's Big East career scoring record.

McCoughtry scored 2,779 points in 139 games at Louisville while Moore currently has 2,758 points so if Moore scores 22 points against Providence on Saturday, she will have scored more points than any other Big East women's player. But will she set the Big East scoring record? By my definition, I would say no.

If you check the Big East record book, you will see Sarah Behn of Boston College atop the list with 1,546 points in 67 Big East regular-season games. In my opinion, that is the Big East scoring record. Moore, with five Big East regular-season games remaining in her career, has 1,184 points which currently ranks her eighth all time and could finish as high as No. 2 on the list. However, Moore would have to average 72.4 points in her final five conference games to match Behn. Now Moore is good but even that is out of Moore's realm of possibility. So when I refer to what Moore is about to accomplish, I certainly mention that she has the most points of any Big East women's player but will refrain from calling it the Big East scoring record.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Erin Phillips signs with Seattle

Former Connecticut Sun guard signed with the Seattle Storm on Wednesday. Phillips was signed as an unrestricted free agent.

A year ago the Sun was close to trading Phillips' rights but the deal fell through. My understanding of Phillips' situation was that her rights would be owned by the Sun and she would be classified as a "reserve" player as long as they offered her a contract. Obviously that is no longer the case or Seattle would not have been able to sign her as an unrestricted free agent.

Before UConn's game against Oklahoma on Monday, Thibault, assistant coach Scott Hawk and general manager Chris Sienko will be sitting down with members of the media so we'll be able to find out the dynamics of Phillips' situation but the bottom line is she was not going to come back to Connecticut so good for her that she was able to sign up with the defending WNBA champions.

With the Sun getting nothing in return for Phillips and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota's decision to skip the upcoming WNBA season, it would appear as if Danielle McCray will be playing a rather crucial role for the Sun in the upcoming season.

McCray is playing well in Israel, averaging 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.8 steals per game for Hapoel Rishon Lezion. She is one of three Connecticut Sun players in Israel as Kerri Gardin is averaging 16.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals for Elizur Holon and Renee Montgomery is averaging 18.4 points, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals for Maccabi Ashdod.

Staying on the subject of overseas basketball, the first round series in the EuroLeague are now all in the books.

Ros Casares, Cras Basket Taranto, Bourges Basket and four-time defending champion Spartak Moscow Region won the decisive third games on Wednesday. Former UConn star Sue Bird had 18 points, four rebounds and three assists in Spartak's 69-63 victory over Beretta-Famila.

The quarterfinals begin on Feb. 22 with Fenerbahce playing Spartak, UMMC Ekaterinburg (led by the Connecticut Sun's Sandrine Gruda) facing Cras Basket Taranto, Wisla Can-Pack meeting Halcon Avenida and Ros Casares playing Bourges Basket. A player to watch for Halcon Avenida is Alba Torrens, who is averaging 16.3 points per game. Her WNBA rights are owned by the Sun but there's no word about whether she plans to come over to the U.S. after playing for Spain in the EuroCup.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Bird, Charles to play in EuroLeague all-star game

Former UConn stars Sue Bird and Tina Charles were named as reserves on the Rest of the World team for the EuroLeague Women's All-Star game, which is being played on Mar. 8 in Gydnia, Poland.

Bird did not join Spartak Moscow Region until January and in four games is averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals while Charles is averaging 19 points, 12.3 rebounds and leads the EuroLeague with nine double doubles.

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Moore and Dolson sweep Big East awards

UConn's Maya Moore was named the Big East Player of the Week for a record-tying seventh time after averaging 31.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 75.8 percent from the floor and 66.7 percent from 3-point range in wins over Duke and DePaul. Moore had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against No. 3 Duke. Moore had 34 points, 11 rebounds and six assists against No. 9 DePaul.

During the 1997-98 season Nykesha Sales won seven Big East player of the week honors while Louisville's Angel McCoughtry matched the feat in the 2008-09 season. With 11 career player of the week awards, Moore is one shy of the Big East record shared by McCoughtry and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo.

Stefanie Dolson was named the conference's freshman of the week for the first time as she averaged 14.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and shot 72.2 percent from the field. Dolson had eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against Duke and then had a career-high 21 points as well as six rebounds against DePaul.

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Fernandes fitting in at Fairfield

Sure, she has lost more games this season than she did in her four-year career at UConn, but still Jacquie Fernandes has no complaints about her first season as the Director of Women's Basketball Operations at Fairfield University.

Ironically, it was a call from Fairfield coach Joe Frager to Jack Eisenmann, who held the same title at UConn that Fernandes currently does at Fairfield, which started the wheels in motion.

"Coach Frager called up (Eisenmann) and wanted to see if any former players wanted to get into coaching," Fernandes said after Fairfield's 54-52 loss to Marist on Sunday. "That was kind of how it developed. Fairfield is awesome, it is a great place to be. It is a different style (of basketball). It is great to be exposed to that and great to be behind the scenes and see how this program has (emerged). It is great to play one style and then be part of a different style. You can take that wherever you go and I certainly have learned a lot."

Fernandes is not allowed to take part in the actual coaching of players but has her hand in pretty much ever part of the operation for the Stags.

"She has standard Director of Basketball Operation duties," Frager said. "She manages all of our travel, does a lot with our team meals, working with our ticket office. She does a lot of work within the office in terms of entering stuff into our recruiting database. We extend her responibilities as far as the letter of the law will allow us to. She is sort of a jack of all trades, she is going to be a very good coach.

"We knew we were getting a quality person when we took her. Of course I talked to Coach (Auriemma), he called me on Jacquie a couple of times, I spoke to Maria Conlon who spoke with some people who have worked with her so we did our homeworkon her. It is good to get somebody from a program like that because they know what attention to detail is, they know what work ethic is and what commitment is. As much as a good future coach and basketball mind you are going to get with her, you are getting a quality person through and through. There were no doubts about hiring her. She has been great."

Fernandes was bitten by the coaching bug in the later stages of her time at UConn and is enjoying her entry into the coaching profession.

"I am in all of the coaches meetings," Fernandes said. "It is great because I can give as much (input) as I can about what I have learned from Coach Auriemma. Other than directly coaching the players, I do everything else that an assistant does. On a day to day basis, I try to do everything I can for the program. I love it, I learn something new every day but I try to give as much as I can. I love the game, I love teaching it. I feel I have so much to learn and I love teaching the game that I love."

One drawback of being on the staff at Fairfield is that she can't just head up to UConn if she wants to take part in a practice with the Huskies. Needing to be at arms' length from the UConn program has not been easy for her.

"Obviously I am still great friends with a lot of team members," Fernandes said. "I follow them closely, they are my sisters. It is tough. I can't just walk into practice and say 'hey, I want to play' like other former players can do."

That doesn't mean she doesn't check out the UConn games when her schedule allows her to do so. Like so many others, she is amazed by the remarkable senior season her former teammate Maya Moore is putting together.

"Phenomenal, there's so much pressure she has to carry that team but it is going to be the other people around her who help her," Fernandes said. "Hartley's done a great job, Kelly's done a great job and of course Tiffany and obviously Stef. She has a lot of pressure to hold the paint down. She is learning and she is a freshman, she has done great. That's why you love to have Chris Dailey, look at what she turned Tina Charles into. It is great to see what's going to happen with Stef."

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Fairfield vs. UConn: It Will Happen

Hartford and Sacred Heart have had their chances to play the seven-time national champion UConn and it seems as if Fairfield is up next.

The Stags played UConn 16 times but just once in the regular season since 1993. While I was down at the Arena at Harbor Yard on Sunday for the Fairfield/Marist women's game (won by Marist 54-52) I did some asking around and a source told me that "it will happen. I'm not sure if it will be next season or the year but it will definitely happen."

The matchup makes sense since UConn likes to play at least one Connecticut team every year. Hartford didn't play the Huskies this season after meeting up in each of the last six seasons. Sacred Heart stepped into the void left when Hartford coach and former UConn star Jen Rizzotti decided to pursue home-and-home games against teams from BCS conferences instead of playing UConn annually at the XL Center. However, after this year's game Sacred Heart coach Ed Swanson said there would not be a game against UConn on the Pioneers' 2011-12 schedule.

There are some some connections. Fairfield coach Joe Frager is not only a UConn grad and member of the Huskies' baseball team during his time there, but he coached former UConn guard Maria Conlon during her first two seasons at Seymour High School. Then there is Jacquie Fernandes, a member of UConn's last two national championship teams, who is in her first season at Fairfield's director of basketball operations under Frager.

I spoke to Frager on hypothetical terms about what it would mean when he would bring his team up against his alma mater.

"I have a lot of fond memories of my time at UConn," Frager said. "Geno and his staff does a great job. When I was at Southern Connecticut and Seymour High School, I used to go up there as often as I could so I learned a lot from watching him and watching the staff. It will be a nice little homecoming until the tidal wave hits."

Swanson said after this year's game that he only plays UConn when he has a group of upperclassmen in key roles because taking a beating like the one the Huskies can put on a team can damage the psyche of a lesser experienced team.

"That is an astute comment because it is exciting to play the best program in America," Frager said. "Physically it is a demanding game and emotionally it is a demanding game because they beat top 20 teams by 40 or 50 points. You've got to get kids who approach the game the right way. Sooner or later you want to get into the ring with a champion, you want to take your shot so we will."

Ironically, when Frager was the head coach at Division II Southern Connecticut, he was the person pushing hard to set up an exhibition game between SCSU and UConn. By the time the game happened, however, Frager was coaching at Fairfield.

"It is kind of funny," Frager said. "He called me after I got the job here. Jokingly he said I've heard that a lot of teams are afraid to play us but I've never seen a guy switch jobs not to play us. It will be fun when it happens."

I also spoke to Fernandes (and will be putting up a blog in the next day or two about how her first season on the Fairfield staff is working out) and asked her what it would like if she went into either Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center as a member of Fairfield's coaching staff.

"It would be great for that current team to experience playing them," Fernandes said. "Everybody wants to play them and any time somebody who played at UConn plays them, it is special and something to remember. It would be great to go back to Gampel or Hartford. That would be awesome and there would be flashbacks going in even if I would go to the visitors' locker room this time."

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Geno's thoughts on recruiting

Several years ago I was talking with Geno Auriemma after a game in Hartford in general terms about recruiting when he said - and I am paraphrasing a bit "we tend to recruit a small number of players and the players know we are only recruiting a small number of players." It was so simple yet incredible effective.

The end result is usually pretty impressive like the time UConn signed Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Keirsten Walters and Tamika Williams or more recently when Tina Charles and Maya Moore committed in consecutive years or the recent commitments from the top-ranked senior (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) and junior (Breanna Stewart) in the country. It also leads to situations when the Huskies land just one kid as they did in between the Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi classes and did a couple years back when Kelly Faris was the only recruit to sign with the Huskies. UConn wanted a post player to take over when Tina Charles graduated but zeroed in on a select few which they failed to get until Stefanie Dolson signed with the Huskies. Players like Kelsey Bone and Chelsey Lee opted to head elsewhere but even when that was happening, the UConn staff was not about to recruit a big kid just for the sake of it. Now they have a player like Dolson is seemingly is improving with each passing day. Yes, UConn's selective style of recruiting does leave holes every once in a while but has also resulted in the compilation of some of the sport's best teams.

In the press conference following Saturday's win over DePaul, Auriemma provided some insight into how the Huskies recruit and it was pretty captivating stuff.

"What's happened in the AAU world, these kids don't play to win," Auriemma said. "They just play to play. They show up in a tournament on a Friday night, play a couple games. Show up on Saturday, play four or five games. Show up Sunday and you play all morning maybe and let's go do it again next weekend. The difference is when you watched Maya played is Maya played to win every game. She tried to win every possession. It sticks out so obviously because everybody else is just running up and down the floor waiting for Sunday to they can get in their van, stop at McDonald's and she never played like that. Neither kid Kelly Faris, neither did Tiffany Hayes. I saw Tiffany Hayes at the Tournament of Champions in Arizona. The other team tied the score with five seconds left and I just smiled and said they are going to throw it to her and she is going to score and they are going to win. That is exactly what they did. You try to find those kids who aren't just running up and down and playing, who are trying to win all summer long, 90 games - however many games they are trying to go 90-0. Not every kid wants to do that, Maya does. Hopefully we keep recruiting kids who are like that.

"I am at a age at my life now that I say 'I want you to go (pointing in a straight line) and do that' and a kid says 'why?' then I don't want you on my team. There are a lot of kids coming out of high school today that you have to explain to them why you want things done and I am not in the mood to explain why I want things done. So if I recruit you and say this is what I want you to do, then you just do it. If you are the kind of kid who I watch you play in high school and you don't, then I don't think you are going to do it for me."

Auriemma has said in the past he looks for certain things when he sees a kid play and it has little to do with the way they fill up a box score. Does a kid compete regardless of the score, how do they interact with their teammates, what do they do when the ball is not in their hands. Case in point is a story he told in Saturday's press conference about a high school game he went to see earlier this season.

"This is the thing I don't understand. Doug (Bruno, DePaul's head coach) was there and we sat there was watched the game. We watched the kids play. We looked at each and said 'they all know we are here.' There is nobody sitting in these bleachers but us and these guys are dogging it. I am saying 'if you are not going to play really well now with us two sitting in the stands, when are you going to play hard?' I think the good coaches, we are constantly looking for kids who you say 'go' and they go. I think that's why we win all the time. These other coaches, I think they have to take those chances. If I was trying to build a program here or if I was trying to get to the level we are at right now, I would probably take more chances on kids and I would probably fail more often than not.

"People think recruiting is easy for us. Recruiting is harder for us than it is for anyone else. There are only five kids in America who can play for you. When you think about it. You can’t just go to an AAU tournament and go 1-2-3-4-5 and count 25 kids and go, ‘Yeah, they are on our list.’

Auriemma is blessed to have a staff who share his recruiting philosophies. Associate head coach Chris Dailey was recently named one of the top five college recruiters (regardless of sport) in an ESPN the Magazine piece. Shea Ralph played at UConn so she obviously knows what Auriemma and Dailey are looking for and it did not take second-year assistant coach Marisa Moseley to figure things out.

"Marisa Moseley found that out three days after she got hired at Connecticut," Auriemma said. "She was sitting there next to CD (Dailey) and she goes, ‘That kid right there, we’re not recruiting her, huh?’ and CD goes, ‘Nope.’ She goes ‘How about that kid? We aren’t recruiting her either, huh? Nope.' Then she watches a little more and she goes, ‘That kid right there. We are recruiting her, huh?’ Chris goes, ‘Yeah.’ You learn that the kind of kids winning coaches want or that winning programs want. They stand out and not because of how many points they score. That is not important. So the more of those kids you can get on your team, the more opportunities we can play like we played today or last Monday.

"You saw all the good stuff Kelly Faris did today. Well some people when she was in high school only saw the Kelly Faris that we saw during those three games where she was horrible. So that is what they saw. They thought ‘So that is what that kid is going to be.’ I’m like OK, but I see something different. She is good. She is a winner."

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chicago Tribune honors Jewell Loyd

Courtesy of a story on UConn recruiting target Jewell Loyd being named the athlete of the month for January by the Chicago Tribune, here's some more info on the electric 5-foot-10 junior guard from Niles West HS in Skokie, Ill.

Outside the jaw-dropping numbers she is putting up (30.1 points, 15 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 4.5 steals and 3.2 blocks per game) and a quote saying "I swear the whole gym stopped" when UConn coach Geno Auriemma walked into the Niles West gym, the most pertinent part of the story for UConn fans is that she is nowhere making a college decision. That goes with what my recruiting sources are telling me about Loyd and that is no trip to UConn is forthcoming in the immediate future.