Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Not a bad day for future Huskies

It was championship Sunday for some future UConn players.

Breanna Stewart, a rising high school senior from North Syracuse, N.Y., was named to the all-tournament team after leading the United States to the FIBA Under-19 World Championship title.

While Stewart missed six of her seven shots in the gold medal game 69-46 win over Spain on Sunday, she did have six rebounds, two steals and three blocks. She ended up finishing as the U.S. leader in points (101), rebounds (66) and blocked shots (15) to earn a spot on the all-tournament team along with U.S. teammate and Tennessee incoming freshman Ariel Massengale.

Stewart said she was surprised to make the all-tournament squad.

"I was, actually," Stewart said. "I didn’t think I played that great in my last two games, but I thought I played pretty well in the rest of the tournament."

As for the game against Spain, UConn sophomore Stefanie Dolson and freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 points to share game scoring honors with Duke incoming freshman Elizabeth Williams. Massengale chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds.

"It feels amazing," Dolson said. "Last year (playing for the U.S. U-18 team) was an experience of a lifetime because that was qualifying for here. Then winning the world championship gold medal is so surreal. Getting up there, getting the gold around your neck, it’s a moment you’ll never forget. It feels great."

The depth of the U.S. team was evident as the team's top two scorers in the tournament (Stewart and UConn sophomore Bria Hartley) were a combined 2 of 15 from the floor.

The U.S. team also included UConn commit Morgan Tuck as well as top recruiting target Diamond DeShields. Moriah Jefferson, who joins Stewart and Tuck as members of a star-studded trio of early UConn commits out of the Class of 2012, did not make the cut for the U.S. squad but she also won a title on Sunday.

Jefferson led her DFW Elite T-Jack team to the Nike Nationals gold division title and earned tournament MVP honors. Jefferson broke down after the win as she remembered a promise she and her teammates made after the death of her AAU Marques Jackson due to a heart attack in April of 2010 by winning the Nike Nationals title.

Some former Huskies were on the winning side on Sunday as well as Renee Montgomery had a team-high 19 points including a buzzer-beating 50-foot 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter, Asjha Jones (playing in her 300th WNBA game) had 17 points while Tina Charles had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the Connecticut Sun's 99-92 win over the Atlanta Dream.

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U.S. wins U-19 championship

UConn rising sophomore Stefanie Dolson, Huskies' incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Duke freshman Elizabeth Williams had 15 points each as the United States defeated Spain 69-46 in the championship game of the FIBA U-19 World Championships.

As for the other players with UConn ties, rising sophomore Bria Hartley had a rough game shooting the ball and committed five turnovers but had two rebounds and three assists while UConn commits Breanna Stewart (six rebounds, three blocks) and Morgan Tuck (two points, one rebound) helped the U.S. win its fourth straight gold medal.

There will be more on the game and a wrap of the tournament coming later.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hartley leads U.S. into U-19 gold medal game

UConn rising sophomore Bria Hartley had 20 points, all in the first half, as the United States team defeated Brazil 82-66 in the semifinals of the FIBA U-19 World Championships.

Stefanie Dolson, Hartley's teammate at UConn, had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Tennessee incoming freshmen Cierra Burdick (11 points, nine rebounds) and Ariel Massengale (10 points and nine assists) also scored in double figures.

UConn commit Breanna Stewart added six points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots while UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had eight points and five rebounds.

The U.S. did a nice job in holding Damaris Dantas, the tournament's top scorer, to 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting snapping a run of four straight 20-point efforts for the talented 6-foot-4 18-year-old.

The U.S. goes after its fourth straight U-19 gold medal on Sunday at 6:45 p.m. against a surprising Spanish squad which followed up a stunning upset of Canada in the quarterfinals by surprising Australia in the semifinals. Spain was the fourth and final qualifier out of Group F and headed into the quarterfinals with a 3-3 record.

Through eight games, the top three and four of the top five scorers are either current UConn players or UConn commits.

Stewart leads the U.S. in scoring (12.3 points per game), rebounding (7.5) and blocked shots (1.5). Hartley, one of the team's two co-captains, is averaging 12.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals while Dolson is averaging 8.5 points (on 60.8 percent shooting) and 4.5 rebounds.

Duke incoming freshman Elizabeth Williams is the fourth-leading scorer for the U.S. with an average of 8.1 points per game followed by Mosqueda-Lewis' 7 points per game average.

Hartley, Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis as well as future Huskies Stewart and Morgan Tuck are combining for 56 percent of the points scored for the U.S., 47 percent of the rebounds and have 34 of the team's 44 3-pointers.

Spain is led by the trio of Astou Ndour (12.4 points per game), Queralt Casas (11.3) and Mariona Ortiz (10.4 points).

The gold-medal game will be streamed live at

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Stewart, Mosqueda-Lewis lead U.S. into U-19 semis

UConn commit Breanna Stewart had 21 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots while UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting as the United States rallied for a 70-64 win over France in the quarterfinals of the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Puerto Montt, Chile on Friday.

UConn rising sophomore Bria Hartley had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists for the U.S., which trailed by 11 points at the end of the first quarter and by two going into the fourth quarter.

UConn rising sophomore Stefanie Dolson had seven points and future Husky Morgan Tuck five points for the U.S., which will play Brazil in Saturday's semifinals.

Valeriane Ayani led France with 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

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Catchings reacts to being one of WNBA's top 15 players

About an hour before the start of the Indiana Fever/Connecticut Sun game at Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday, I was interviewing Sun head coach Mike Thibault for a story I am writing about recently signed Jessica Breland. The question and answer session was briefly interrupted when Indiana All-Star forward Tamika Catchings came over to give Thibault a hug.

Then he thanked Tamika before the two wished each other luck. I neglected to ask him what the thank you was for but after the game did ask Catchings about it.

Knowing her, it was probably a wonderful gesture on her part but Catching shrugged it all off.

Nothing, me and Coach Thibault we go way back. I really appreciate all the stuff he did for me (when Thibault was an assistant coach on the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad). He is a great person. We're always talking about USA. It is a great relationship and it is kind of funny to see his son and his daughter growing up."

Considering that Catchings was named to the WNBA's list of top 15 players of all time which was announced at halftime of Saturday's WNBA All-Star game, I asked her what it meant to be considering one of the league's top players.

"That is just an honor. I look back and think about all the players that came up before me, old school players looking at the WNBA ... The opportunity I have to be a player in this league and be named one of the top 15 out of all the players that have come through, I can't even explain it."


Canada falls in U-19 quarterfinals

Two days after stunning the United States to finish undefeated in round robin play, Canada's dreams of a gold medal in the FIBA U-19 World Championships ended with a loss to Spain in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Astou Ndour had 19 points, eight rebounds and five blocks to lead three Spanish players in double figures and Canada shot just 28 percent from the field in the 69-55 win by Spain which moves onto the semifinals to play either Japan or Australia.

In the other half of the bracket, the U.S. plays France at 6:45 p.m. followed by the Brazil/Russia game.

Nirra Fields, a rising senior at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, led Canada with 14 points.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

U.S. falls to Canada

In what turned out to be a game to decide the Group E champion in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, the United States had no answer for the trio of Michelle Plouffe, her sister and Marquette rising sophomore Katherine Plouffe as well as Wumi Agunbiade.

Michelle Plouffe, who will be a sophomore at Utah, had 24 points and eight rebounds, Aguniblade had 15 points and Katherine Plouffe added 12 points in Canada's 64-52 victory.

Tennessee incoming freshman Ariel Massengale led the previous undefeated United States team with 17 points. UConn commit Breanna Stewart had eight points, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks. UConn rising sophomores Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson were a combined 3 of 12 from the floor.

The loss means that the U.S. will be the No. 2 seed out of Group E heading into Friday's quarterfinals and could end up having to play the top seed out of Group F in the semfinals if they win on Friday when they play France in the quarterfinals. France actually finished tied with Brazil and Australia in Group F but Brazil earned the top seed followed by Australia and France.

"It obviously changes our path to get to a gold medal opportunity, but I hope it makes a difference in a positive way," said U.S. head coach Jen Rizzotti. "Hopefully it wakes the kids up a little bit and proves to them that this isn’t the last two years where they’ve played against kids their age. We’re talking about 19-year-old kids who play in college. We just didn’t show the maturity today to be able to beat a team like Canada. They were great."

Here are some quotes from Hartley as well as Stewart and fellow UConn commit Morgan Tuck.

Bria Hartley
On today’s game:
Canada did a really good job of controlling the tempo of the game. They’re a team that likes to slow it down, run half-court sets. We let them do that and we didn’t really pressure them enough to get them out of that offense. They were in the flow the entire game and we didn’t disrupt that.

We just let it get away from us. We had to go that extra push. We tied it up, we had to get some stops, but we didn’t come through with our stops so they got the best of us.

Breanna Stewart
What was Canada doing to disrupt your game?
They did it with their two-three zone. They had that very compact in the paint. It was hard to get any movement in the post. They’re also very physical, which was hard.

On the USA’s shooting:Yeah, it was frustrating. If you’re taking open shots and missing the ones that usually go in, it gets frustrating after awhile.

Morgan Tuck
Were you a little shocked at Canada’s start to the game?
I don’t know if it was shocking. We didn’t really come out focused. By the way we were playing, we could tell that they were going to be up. We just have to go into the next game and be focused more.

Your team has been very up and down all tournament, what needs to be tightened up now that every game is a must-win game?Just having a mental focus. Everybody needs to be on the same page. Everybody needs to, from the beginning to the end of the game, be focused the entire time.

On the play of her high school teammate Ariel Massengale against Canada:Ariel definitely knew that she needed to step up in order for us to get back into the game. She did a great job of doing that.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stewart, Dolson help U.S. roll past Italy

UConn commit Breanna Stewart had 15 points (on 7 of 9 shooting) while UConn rising sophomore Stefanie Dolson had 14 points (on 7 of 10 shooting) as the U.S. defeated Italy 94-60 in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships.

Cierra Burdick (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Elizabeth Williams (15 points), incoming freshmen at Tennessee and Duke respectively, also scored in double figures as the U.S. improved to 5-0 in the tournament.

The U.S. will wrap up round-robin play with a game against undefeated Canada on Wednesday. The winner will capture the Group E title while the loser will be the No. 2 seed out of the group headed to the quarterfinals.

Canada is led by talented 5-foot-10 guard Nirra Fields who is averaging 18.6 points, 7 rebounds and 2.2 steals. Fields is actually from South Euclid, Ohio and plays at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. She is also one of the top-rated rising high school seniors in the country - this country.

Australia has put itself in position to win Group F by remaining undefeated with a hard-earned 65-61 win over Spain. Australia meets Brazil, which lost to France on Tuesday, on Wednesday.

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Geno checking out U-19 action

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is checking out the action at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Chile and the tournament's official site posted a question and answer session with the U.S. national team head coach.


Monday, July 25, 2011

UConn trio leads U.S. past China

After three relatively uneventful games at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship, the United States was pushed to the limit by China on Monday.

Powered by UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' team-high 19 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and two steals as well as strong games from UConn rising sophomores Bria Hartley (18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Stefanie Dolson (12 points, eight rebounds and two assists) the U.S. held on for an 80-77 victory. UConn commit Breanna Stewart added nine points and eight rebounds as the U.S. improved to 3-0 in Pool E play (earlier wins over Japan and Russia carry over to the second round of round robin).

Jiayi Zuo, who came into the game averaging 5.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1 assist per game, finished with a game-high 23 points and added five rebounds and four assists for China.

Following the game, U.S. head coach Jen Rizzotti was rather complimentary about Hartley, who has been nothing short of sensational during the tournament.

"I still continue to be amazed at Bria Hartley's guts and her willingness to take the big shot, make the big play," said Rizzotti, who was no slouch in that department during her time as a point guard at UConn. "Then on the other side of the ball, turn around and guard the other team's best player. Obviously it was nice to have Kaleena show up today and knock down some shots for us."

China trailed 58-46 at the start of the fourth quarter but rallied to tie the game at 72. Mosqueda-Lewis hit her fifth and final 3-pointer of the game just 6 seconds after China tied the game. After China pulled within 75-74, Hartley drained a 3-pointer but China answered with a 3 of its own to make it 78-77 with 43 seconds to play. Hartley found Dolson for a layup with 29.6 seconds to go for the final points of the game.

The U.S. will play Italy on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. before wrapping up Pool E play on Wednesday against Canada. Barring any upsets on Tuesday, the Canada/U.S. game will be for the Pool E title.

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U.S. U-19 game available through internet radio

Although television broadcasts of the FIBA Under-19 World Championship do not start until the semifinals, a radio broadcast of today's 4:30 p.m. China/United States game is available.

The U.S. won Pool B with a 3-0 record with the victories over Russia and Japan carrying over to the second round.

After playing China, the U.S. plays Italy at 4:30 p.m. before wrapping up pool play against Canada on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

The semifinals and finals will be televised via FIBA TV

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Connecticut Sun sign Breland

One of the wordt-kept secrets in the WNBA became official on Sunday when the Connecticut Sun signed rookie forward Jessica Breland to a 7-day contract.

The former North Carolina star was taken in the 2nd round of April's WNBA draft by Minnesota. The Lynx traded her rights to New York. After seeing limited time in nine games, Breland was waived by New York.

Breland tweeted the news of her being picked up by the Sun over the weekend.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bird, Taurasi among WNBA's "Top 15"

Former UConn stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi were voted as two of the 15 players in the history of the WNBA.

The Top 15 were announced at halftime of Saturday's WNBA All-Star game. Joining Bird and Taurasi were Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Teresa Weatherspoon, Dawn Staley, Katie Smith, Ticha Penicheiro, Cappie Pondexter, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Yolanda Griffith and Tamika Catchings.

Taurasi's 20.6 career scoring average is second only to Cooper's 21 points per game avergae in WNBA history. Taurasi is also fifth on the WNBA's all-time scoring charts with 5,025 points and her 614 3-pointers is fourth in WNBA history.

Bird trails only Penicheiro on the WNBA's career assists list with 1,693 in 305 games
Bird ranks sixth all-time with 507 3-pointers and among players who have attempted at least 500 free throws, she is third on the career charts with 87.0 free-throw percentage.

Former Huskies Swin Cash and Nykesha Sales were on the initial ballot of 30 candidates.

Sales, who last played in the WNBA in 2008, still ranks 11th with an average of 1.76 steals per game and her total of 490 steals is also 11th in WNBA history. Sales' 3,955 points is the 17th most in WNBA history while Cash is 20th on the career charts with 3,818 points.

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Stewart, DeShields deliver for U.S. again

UConn commit Breanna Stewart had 12 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot while UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields added 11 points and five rebounds as the United States defeated Argentina 83-49 on Saturday to finish with a 3-0 record in Pool B at the FIBA U-19 World Championships.

UConn rising sophomores Bria Hartley (nine points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals) and Stefanie Dolson (seven points), UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had eight points and five rebounds and Connecticut commit Morgan Tuck (five points, seven rebounds) also played key roles in the win.

The U.S. advances to the second round of pool play and take a 2-0 record into the next stage courtesy of its wins over Russia and Japan (who also will advance out of pool B). The United States will play the winner of Saturday's China/Egypt game in its next game on Monday.

After the first three games, the top four scorers for the U.S. are players either enrolled at UConn, committed to the Huskies or being heavily recruited by them.

Stewart leads the U.S. in both scoring (13 points per game) and rebounding (7.3), Hartley leads the team with nine assists and 12 steals while averaging 12.3 points per game. She also has seven of the team's 11 3-pointers. DeShields is averaging 10.3 points per game while Dolson averages 8.7 points while shooting a team-best 73.3 percent from the field. Tuck is averaging 5.3 points and 6 rebounds per game while Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 3.7 points and 5 rebounds.

Here are some quotes from Dolson, Stewart and Tuck courtesy of USA Basketball

Stefanie Dolson
Was there something you were working on after the game was in hand?
The main focus after we had the big lead was to execute on offense and run our plays through. Argentina had a really good defense. They were pressuring us. So I think it was just executing, buckling down on defense and still getting stops. We lost a little focus at the end of the game. In the games to come, we can’t do that. We need to learn to keep focused and have our minds set for the entire 40-minte game.

On Bria Hartley’s 9-0 run:
That’s Bria being Bria. Bria’s a great player like that. She’s going to push the ball on the offense. She’s going to finish shots, knock down shots and at the same time, find people to pass the ball to. She does a great job. She knows when she’s hot and I know when she’s hot. So, I know when I’m getting the ball, I pass it to her and she’ll knock them down.

On the USA’s depth:
That’s extremely important. There are 12 of us on this team and every one of us can go in there and play great basketball. So everyone needs to be ready to go in, come off the bench and have the energy, the determination that the previous group had. You have to be ready to come off the bench like that. That starts with the energy on the bench. You can’t just be sitting there and not be into the game. As long as you’re sitting on the bench and you’re into the game, you’re going to come in and bring that energy.

Breanna Stewart
On the USA’s 16-0 run in the first quarter:
I think it was because Argentina, they were running us early on and they were trying to get us tired. But then when once we put our next line of subs in, we had fresh legs and they didn’t. Then we were able to go on the run.

What do you need to work on before the next round to continue getting better as a team?
We need to keep working on running through our sets and making sure we know exactly what we’re doing. We also need to work on our defensive rotations and making sure we’re always in the gaps on defense.

Morgan Tuck
On today’s game:
We started off a little slow on the defensive end, but I think we picked it up. When we get stops, we’re a lot better on offense. When you just focus on defense, the game goes our way.

What is it like a one-two punch with your starters wearing down the opponent and the next group knocking them out?
I definitely think that when we make our subs, energy stays in the game and that definitely helps. There’s not a drop off when our starters come out.

What have you learned about the team over the first round and what do you need to work on?
We got to know each other better on the court. We’ve all learned that when we are focused and playing defense like we know we should play, we’ll be fine.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

DeShields, Stewart star for U.S.

UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields had 16 points in 19 minutes while UConn commit Breanna Stewart added 14 points, three rebounds, two blocks as the United States defeated Russia 76-53 to improve to 2-0 in pool play at the FIBA U-19 World Championships.

Duke incoming freshman Elizabeth Williams had 11 points and 10 rebounds while UConn rising sophomore Bria Hartley had 10 points and five steals. The U.S. stands alone in Pool B with a 2-0 mark and will wrap up preliminary round play against 0-2 Argentina on Saturday at 11:15 a.m.

The U.S. should secure the top seed out of Pool B and will play the third-place finisher in Pool A (which will be the winner of Saturday's China/Egypt game) in the second round of pool play.

Speaking of Hartley, she is a co-captain of the U.S. team along with Tennessee incoming freshman Ariel Massengale.

Hartley's UConn teammate Stefanie Dolson earned praise from U.S. coach and former UConn star Jen Rizzotti for her defensive play against talented Russian star Ksenia Tikonenko.

"She (Dolson) is probably averaging a point a minute because she’s not playing a lot because of her fouls. But she made (Tikonenko) work pretty hard today. Although she got into foul trouble and didn’t play a lot, she kept her from getting in the flow. Again, we were able to get our depth to disrupt her. (Tikonenko) is a phenomenal player and I thought we did a great job defensively on her."


Veteran post DeMya Walker was cut by the WNBA's Connecticut Sun on Friday.

Walker, picked up by Connecticut in the 2010 dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs folded, did not play in the last three games and fell behind former UConn forward/center Jessica Moore in the rotation. Walker appeared in 10 games for the Sun this season and averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8 minutes of action.

"It was a mutual parting of the ways," Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said in a statement. "She wanted to go some place where she had an opportunity to play more. We obviously were going in a different direction with our roster. Jessica Moore was going to be in the rotation. This gives us a chance to bring in a young post to develop for the future."

Former North Carolina star Jessica Breland tweeted that she "just finished packing for Connecticut ... Can't wait to meet my new teammates."

Breland was taken with the first pick of the second round in April's WNBA draft by Minnesota and her rights were traded to New York. She played in nine games for the Liberty and averaged 2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 7.7 minutes per game. She was waived to make room for former DePaul star Felicia Chester, who ironically was selected with the pick after Breland in the draft.

Breland, a 6-foot-3 forward, was being touted as a potential lottery pick before she was sidelined with cancer. Breland missed the entire 2009-10 season. She returned and averaged 12.5 points, 7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a senior for the Tar Heels.

With the news that Minnesota Lynx forward/center Rebekkah Brunson has been selected to replace the injured Candace Parker in the Western Conference starting lineup for tomorrow's All-Star game, eight of the 10 starters played collegiately in the Big East including the entire Western Conference starting five as Brunson, a former Georgetown star, joins UConn graduates Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi in the starting lineup. The Eastern Conference starting lineup features another former Husky in Tina Charles as well as Angel McCoughtry and Cappie Pondexter, who starred at Louisville and Rutgers respectively.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Calling hours/funeral arrangements for RuthAnn Lobo

For anybody wishing to pay their respects to RuthAnn Lobo, the mother of former UConn star Rebecca Lobo, the calling hours are today from 4-8 p.m. at Hayes-Huling & Carmon Funeral Home (364 Salmon Brook St., Granby). The funeral will be held on Friday at 9 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church (940 Hopmeadow St., Simsbury). The graveside service and burial will follow in Granby Cemetery.

With RuthAnn Lobo will be remembered by many as the mother of one of the most popular players in not only UConn but women's basketball history, she was a great deal more than that. A well-respected teacher and guidance counselor in the Granby Public Schools system for 35 years, she touched a great number of lives. Diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago, she became a tireless advocate in the fight against breast cancer.

Although I met RuthAnn Lobo a couple of times, I can't say that I knew her particularly well. However, reading the guest book on her obituary has allowed me to get a sense of how deeply she has touched people's lives. She was a truly wonderful woman who will be greatly missed.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Busy weekend in San Antonio

Not only will UConn set a record by having six of its former players taking part in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game but former Huskies Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Nykesha Sales and Diana Taurasi are among 30 candidates to be named among the top 15 players in the history of the WNBA. Not only will the top 15 players be recognized at halftime but the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2012 will also be announced at that time.

As for the game, which will be played on Saturday beginning at 3:30 p.m. at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, former Huskies Bird, Cash, Taurasi and Maya Moore will start for the Western Conference squad while Tina Charles will start for the East. Charles' current Connecticut Sun and former UConn teammate Renee Montgomery will also play for the Eastern Conference team.

The final All-Star spot will be announced today. Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks was voted to start for the West but is injured so WNBA President Laurel Richie will pick her replacement. That player will be announced later today. Western Conference coach Brian Agler will get to select Parker's replacement in the starting lineup.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Charles emerging as MVP candidate

It was just another day at the office for Tina Charles who had 18 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday's win over Eastern Conference leading Indiana.

Although I was not at the game, I did sit down with Tina on Saturday to do a long overdue piece of her emergence as one of the premier players in the WNBA. The story ran in today's edition of the Register and there are also some videos with portions of interviews with Tina about her relationship with fellow former Christ the King star Chamique Holdsclaw as well as Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault's thoughts on where Tina has improved since last season. The story was significantly longer than the normal piece I would write so there were some parts of my interviews I had to leave out for space considerations.

By the way, the reserves for Saturday's WNBA All-Star game will be announced on Tuesday so keep an eye out for those.

The WNBA just announced the most popular jerseys. Four former UConn stars, led by Minnesota's Maya Moore at No. 1, are in the top 10.

Charles beat out Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and Essence Carson of the New York Liberty. Former Huskies Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tina Charles check in at No. 7, 8 and 10.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

And the answer is ...

For those wondering which player Jen Rizzotti was heaping praise on in a previous blog entry, it was Morgan Tuck.

Here is the full quote:
"Morgan Tuck’s been the best surprise for me since I got here. When you see her occasionally, last year I saw her at the trials, I don’t know that she stands out but when you have a chance to coach her every day and notice all the little things she does, she immediately becomes one of your favorite players. She is very different from Breanna because she is a little more polished offensively, she can handle it, she can shoot it, she’s got post moves but she is another one of those kids who is in the right place all the time and I don’t think it is by accident. She can finish at the hoop, she is very efficient, she has basically done everything I have asked of her. I asked her to be more vocal because she has a quiet nature and she has done that. I have asked her to play the guard and post position and she is the only one I am asking to play multiple positions because she can run the offense from any spot on the floor. She is an absolute joy to have on your team. She does so many little things. I am big on the intangible things, I love played who bring intangibles and Morgan Tuck brings a ton of intangibles. She has been really wonderful to have on the team."

I filed two stories off my interviews and I would expect them to appear in the paper at some point in the early or middle part of next week.

Speaking of Morgan, she said she was intending to be in attendance for UConn's "First Night" festivities in October as she was last year. Breanna Stewart said that if her schedule works out, she'd like to be there as well.

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Greene focused on win rather than reunion

Former UConn star Kalana Greene realized that basketball is a business after a draft-day trade sent her from New York to Connecticut. Greene certainly took a business-like approach to her first game against her former teammates.

When I spoke to her on Saturday morning, Greene admitted to being more focused on helping the Sun to a much-needed road win than sharing the court with the players she called her teammates last season.

"We had to win," Greene said. "We can't come back from a road trip 0-3. At the beginning of the game, it is kind of weird going up against all your old teammates and after the game ... But for my team, I am just glad we got a win. It was a tough road trip and we came home. For me, it is a job. It is obviously nice to be back in that city."

Greene had a career-high four steals and finished with seven points in 28 minutes but her greatest contribution may have been in shadowing former teammate Cappie Pondexter. Greene helped disrupt Pondexter enough that the All-Star game starter was just 5 of 14 from the floor and had seven turnovers in Connecticut's 68-59 victory.

I was a bit surprised to hear Kalana say that she rarely defended Pondexter during practice last season.

"Not really that much, we had a lot of guys in practice so probably once or twice," Greene said.

Greene said she is still weighing her options before deciding which European team she will play in the winter.

WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR?Before the season, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said that if Spanish national team start Alba Torrens where to join the team after the European championships, the call would be Torrens' to make. On Saturday Thibault said he is not anticipating having Torrens play in the WNBA this season. However, next year is looking like a reasonable possibility for Torrens to join the Sun.

Spain was a real disappointment in the EuroLeague championships, failing to advance past the second round of pool play. Since they failed to finish in the top five at the EuroBasket event, Spain was not automatically invited to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women. If Spain doesn't get an invite for the qualifying tournament (which is appearing likely), they will not be headed to the Olympics which would free up Torrens to spend the entire 2012 season in the WNBA.

As for former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham, it could be a longer wait. Leedham is a key member of the Great Britain team which is automatically entered into the 2012 Olympics as the host team so the earliest Leedham figures to give the WNBA a shot would be 2013.

"She is going to be in the Olympics so I haven't spent much time thinking about it," Thibault said. "She has played pretty well and she is a good player. I talked to Tom Maher, the head coach of the British national team and (he said) her best basketball is still two years away. He feels this experience without the pressure of having to make the team here will actually (hurt) her. Going to the Olympics and playing against those good players will make her more prepared coming into training camp. He didn't feel like she would be ready to make the team now."

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Taurasi hits milestone

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi became the fifth player in WNBA history to score 5,000 points in Friday's win over Washington.

Taurasi came into the game needing 12 points to join Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith and Lauren Jackson in the elite club of 5,000-point scorers. She finished with 13 in the game. Taurasi reached the magical mark with 3:45 left in the third quarter and needed just 243 games to accomplish the feat to break Jackson's mark for quickest player to 5000 points by 16 games. The next milestone for Taurasi to reach is the 1,000-assist mark. She currently is 12 away and will become the 12th player to hit the four digit plateau in assists and would join Smith as the only players with 5,000 points and 1,000 assists in WNBA history.

There were a couple of statistical landmarks for former Huskies Sue Bird and Asjha Jones to mention.

On Thursday, Bird became the sixth player in league history to make 500 career 3-pointers in a loss to San Antonio while Jones dished out her 500th career assist in Wednesday's loss to Indiana.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

High praise from Rizzotti

During my interview with former UConn star and current U.S. Under-19 head coach Jen Rizzotti, I asked her about the five team members either already at UConn or committed to the program.

She gave me the following quote: "She’s been the best surprise for me since I got here. When you have a chance to coach her every day and notice all the little things she does, she immediately becomes one of your favorite players. She is another one of those kids who is in the right place all the time and I don’t think it is by accident. She is an absolute joy to have on your team. She does so many little things. I am big on the intangible things, I love players who bring intangibles and she brings a ton of intangibles. She has been really wonderful to have on the team."

I intentionally left out the player's name. Just curious if anybody would like to guess whether it was Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart or Morgan Tuck she was talking about.

I will have a couple of stories in the near future from my interviews yesterday with Jen, Bria, Stefanie, Breanna and Morgan. But here are some thoughts from Jen as she prepares to lead the U.S. team down to Chile and in pursuit of the U-19 World Championship.

"I am very excited and a little nervous," Rizzotti said. "Obviously you always think you need more practice and more preparation but at the same time you want to see what your stuff looks like against somebody else. These kids have been to training camps (before), they’ve done this in years’ past. This gets kind of old coming to double sessions and staying in dorms. There is an added element when you travel and stay in hotels together, you are spending time off the floor in a foreign country

"You kind of feel like it is you against the world and at times that is the way we feel. Everybody wants to see us lose. We are there as a group of 15 to stand together and win against all odds. I think that element will add some excitement to it. Then there is a chance to play other people and use our depth against somebody other than ourselves and see what we can do. These guys are gamers. As much as they need to practice, they definitely want to play."

The tournament starts on Thursday with the championship game slated for July 31.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

UConn well-represented in All-Star balloting

Former UConn stars Tina Charles, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Swin Cash were voted as starters for the July 23 WNBA All-Star game.

Fan balloting ended on Sunday and the results were announced during the second quarter of Thursday's Seattle/San Antonio game.

It is the first time five players from the same college have been voted as All-Star starters.

The Western Conference starting lineup is nearly an all-UConn affair as Bird and Cash of the Seattle Storm, Moore of Minnesota and Taurasi of Phoenix were voted to start along with Los Angeles' Candace Parker, who is injured and will not be able to play.

Charles, the leading scorer and rebounder for the Connecticut Sun, is joined on the Eastern Conference starting lineup along New York's Cappie Pondexter, Indiana's Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings and Angel McCoughtry of Atlanta.

"It definitely means a lot to make the all-star team," said Charles, who beat out Chicago's Sylvia Fowles for the starting Eastern Conference center spot. "It is a dream come true. Just being in the league alone is a dream come true, the contributions of my teammates and them pushing me through my rookie seasson has helped me this season and just them being here for me means a lot."

Bird and Catchings were voted as starters for a record seventh time while Moore becomes the first rookie to be voted as an All-Star game starter since Bird and Catchings accomplished the feat in 2002.

Former UConn players and Connecticut Sun teammates Renee Montgomery and Asjha Jones finished third in the voting among Eastern Conference guards and forwards although neither serious challenged for a starting spot in the voting.

"I think the fans vote, it is reflection of the great fans we have in Connecticut and the great women’s fans that tend to follow our players as they are in college and as they move forward," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "I don’t want to minimize the basketball part of it but when it is being voted on by the fans, it is personality, it is how you play and it is a lot more than just the basketball because it is how they feel about you. I think our players do a great job in the community. I think they handle themselves well. I think people like them. I wish I had a dollar for every person that said ‘so and so is the kind of kid that I’d like to have as a granddaughter or as a daughter.’ That is a reflection on them and their families and how they treat people."

The reserves will be announced on July 19 during the ESPN2 broadcast of the Seattle/Chicago game. WNBA president Laurel Richie will name Parker's replacement with Western Conference coach Brian Agler of Seattle will name the starting center, choosing among the Western Conference reserves.

Here are the final voting returns:

Forwards: Tamika Catchings (Ind) 32,706; Angel McCoughtry (Atl) 14,310; Asjha Jones (Conn) 9,767; Crystal Langhorne (Wash) 7,274; Plenette Pierson (NY) 6,985; Tangela Smith (Ind) 6,145; Nicole Powell (NY) 5,806; Michelle Snow (Chi) 5,634; Tan White (Conn) 4,341; Marissa Coleman (Wash) 4,200

Centers: Tina Charles (Conn) 17,205; Sylvia Fowles (Chi) 14,544; Nicky Anosike (Wash) 6,386; Tammy Sutton-Brown (Ind) 4,301

Guards: Cappie Pondexter (NY) 20,226; Katie Douglas (Ind) 18,598; Renee Montgomery (Conn) 12,511; Courtney Vandersloot (Chi) 9,560; Kara Lawson (Conn) 9,031; Essence Carson (NY) 4,901; Alana Beard (Wash) 4,855; Epiphanny Prince (Chi) 4,806; Lindsey Harding (Atl) 4,616; Iziane Castro Marques (Atl) 4,418; Kelly Miller (Wash) 3,740; Briann January (Ind) 3,706

Forwards: Maya Moore (Minn) 21,379; Swin Cash (Sea) 14,907; Rebekkah Brunson (Minn) 12,223; Tina Thompson (LA) 11,813; Penny Taylor (Phx) 9,666; Sophia Young (SA) 9,553; Candice Dupree (Phx) 9,013; Camille Little (Sea) 5,462; Ruth Riley (SA) 5,430; Sheryl Swoopes (Tul) 5,031; Delisha Milton-Jones (LA) 4,049

Centers: Candace Parker (LA) 19,376; Lauren Jackson (Sea) 12,529; Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Minn) 8,572; Jayne Appel (SA) 5,315; Elizabeth Cambage (Tul) 4,217

Guards: Sue Bird (Sea) 25,077; Diana Taurasi (Phx) 22,406; Becky Hammon (SA) 16,538; Seimone Augustus (Minn) 10,119; Lindsay Whalen (Minn) 7,228; Kristi Toliver (LA) 5,498; Jia Perkins (SA) 4,980; Ivory Latta (Tul) 4,666; Ticha Penicheiro (LA) 4,624

Here's a look at UConn's All-Star representatives throughout the years (not including the years when the format changed because of the Olympics or World Championship preparation).

1999: Rebecca Lobo, Nykesha Sales
2000: Nykesha Sales
2001: Nykesha Sales, Rita Williams
2002: Sue Bird, Nykesha Sales
2003: Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Nykesha Sales
2005: Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Nykesha Sales, Diana Taurasi
2006: Sue Bird, Nykesha Sales, Diana Taurasi
2007: Sue Bird (did not play due to injury), Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi
2009: Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Charde Houston, Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

European movement, UConn style

This is the time of the year teams in the EuroLeague set their rosters so I figured I would update where the former UConn players are intending to play this winter.

The biggest shock waves came when Diana Taurasi opted to play in Turkey for the second year in a row but rather than return to Fenerbahce, the team she was representing when she falsely was ruled to test positive for a banned substance. Fenerbahce terminated Taurasi's contract after she was provisionally suspended. Rather than return to Fenerbahce, she signed with their rivals Galatasaray, also located in Istanbul.

Also headed to Galatasaray is Tina Charles. Maya Moore will play for Ros Casares in Valencia, Spain, Sue Bird goes from Spartak to UMMC Ekaterinburg, Asjha Jones will suit up for Rivas Ecopolis in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, Spain after not playing in Europe last winter. Renee Montgomery moves from playing in Israel to playing in Hungary for Seat Gyor, Jessica Moore will play for Antakya Belediyesi in Turkey.

WNBA All-Star Game voting ended on Sunday and the starters are expected to be named on Thursday.

When the early voting returns were made public, former UConn stars Charles, Moore, Cash, Bird and Taurasi were in position to earn starting spots while Jones and Montgomery were in third place.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Morgan Brian named national athlete of the year

University of Virginia bound soccer star Morgan Brian accomplished a feat few others have been able to manage this year - beating out UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for a national honor.

Brian beat out five other finalists including Mosqueda-Lewis to win the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award.

Aisling Cuffe (cross country), Paige McDuffie (softball), Krista VanSant (volleyball) and Amy Weissenbach (track and field) where the other finalists.

The 6-foot Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals as a senior while leading Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. to its second straight state title and No. 1 national ranking for the second straight year.

She set single-season records with 116 3-pointers and a 87.0 free-throw percentage. She ended up as Mater Dei's career leader with 2,744 points, 874 rebounds and 337 3-pointers.

She is currently in training with the rest of the U.S. Under-19 national team in preparation for the FIBA U-19 World Championships which will be played later this month in Chile. Mosqueda-Lewis was unable to make it Los Angeles for the award presentation because of her USA Basketball commitment.

Former USC and Los Angeles Sparks star Lisa Leslie, who surprised Mosqueda-Lewis by being on hand to present her with the Gatorade girls' basketball player of the year honor, handed out the award to Brian on Tuesday along with sprinter Allyson Felix and softball star Jessica Mendoza.


Mosqueda-Lewis up for national award

The Gatorade Male and Female High School Athletes of the Year will be announced tonight in Los Angeles with basketball players winning 10 of the previous 18 times over the first nine years the award has been given out. That figures to bode well for UConn incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

Mosqueda-Lewis is one of the candidates courtesy of her being named the nation's top girls' basketball player by Gatorade.

Other girls' finalists Morgan Brian (soccer), Aisling Cuffe (cross country), Paige McDuffie (softball), Krista VanSant (volleyball) and Amy Weissenbach (track and field).

The 6-foot Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals as a senior while leading Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. to its second straight state title and No. 1 national ranking.

She set single-season records with 116 3-pointers and a 87.0 free-throw percentage . She ended up as Mater Dei's career leader with 2,744 points, 874 rebounds and 337 3-pointers.

If you want to watch the event, check back at this link around 8:30-9:30 p.m.


Some thoughts on Big East/XL Center press conference

Not a heck of a lot of earthshattering news came out of Tuesday's press conference announcing the Big East's two-year extension to keep the conference's women's basketball tournament at the XL Center in Hartford.

Personally, I viewed the process of other venues trying to pry the tournament rights away from Hartford the same way I look at the NFL lockout. It's not so much of a case of if the announcement to keep the event in Hartford (through 2013) was going to happen but more of a case of when it became official.

Coaches, especially those who have lost to UConn in the tournament final, understandably would rather not have to play on one of UConn's home courts. That, it seems to me, would be more of an issue than any philosophical objection to moving the event to Mohegan Sun Arena. More than anything, the Big East knows a good thing when it sees it and the last 32 sessions of the tournament have drawn crowds of more than 8,000. If the Big East moved the event to a venue outside the state of Connecticut, could they guarantee crowds of 8,000 even in sessions when the home team wasn't playing?

"I think if a venue where to pursue us, it is important that they would include figures that are important to us which would be attendance, which would be business support, which would be community support, which would be the way they would run an event," said Danielle Donehew, the Big East's associate commissioner for women's basketball. "There are so many events that come through the XL Center and there are excellent examples to us of the first-class organization this is. It is important for us to see success at a venue so we could make a decision if we wanted to be at that venue or not."

Another issue, judging by people's reasons for not going to the Big East tournament, was parking fees around the XL Center. The Church Street garage, attached to the Hilton, has a flat rate of $10 per day. The garage affixed to the XL Center charges $15 a day during the five-day event. So I asked both Donehew and XL Center vice president and general manager Chuck Steedman if there has been a push to lower parking prices.

Steedman took the high road, claiming that the XL Center has no control over the prices contractors charge. Donehew admitted that it was an issue they are currently looking into.

"Parking is a very big part of the fan experience. I also think one thing is to try to encourage the restaurants to stay open later so when a fan gets out of a late game, some of the restaurants are open. Whoever touches our fan, it is important in terms of their experience. We are having lots of conversations."

Donehew had no interest in going into specifics about how many venues were in the mix or close the conference came from moving away from the facility where the tournament has been held every year since 2004. But listening to Steedman say "I never had a concern about it. I never did." and then Donehew proclaim that the process "was a thorough one, I don't know if it was difficult. We evaluated and re-evaluated what was important to our schools and Hartford came (out on) top."

A few other pieces of information.

First, a ticket to all sessions remains $99 for the seventh straight year.

This year's tournament will be held from Mar. 2-6 with the 2013 event going from Mar. 8-12. Donehew said discussions are still ongoing to determine the format of the 2013 tourney since the addition of Texas Christian will bring the field from 16 teams to 17.

A total of $80,000 has been put aside for ticket purchases by Aetna, Bank of America, Hartford Hospital, Northeast Utilities, Phoenix, Prudential Retirement, St. Francis Hospital, Travelers and United Health.

Steedman said the XL Center started the process of extending its contract the first day that the previous two-year contract began although the official bid was not presented until February.

It's official: 2 more years of Big East tourney in Hartford

The Big East Conference officially announced a two-year extension to keep the Big East women's basketball tournament at the XL Center in Hartford at a press conference on Tuesday.

After holding the event exclusively at campus sites for the first 21 years, the tournament was moved to the XL Center in 2004.

The first year the event was in Hartford, it drew a record 10,322 fans per session. Attendance has dropped in each of the last three years but still the average attendance of 8,825 is more than twice the number of fans who attended the tournament in 2003, the last time it was not held in Hartford.

Predictably, there are some Big East coaches who don't like the idea of playing the tournament on one of UConn's home courts. Louisville's Jeff Walz made his opinion on the matter known after losing to UConn in the 2009 Big East final. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is another coach who has gone on the record stating her preference to play the tournament elsewhere. Mohegan Sun Arena has been touted as an alternative, although a move there would do little to appease the coaches who believe UConn should not have a home-court advantage in the conference's postseason tournament.

By signing a two-year extension instead of a longer deal, the Big East is giving other facilities a chance to make a push to secure the rights to the tournament.
The two-year deal will expire after the 2012-13 event.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bird honored by WNBA

Former UConn star Sue Bird was named the WNBA's Western Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time in her career after averaging 19 points while shooting 70 percent from the field and 78 percent from 3-point range to go with 6.5 assists per former as the Seattle Storm split two games.

New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.


Press conference tomorrow at XL Center

There is a press conference tomorrow when the Big East Conference and the XL Center are expected to announce an extension to the agreement to hold the Big East women's basketball tournament at the site.

The tournament has been held at the XL Center since 2004 but the contract had expired following the 2011 event. The Big East accepted bids from other sites with Mohegan Sun Arena among those which showed interest but the Big East obviously believes it has a good thing going in Hartford.

The Big East had held its tournament at campus sites in the first 21 years of the event before switching gears and agreeing to make the Hartford Civic Center (now the XL Center) the first non-campus host site. While there are pockets of dissenters in the conference who believe UConn receives an unfair advantage since the tournament is played on one of the Huskies' two home courts, the attendance was strong enough for the event to be held in Hartford for the last eight years. Of course, the men's Big East tournament has been played at St. John's home court (Madison Square Garden) for years without too many complaints from the men's teams in the conference.

First it was Tulsa's Nolan Richardson and then it was Jen Gillom of Los Angeles being let go or stepping down depending on your preference.

In their place, Teresa Edwards and Joe "Jellybean" Bryant have taken over the Shock and Sparks.

Of particular interest to me was the situation in Los Angeles and not just because Kobe Bryant's father is now coaching the Sparks but I figured it could cause a shift in the Geno Auriemma's 2012 Olympic coaching staff.

Gillom joined the Atlanta Dream's Marynell Meadors and DePaul's Doug Bruno as Auriemma's assistants at the 2010 World Championships. While they were listed at court courts in the recent U.S. training camp, USA Basketball history would indicate that the U.S. coaching staff in the Olympics would feature the same group of coaches who worked together at the World Championships. With Gillom no longer holding a WNBA job, I thought that would take her out of contention. That is not correct. In order to be eligible, USA Basketball guidelines stipulate that the WNBA coach must be a WNBA head coach for two of the last three years at the time of selection.

The Olympic staff is not expected to be announced until after the WNBA season is over.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

U-19 team starts final preparations tomorrow

The U.S. Under-19 national team, featuring UConn rising sophomores Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley as well as incoming freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, commits Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck and Connecticut recruiting target Diamond DeShields will return to the practice court on Monday.

There is one change in the 12-player roster as an injured Imani Stafford has been replaced by former UConn recruiting target Malina Howard.

The team will have morning and afternoon practices from Monday-Thursday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. before wrapping up its latest training camp on Friday before heading to Chile. The U.S. will begin play in the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women against Japan on July 21 in Puerto Montt, Chile.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Charde Houston making a difference

It would be easy for Charde Houston to have emerged angry at the world after dealing with some rough and tumble times growing up in San Diego.

But even as she was forced to sleep in the family's car at times during her childhood, Houston vowed that if she was ever able to make the world a better place for others, she would do just that.

It was not just idle chatter. Since being drafted into the WNBA by the Minnesota Lynx, Houston's charitable endeavors have been something to behold. Obviously others have the same opinion as she was named the Houston's charitable endeavors were recognized when she was named the WNBA's Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award.

Back in 2009 Houston was quick to act when she heard the story of 11-year-old Aiyanna Bardwell left homeless after the murder of her mother. That was the same year that Houston founded Project Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Houston holds weekly mentoring sessions with seven Minnesota youths and both 2009 and 2010, the foundation has bestowed gifts on an underprivileged family during the Christmas holiday season.

"It means so much because so many people are recognized for their work on the court," Houston said. "It's not just myself but other WNBA players, we are so involved in the community that means so much to us.

"Throughout my childhood, I did not have a positive youth group I could capitalize on growing up. I just wanted to provide something that the youth could benefit from."

When I spoke with Charde on Friday, of course I took the chance to get her take on tonight's game against the Connecticut Sun which features four of Houston's former UConn teammates (Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Renee Montgomery and Jessica Moore).

"I am definitely looking forward to playing against some former teammates and see how they are doing especially Tina with her coming off her Eastern Conference (Player of the Week and Month) honors," Houston said.

Houston had this to say about Charles' rapid development and emergence as one of the most dominant players in the WNBA in just the early stages of her second season.

"I'm impressed with her ability to get better," Houston said. "Not a lot of people can get close to 20-plus rebounds in a game. She is constantly improving her game, especially her leadership skills. She is more vocal now and she has just matured as a player."

She also talked about the adjustments Lynx teammate Maya Moore has had to make.

"She came not so much hesitant but trying to find her way and trying to get used to the WNBA game," Houston said. "With Maya, she looks for her shot, she is very vocal, she doesn't play like a rookie. She is starting to (adjust) to the physicality of the game. She has to guard the best players night in and night out so her, I don't think she's struggled but it is more so that she has been tested."

With the arrival of Moore and fellow first-round pick Amber Harris, the return of Candice Wiggins from an injury-shorted 2010 season, addition of veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin it has been a season of adjustment as well as one of limited participating for the former all-star forward.

Houston was a double-figure scorer both in 2009 and 2010 and in her first three seasons she averaged between 17.6 and 23.3 minutes per game. However, Houston had played 10 minutes in just one of Minnesota's first eight games.

"My role has changed," said Houston, who averaged 2.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 7.1 minutes in the first eight games of the season. "It is probably the least amount of time I have played in terms of minutes but at the same time, Coach (Cheryl Reeve) said you have to be ready. We have a deep, deep bench. Anybody can start for this team and you never know when your number is going to be called. I am just practicing hard and pushing the starters."

The Lynx/Sun game will be televised live on NBA TV beginning at 8 p.m.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Charde Houston honored with Staley award

Former UConn forward Charde Houston has been named the winner of the WNBA's Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award for her charitable endeavors with the Minnesota Lynx in 2010.

In 2009, Houston founded Project Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Project Y.O.U), a non-profit organization. Project Y.O.U. educates, motivates and empowers youth to excel in school and in life. During the 2010 season, Houston partnered with Perspectives, Inc. to mentor a group of girls in Minnesota, to stress the importance of education, self-esteem and becoming leaders in the community.

For the second consecutive year, Charde through her foundation, has selected an underprivileged family in the United States and made their holiday wishes a dream come true. In December of 2010, Charde hosted a “Christmas with Y.O.U.” event in Atlantic City, NJ. Through social media, Charde raised over $3,000 to fulfill the children’s Christmas list. In addition to establishing her own foundation, Charde has also worked with the Ronald McDonald House, Perspectives, Inc. and Youth Advocate Program Inc.

"This is a team effort, so I would like to thank all of my Project Y.O.U. staff, Perspectives, Inc. and youth for their hard work," said Houston in a statement. "I am blessed to be able to mentor these wonderful ladies. My girls work hard everyday at improving their lives by learning about leadership, self-esteem and goal-setting. Youth deal with a lot and all it takes is a positive influence to encourage and help them believe that. This award is confirmation that what my staff and I are doing makes a difference in the community. We are all honored."

Houston is in her fourth season with the Lynx and is averaging 2.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.6 steals in eight games this season.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Special weekend in Stratford

Before UConn emerged as a dominant force in women's college basketball, another Connecticut team formed a dynasty to end all dynasties. This weekend, the Brakettes softball juggernaut will honor its glorious past with its Alumnae Weekend.

Beginning in 1958, the Brakettes won 23 Amateur Softball Association Women's Major Fast Pitch national titles in a span of 35 years and captured three World Championships. Bertha Tickey, Joan Joyce, Pat Dufficy, Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson were among the resident superstars. When softball debuted in the Olympics in 1996, the 15-player roster for the gold-medal winning United States squad featured five Brakettes while the manager was Ralph Raymond of the Brakettes.

At least nine ASA Hall of Famers are expected to be on hand as well as a pair of members from the teams inaugural 1947 squad. Here is a breakdown of the events planned at DeLuca Field in Stratford.

Schedule of Events
6:30 p.m.: Opening ceremonies honoring alumnae
7 p.m.: Brakettes doubleheader vs. CT Mirage Gold
8:30 p.m. (approximately): Home-run hitting contest featuring Elaine Amundsen, Jill Cimminello, Pat Dufficy, Linda Finelli, Lea Ann Jarvis, Jenna Lopez, Marge McIntyre, Lea Mishlan, Whitney Mollica-Goldstein, Bailey Sanders and Jen Smith Wernecke.
4:30-6 p.m.: Fan meet and greet
6 p.m.: Opening ceremonies honoring alumnae
7 p.m.: Brakettes doubleheader vs. NYC Havoc
8:30 p.m. (approximately): 2-inning Alumnae Game
1 p.m.: Brakettes doubleheader vs. NYC Havoc

Big East expanding to 18-game schedule

With Texas Christian University joining the Big East beginning in the 2012-13, the conference has opted to go to an 18-game schedule starting that season.

The women's schedule will be set up so teams will play 14 squads once and will have two home-and-home series annually.

The Big East utilized an 18-game regular season schedule from the 1990-91 to 1998-99 seasons.

"The change in the Conference schedule reflects the growth of Big East women’s basketball,” said Danielle Donehew, Big East Associate Commissioner for women’s basketball. “As the league grows, we need to adapt in order to create the best presentation of our teams and to showcase the depth and talent of our league.”

While Donehew's statement sounds nice, the fact is the move from 16 to 18 games is clearly being done to maximize television exposure. With 17 teams, it would have been easy just to have every team play every conference team once. That would have made for a balanced schedule and the seedings for the Big East tournament would have been done equitably. Now certain teams will be faced with having to play powerhouse programs two additional times which could impact the tournament pairings. The positive aspect of that trade off is that it will aid the RPI of that very team suddenly having to play a UConn, Notre Dame, DePaul or another league power more than once.

With the emergence of the UConn/Notre Dame rivalry, for instance, there's no way the league was going to move from having the national championship contenders play twice during the regular season to meeting just once. So the move to 18 games makes sense.

UConn and Notre Dame will play twice in this upcoming season, the last time there will be a 16-game Big East schedule.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Charles named Eastern Conference Player of Month

Former UConn star Tina Charles was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Month for June.

She finished the month ranked first in the conference with an average of 11 rebounds per game, was second in scoring (19.8), fourth in blocks (1.5) and sixth in field-goal percentage (.527).

Charles leads the 6-3 Connecticut Sun in scoring, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage and minutes played.

Rebekkah Brunson of the Minnesota Lynx was named the player of the month for the Western Conference.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cash, Charles honored by WNBA

Former UConn stars Swin Cash and Tina Charles were named the WNBA's Western and Eastern Conference Players of the Week.

For the week, Cash led the Seattle Storm to a 1-1 record while finishing first in the Western Conference in scoring, averaging 22 points in games against Connecticut and Washington, and fourth with an average of 8 rebounds per game.

It is the first honor of the season for Cash but fifth of her career.

Charles, who won the award for the second time this season and third time in her two years in the league, led the Eastern Conference by averaging 16.5 rebounds in leading the Connecticut Sun to wins over Los Angeles and Seattle and was sixth in points (averaging 21 per game). She also tied a WNBA record with 16 rebounds in the second half against Los Angeles. Janell Burse set the mark with 16 rebounds in a half in a 2007 game.

Since the team went from honoring one player per week to handing out Eastern Conference and Western Conference awards in 2007, this is just the four time players from the school school swept the awards. Not surprisingly, UConn grads have accomplished the feat three of the four times.

6/30/2008: Asjha Jones (Connecticut)/Diana Taurasi (Phoenix)
7/27/2009: Asjha Jones (Connecticut)/Sue Bird (Seattle)
7/5/2011: Tina Charles (Connecticut)/Swin Cash (Seattle)

7/6/2009: Tammy Sutton-Brown (Indiana)/Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix)

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Abrosimova, Russia win European title

Maria Stepanova had 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead Russia a 59-42 win over Turkey in the EuroBasket gold-medal game.

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova did not score but had five rebounds in 14 minutes for Russia.

Abrosimova, who played six games for the Connecticut Sun in the 2008 season, is one of five players with ties to the Sun who played in the tournament.

Abrosimova averaging 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Former Sun forward Sandrine Gruda led champion France in both scoring (121 points) and rebounding (56) in the nine tournament games.

Johannah Leedham, a third-round pick by Connecticut in the 2010 WNBA draft, led Great Britain with 72 points in six games.

Evanthia Maltsi (who played 26 games for the Sun in 2007) averaged 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds in three games for Greece.

Alba Torrens, taken by the Sun in the third round of the 2009 WNBA draft, led Spain with 83 points in six games.

Gruda, Torrens and Leedham were among the top 15 scorers in the tournament. Maltsi would have been including among the top tournament scorers but with Greece eliminated after the first round of pool play, she did not play enough games to qualify.

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Gruda leads France to third in EuroBasket

Sandrine Gruda, who played in 85 games from 2008-10 for the Connecticut Sun, had 26 points to lead France to a 63-56 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game at the EuroBasket championships.

Gruda was 12 of 14 from the field and added six rebounds and four assists.

Although she scored in double figures in six of the first eight games of the tournament, it was a bit of an offensive struggle at times for Gruda in the tournament. In the semifinal loss to Turkey, she was 1 of 7 and finished with four points in 37 minutes. Gruda finished the tournament averaging 13.4 points and 6.2 rebounds.

The gold medal game is coming up shortly with former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova leading her Russia squad against Turkey.

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

UConn roster is up

UConn has put up its 2011-12 roster. There are no surprises and yes, for those who obsess over such things, Bria Hartley is still listed as 5-7 even though she has said she is 5-10 and last year's team photo, she is next to 5-11 Lauren Engeln and looks to be giving up only about an inch to her classmate. That will be the last time I address the issue but sure it won't be the last time I get e-mails on the matter.


Bird, Cash and Jones going strong in 10th WNBA seasons

Even before they were taken with the first, second and fourth picks in the 2002 WNBA draft, it was evident that Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones were something special.

Still, as they are in the midst of their 10th WNBA season, their accomplishments are rather impressive.

Bird is the 20th all-time leading scorer in the history of the WNBA even though she is very much of a pass first, shoot second point guard. She trails only Ticha Penicheiro on the WNBA's all-time assists list. Cash, despite being run out of Detroit by then head coach Bill Laimbeer and dealing with what could have been a career-ending back injury, ranks 21st on the career scoring charts and has been a member of three WNBA championship teams. Jones got off to a slow start in her WNBA career but flourished when she was traded from Washington to Connecticut. In her first two seasons with the Sun, Connecticut advanced to the WNBA championship series. Jones is 30th all-time among WNBA career scorers.

Think about that for a second. Three players from the same recruiting class all rank in the top 30 in points scored in WNBA history even though they did not debut until the sixth season. The impact the trio has had was the subject of a story I wrote for Saturday's edition of the Register.

As for the game, another former UConn star played a starring role as Tina Charles had her sixth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Connecticut's 75-70 win over the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm. That ties Charles' career high for consecutive double-doubles. Both Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson had season highs in assists and eight and seven respectively.

Cash had a game-high 25 points, 17 coming in the second half. She was 12 for 12 from the foul line tying the most free throws without a miss ever by an opponent of the Connecticut Sun. The Sun led by as many as 19 points but had to hold on after being held without a field goal for the final 6 1/2 minutes. For the second time this season Lawson, one of the league's best free-throw shooters, missed a foul shot late. In an overtime loss to Chicago it proved costly as the Sky was able to work the ball inside to Sylvia Fowles for a game-tying basket. Had Lawson hit both free throws, Chicago would have been forced to attempt a 3-pointer.

On Friday, Lawson's miss allowed Bird to had a shot at a game-tying 3-pointer. With Jones providing the defense, Bird missed badly and Kalana Greene sank two free throws to ice the game.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

A new and improved Sue Bird?

While holding court before Friday's game against the Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird addressed a variety of subjects. Perhaps none was the former UConn star as forthcoming as when she discussed how she changed her diet a couple years into her extremely successful WNBA career because she felt like she was in a bit of a rut.

"I was never out of shape but I felt like I could be in better shape. I felt like I could do more," Bird said. "It came down to changing my diet. Nothing crazy, I didn't go on a diet just changed my diet. I was working out a little extra, a little bit harder and I really felt a difference. If I were to talk to some elite high school athlete and they were to ask me 'how could I get to the next level?' I think conditioning is the No. 1 thing. Everybody can shoot, everybody can pass, everybody can dribble. Of course people have strengths and weaknesses (but) if you can run faster longer ... If you can do the things at the beginning of the game at the end as well after playing 30 minutes, that is when you can last in this league."

With NCAA, WNBA, Olympic, World Championship and EuroLeague championships to her credit, Bird is already one of the most accomplished players in women's basketball history. It should not come as a surprise that the quest for championships still drives her.

"I'd like to do it again," Bird said of leading the Storm to a WNBA title. "I think early on, you are kind of wide-eyed to it all and you want to get your first championship. You want to get your first gold medal or your first whatever. Once you've done it, I know from my Storm experience, you take it for granted. We got there in 2004. I was 23 years old, Lauren (Jackson) was 23 years old and we thought 'we'll be back there every year. This will be easy.' To get there again, in some ways that 2010 championship means that much more to me because I know how hard it was to get back. When it comes to what it takes to motivate you, I know what it's like to stand on the podium and the end of the year. I also know what it's like to be at home at the end of the year after getting knocked out. I'd rather be on the podium. It is a much better way to spend your offseason."

Bird, Cash and the Storm trail Connecticut 45-33 at halftime.

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Abrosimova, Russia advance to EuroBasket final

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova had six points, four rebounds and three assists as Russia routed the Czech Republic 85-53 in the semifinals of the EuroBasket championships.

Russia will play the winner of the France/Turkey game in Saturday's championship game.

Abrosimova's performance mirrored the numbers she is putting up in the tournament as she is averaging 6.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals in 21.1 minutes in eight tournament games.