Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Doty has a career game; Tuck glad to be back

Caroline Doty couldn't have picked a better way to end 2012 or put herself in a better frame of mind going into 2013 with one of the best games of her collegiate career.

Doty already set a career high in rebounds and was two assists away from her career best performance - by halftime. At game's end Doty had a season-high 14 points, a career-high 12 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in a 95-51 win over Oregon.

"It's a new pace, not a lot of teams play like that," Doty said of Oregon. "I think they play like (they do) in Philly. It is a fun pace, it is a different challenge for us and we handled it pretty well."

Doty, a fifth-year senior who has overcome multiple knee injuries, provides a steadying influence for the Huskies.

"It was a mentality," Doty said. "I just wanted to have a solid game coming off a great win (over Stanford) and ending this trip the right way

"It is an unbelievable experience to have another year to play and for it to develop the way it is developing so far. I am loving the team, loving what I am doing. We keep growing every single day and we are having a lot of fun doing it. To have a fifth year and be able to accomplish the things we have been accomplishing it is amazing."

Nobody is happier to see Doty playing well than UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

"I don't know what makes me happier, the fact that Caroline is playing great, contributing a lot or it shuts up all the idiots who wonder why she is starting, why she is playing so many minutes and somebody else would be so much better than her," Auriemma said. "It is doubly rewarding for me because I have a lot of confidence in her as a person. She might play poorly, she might play well but I know as a person and from a leadership standpoint how much she has overcome and how much it means for her to be a good player at Connecticut, what it means to her to finish her senior year on the right note so anytime she can play a game like she played today I feel great for her."

An added bonus for the Huskies was that freshmen Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson played 27 and 23 minutes respectively. Tuck finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocked shots while Jefferson had 10 points, two assists and two steals.

Auriemma wanted to get them plenty of time as they both work their way back into the flow. Tuck missed two games with a bone bruise in her right knee and only played three minutes in her first game back. A stomach bug limited Jefferson to seven minutes in the last two games.

"For various reasons Morgan and Moriah have not been 100 percent. It has only been recently that I felt like that at some point we need to get these guys out on the floor and let's find out what they are made of," Auriemma said. "Certainly the Stanford game on their home floor might be the best place to play guys who haven't played a lot of minutes but going into tonight that was obviously the plan no question about that, we were going to get those two guys a lot of minutes."

Tuck was happy to not only play significant minutes but also play better than she has since averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in the first six games of the season.

"I was glad I got the opportunity to be out on the floor a little bit more that usual and it felt pretty good," Tuck said.

"It is a little frustrating because coming from high school you are not used to that but at the same time I have to prove that I was out there on the court so I can't blame anybody except for myself. That comes with getting used to the system and just helped me (realize) I need to play harder, I need to take it a little more seriously and try to do my best every single time.

"I think it was more mentally, Yes, I had to sit out for a little while because of my knee and I think that kind of helped too, I got to watch a little bit but when I wasn't out there it was mental. The knee I had to sit out but a lot of it was me not playing as well as I can."

For those wondering why Bria Hartley only played seven minutes, I was told it was not injury or illness related.

Hartley missed badly on some shots she normally makes with ease and seemed out of sorts so Geno Auriemma went elsewhere with the minutes.

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UConn back atop AP poll

With UConn taking down previous No. 1 Stanford in record fashion, the Huskies predictably moved into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season.

UConn extended its own record by being ranked No. 1 for the 158th week and the Huskies have a 295-13 record as the nation's No. 1 team.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of moving into the No. 1 slot was greeted with little more than an indifferent shrug by UConn coach Geno Auriemma following the Stanford game.

"Stanford beat Baylor and Stanford became No. 1. We beat Stanford and now people are going to say that we are No. 1. I think Baylor is probably sitting at home saying we are the real No. 1 and we are going to prove it every time we play. I don;t think this time of the year it really matters one way or the other. I didn't see one player in our locker room jumping up and down saying we are No. 1. When they have been there for so many times, a lot of those guys it doesn't faze them."

Some thoughts before Oregon game

As tip approaches, it is time to get ready for the final game of 2012.

One thing to look for is that UConn is undefeated in games after it beat the No. 1 team in the nation and none of the games have been closer than 18 points.

After beating Tennessee in the historic game during the 1994-95 season the Huskies rolled past Boston College 79-54 in their next game. Then after beating Notre Dame in the classic 2001 Big East final, the Huskies blew out LIU 101-29. Two seasons later UConn followed up a win over Duke with an 87-46 win over St. John's. Most recently, the sequel to the win over Tennessee in the 2003-04 season was an 83-65 win over Miami.

Considering how quickly Oregon tends to hoist up shots, this game could turn out to be an offensive showcase for the Huskies. Oregon has already surrendered 100 points to Oklahoma this season and six times since Paul Westhead became the Ducks' head coach in 2009 opponents have reached triple digits. UConn has surpassed the 100-point mark three times this season so could this one be the fourth?

For those wondering about the highest scoring games in program history, the Huskies put up 126 on Providence on Jan. 6, 1998.

I think this could be a good stage for freshmen Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson to work their way back into the flow. Tuck played sparingly on Saturday against Stanford in her first game back after missing two games with a bone bruise in her right knee while Moriah Jefferson has been limited to seven minutes in her last two games as she recovers from a stomach bug.


UConn announced that Saturday's game against Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion is sold out.

The contest, which will be the ninth game between the two squads in the last three seasons, will be televised nationally on CBS at 4 p.m.

Saturday will mark the ninth regular-season game between these two teams played at Gampel Pavilion, all of which have been sellouts.

Also, the only way to get tickets for the Feb. 18 game against Baylor is to purchase that game as part of three-game mini-plans.

Auriemma, Westhead go way back

On the eve of their on-court matchup, a pair of coaching giants who each honed their craft in basketball-crazy Philadelphia did what they do almost as well as they coach - they talked and talked and talked.

NIKE set up an event in honor of the Matt Knight Classic on the campus of the University of Oregon. UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and Oregon's Paul Westhead were accompanied by their teams and they entertained questions from others in the audience.

It is far from the only time the two have been together at a basketball function.

“I have no idea what to expect when we get up there,” Auriemma said. “Coach Westhead has a history of doing things a little bit differently than anybody else. I remember when I was growing up in Philly and he was coaching at LaSalle, he was a little bit unique even back then so this isn't something that happened since he moved out to California, He was always a little bit different in his approach to the game and I don't think that is going to change.”

Westhead was the head men’s basketball coach at LaSalle from 1970-79 where he won 142 games and led the Explorers to two NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to the NIT before he headed out to California to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Westhead was fired early in his third season and also had NBA head coaching stints with the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets.

Westhead transitioned into the world of women’s basketball when he was hired to coach the Phoenix Mercury. As he did with the Lakers, he wasted little time in leading his team to the Promised Land and he is still the only coach to win both NBA and WNBA titles.

Even before Westhead coached former UConn great Diana Taurasi with the Mercury, he and Auriemma crossed paths more than a few times.

“When you grow up where I grew up you feel fortunate to have some of the best coaches in America coaching in your city,” Auriemma said. “As I got older and had a chance to interact with him a little bit more. I've had a chance to spend a lot of time with him.”


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another huge game for Saniya Chong

After scoring 46 points in her team's first game in the Slam Dunk tournament, UConn signee Saniya Chong went off for 51 points to lead her Ossining (N.Y.) team to a 90-84 win over Irvington in Sunday's championship game.

Chong broke her own tournament single-game record of 46 which was not only accomplished on Friday but also in a 2010 game.

Chong had nine 3-pointers and was 10 of 11 from the free-throw line meaning that in the two tournament games she had 15 3-pointers and was 28 of 29 from the foul line. She also had six rebounds, nine assists and four steals in the game. Her season totals are pretty staggering as she is averaging 34.7 points per game with 40 3-pointers in nine games. She is also averaging 4.6 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 4.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

Next up for Chong and Ossining is a showdown with New York powerhouse Christ the King, which features Class of 2014 UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun. The game will be played at Ossining HS at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

On Saturday a pair of UConn's Class of 2014 targets led their teams to tournament titles.

Brianna Turner had 22 points as Manvel (Tex.) rolled to a 73-31 win over Channelview in the championship game of the Alvin Lions Club Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament.

Jordin Canada had 25 points, including three on a half-court heave at the end of the first half, to lead the Windward School to a 58-43 win over Bishop O'Dowd in the championship game of the Oaks Christian Tournament.

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Some info on the Pac-12 Network

Tomorrow's game could be a fun one on the court considering how many possessions a team like Oregon tends to allow the opposing team to have over the course of the game.

However, for those not able to make it out to Eugene, Oregon for the game, it may not be the best of times.

First during CPTV's successful 18-year run televising UConn games and now with SNY, fans have grown accustomed to seeing all the Huskies' games. That will not be the case tomorrow.

SNY tried to work a deal with the Pac-12 Network to show the game knowing that only a limited number of providers out in New England carry the Pac-12 Network. SNY's attempts failed so I reached out to the Pac-12 Network last week to try to get some information on the situation.

“We can't do one (event) it just doesn't really work for the partners,” said Kirk Reynolds, vice president of communications for the Pac-12 Network. “We've been in that position several times throughout the year with certain markets wanting to pick off individual games and that is not the way the network is set up. That is really the issue.”

DISH Network, Comcast and Time Warner are among the providers which carry the Pac-12 Network but there is no guarantee that the Pac-12 Network is available on those providers nationwide so the best move would be to go onto the Pac-12 Network at

The good news is that the Pac-12 Network has hit the ground running so a game like tomorrow’s will be available to more viewers than some stations not as quick to come to agreements with cable and satellite dish companies.

“We have over 50 providers now that are carrying the network so distribution has actually been pretty good,” Reynolds said. “I don't think there has ever been a network that has started with complete distribution. There have always been folks that are slower to get on than others. Certainly the NFL Network is certainly as example of that. They just did a deal with Time Warner after 10 years I think. A complete distribution never happens in year one but the feedback that we have gotten from all the carriers that have us now has been very good. Their customers have loved it and we anticipate adding quite a few more. We are talking to folks daily, particularly we get a lot from fans asking about DirecTV, we are in communication with them on pretty much a daily basis. We are working on expanding and being more distributed in the future to be sure.”

In the future the Pac-12 will offer a live streaming option which will permit viewers who do not have the Pac-12 Network to see a feed of the game. However, at the current time the only live feeds are available through providers carrying the Pac-12 Network. Reynolds said the plan is to show 850 sporting events on the network and offer live streams for an additional 1,400 events not being televised.

Stef Dolson comes up big in win over Stanford

In her typical self-effacing manner, UConn junior center Stefanie Dolson put the emphasis on the word "little" when comparing Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike speed and athleticism to her own. Without missing a beat, UConn coach Geno Auriemma leaned over towards Dolson in the post-game press conference and held his thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart.

Yet, here was Dolson not only being assigned to cover the dynamic Ogwumike but playing a starring role in holding Ogwumike to 6 of 22 shooting in UConn's victory over No. 1 Stanford.

Two years ago foul trouble limited Dolson to play 17 minutes in a loss in UConn's last trip to Maples Pavilion. However, Dolson stood strong in the lane against Ogwumike and managed to play physical defense without being so physical that she was dealing with foul trouble once again.

"There is no way she would be able to accomplish today what she accomplished two years ago," Auriemma said. "It is 180 degree difference between two years ago here and to today. It is a credit to Stefanie, how much time she has put in and it means to her to be able to do what she did today.

"You are thrilled that she could stay in the game and the whole time she is in the game she is effective. Two years ago when she wasn't in the game we weren't as good of a team. When she was getting into foul trouble we were never as good as we thought we could do but her conditioning is so much better, her knowledge of the game is so much better, she doesn't get herself into bad spots and she makes so many good plays for us that people don't see because they don't show up in the box score all the time. To play against Chiney and to come out here and play the way she did and handle herself the way she did in that many minutes I think that say a lot about her. I hope everybody noticed the impact that she had on the game."

Dolson finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, which is one more than Ogwumike managed to secure.

Marisa Moseley, who is Dolson's position coach, drew the assignment of scouting Stanford and shortly after the team landed in Calfornia after being given a few days off to go home for the holidays, the plan was put into place to have Dolson get the first crack at slowing down Ogwumike. Dolson was thrilled that her coaches had enough confidence in her to draw the task of shadowing the Stanford star.

"We knew coming into the game that they are a great offensive team and Chiney is an All-American for a reason so we knew we were going to have to tighten up our defense, play our best defensive game," Dolson said. "I think we all came out with a great defensive mentality of buckling down and keeping girls in front of us, not letting them get a lot of 3's and not letting them getting a lot of shots. I think we did a pretty good job with.

"CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) and Ris (Moseley) definitely emphasized what Chiney is good at and what she is going to do on the court so I just had a lot of information going into the game. I was able to execute on defense, keep her in front of me. She is definitely a little quicker than me but I was able to read what she was going to do."

Dolson put in extra time in the offseason working out harder than she ever has before and also refined her diet all in the name of being in the best shape possible so she could become the reliable force in the middle on both offense and defense for the Huskies.

"Two years ago I don't know if I could have done what I did out there and the team, it feels good to know what I did paid off and I was able to help my team individually which was able to help our team," Dolson said.

Dolson was an emotional wreck after the loss to Stanford two years ago as she felt her inability to stay on the court was too much for her teammates to overcome. Her emotions were significantly more upbeat following Saturday's game.

"It was completely opposite," Dolson said. "Obviously two years ago we lost, it ended our streak and it was a horrible loss. For us to come out here and play as well as we did and play Connecticut basketball, play hard and out work them and it was a great feeling."

The greatest compliment given to Dolson probably came from teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

"There is a huge change in her. I played with her when she was 16 and she was Big Stef. Now she is littlier Stef," Mosqueda-Lewis said with a laugh. "She has progressed a lot and turned into the best post in the country I think. She is setting a higher standard for herself and she has put our team on our back."

Now the people down in Baylor might beg to differ with Mosqueda-Lewis on who is the nation's top post player but there was no doubting the role Dolson played in helping Stanford set program lows for field goals and field-goal percentage in a game.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis delivers against Stanford, again

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' strong effort in Saturday's win over Stanford is all the more impressive considering that she needed to be hospitalized to receive IVs after becoming dehydrated.

Not only did she score 12 of her game-high 19 points in the second half and also had six rebounds in a workmanlike 34 minutes, but she was played a key defensive role in UConn’s 61-35 victory.

The most impressive aspect of Mosqueda-Lewis’ effort was that the more physical Stanford got with her, the more willing she was to get inside and mix it up. That is a sign that Mosqueda-Lewis’ emergence from being merely just a gifted shooter but a well-rounded player.

“At halftime we talked about getting her the ball,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She's been sick since she left Connecticut, she was in the hospital, she was getting IVs, I don’t know if it was the flu or whatever she (had) but I thought in the second half she really responded.

“That just goes to show you how much she changed in one year, how many more things she can do now than she could last year.”

Mosqueda-Lewis lit up the Cardinal for 25 points in a win during her freshman season and she delivered once again when the Huskies needed her the most. But it was her and the Huskies’ defense which gave her the most pride.

“I think our team is a great defensive team,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We take a lot of pride in it; we practice it for hours, Coach (Geno Auriemma) harps on it every single day. When you have a head like Kelly Faris who is going 110 percent all the time I think there is really no point where you couldn't stop a team.

“We kind of feed off of our defense if things aren't working for us offensively, We try to get things going defensively whether it is in the press or in the half court.”

When the national polls come out on Monday, UConn figures to move into the No. 1 spot following the win over top-ranked Stanford.

Considering the number of times the Huskies have been No. 1, it was not a big deal for the Huskies following the game.

“Stanford beat Baylor and Stanford became No. 1,” Auriemma said. “We beat Stanford and now people are going to say that we are No. 1. I think Baylor is probably sitting at home saying we are the real No. 1 and we are going to prove it every time we play. I don’t think this time of the year it really matters one way or the other. I didn't see one player in our locker room jumping up and down saying we are No. 1. When they have been there for so many times, a lot of those guys it doesn't faze them.”

Auriemma was called for his second technical foul of the season. Since it came during possession after no foul was called on Kelly Faris' drive to the basket, I thought that might have been the cause. However, Auriemma said that wasn't the case.

"I was more upset that Stewie (Breanna Stewart) or Stef (Dolson) tried to cut in the high post they were getting whacked, anybody who was watching it could see it. Again, a little bit of an overreaction by me. I have to figure out a different way to express my displeasure with the officials. I deserved it and they had already gave me a warning early because I had questioned something. It was deserved but it wasn't a tactical thing."

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Funds for Newtown scholarship rolling in

A couple of days ago UConn put out there that more than 300 people have donated to the scholarship fund the university started in honor of the victims and families from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since the scholarship was started and the first donation was made by UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and his wife Kathy, my plan was to catch up with either Geno or Kathy while I am out in Pac-12 territory covering today's Stanford game and Monday's contest at Oregon. I was able to sit down with Kathy Auriemma for a few minutes about the scholarship fund.

Kathy said the donations recently surpassed the $600,000 mark and is still growing which naturally pleases the Auriemmas.

"When Geno and I first talked about this, one of the things I don;'t know whether he said it to me or I said it to him, it can't just be us doing something let's do something we bring everybody along with us to give us people an opportunity to give as well," Kathy Auriemma said. "We are like team people, we don't do anything without others and I have had so many people thank us because we gave them a chance to make them feel like they are a part of it, that they are helping and that is the gratifying part.

"I think what helps is two fold, we wanted to make sure we were giving enough to give the first scholarship and I think when Geno came on and his (public service announcement) you can give a small amount, a large amount, a medium amount and it got people thinking. I don't know what makes up the $600,00 we have now but I would guess that it is a combination of all of those things. That is the best part. My kids, all Christmas Day they (texted) 50555 to give 10 dollars and they will continue to do something as well. There are a lot of good people in the world and they get it."

The tragedy obviously hit home with the Auriemmas who raised two daughters and a son and are now grandchildren but the fact that the shooting took place on Dec. 14 which is also Kathy Auriemma's birthday left both Kathy and Geno conflicted when it came time to celebrate her birthday.

"Anytime children are involved it is tragic and on the extra little personal element, Dec. 14 is my birthday so it was 'oh my gosh,'" Kathy Auriemma said "We as a family, He had put together this surprise (dinner), we were supposed to meet for dinner and there were a couple of extra friends at the restaurant and I didn't even want to go, it was hard to be happy but them it was good to be together. It is frightening, you cant really protect yourself against it. That is how you feel, you feel helpless."


Who will emerge today?

I've always found the dynamics of recent UConn/Stanford games to be unlike any other game on the Huskies  schedule.

While both teams annually have some of the nation's best offensive players, you can pretty much bank on points coming from unlikely sources.

In last year's game the offensive star was Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who had a game-high 25 points. Seeing Mosqueda-Lewis light it up it hardly a new phenomenon but it was impressive to see her deliver such a dynamic effort in her third career game. On the other side of the court, freshman Jasmine Camp went off for 14 points and three assists.

The last time the Huskies played at Maples Pavilion, Jeanette Pohlen erupted for a career-high 31 points in a 71-59 Stanford win as the Cardinal snapped Connecticut's NCAA Division I record 90-game winning streak.

When UConn beat Stanford in Hartford in 2009, it was Kaleena Greene had 17 points and nine rebounds.

It will be interesting to see how UConn's three freshman respond in a hostile environment or how a player like Brianna Banks reacts as well. The good news for UConn is that freshman Morgan Tuck will play today after missing the last two games with a bone bruise in her right knee.

For Stanford, underrated starters Toni Kokenis and Mikaela Ruef could emerge as vital offensive cogs for the Cardinal while 3-point threats like Taylor Greenfield and Bonnie Samuelson could play a role in the game's outcome.

UConn's Hartley, Stanford's Ogwumike kindred spirits

Shortly after receiving an invite from USA Basketball to take part in the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championships, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike the noises began to rattle her cell phone.

Among the first people to reach out to Ogwumike was her soon to be teammate Bria Hartley, who will be across the court from her this afternoon in the anticipated No. 1/No. 2 matchup between Ogwumike's and the Cardinal and Hartley's Huskies.

"Bria Hartley is one of my closest friends in life," Ogwumike said. "We started out knowing each other in the AAU circuit. We traveled in the same AAU circuits, you see the same players and you end up seeing the same teams later on in the tournaments. We had rivalries but friendly rivalries when it came down to us getting recruited and talking about it as girls do 'oh, I don't know where we are going to go to school.'

"When it came to USA Basketball Bria has always been in my age group and I always competed with her except in the World University Games. We had so much fun with summer. Bria is a battler and it was a unique experience. The best ting is that our friendship allowed us to pursue that experience. The first thing when we got invited by Coach Carol (Callan), Bria was texting me saying did you hear we are doing 'no crowds just go out and play, woah this sounds like a great opportunity.'"

USA Basketball hand picked a team of Hartley, Ogwumike, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and Alyssa Thomas of Maryland to compete in a tournament to pick the U.S. team playing for the world title. As expected, the quartet rolled to xxx victories to win the tournament.

When the team returned to Colorado Springs for final preparations, mononucleosis kept Thomas from making the trip to Athens for the tournament so she was replaced by former UConn star Ann Strother.

After winning the first seven games by an average of 12.7 points per game, the U.S. had to fight hard to outlast Australia in the semifinals and France in the gold-medal match. The two one-point victories allowed Hartley and Ogwumike to return home with gold medals.

Before the game perhaps the two will share a quick hug and a few words but once the game starts, they will be all business.

"We go out there and we are trying to win but off the court we are really friendly," Hartley said. "We still talk a lot but when we are on the court we focus on trying to win the game."

Ogwumike concurs with Hartley on that matter.

"we are frenemies, we are best frenemies," Ogwumike said. "We are best friends when we compete for USA Basketball but we are enemies when it comes to December 29."

UConn signee Saniya Chong followed up a 23-point effort in the first half by adding another 23 in the second half to lead her Ossining (N.Y.) team to an 80-70 win over St. Anthony's in the semifinals of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center on Friday.

The 46-point effort propelled Ossining into Sunday's championship game against Irvington. The 5-foot-9 guard had five 3-pointers and was 18 of 18 from the free-throw line and also had nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots.

Also coming up on Ossining's schedule is a home game against Christ the King on Jan. 4 at 4:30 p.m. Christ the King is led by UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun.

When I spoke to Ossining coach Dan Ricci at Chong's letter of intent signing ceremony, he said they were planning to come down for the Jan. 5 UConn/Notre Dame game.

UConn recruiting target Jordin Canada had 13 points to lead her Windward School team to a big win against Long Beach Poly 49-38 in the semifinals of the Oaks Christian Tournament. Next up is tonight's championship game against defending CIF Division IV champion Bishop O'Dowd out of Oakland.

Fellow Class of 2014 UConn recruiting target Brianna Turner had a pair of 20-point games in the Alvin Lions Tournament on Friday.

Turner had 25 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and five blocked shots in a 91-29 win over Lamar and had 23 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots as Manvel beat Fort Bend Hightower 83-46.

Next up is a game against Channelview tonight in the championship game.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Stanford's Joslyn Tinkle saving her best for last

Nobody had to state the obvious to Joslyn Tinkle.

Playing alongside Nneka Ogwumike for the past three years, Tinkle knew that Ogwumike's graduation was leaving a gaping hole in Stanford's frontcourt. While The Cardinal never lack for options in the post, Tinkle knew for her that it was now or never.

Tinkle obviously chose the latter as she has emerged as the second scoring option for the top-ranked Cardinal after junior All-American Chiney Ogwumike.

Tinkle, who has had her moments of offensive brilliance in her first season, has been scoring and looking to score with more regularity in the early portion of her senior season than she has had any other time in  her collegiate career.

"I just had to develop more confidence," Tinkle said. "Last season after Nneka left I thought it was a good time to work onmy game and to improve and to know that I will be looked to more this year for my teammates and I wanted to do whatever it take for us to be successful."

Tinkle is an intriguing player, cut from the cloth of a top European forward. She is a physically imposing player capable of doing damage around the basket but also armed with a strong face up game.

She opened the season by scoring 20 points in a win over Fresno State and followed that up with five more double-digit scoring games highlighted by a career-high 25 points in a victory over Tennessee-Martin. She heads into the showdown with UConn second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.9 points per game.

"Our team, we knew we had a lot of responsibility and we had big shoes to fill," Tinkle said. "We had enough returners who understood what it takes. I worked a lot in the offseason (assuming) my role this year would be bigger. I feel like I was able to develop and come into a role of  knowing that my team needed me more and be a bigger threat."

Breaking Stanford's streak not high on priority list

Make no mistake that the UConn women's basketball team wants nothing more than to head to Oregon for the New Year's Eve matinee with an unblemished record. That, of course, would mean walking off of Maples Pavilion with a victory tomorrow.

However, don't expect the players or coaches to make a big deal or even a little deal at protecting their own record 99-game home winning streak by bringing an end to Stanford's string of 82 home victories in a row.

"I think the media cares more about the ranking and who is playing how," UConn senior Kelly Faris said. "When we look at it, that is on paper and what's on the court is going to be two really competitive teams. It is going to be a dogfight, two years ago when we were here that was what it was and they came out on top. They played harder in the end. Coach (Geno Auriemma) was talking to us earlier and both teams obviously have a lot of talent and when you have high ranked teams playing each other it is not going to come down to the talent, it is going to come down to how hard you work, who is going to get the loose balls who is going to dive on the floor and be more aggressive. For us it is a good test for us up to this point and it is going to be a dogfight.

"I don't think we'd say we are going to come out and try to break their streak. That is not really what we came here for, of course we want to win and we are motivated, well the ones who have been here and experienced the loss here that definitely sticks in the back of your mind and you learn from that, of course you hope you do. You have to come out knowing what they are going to give you, knowing how aggressive it is going to be, what the atmosphere is going to be like. The streak thing, if you focus on that you are not going to be focused on the right things."

Obviously in the Stanford camp the topic of the home streak might be used just a little more for motivational purposes than it will for the Connecticut team.

"The home win streak means a lot to us," Stanford junior Chiney Ogwumike said. "We have get new players every year so the win streak means a lot to us as returners and it means a lot to the freshmen because they are joining. The most exciting thing for me is we are back to our comfort level here at Maples and I think that is very exciting."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Offensive showcase at Maples Pavilion?

In recent years it has seemingly become a foregone conclusion Connecticut and Stanford would find themselves on the grand stage come late March and early April.

However, the Huskies and Cardinal share more than just annual trips to the Final Four. They also pursue and land many of the nation's most electrifying offensive players.

"I think that is somewhat true," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Both Geno and I value offensively skilled players. I think we work hard on the defensive end but we really emphasize playing basketball with a purpose, passing, shooting and in some ways I think our styles are the same. Obviously we are on different coasts and play in different leagues but there are probably a lot of similarities."

Auriemma's Huskies annually ran among the national leaders in points scored, field-goal percentage and assists and it is not by accident.

"Not everybody is capable of recruiting the types of players that Stanford can recruit or Connecticut can recruit so I think we have a huge advantage over some other programs in that we can go out and attract the best offensive players in the country," Auriemma said. "There are teams who can't so they build their teams around defense because they are not skilled enough on the offensive end. I think that is one of the things that has to continue to grow in the women's games in that more teams have to value putting the ball in the basket. I think the game of women's basketball has to be played differently than men's basketball. I always laugh when people who run women's basketball want to showcase our physicality. I don't know that serves any purpose. I think we should showcase people putting the ball in the basket, I think that is what attracts fans, that is what makes the game enjoyable to watch and I think Saturday you have maybe the two best offensive teams in the country and hopefully fans will get a chance to see that. That's not to say we can see who can win 110-109, I don't think that is going to happen but at the same time the way Stanford plays and the way we play,

"I think we are both really good defensive teams, really good. We wouldn't be in the position we are in and we wouldn't be in that many Final Fours if we weren't really good defensive teams but I would like to think that make scoring and scoring often priorities in our programs and that is probably why we attract so many fans"

UConn hopes for different outcome in trip to Stanford

The last time UConn headed out to Maples Pavilion all the focus was on the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak. For the Stanford coaches and players, the main priority was shutting down Maya Moore.

It will be a different philosophy for Stanford this time around.

"It is different," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Last year's team was different when we played them. Two years ago the focus was definitely Maya Moore. We went over basically every situatiuon that we could, where she catches the ball, what moves she wanted to make, how we were going to defend her. It wasn't all Maya Moore but a lot of it was her. This year's team, they do have a lot of weapons. Bria Hartley  is a returning All-American. Whether they start (Caroline) Doty or (Breanna) Stewart, they are both outstanding players, (Kelly) Faris is playing very very well. They do have a lot of weapons, they have great size, athleticism, versatility and they are very well coached. We are not focused on one player as much as we are focused on their system."

Five different UConn players have led the Huskies in scoring in the last five games and nine different Huskies have hit double digits in scoring this season with five of them scoring at least 20 points.

"We are a lot deeper this year, we play a lot more players and we have five players out on the court who can score," UConn junior guard Bria Hartley said. "It is going to be hard for a team to defend that because we are able to take care of the ball and get good shots. It forces you to guard everybody on it and you can't afford to overplay one person or leave this person open.

"I think we are going out there (knowing) we have a lot of people who can score and that it is going to be hard for teams to defend that and it also helps us defensively because we are able to press a lot more, we get fresh legs and people rotating in and out."

UConn could be a lift as freshman forward Morgan Tuck has practiced in the last two days and barring any setbacks with the bone bruise in her right knee, she could return to action after missing the last two games. Sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes, who could have been asked to match up against the imposing Stanford front line, has not returned to practice as the stress reaction in her right shin will sideline her for the third straight game.

VanDerveer is cut from the same coaching cloth as Auriemma who loves the high-octane offensive style of game and said she doesn't intend on mucking things up in an attempt to slow down the Huskies.

"I think there is a part for physical play but not at the expense of seeing the speed, the athleticism and skills that we have," VanDerveer said. "We have never been a team that said we are going to try to beat you up, we are going to beat you with basketball our team is basically about basketball. It is really important that our key players are in the game and available. I don't know what styles other people play, I personally think the game has become too physical and doesn't highlight the speed and skill of female players that people are paying good money to come and see. Form my standpoint it is just a basketball game."

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Morgan Tuck practiced today

UConn freshman forward Morgan Tuck practiced today and could be back in action on Saturday when UConn plays at Stanford.

There should be more to report after Geno Auriemma takes part in a conference call with the media tomorrow.

Tuck has missed the last two games with a bone bruise in her right knee.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Stewart makes it look routine

Late in Wednesday's win over Oakland I glanced at the live stats on my computer screen and was astonished by the number of rebounds Breanna Stewart was piling up. Fast forward to Saturday and I had the same reaction when looking at how many points the UConn freshman phenom had.

I guess a sign of her greatness is that Stewart can make it look pretty easy when she is on a roll as she was in the two games this week.

The final numbers for Stewart were 48 points, 20 rebounds, four steals and two blocks in 54 minutes. Stewart was 19 of 30 from the field including 3 of 8 from 3-point range and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.

The 27 points against Hartford gave her 169 through her first 10 games which broke the previous program record of 165 set by Maya Moore.

"In high school I could get any shot I like, here obviously defenses are better and you really have to work for your shot," Stewart said. "I have to keep working for my shot whether it is setting a screen to get  somebody else open and getting somebody else open. I think it's just staying within the offense and shooting when I am open."

Comparing the numbers Moore and Stewart put up through the first 10 games of their career shows that Moore has attempted more shots while Stewart has done a better job of getting to the free-throw line. Moore also scored her 165 points in 204 minutes while Stewart has played 28 more minutes through the first 10 games.

Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti coach Stewart on the U.S. U-19 team back in 2011 and she had an insightful take on Stewart's play early on in her career.

"She is just a natural at everything," Rizzotti said. "Even when I saw her play years ago before I coached her and (said) 'she really can't do that, she really can't do that' but it is like every weakness she has she finds a way to erase it within a year. She is going left today, she is pulling up, she is finishing around the basket. She is a very dynamic offensive player. We don't really have the kind of athlete that can make her life difficult. You could see in some of the physical games against Penn State and Maryland how she struggled, teams really bodied her up. She can just pick you apart in every way and it doesn't hurt her that she has players around her banging 3's left and right so you can't really double her, you can't pay too much attention to her."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma just shrugged his shoulders when addressing Stewart's impressive offensive start to her career.

"I don't have any thoughts on it," Auriemma said. "She doesn't know how she scores. She takes a lot of shots and she makes a lot of them. Guys who shoot a lot and make a lot score a lot of points. Let me guess, she broke Maya's record. Another guy who took a lot of shots. That is what scorers do, they go into games and they figure out how to score points. It was the same thing I said about Maya when she a freshman. If Breanna Stewart ever learns how to play basketball and where her shots are coming from, when and how she is going to be really, really good."

Another stat of note from the game is that UConn won its last two games by 72 and 57 points. I was curious what was the last time the Huskies won back to back games by more than 129 points. Assuming my math is correct, it's been a while. Back in February of 2001 the Huskies beat West Virginia by 63 points (97-34) and three days later crushed St. John's 118-44 meaning they won the two games by a total of 137 points.

Of course things figure to be different when UConn plays at No. 1 Stanford in its next game on Saturday.

"I am looking forward to that game," Stewart said. "I've heard Stanford is a pretty hostile environment and it is going to be pretty live. I am looking forward to experiencing the whole thing and hopefully playing a good game."

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Interesting scheduling talk from Geno

Years ago Geno Auriemma convinced former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt of the benefits of having the Huskies and Lady Vols play twice during the regular season before the rivals went back to meeting once per season and finally stopped playing together.

Well, with the potentially bleak future facing UConn if the Huskies remain in the Big East, it may be time for Auriemma to get creative in scheduling once again.

The Huskies can afford to play the College of Charleston and Oakland games when they are teams like Notre Dame, Louisville, Rutgers, St. John's, DePaul and Georgetown in the Big East to help bolster the Huskies' RPI. However with Rutgers leaving for the Big 10, Notre Dame and Louisville bolting for the ACC and St. John's, DePaul and Georgetown among the seven non-BCS schools leaving to form their own league, the makeup of the non-conference schedule could be even more vital in the coming years.

I've been hearing rumblings that Auriemma has been warming to the idea of play home and home series with powerhouse programs like Duke and Stanford so after the Hartford game I wanted to get a sense of how serious he may be on pursuing more games against the elite teams.

"We have talked about it internally," Auriemma said.

"I think there is a lot of downside to it too because if you do meet in the NCAA that is the third time, look at us and Notre Dame so a lot of teams don't want to do that. They don't want to put themselves in that situation. I think it is great for basketball more of those matchups, no question about it. It is (good) for the country if the top 10-15 teams in the country are playing a lot more than they are now, those are more great TV games that help to grow the game.

"That means every single season you are going out to the West Coast, you would probably do there every year anyways."

Auriemma hasn't taken the step of approach the Dukes and Stanfords of the world to meet twice during the regular season and seems likely to do so in the immediate future especially if the seven Catholic schools are around until 2015 as is the current plan.

However, the new look Big East could mean that UConn would not face another conference team with an RPI in the top 50 and enough of the top 15 teams not exactly lining up to play the Huskies, it will be worth watching how the UConn brain trust deals with a significantly weakened conference schedule. 

Breanna Stewart honored by Big East

Breanna Stewart was named the Big East's Freshman of the Week after averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds in wins over Oakland and Hartford.

Stewart shot 63 percent from the floor and after posting a double-double against Oakland, she had a career-high 27 points (needing just 13 shots) against Hartford.

Bria Hartley was named to the Big East honor roll.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

UConn recruiting targets win Nike TOC titles

Katie Lou Samuelson, who is at the top of the list of players in the high school Class of 2015 being recruited by UConn, had 30 points as Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif. won the Division E title at the Nike Tournament of Champions with 94-72 win over Riverdale Baptist.

Samuelson had 18 of her points in the third quarter as Mater Dei completed a run through a star-studded bracket which included a win over defending champion and No. 1 nationally-ranked St. Mary's of Phoenix.

St. Mary's, led by UConn commit Courtney Ekmark, defeated Bishop O'Dowd 63-60 in the third-place game. UConn signee Saniya Chong had 39 points in the seventh-place game but it wasn't enough as her Ossining (N.Y.) team lost to Las Vegas' Centennial 85-64. Chong had 91 points in Ossining's three games in the tournament.

Jordin Canada, a Class of 2014 guard on UConn's recruiting radar, led the Windward School to the Division  G title. Canada finished with 12 points as Windward finished off the title run with 68-43 win over Miramonte.

Sierra Calhoun's Christ the King team finished 1-2 and in sixth place in the Joe Smith Division after losing 85-68 to St. Mary's out of Stockton, Calif.

UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley was out in the Phoenix area for a couple of days checking out the action and Samuelson's play only further cemented her place as the top prospect in the Class of 2015 in UConn's eyes. I don't have too much info on other Class of 2015 prospects the Huskies are eyeing but do know that Moseley recently was in St. Louis checking out Napheesa Collier, a 6-1 forward who is averaging 28.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 2.5 blocks per game this season.

Back to the Class of 2014, one of the few players on UConn's recruiting radar not at the TOC is Heathwood Hall's A'ja Wilson who is back lighting it up after missing the first seven games of the season with a wrist injury. In her four games all Wilson has done is average 23.5 points, 18.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 6.5 blocks per game. With her back playing, expect to see UConn coach Geno Auriemma to make it to one of her games next month.

While there's no drop dead date for the Connecticut Sun to name a new head coach, January 15 is the date the Sun is looking for to make a hire by. That would give the new coach a couple of weeks to be comfortable before the start of the WNBA's free-agent period.

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Emotional tribute to Newtown victims

Just when I thought my heartstrings couldn't be tugged at even more during a pre-game ceremony honoring the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, officials at the University of Hartford stepped up the plate in a major way.

Not only was there a period of silent reflection in honor of the 26 people gunned down in the school shooting eight days ago but a bell chimed 26 times in tribute to those who lost their lives including 20 children. That alone would make for an emotional scene. But when you add in a large group of kids and adults from the Newtown Youth Basketball Association stood side by side with players from both UConn and Hartford during the ceremony and it was an event I won't soon forget.

At halftime former Hartford baseball captain Chris Petersen, who organized the travel party of about 150 from Newtown, was gracious enough to speak to myself and Lori Riley of the Hartford Courant.

Petersen, who has lived in Newtown for six years, has three children who are students of Sandy Hook ES. Thankfully all of his kids got out safely but he was able to provide an insiders' take on the flood of emotions following the tragic events.

“Last year I brought my third grade team (to a Hartford game) and (he said) ‘how about we go Saturday just so we get out of town,’” Petersen said at halftime of UConn’s 102-45 victory. “He said bring as many as you want but I said 'it is sold out.' He said don’t worry we will find (room).”

Not only did Hartford officials find room, they incorporated the kids into the poignant pre-game ceremony.

“They were thrilled,” Petersen said of the 80-90 kids who were in attendance. “They were waiting for it all day. I wasn't sure. Kids are more resilient than adults. We comprehend things and we overthink things but the kids, they want to get back. They are enjoying it. They get it. They get what is going on but they sort of have a way with their psyches they move on.”

Even somebody like Petersen, who has been to a couple of wakes in the last week and picked up his three children from the scene of unspeakable carnage, admitted that the ceremony before the game touched his soul.

“My son had a 10:30 basketball game in Newtown and they did the moment of silence; I teach in Ridgefield and they do a moment of silence and I was OK,” Petersen said. “It doesn't get easier. I think the first few days you are in shock but I think when you see all the people caring that is really what gets you with everybody reaching out. It really has been incredible. The phone hasn't stopped ringing and everybody has been saying what can we do? I had three kids who were at Sandy Hook Elementary School and they made it ... My heart goes out to (the victims) just like everybody else to the parents who lost loved ones.”

Petersen said he has tried to talk to his kids about the events on Dec. 14 but so far they haven’t been up to share just how deeply they have been impacted.

“They heard things, they didn't see anything,” Petersen said. “The teachers did an unbelievable job, the police did an unbelievable job (telling them) to close their eyes when they run out. Kids are funny. We have been to a couple of wakes and we have gotten through it but they internalize things. I am sure as time goes on more and more is going to come out so we will keep an eye on that stuff.

“It is tough for the older kids, they were in sixth grade and seventh and they were in lockdown, they had all their kindles out and they knew what was going on. It's been an emotional time for everyone.

“We bring it up. I brought it up early. We had a basketball game and everybody handles loss differently just like in sports some kids cry, some kids forget about it, some kids move on and death is the same is. As for my own kids, I keep asking them 'are you OK? Are you OK?’ Once in a while you will hear things. We heard sirens on TV and (his daughter Kate) said 'I get so sad when I hear sirens.’ My step son said 'I get happy because when I hear sirens, I feel safe. You let them talk and let things come out.”

Children from the school have been receiving so many gifts from strangers that there has been a request to stop sending stuffed animals to them. Petersen believes the best thing that came out of the trip to his alma mater was that the kids from Newtown have been able to give back to others.

It was obviously how much they touched those in attendance when UConn junior All-American guard Bria Hartley showed up at the post-game press conference clutching a pair of teddy bears she received from the Newtown contingent.

“It is non-stop,” Petersen said of the outpouring of support. “It is overwhelming. The key is that the kids have been getting so much; they wanted to give back to the players so they gave them the t-shirts and teddy bears. Everybody has been getting so much so they want to feel good by giving back. I think a lot of Newtown people are going to start giving back to a lot of communities.”

Petersen said the Newtown Youth Academy has been a site where kids have been entertained by those looking to reach out to the stricken community.

Former UConn star Tina Charles came down Saturday to speak to kids and the Houston Dynamos of Major League Soccer are expected to come up for a clinic in early January.

“We have a great community,” Petersen said. “The Newtown Youth Academy has really been the focus of our community. People are coming in. It is really nice to get kids distracted to what is going on.”

Auriemma did not mince words after the game when discussing how at risk children are in this country as he was clearly irked by comments made at the National Rifle Association press conference saying that arming teachers would be the best way to move forward from this tragedy.

"In other countries you don't have to worry about going into schools and shooting them, you don't have to worry about people going shopping in the mall and somebody come in and shooting them nor do little kids in Germany, little kids in France, little kids in most civilized countries in the world don't worry about that kind of stuff," Auriemma said. "In England they don't have to worry about that so why in this country do we have to be afraid for our kids? Why do we have to be afraid for our grandson, I can't figure it out and nobody will ever convince me that it is OK. Now that is solution  we are going to put armed guards in every school and everybody is entitled to protect their house. So if you get married and you protect your house and the bank makes you have homeowner's insurance, they also make you buy five guns because you have to protect your investment. We have to protect ourselves because the police can't, you know why the police can't protect us? Because there are more people with guns than there are policemen. What other country to you think it exist?. I grew up here, I have a great life but if there aren't some major changes with the way we live, I would tell my daughter and my grandson you need to move to another country you have a better chance of growing up safe."


Morgan Tuck was close to playing today

Although UConn officially listed freshman forward Morgan Tuck as "out" for today's game against Hartford, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said that had she felt good in the morning shootaround that he would played her.

"She had a couple of pretty good practices," Auriemma said after the 102-45 win. "Where we are right now is practice, look at her, no swelling, practice again tomorrow and how did it come out" It looks good. OK, practice again tomorrow. Now how did it come out? Not good. OK, no practice tomorrow. Based on yesterday's practice we felt like Thursday was good, Friday, is she  good then she is going to play. We went up to Gampel for shootaround (this morning) and no go."

The good news is Tuck appears on the verge of being able to return to action after missing the last two games with a bone bruise in her right knee. With the team not practicing again until Dec. 26 when they meet up in California, it is looking like Tuck will be able to play against Stanford.

"Every day it gets better," Auriemma said."She has no recollection out (how the injury happened)."

The news is not as promising with sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes who has a stress reaction in her right shin which kept her out of the last two games.

"Long term, I don't know how long but it is going to be longer than just this week or next week probably," Auriemma said. "I hope (Stokes returns for) Oregon or Stanford, I am not holding out high hopes for her."

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Tough day for UConn commits at Nike TOC

It was not the best of times for UConn commits Courtney Ekmark and Saniya Chong on Friday at the Nike Tournament of Champions.

Ekmark's St. Mary's of Phoenix squad lost to Mater Dei out of Santa Ana, Calif. 57-54 in the semifinals of Division E. The loss snapped a 48-game winning streak for St. Mary's. Ekmark finished with 15 points in the loss. Former UConn recruiting target Karlie Samuelson led Mater Dei with 18 points. St. Mary's will play Bishop O'Dowd in the third place game at 4:15 p.m. local time (6:15 p.m. in Connecticut).

UConn signee Saniya Chong had 24 points but her Ossining (N.Y.) team fell to Dr. Phillips out of Orlando 86-57. Ossining will play Las Vegas's Centennial High at 4:15 p.m. in the seventh-place game.

UConn recruiting targets Jordin Canada and Sierra Calhoun led their team to wins on Friday.

Canada's Windward School defeated Pinnacle 52-46 to reach the championship game in Division G. The title game against Miramonte is set for 1:45 p.m.

In the Joe Smith Division, Calhoun's Christ the King squad defeated La Jolla Country Day 67-62 and will play St. Mary's out of Stockton, Cal. in the fifth-place game.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New twist on UConn/Hartford series

Almost like clockwork you could head to Hartford in December to check out the UConn women's basketball team face a Hartford team coached by former UConn great Jen Rizzotti play.

After six straight seasons of the matchups, Rizzotti needed a change. She wanted to offer slots to teams from the power conferences to come to Chase Family Arena in return for a road game.

When Rizzotti approach her mentor, Geno Auriemma, about starting the series at Hartford's on-campus facility, Auriemma thought it would be a nice change of pace. So now the teams will play tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Chase Family Arena.

"I think it is great for our seniors," Rizzotti said. "They have played UConn a few times in their careers but never at home. Going into the (XL) Center and playing in front of 12,000 people is exciting the first time or two but it gets kind of old. Now they have a chance to play in our own arena with a comfort level and in front of our fans, we’ve had people who have been season ticket holders since they’ve gotten here and this game is for them. They come to every game whether we blow people out or we lose and they support our team. Now they get a chance to have a front-row seat for UConn and they can’t get that when they go to UConn.

"It is a nice opportunity to celebrate the success of our program, the atmosphere we already have here and to have people who have a chance to come into our gym and see what we are all about. It is a great place to watch a game, it is going to be fun and electric and the fans are going to be on top of you. For our kids I think it will be a wonderful experience and for our fans, it is kind of a reward for them."

Auriemma chuckled when asked about the atmosphere his team will face inside a building with a seating capacity of 4,017.

"(UConn assistant coach) Shea (Ralph) and I were talking and it is going to be like when we went to Holy Cross back in 2000, the place was sold out and the students were right on top of you," Auriemma said. "It does bring back memories to them of being in a big, huge game in a state tournament. It is not an arena, it is not a 16,000 or 12,000 so I think the kids are going to love it. I think they are going to have a great team, the fans are going to love it, Jen’s kids are going to love it. I am actually kind of excited about it."

If Auriemma were asked to list his favorite UConn players of all time, it likely would not take long for him to rattle off Rizzotti’s name.

She was the starting point guard on UConn’s first national championship team and as fiery of a competitor as Auriemma has ever coached. His feelings as so strong that he is putting off a trip to Florence, Italy so he can attend Rizzotti’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn.

"There was a four-year period or at least three where the average around the country yeah they got to know Rebecca Lobo but our program was kind of defined by the little kid in the pony tail that was all over the place," Auriemma said. "It is hard for a 6-5 player to inspire everybody because you’ll say ‘well, I’ll never get to be 6-5.’ But when you see Jennifer out there running around and she is 5-5, she is national player of the year as a senior and she averaged 11 points a game I think every little girl in Connecticut and across the country said ‘yeah, I can do that.’ Just for that alone she should be in the Hall of Fame much less for what her accomplishments were."

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Huskies looking foward to reunion with former coach

Jen Rizzotti was not about to take any credit for the success that Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck are experiencing at UConn.

However, they all believe their time playing for the former UConn All-American guard on the U.S. junior natinal teams was an invaluable precursor to facing a demanding taskmaster like Geno Auriemma at UConn.

Look for some pleasantries to be exchanged when the Huskies meet up with Rizzotti, whose Hartford Hawks host second-ranked UConn tomorrow at 1 p.m.

"I am excited to play her (team), I am excited to see her," Dolson said.

Dolson and Hartley played on the U-18 team back in 2010 which won the FIBA Americas U18 title and then the U-19 the following year when they were joined by Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart and Tuck on the FIBA U19 World Championship squad.

"It is going to be nice playing her again," Hartley said. "I think she helped me a lot. She was tough on me from the beginning my freshman year when I came here and then the next year. She expected a lot out of me and it was the same when I came here. It challenged me in different ways."

Rizzotti is looking forward to seeing the five tomorrow (although Tuck's knee injury is expected to sideline her for the second straight game).

"I don't know if I have anything to do with their emergence but it is kind of fun to think I was there at the beginning and to see their growth, even the difference between Stefanie and Bria from the year prior and the year after when I had them after a year at UConn, it was great to see their maturity and the way they were as leaders," Rizzotti said. "Even as young players they were older on our team so they really stepped up and I love their personalities, they are good kids. Breanna Stewart is one of the nicest kids, you would never know that she gets the attention that she does. Morgan Tuck, she was probably the easiest of any of them to coach. She was like a hard worker, a great attitude. It will be fun. 

"Once the game starts I don't really think about my opponent but I am always cheering for them. They are great because of what is inside of them. They go to UConn because they want to be even better and that is what drives them. It is like a present for me to be able to coach kids who are already so driven. I don't know if I can say I had anything to do with their success but I am happy to be a part of their past and it will be nice to see them on Saturday." 

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UConn recruits shine on first day of Nike TOC

UConn commits Courtney Ekmark and Saniya Chong each scored more than 20 points while Class of 2015 UConn recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson surpassed the 30-point mark on day one of the Nike Tournament of Champions.

Ekmark had 24 points to lead defending champion St. Mary's out of Phoenix to a 63-52 win over Orlando's Dr. Phillips in the opening round of play in the Division E bracket.

Chong had 28 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists according to a report by MSG Varsity but her Ossining (N.Y.) squad fell to Mater Dei out of Santa Ana, Calif. 89-67. Ossining led the game in the first quarter and was within striking range before Mater Dei pulled away. Samuelson erupted for 34 points in the game.

Class of 2014 UConn recruiting targets Jordin Canada and Sierra Calhoun were also in action. Although I don't have any individual scoring totals for either player. Canada's Windward School out of Los Angeles defeated E.S. Saint-Laurent out of Quebec 59-30 in Division G while Calhoun and Christ the King from Middle Village, N.Y. lost to St. Mary's from Berkeley, Calif. in the Joe Smith Division.

Play will continue tomorrow. The highlight will be the game between St. Mary's and Mater Dei who are ranked first and third respectively in the latest USA Today national poll. The game is set to be played at 5:30 p.m. local time (7:30 here in Connecticut). The winner will meet either Bishop O'Dowd or Riverdale Baptist for the Division E title on Saturday. Ossining and Dr. Phillips play at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Windward meets Pinnacle at 4:15 p.m. while Christ the King faces La Jolla Country Day at 10 a.m.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Breanna Stewart gets offensive

It didn't really matter to Breanna Stewart that she didn't get the start in last night's game against Oakland but it was important to her to focus on offensive rebounds since it was a point of emphasis of the coaching staff after the Huskies gave up more offensive rebounds than they grabbed in the last two games.

All Stewart did was pull down eight offensive rebounds, the most for a Husky since Tina Charles had nine of them in a game against St. John's on Feb. 13, 2010.

"I didn't know I had eight offensive rebounds but Coach (Geno Auriemma) said he was really going to pay attention to offensive rebounds tonight," Stewart said after the game. "That is always something I can work on. I wanted to try to be as aggressive as possible."

It should be noted that Oakland started five guards and did not start a player taller than 5-11 so the Huskies should have been able to do some serious damage in the rebounding department. That is exactly what happened as the Huskies had 56 rebounds including 24 on the offensive end.

Another stat of note from the game is that it was the largest margin of victory for the Huskies since winning by 80 on Nov. 14, 2010 against Holy Cross and tied for the sixth most in program history.


Stefanie Dolson, Morgan Tuck practicing

Junior center Stefanie Dolson and freshman forward Morgan Tuck took part in today's practice.

Dolson hurt her ankle in Wednesday's win over Oakland but she was able to practice and figures to play Saturday against Hartford. Tuck missed the Oakland game with a left knee bone bruise. She did take part in pre-game drills while wearing a brace on her right knee. Tuck is considered questionable for the Hartford game.

Sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes did not practice today and won't play against Hartford.

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Prestigious Tournament of Champions starts today

The premier high school girls' basketball tournament in the country begins today in the Phoenix area.

Something tells me that more than a few eyes will be focused on bottom half of the Division E bracket which will feature UConn commits Saniya Chong's Ossining (N.Y.) and Courtney Ekmark's St. Mary's squads as well as California powerhouse Mater Dei which includes UConn Class of 2015 recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson.

Mater Dei plays Ossining at 3 p.m. local time (5 p.m. here in Connecticut) followed by defending champion St. Mary's meeting up with Dr. Phillips out of Orlando, Fla. The winners meet in the semifinals tomorrow at 5:30 local time while the losers play at 3:15 p.m. Whoever emerges out of the bottom half of the bracket will meet up against the last team standing among the quartet of Bishop O'Dowd, Rock Bridge, Las Vegas Centennial and Riverdale Baptist. This brackets features four of the top eight teams in the latest USA Today national poll as St. Mary's is ranked first, Mater Dei is No. 3, Bishop O'Dowd is fourth while Riverdale Baptist comes in at No. 8. Dr Phillips (No. 19) and Ossining (No. 21) are also in the poll.

Christ the King, featuring UConn's Class of 2014 recruiting target Sierra Calhoun are set to tip off in about an hour against Berkeley St. Mary's in the first round of the Joe Smith Diviison. Jordin Canada, another Class of 2014 prospect on UConn's recruiting radar, and her Windward School team will play the Canadian team E.S. Saint-Laurent at 4:15 p.m. local time today.

UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley wasn't at practice today so I assume she is out in Arizona checking out the games.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hartley breaks out of slump; Dolson said she's fine

In Bria Hartley's last three games she finished with a grand total of eight points in each contest. In Wednesday night's win over Oakland she passed that mark before the first television timeout.

Hartley hadn't scored more than 12 points in a game this season as she worked her way back following an offseason ankle injury. She had 19 of her season-high 21 points with 3:45 remaining in the first half.

"I just had to stay positive, stop thinking too much and stop stressing (out about) every little thing I did wrong," Hartley said.

Hartley opened the scoring with a 3-pointer from straight away, assisted on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' trey from almost the same spot, had a steal and a couple of free throws and two more steals resulted in two more layups to give Hartley nine points on a game-opening 14-0 run.

"It is always good when you hit your first shot and I was like 'all right, I should be OK for the rest of the game,'" Hartley said.

Stefanie Dolson crashed to the court with 13:56 left in the game half in obvious pain after rolling her left ankle. She got an ankle brace put on the ankle while on the bench but did not return to the game.

Dolson thought the injury was not a big deal.

I just had to stay positive , stop thinking too much and stop stressing (out about) every little thing I did wrong

"I am a big tree, I fall hard," Dolson said. "It is just a little tweak, I'll get some ice and Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) will handle it."

For the first time in her young collegiate career, freshman Breanna Stewart came off the bench as UConn coach Geno Auriemma went with a smaller lineup.

Senior Caroline Doty got the start alongside normal regulars Kelly Faris, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Hartley and Dolson.

So why did Auriemma opt to start Doty over Stewart?

"Just a hunch that it would be better for Caroline, it would be better us in some respects and better for Breanna so I just took a hunch, took a guess and see what happens," Auriemma said. "We'll see. nothing is written in stone."

With 26 members of the cheerleading and spirit squads and pep band each holding a candle and joined in a circle by players and coaches during a 26-second moment of silence, UConn was able to pay tribute to the 20 students and six adults who lost their lives in Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After the game Auriemma reflected on the emotional ceremony.

"I don't know if you could either be on the court or be in the stands, be a part of the ceremony and not be affected by it," Auriemma said. "That is something that the younger that you are, the more you are affected by it. I saw a picture in the paper this morning of that little kid on their face like it is the saddest day  of their live. It looked like he was 7 or 8 years old and I think they are still at an age where these things really, really hit home. It hasn't been easy on them - it really hasn't."

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Lawyers for Geno Auriemma refile motion to dismiss lawsuit

Lawyers for UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma refiled their motion to dismiss security officer Kelley Hardwick's employee discrimination lawsuit citing a lack of personal jurisdiction.

It is similar to the initial counter filed by Auriemma's representatives to Hardwick's lawsuit which alleges that Auriemma attempted to use his influence to have Hardwick removed from security detail for the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team's games. Since the lawsuit was filed in New York, Auriemma's contention is that since Hardwick's claim that Auriemma attempted to kiss her happened in a hallway of a Russian hotel and Auriemma neither lives nor conducts business in the state of New York, the court doesn't have the right to hear his case.

The initial motion to dismiss was removed when Hardwick's attorney filed an amended complaint in an attempt to counter the lack of jurisdiction claim.

Geno Auriemma to appear on Morning Joe on Friday

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma will be making an appearance on the MSNBC show Morning Joe to talk about the scholarship started in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims.

Auriemma, who appeared on CNN with Carol Costello this morning, is slated to appear around 6:30 a.m. on Friday to discuss the creation of the scholarship and $80,000 donation he and his wife made to the scholarship fund.


Auriemma has tough task ahead

Yesterday Geno Auriemma said his goal was to lead the way to turn whatever conference UConn is a part of in the future into the best women's basketball conference in the nation just as he did with the Big East.

While Auriemma has accomplishment a great many things people thought were impossible during his Hall of Fame tenure with the Huskies, it might be his best work yet if that ends up happening in the new-look Big East once the seven Catholic schools depart.

Just out of curiosity I took a look at the final RPI ratings (using the info on the NCAA's official site) to compare what the Big East looked like at the end of last season and how it would shake out without all the departing schools which includes Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Rutgers.

Last year's Big East featured four teams in the top 15, five in the top 20, seven in the top 26 and nine in the top 38. By comparison, after UConn's No. 4 final RPI rating, the next highest mark among teams slated to be in the conference when DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's Seton Hall and Villanova exit stage right would be Temple at No. 52 followed by Tulane (74th) and Memphis (75th).

Now all of this could become irrelevant since the "Catholic 7" are currently expected to be in the Big East until 2015 and in my opinion UConn is more likely than that to have landed a spot in another conference by them. However, for the sake of argument and discussion I figured I would provide the RPI ranking for the old Big East and the one that could emerge in a couple years.

2011-12                           2015-16
2 Notre Dame                  4 UConn
4 UConn                        52 Temple
11 St. John's                  74 Tulane
15 Rutgers                     75 Memphis
19 Louisville                  83 South Florida
23 DePaul                   102 Cincinnati
26 Georgetown           183 SMU
35 West Virginia         214 Central Florida
38 Villanova               316 Houston
69 Syracuse
83 South Florida
102 Cincinnati
127 Providence
128 Marquette
177 Seton Hall
199 Pittsburgh

Let's be honest, in the world of conference realignment three years feels like a century so who knows what the conference landscape would be if the Huskies find themselves in a Big East like the one listed above in 2015. It would make it even more important for UConn's non-conference schedule to be among the very best in the nation.

Right on cue, UConn president Susan Herbst released a statement or perhaps a plea for optimism to the UConn fan base regarding conference realignment.

Here is the statement

Dear UConn Friends and Colleagues:

It is difficult to write to you about athletics or any other conventional university items in light of the Newtown tragedy. We will never understand it; hopefully there will be some healing in the future, although that seems very far off right now. I ask that you consider giving one of the greatest gifts of all to the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary: the opportunity to attend a top research university like ours. Please make a gift to a young child, so that he or she might have the honor of being a Husky some day. CLICK HERE

As you know, conference realignment continues at a rapid pace and UConn has new challenges we must face. I do not know when or how things will settle; no one does. There is more change to come that will reshape the landscape yet again. I assure you that the BIG EAST presidents are both unified and optimistic, working to strengthen the conference in imaginative ways that will see us through to a bright future for our students, coaches, and fans. Commissioner Mike Aresco is an outstanding leader at an extraordinarily complex time, and our university partners represent powerful, high-quality institutions that we are proud to join with in this conference.

I realize that this is aggravating to hear, but as in all things, we can only affect what is in our control. As a result, we strive for excellence at UConn daily across all departments, something very much in our control. We stand tall at UConn and we need not beg, plead, nor despair. That is not who we are, and my reading of our university history -- from 1881 to today -- conveys the pride of every generation, in good times and bad.

There are profound concerns about the future of collegiate athletics of course. I speak often to presidents across the nation, and we are hardly alone in our worries. Even many seemingly "secure" universities are fearful of the changes to come, not only in the realm of realignment, and hope for a long-term stability that seems elusive right now.

We here at UConn have incredibly powerful and compelling teams, decades of accomplishment, joyful traditions at games, and great plans in the works, such as our men's ice hockey team entering Hockey East in 2014, the top conference in the nation, and our new building projects, like the UConn Basketball Development Center.

I know that it is difficult to read much of the internet content right now about athletics, which seems to be dominated by negativity. Many bloggers, journalists, and even fans from elsewhere would like to see UConn hurt, and hence write with a cynical tone. This flip discourse is again, not in our control. The truth is that this is a top national research university with a terrific athletics program that will flourish, no matter what conference we are in and no matter what the media chatter looks like.

I wish you could see my mail and answer my phone, to get a true sense of how dedicated and upbeat our best fans are. Far from being depressed or dragged down by negativity, they are more committed than ever before, and know that it is their very commitment that will determine our future. They know that we will be more than fine, even if there are months and maybe even years of conference uncertainty ahead. We still get to play and we still get to win. Our true fans and supporters so love our coaches and students, and enjoy their tremendous efforts on the field and court. That is what I appreciate, and what all university presidents hope for.

When it comes to athletics, I normally write to you - so often these volatile days! - about student-athletes and our need to focus on them. Again, there is much cynicism around this topic. I cannot speak for other institutions, but here at least, focusing on our students guides what we think and what we do. We care deeply about student academic success, and the pride that we feel about all of our sports is both immense and genuine.

So, Huskies: Let's all hang tough and please keep some perspective, as hard as it is in a time of great change. Win or lose, conference struggles or not, UConn is a research university. So if you are feeling low, just head to our university home page and glory in the amazing new faculty we are hiring at a rapid pace, our incredible student successes across disciplines, scientific awards and invention by our faculty, and all that matters most at your flagship university.

I was hired because I'm an optimist, and I cannot help being just that. I never see the productive value in cynicism and negativity, when there is so much to be proud of. It's a tough world out there, but you can count on me to be the Number One Cheerleader for this superb place I call home. I hope to see you at many games this year - basketball, hockey, and spring sports are not too far off, despite the temperatures out there! Support our beloved university, our outstanding coaches and students, and all really will be well.

I realize that it is difficult to have a truly happy holiday if you are at all close to Newtown or are simply touched by it, as so many are, around the world. But do please have a safe and restful break, and be thankful that we are so tightly bound to each other by this great university community.

Susan Herbst


Geno honored by USA Basketball

Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, and Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the U.S. men's team to the Olympic team, were named winners of the USA Basketball National Coach of the Year Award.

“The opportunity to coach the Olympic Team is an amazing opportunity that you are very fortunate to have and all you want to do is a great job while putting the players in a position to be successful,” said Auriemma in a statement, “I thought our entire coaching staff, Doug Bruno, Marynell Meadors, Jen Gillom and everyone associated with our team from Carol Callan on down, were outstanding. We got all the resources and support that we needed, and I think I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them, along with Jim Tooley and Jerry Colangelo for what they do.

“So, I don’t know that it was me as much as the support group we had around us and the great group of athletes I had the opportunity to coach. They were just unbelievably committed to winning, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be around a group like that ever again.”

This is the second USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award for Auriemma, who also shared the honor with Krzyzewski in 2010.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Geno dishes on conference realignment, Jim Boeheim

Much of his time during his time with the media today was on the emotional aftermath following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But he did give this thoughts on DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova opting to leave the Big East to start their own basketball centric conference.

“I think everybody has their own ideas,” Auriemma said. “Everybody has their own theories. Everybody wants to live in a nostalgic world. What does Garrison Keillor say? ‘All the Women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average.’ Lake Wobegon. Everybody wants to live in that world where the nine original Big East schools live and play against each other forever. I think as it started happening and football became the driving vehicle, you are either at the big boy table playing poker or you are not. I think the Catholic schools did a really good thing. They stayed at the table as long as they could make as much money as they could, and then when they saw that the money was running out, they decided, ‘Let’s go play somewhere else.’ And had they voted appropriately some of them in the last 10 years, we would be in the situation we are in. They did what was best for them, just like a lot of Catholic schools do. And a lot of people used to always say the state schools are the big bad guys, and we certainly had our share of that in our conference. And at this point in time, they probably felt like this is the best time for us to make our move.

“I hope they leave tomorrow, but they can’t because we have to play out the schedule. But I hope as soon as the season is over they do and do what they need to do just like everybody else. Just like Syracuse. Just like West Virginia did. I think West Virginia did it the right way. ‘I don’t want to be in this conference any more. I am leaving. What do I owe you? I’m out of here.’ I hope everybody takes that approach. Whether or not that is going to happen, I don’t know."

Auriemma said his goal is to lead the way for the conference UConn plays in to be the best one in the nation.

“Our job here at Connecticut is to have the best basketball program in the country,” Auriemma said. “I think department-wise it is to have the best athletic department in the country. Fifteen years ago whenever it was we played in Minneapolis at the (1995) Final Four, we were called the University of Connecticut, and we played in the Big Least Conference.  That Connecticut was the only good school in the league and that all the other conference schools were terrible. I think we may have gotten like two teams in the NCAA tournament or something like that. Then 15 years later, we got nine and we were recognized as the best conference in the country. Well that is over. It’s gone. So maybe it is time for us to build another conference, just like we built the Big East.”

Speaking of soon to be former Big East teams, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim made some history when he became the third Division I men's basketball coach to win 900 career games and first to do so at one school.

Boeheim and Auriemma have developed a close friendship over the years so I asked him for his reaction on Boeheim's remarkable achievement.

"Some people are just defined by the school they are at," Auriemma said. "You can;t imagine him coaching anywhere else. I haven't looked at this closely enough but I do not know how many people in the history of college basketball went to school, was an assistant and was a head coach at the same place and was in the Hall of Fame. That would be an interesting stat to look up but I would venture to say it is highly, highly unusual and incredibly unique and the fact that he did it for 25 years in the toughest league in America, that says something."


Scholarship ideal way for Auriemma to memoralize shooting victims

UConn coach Geno Auriemma appreciates all the thoughtful folks donating stuffed animals and even talk of the UConn men's basketball team holding a clinic or practice to raise the spirits of those in Newtown overcome by the grief of seeing 26 perish at a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

However, when Auriemma and his wife Kathy discussed the best way to honor the victims, they came up with the creation of a scholarship for current Sandy Hook students or family members of those who perished. The Auriemmas didn't stop there, making an $80,000 donation to get the scholarship off and running.

"When this incident occurred, there were a lot of things being bandied around by people, how do you go about, everybody says we have to do something, let's have a practice over there, let's have a game to raise money," Auriemma said "Those are all well and good, there are a lot of good intentions that came out of this. We talked about something that is more long lasting, something that really makes those 26 people, keeps them in a memorial that is going to last hopefully forever. Symbolic gestures, they come and they go. They are important but I think what we decided is if we could educate the dependents and siblings of those involved and hopefully going forward we hope to raise enough money that there are 26 scholarships for those who qualify that is something that could go on for  as long as the money holds out."

Auriemma, a father of three and also a grandfather, had emotions similar to so many other around the state as news of the shooting broke on Friday morning.

"Initially it was almost what you come to expect from these things," Auriemma said. "OK, there's been a shooting and somebody got shot. The numbers kept coming in and there was just a numbness. The players were already out here for practice when all of that was going on, they were aware of it right then and there. The coaches that were still in the office, you are just numb. You feel so helpless and so powerless. As much as you can, you try to put yourself in the shoes of the parents and the brothers and sisters and you can't even imagine that.

"The average person has trouble dealing with the death of a parent or grandparent so somebody that has been ill for a long time much less a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter who is in school in the first grade. You are not equipped to deal with that on any level. Hopefully we will raise enough money and down the road maybe something different would happen than normally happens in these shootings that the person who did the shootings won't be as famous as the people he left behind and were killed and by them dying they will help give birth to some kids dream of going to college that can't go to college. Maybe some kids will grow up in Newtown and it will be a tremendous honor for them to get a scholarship in some little kid's name that was there that day. If we can do that then maybe everybody will forget the person who did it."

UConn is planning a pre-game ceremony similar to the one held before Monday's men's game at the XL Center. There will be a 26-second moment of silence which will include a combination of 26 players, pep band members, cheerleaders and spirit squad members holding one candle each. A children's choir from Redeemer Hill Church in Hartford will perform the national anthem.

"They way the guys at the men's game (remembered the victims) was pretty appropriate," Auriemma said. "There really aren't too many things that you can do that aren't just symbolic gestures. At this point you are kind of left with those and that is all you can do. That is why I wanted to start the scholarship fund because that is not necessarily symbolic, it is tangible. That is something you can fall back on that you can actually use long term, short term what you can do is show some respect for those people who were killed."