Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Freshman Morgan Tuck limited in Thursday's UConn practice

Freshman Morgan Tuck was limited to riding a stationary bike during the portion of Thursday's practice which was open to the media.

However, before alarm bells start going off it should be noted that limiting her practice time was an intentional move so Tuck doesn't have any further issues with the right knee bone bruise more than a signal that she is having issues with her knee. She was able to take part in drills before we were allowed in to witness the final portion of practice.

"She was in there for a few stretches, it is kind of how we are trying to proceed with Caroline (Doty) and Morgan (Tuck), give them just enough reps that they feel like they have a chance to improve and get better and make sure we don't keep them out there too long so little by little hopefully we will have them ready to go come game days."

Doty, who has been dealing with knee issues throughout her career, said missing practice time periodically is all part of the deal.

"It is a long season, it comes with age but I come out every single day ready to do what I can and take care of myself before I can before and after practice and I want to be 100 percent for game time," Doty said.

Big East Associate Commissioner Danielle Donehew is among the former ACC stars who will be recognized at the 2013 ACC Legends.

Donehew is the Georgia Tech representative as she was a decorated scholar-athlete for Georgia Tech from 1996-2000 as she was a two-time Academic All-ACC honoree, was on the Georgia Tech Dean’s List 10 times in her career. She was the ACC’s postgraduate scholarship recipient, the ACC’s “Top Six for Service” Award in 2000, as the Georgia Tech representative for the NCAA Woman of the Year in 2000. She finished as one of the best 3-point shooters in ACC history, hitting 241 treys during her collegiate career.

Donehew and the other honorees (including former Connecticut Sun forward Jessie Hicks) will be recognized at a brunch on Mar. 9 as part of the ACC tournament festivities. Tickets for the event are $35 each and can be obtained by calling (336) 369-4671.

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Geno likes Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl

Following Thursday's practice I was able to get Geno Auriemma to give a Super Bowl prediction and he went with his heart when opting to pick the Baltimore Ravens to beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-28 on Sunday.

"We have connections with the Ravens. (John) Harbaugh was the Eagles quarterbacks coach, I played golf with the owner (Steve Bisciotti) and (quarterback Joe) Flacco is a South Jersey/Philly guy and the orthopedic surgeon for the Ravens is Leigh Curl who played basketball at the University of Connecticut so we are going with the Ravens. I like 34-28, somewhere around there."


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another double-double for Tina Charles

Former UConn star Tina Charles had 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead Wisla Can-Pack to a 74-66 win over Rivas Ecopolis in Euroleague Group B action on Wednesday.

It was Charles' seven 20-point game in nine Euroleague contests and Euroleague-leading seventh double-double. Charles, the reigning WNBA MVP, leads all Euroleague players in scoring (25.3 points), rebounding (12.4), defensive rebounds (9.4), minutes (37.0), field goals made (10.4), field goals attempts (19.6) and double doubles.

In another game on Wednesday, former UConn star Diana Taurasi's 20 points wasn't enough to prevent her UMMC Ekaterinburg from dropping its first Euroleague game of the season.

While Taurasi, Maria Stepanova and former Connecticut Sun forward Sandrine Gruda combined for 47 points, the rest of the Ekaterinburg team was a combined 2 for 26 from the field (including UConn grad Sue Bird's 2 for 12 effort) in a 65-57 loss to Perfumerias Avenida.

There was some ugly news coming out of game one of the WCBA championship series and it has nothing to do with former UConn star Maya Moore erupting for 53 points to lead her Shanxti team to a road win but a horrible scene of the game's referees being attacked by unruly fans from Zhejiang.

Accoriding to Dan Olson of the Girls Basketball Report, UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target Kathryn Westbeld's final seven schools are UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, Notre Dame, Southern California, Ohio State and UConn.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma headed out to Kettering, Ohio to see the Fairmont High forward play in a game last week.

Jessie Hicks, who played 27 games for the Connecticut Sun, is part of the 2013 ACC Legends class.

Hicks was a four-year letterwinner at Maryland in the early 1990s. She ranks in the top 10 in scoring in Maryland women’s basketball history with 1,601 points, is in the top five with 137 blocks and is third all-time in field goal percentage (.588).

However, former UConn assistant coach Tonya Cardoza will have to wait at least another year to be inducted into the ACC Legends as Virginia's honoree will be Daphne Hawkins, who scored more than 1,600 points for the Cavaliers from 1984-88.

Learning curve continues for Stewart

When Breanna Stewart was lighting it up at Cicero-North Syracuse High School she didn't need to concern herself too much with how vigorously or frequently she fought for position in the low blocks. Stewart was so much better than her opponents that she could stand at any spot on the court and be an unstoppable offensive threat.

However, when she got to UConn Stewart discovered that things were a little different. Since returning to the court after spraining her ankle she has been focusing on being more of an offensive presence in the low post.

"One of the things I was really focusing on was really posting up because I haven't done it a lot so I want to make contact with the defender," Stewart said.

Stewart is still learning how to play off of fellow post players. Earlier in the season Stewart would unintentionally shadow Stefanie Dolson as she was to the same part of the court that Dolson was trying to establish position. Now she is starting to understand that Dolson is going to attract enough attention when she posts up that Stewart can get open looks if she heads to the opposite side of the lane.

The extremely competitive Stewart also wants to show more consistency. She was significantly more noticeable in the second half against Villanova than she was in the first half.

"I want to keep it (going) and things I am not good at I need to focus on and make sure I work on them for 40 minutes," Stewart said.

If you only watched UConn play Duke and Villanova it would be easy to assume that Stewart's numbers in the second half dwarf those she puts up in the first half. However, that is simply not the case. She has scored more points 17 more points in the second half and is shooting better from 2-point and 3-point range but has more rebounds, assists and steals in the first half than she does in the final 20 minutes.


Tickets going fast for Baylor game

When UConn opened up general ticket sales for the Feb. 18 game against Baylor last week there were about 3,500 tickets left. Today it was announced that there are about 1,000 left for the 9 p.m. game at the XL Center.

Fans can visit www.uconnhuskies or call 1-877-AT-UCONN (1-877-288-2666) to order tickets.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis deliver again for UConn

One aspect of covering the UConn women's basketball program which has always delighted me is seeing the progression of players from freshman to sophomore, sophomore to junior and junior to senior seasons.

So it was only natural that the focus of my game story off the Huskies' 76-43 win over Villanova was the ever-expanding offensive games of junior Stefanie Dolson and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

Dolson came to UConn expecting to provide a low-post presence on offense and she has done just that. Mosqueda-Lewis arrived the following year with the reputation of being one of the best pure shooters the Huskies have ever recruited.

However, their offensive games have so many more layers to them now than when the arrived in Storrs.

Dolson' ability to step out at the high post and consistently hit perimeter jumpers makes her a nightmarish matchup for teams especially when you factor in her ability to set up teammates from the high post.

Mosqueda-Lewis was a prolific scorer during her days at California powerhouse Mater Dei but she also left as the program's all-time leading rebounds. She has been showing the ability and willingness to mix it up inside with each passing game for the Huskies.

In the last six games, all lopsided UConn wins, both players have three 20-point games. Mosqueda-Lewis has 109 points and Dolson 102 over that period.

They did most of their offensive damage in the first half to help UConn post runs of 7-0 (to start the game), 10-0 and 15-0 en route to a routine victory.

"Not much has changed in 28 years at Connecticut and one year (coaching) at St. Joe's, all the times that I've had a chance to play against Harry's (Villanova) teams it is the same formula," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You need to maximize your offensive possessions because if you do and are able to put some points and game pressure on their guys to have to make shots, that is your best chance of beating them. If you are not taking advantage of their possessions and playing catch up it is a long, long night. Stefanie and Kaleena, they are in a real good rhythm right now, a real good place. They are really confident right now."

Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis admitted that each other's offensive versatility is paying dividends because it is allowing the both of them to thrive.

"It helps us as players and it helps us as a team to have a guard like Kaleena who can shoot the ball amazingly and at the same time get in the post and post up and be strong," Dolson said. "Maybe I can be a post when we need it or step out and shoot jump shots. It just spreads the defense out, keeps them on their toes not knowing how to guard us."

Mosqueda-Lewis moved by teammate Bria Hartley and into 11th place on UConn's career 3-point charts (Mosqueda-Lewis has 154 in 57 games while Hartley has 153 in 94 contests).  But she did more than just drain five 3-pointers. She also had five assists, a blocked shots and had a couple of rugged offensive rebounds.

Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson reached double digits 11 seconds apart which seems fitting with how they are learning to play off of each other's strengths.

"It makes our team a lot more (dangerous) definitely whenever me and Stef can switch up, Coach can put us both in there and we can work together, we can have a high-low going," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Stef can stay hi or I can go low and nobody can really guard Stef in the post so whenever we can bury her down there it is going to be perfect for her. Just knowing both of us are confident at either spot, it is great. Me and Stef try to play off of each other. Luckily we have both been playing really well and try to keep each other positive."

UConn's Tuck looking to regain her form

Her troublesome right knee bone bruise seems to be a thing of the past and now UConn freshman Morgan Tuck is trying to get back to the way she was playing earlier in the season when she scored in double figures in two of the first three games and was averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 rebounds through the first six games.

However, Tuck's knee issues resulted in her missing three games and playing single-digit minutes in six others.

Tuck showed signs of reclaiming her form against Cincinnati. Tuck posted up with authority and was calling for the ball. Although she missed three of her five shots, it was the best Tuck has looked since the Jan. 12 game against Marquette.

"I don't expect it just to come so I try to look at what Stef (Dolson) does, I see how hard she works in the post and I just try to do the same thing," Tuck said. "I can't really focus on missing shots, I need to focus on making the next play. If it is open I am still going to shoot it and hopefully I make the next one.

"I am trying to work even harder because the more you get open, the more you get other people open y setting better screens, by cutting harder it just makes the offense a little better. I try to keep working hard and it seems like it is working pretty good."

Her teammates know how talented Tuck is and what a difference she can make on this year's squad which has been relying heavily on Dolson.

"We need Tuck to come back full strength," sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Whenever we want to post it up inside, her and Stefanie are pretty good at getting inside and establishing position. Tuck is a great finisher and we need her at full strength."

Mosqueda-Lewis may be all the way across the country but she is still keeping tabs on how her high school team is doing. Mater Dei is doing rather well as evidenced by holding down the top spot in the national high school polls.

"It is good to see Mater Dei still doing good out there, keeping the legacy alive," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It is known to be a basketball school so as long as Coach (Kevin) Kiernan is there I am sure the team is going to keep doing well.

"He as high expectations for all of his players and wants you to do your best. It is a lot like it is here. They expect a lot and if you are willing to put in the work you are going to get good results. He makes sure he stays on you day in and day out every practice so when you have a coach who is that dedicated you can't really go wrong."

Maya Moore two wins away from WCBA title

At the risk of this becoming a "how Maya Moore is doing in China" vehicle here is a well "how Maya Moore is doing in China."

Moore's Shanxi squad faced Liz Cambage and Zhejiang in game one of the WCBA best of five champiokship series.

Moore, the league's leading scorer in the regular season, did not disappoint with 53 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in a 96-92 win on Tuesday. Cambage finished with 38 points before fouling out.

Shanxi can win the title with a win on Thursday. If Zhejiang wins that game, there will be a winner take all game three on Saturday.


Hayes heading to Turkey

According to the Atlanta Dream's "overseas update" former UConn star Tiffany Hayes will be heading over to Turkey to play for Besitkas where her Atlanta teammate Armintie Price is playing.

Hayes was playing for Hapoel Rishon Le-Zion in Israel averaging 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3,3 assists and 2.7 steals in 10 games before leaving the team due to the death of her grandmother.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Entertaining Super Bowl Q&A with Renee Montgomery

I thought I would pass on a Super Bowl related  question and answer session the WNBA folks did with Connecticut Sun guard and former UConn star Renee Montgomery and Courtney Paris.

How long have you been a fan of the Ravens/49ers and what prompted you to be such a fan?
I’ve been a Ravens fan since 2009. I became a fan then because they drafted one of my good friends, Ray Rice. I am a die-hard Ravens fan but I will also be rooting for San Francisco’s Randy Moss to do well in the Super Bowl because he, too, is from West Virginia and he supports me so I definitely will be supporting him.... I just don't want him to do so well that he beats us.
Paris: I was sort of born to be a 49ers fan. My dad played most of his NFL career there and I grew up in the Bay Area so it’s just my nature to cheer for them; especially with the dynasty they had back in the 80’s and 90’s. How could I – or anyone for that matter -- not be a Niners fan?!

What is your fondest Ravens/49ers memory?
My fondest memory would have to be any time the Ravens beat the Steelers because their fans are THE worst...I’m not going to name any names because SWIN CASH would be mad if I did.
Paris: My dad was already retired by the time I was old enough to truly follow the sport, so my greatest memory had to be in the 90’s when Jerry Rice and Steve Young were running things and winning Super Bowls.

What is your favorite article of Ravens/49ers swag?
I’ve got a custom fitted Ravens jersey; I treat it like a super exclusive pair of shoes, I don't wear it often, only on special occasions. The Super Bowl will be one of those occasions.
Paris: My favorite had to be back in the day I had this 49ers letterman’s jacket that I loved. Wish I still had that thing!

Do you have any particular superstitions you adhere to when rooting for the Ravens/49ers?
Paris: Nope.

When you’re playing overseas in the winter, how do you follow the Ravens/49ers? Do you stay in touch with fellow fans by phone/email/Skype, etc.?
I usually tweet about the games and interact with other Ravens fans that way. I have a Slingbox so I can watch the games live if I’m not traveling.
Paris: Of course there is and other Internet sites I can check. But also here in Turkey they show American football games on cable TV. Sometimes they’re live; but most times they’re not. I will know the outcome but still enjoy watching the game – especially that NFC Championship Game win against the Falcons!!!

Where will you be when the Super Bowl is played on Feb. 3? Will you be able to watch it and are you making any special plans to do so?
On February 3rd I have a big game (in Russia) vs. Spartak. A couple of the players on their team are fellow WNBA players Seimone Augustus, Candice Dupree, and Becky Hammon. So hopefully I can have 2 big wins that day.
Paris: I will be in Adana, Turkey, either attending or hosting a Super Bowl party.

One key theme for this Super Bowl is that brothers John and Jim Harbaugh serve as head coach of the Ravens and 49ers.  Which one is more handsome and why?
Hmm... Well first I had to go back and Google them because I really never paid that much attention to their looks. But after doing that, of course I’m going with the Ravens’ coach, John.
Paris: Jim of course! Aside from looking dashing in 49ers’ gear, you have to go with the younger brother!

Why will YOUR TEAM win?
My team – got that Courtney, my team – will win because of their passion, led by Ray Lewis. They aren't going to let his retirement party end the wrong way.
Paris: Because the 49ers are the best team in the NFL! With our off-season additions our roster is loaded with talent. Colin Kaepernick stepping in has given the team an even more confident mindset. In the NFC Championship we came back from 17 points down to beat Atlanta. Plus San Francisco in general has got something going in sports…the Giants won the World Series, so now It’s the 49ers time to shine!

What is your prediction for the Super Bowl in terms of score?
I’m terrible at predicting the score, but both teams are defensively oriented so I would predict a low scoring game.
Paris: Low scoring but with the 49ers on top.

Renee, what does the 49ers’ defense most have to fear about the Ravens’ offense led by Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and Anquan Boldin particular?
Hey Diddle Diddle.... Ray Rice up the middle!!!!!
Renee, what is it about Ravens’ LB Ray Lewis that makes him so inspirational to his teammates? Also, who in your basketball career might be compared to Ray Lewis as a leader, and why?
He speaks from the heart and backs up every word he says. He doesn't just talk a good game; he has proven himself over a large number of years and earned the respect of not only his teammates but of his opponents.

If you were to engage in some fun trash-talking to Courtney about the Super Bowl, what would you want to say?
Maybe next year...
Paris: Although it would be a story book ending for Ray Lewis, it’s just not going to happen. Sorry, Ray….Oh, and sorry, Renee!

Renee, if the Ravens win what should Courtney have to do to honor your victory?
Well if she is on Twitter I would love her to send me a congratulations tweet and also post a pic holding up a sign that says, "Ravens are the 2013 Super Bowl Champs."

Courtney, if the 49ers win what should Renee have to do to honor your victory?
I would love for Renee to make a sign that says “49ers are the World Champions” with some lovely red and gold decor - take a picture and tweet tweet.


Another familiar face squaring off against Geno

While I did not make the trip to cover Saturday's game at Cincinnati, I did watch the game and the post-game press conference. I was struck by the absolute misery Auriemma was in both during the second half and especially as he answered questions about the win.

I figured his sour disposition had just a little to do with the fact that he wanted nothing to do with rolling to a win against his former assistant coach and player Jamelle Elliott, who is in her fourth season as the head coach at Cincinnati.

"I think the game was, they can't make a shot, they have one field goal in the last 19 minutes of the first half and in the last 18 minutes of the second half they have one field goal," Auriemma said. "Now you are trying to figure out how are you going to keep your guys running stuff and not taking the first open shot they see. Guys don't want to shoot, now everybody wants to be like 'make the next pass, the next pass, the next pass.' It gets frustrating when you know the person on the other bench. It is not the first time it has happened. We played a year one year and I think it was 50-10 or 45-10 at halftime and I felt so bad I asked Chris Dailey went we were walking into the locker room 'what defense should we get in so they can score?' because you just don't want to see that. So is there a defense they we can play that can get them some shots.

"She is a very prideful person, takes great pride in herself, where she has come from and what she is doing and puts a lot of pressure on herself to live up to the expectations that everybody has of her and she has of herself and she takes it really hard when she feels like she is letting people down."

Now Auriemma meets up with another coach in his inner circle when the Huskies host Villanova tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the XL Center.

There is a difference as Perretta, the dean of Big East women's coaches, is obviously entrenched as the Wildcats' head coach and while Cincinnati headed up against UConn searching for its first Big East win, Villanova is tied with UConn for second place in the league standings.

There have been some expressing surprise at Villanova's impressive start, Auriemma is not one of them. With so many seniors and juniors in key roles, Auriemma figured Villanova could have one of its best teams in a few years.

"In Harry's system it takes time because of the nuances of how he does things, where he wants shots to come from," Auriemma said. "When you are playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores like he has the last couple of years it is not easy but I think he has a pretty good blend or upperclassmen, he has a couple of freshmen that are pretty good."

UConn's Stewart honored by Big East

Breanna Stewart was named the Big East's Freshman of the Week after averaging 11.5 points and 6 rebounds per game in wins over Duke and Cincinnati.

This is the third time Stewart has been named the conference's top freshman this season.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chong, Ossining win a wild one

UConn signee Saniya Chong had 45 points to lead her Ossining (N.Y.) team to a thrilling 106-100 triple overtime win over St. John's Vianney on Sunday in Holmdel (N.J.) High School in the Coaches Choice New York vs. New Jersey tournament.

Chong scored either 19 or 24 of her points (depending on which report of the game you choose to believe) in the three overtime periods and was 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in the final overtime period as part of a 21 for 24 performance from the foul line for Ossining. It was the fifth 40-point game of the season for the 5-foot-9 guard.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

UConn eyeing sizeable 2014 class

With a brief break between games this week, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was able to hit the road to check on a couple of big kids in the high school Class of 2014.

While NCAA rules preclude Auriemma from discussing uncommitted recruits, recruiting sources have indicated that he came away extremely impressed with A'ja Wilson, a 6-foot-5 wing out of Heathwood Hall Episcopal Academy in Columbia, S.C. and Kathryn Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 forward out of Fairmont High in Kettering, Ohio.

Wilson, considered by many as the nation's top high school junior, did not disappoint with Auriemma in the stands for Tuesday's 80-22 win over Orangeburg Prep. She had 33 points (on 14 of 22 shooting), 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and four blocked shots in 80-22 win. It was Wilson ninth straight game shooting better than 60 percent, fell one rebound shy of having a double-double in every game this season. Averaging 29.6 points, 14.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.6 steals and 5.8 blocks per game, shooting 68.4 percent from the field (not including Friday's win over Augusta Christian).

Wilson is a tremendous athlete. As an eighth grader she was a sub 13 second time in the 100 meters and she led Heathwood Hall to its first state tournament in volleyball.

Westbeld, who is a new name on UConn's recruiting radar, had 24 points in Fairmont's 54-48 loss to Centerville on Wednesday. Westbeld is said to be the kind of well-rounded, blue-collar type of player that UConn loves to recruit and every indication is that she is very much in the mix with the Huskies.

This is a key year of recruiting for the Huskies. With Saniya Chong the only player signed this year UConn only has seven scholarship players in the fold once Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley graduate in 2014. The Huskies do have a commitment from talented Arizona wing Courtney Ekmark and what I am hearing is the Huskies would like to bring in two more perimeter players and two big kids.

Wilson is clearly the top priority for UConn and it remains to be seen whether she will opt to leave South Carolina. What I've been hearing is that she is not planning to make a college decision until after the summer AAU season is completed.

Another top player on the Huskies' radar is Sierra Calhoun, a guard at Christ the King who recently scored her 1,000th career point. UConn has been out to see her play a few times with Auriemma in the stands for a memorable showdown with Chong's Ossining squad. Sources have indicated that UConn loves her game and likes her as a person and every indication is that they will offer her a scholarship. She would be a natural to land at UConn since her father said he'd prefer that both of his kids went to the same college and his son Omar Calhoun Jr. is a freshman on the UConn men's basketball team.

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on UConn's radar is Nevada guard Gabby Williams who was averaging more than 30 points per game before suffering a knee injury. UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph was out in Sparks, Nev. to watch Williams have 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists, six steals and three blocks in an 85-61 win over Spanish Springs eight days ago. Unfortunately, the 5-11 guard tore her ACL in a game the following day.

What is interesting about Williams' recruitment is that she is one of the nation's best high jumpers. As a 15-year-old she finished fifth in the high jump at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. Williams has been quoted as saying she plans on competing in both sports in college and intends on redshirting in 2016 to prepare for a run at making the Olympic team. I can't recall the last two-sport scholarship player during Auriemma's tenure so it would be something unique if UConn manages to land her. While my initial reaction is that a track phenom like Williams would be more likely to stay in a warm-weather setting for training purposes, it should be noted that UConn grad Trisha-Ann Hawthorne just ran the fastest 200 meter time in the world during the current indoor season earlier this week so world-class track and field stars can thrive in a New England environment,

You may have noticed that a couple of names have yet to be mentioned (Brianna Turner and Jordin Canada). There's a pretty good reason. All indications are that UConn's interest in them is waning a bit although I am not ready to proclaim that the Huskies are no longer involved with either one. Both players  have recently released a top five list of schools which includes UConn but I'd be very surprised if either of them will land at UConn.

This is where it gets interesting. If UConn wants to land five players and miss out on a couple kids I highlighted above, things could be a little dicey. Ideally Auriemma said he prefers to have a team with 11 or 12 players on it. Next season there are nine scholarship players to go with walk on Becca Pope, a former Nonnewaug star expected to be on the team next year as well. Pope earned All- New England and All-American honors at UConn-Avery Point where she set a program record with 116 3-pointers in her two seasons. A knee injury has sidelined her this season but she can be seen on the sidelines at UConn's practices. There's a chance she could be added to the roster this season especially if she is cleared to practice in February which is a realistic possibility. 

It seems like a safe assumption that Auriemma would prefer to get to 11 scholarship players for the 2014-15 season and with the departure of  Dolson and Hartley, that would mean signing four players during that recruiting cycle. There's not a heck of a lot of margin for error considering UConn's practice of targeting a small number of recruits each year. Of course Williams and Westbeld were not known UConn recruiting targets until recently so there is always a possibility that other players could emerge in the future.

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Former UConn star Maya Moore eyeing another title

Former UConn star Maya Moore had 37 points and 19 rebounds to lead her Shanxi team to an 82-60 win over defending WCBA champion Beijing in the winner take all third game in the semifinals to clinch a spot in the finals.

Beijing won the first game in the best of three series despite 40 points and 10 3-pointers from Moore. Shanxi evened the series with a more balanced offensive attack as Moore's 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists was aided by having three teammates scoring in double figures. In the winner take all game earlier today. Beijing's chances for repeating took a major hit when San Antonio Silver Stars forward Sophia Young was unable to play in the game for Beijing. Shanxi will face Zhejiang in the championship series which starts on Tuesday.

I also checked up on how a couple of Moore's former UConn teammates are doing overseas.

Meghan Gardler is having a huge season with Amicale Steinsel in Luxemborg's Diekirch's League and she is leading the team in scoring (26.2 points per game), rebounding (11.5) and steals (4.0). She is the league leader in both scoring and steals.

Kaili McLaren is a double-digit scorer for Ramat Hasharon in Israel as she is averaging 11.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game on a team featuring WNBA guards Alexis Gray-Lawson and former WNBA draft picks LaSondra Barrett and Alysha Clark.

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Next six games could be key for UConn's reserves

While Geno Auriemma's comments that Kelly Faris' second-half performance in Monday's win over Duke "one for the ages" garnered most of the attention, he said something else that I found rather interesting regarding the player rotation.

"There’s a great line in the Thomas Jefferson book I’m reading right now that says sometimes your philosophical ideas have to give way to your philosophical ideas. You know my idea that we are going to play a lot of guys, we are going to give a lot of guys a lot of minutes and a great opportunity for them to play in a big game like this at home against Duke and then they are out there and you look at the way they are playing and you say why? So, I came out for the second half and (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph) goes 'we aren’t going to do that in the second half are we?' and I said 'no'. We put them in one at a time and took them out individually. What happened in the second half was we were able to keep our core for a long time and it really made all the difference in the world."

UConn has a stretch of six straight games against unranked teams, the longest for the program during the Big East portion of the schedule since the 2002-03 season before a Feb. 18 matchup with top-ranked and defending national champion Baylor. It goes without saying that this is a pivotal stretch (erspecially in practices) for players like Morgan Tuck, Kiah Stokes, Brianna Banks and Moriah Jefferson to earn themselves quality minutes when the Huskies match up with Baylor.

So after Thursday's practice I asked Auriemma how he balances getting minutes for his inexperienced reserves against loving the way the Huskies play with a veteran group of starters are on the court.

"You really have to be careful how you do it and you have to hope you don’t have foul trouble and you can do it because you want to do it and not because you have to do it," Auriemma said. "I think where we got caught in the first half (against Duke) is some of it was foul problems and we looked out there a couple of times and said ‘that was a bad lineup out there.’ I think we were out there with a bad lineup way too long. In the second half we didn’t have the foul problems so we were able to stay with the core lineup and at the same time you want to be able to able to get those guys some of those minutes in those kinds of games. Little by little I hope we can. Obviously, that is what we want to do. We managed to do a pretty decent job with Brianna Banks and now it is juts a matter of if all those guys are healthy trying to do it."

Tuck and Stokes have seen their practice time limited in the first half of the season which has impacted their development and confidence.

"It has been difficult on them because of the injuries," Auriemma said. "They haven’t had a lot of time on the practice floor. Morgan being a freshman it is even more difficult, with Kiah on again/off again you are never quite sure (how much she can practice). I think they are both fairly healthy that they will be able to make some real progress now and obviously you want to impress upon them that we are a good team without them but I don’t think we can be a great team unless they contribute. That goes for the two of them, Breanna Stewart, Brianna Banks, Moriah Jefferson. If we just go with the guys we had last year, they took us to the Final Four and adding the guys we added, if they contribute like I think they can, we ought to be a much better team but they need to be consistent in their contributions."

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Geno empathizes with former assistant coach's struggles

As hard as it is to believe, 30-win seasons and Final Four appearances did not start rolling off the assembly line the day Geno Auriemma was hired at UConn.

The Huskies were just 18-26 in Big East play during Auriemma's first three seasons before sweeping the regular-season and tournament titles in Auriemma's fourth season in Storrs. So Auriemma does have a little bit of a sense of what a grind it has been for former UConn star and assistant coach Jamelle Elliott to change to culture in her four seasons at the helm of the Cincinnati program.

Heading into tomorrow's home game with the third-ranked Huskies, Cincinnati joins Pittsburgh as the only teams yet to win a Big East game this season. Elliott's record in conference play is 12-41. The 41 losses are five more than the total she suffered in 12 seasons as an assistant coach at Connecticut.

"It is always a struggle when you take over a program," Auriemma said. "Jamelle is pretty hard on herself. They can have the same exact injuries that say we have or have guys out for the year and we can withstand them because of the depth of the talent that we have but when you are building a program and you lose a couple of key guys and you don’t recover from that. I know they played a couple of key games that are really tough on them, the Louisville and soembody else got them really good, South Florida maybe (Cincinnati lost to Louisville and South Florida by a combined score of 149-77 in consecutive games in mid-Janaury) and the worst thing you can do is get discouraged, She is pretty positive. I am going to see her(to)night get to talk to her.

"Your first year you are working on adrenaline, you think that once you put your fingerprints all over it that it is going to change and you are going to be able to will it (to change). Your second and third year it is a lot harder and you are so dependent on the kinds of players that you have and everything going right. You always wonder if you can get over a certain hump. Can you finish .500 in the league? Can you beat the top teams a little bit? Can we be competitive in every single game? There are always a lot of questions you can ask yourself. It is very difficult especially at a place that hasn’t been successful for a long time."

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

UConn's Bria Hartley "I wasn't blessed with good ankles"

One of the first things that UConn coach Geno Auriemma mentioned after Thursday's practice was how fluidly junior guard Bria Hartley was moving. That has to be music to the ears of Husky Nation as a healthy Hartley changes the way the Huskies play.

Hartley moved pretty well in the Duke game but she also rolled her troublesome ankle late in the game leading Hartley to deliver the gem of a line "I wasn't blessed with good ankles obviously."

Hartley dished out a career-high nine assists in Monday's win over Duke and seems to be moving better with each passing day after being forced to miss most of preseason camp with a sprained ankle.

"I have a lot more confidence out there playing," Hartley said. "I was moving a little bit better, my ankle wasn't bothering so that is always good, I thought these two days (with no practice) helped me, helped my body recuperate.".

Speed is such a key part of Hartley's game so when she was hobbled with the ankle issue it prevented her from playing at her highest level.

"I think I am I one of the fastest players on the team and I am able to beat people off the dribble and usually take pride in my ball handling," Hartley said. "I think when I am able to get to the basket, I am able to create for my teammates and I am able to create for myself so I think that is when I am at my best.

"I think it creates a lot of shots for myself and am able to hit 3-pointers, guards will come out and I will be able to go by them and I think it opens opportunities for my team."

Auriemma heard from one of his closest friends this morning when Villanova Harry Perretta called to vent about the second-half meltdown resulting in a loss to Providence. At some point, the conversation turned to rumors that the Catholic 7 could be out of the Big East at the end of the 2012-13 season.

"He had just taken his head out of the microwave because he lost to Providence so what did the associate Provost Harry Perretta have to say? He said that a couple of Catholic (school) Presidents are meeting to discuss what is happening (in the coming days). He thinks they won't be in the league next.year."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sue Bird returns to court

Former UConn star Sue Bird made her first appearance of the season with UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Bird played 34 minutes in Ekaterinburg's 79-58 win over USO Mondeville and had five points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and three steals in her first game action since undergoing a surgery on her hip.

Also, former UConn star Maya Moore had 40 points and drained 10 3-pointers but it wasn't enough as her Shanxi team lost to Beijing 97-66 in the first game of the WCBA semifinal series.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Huskies learn lesson from Notre Dame loss

Kelly Faris stood in almost the same exact spot inside the Gampel Pavilion weight room last night as she did 16 days earlier. However, this time there was no sense of regret in the UConn senior's mind as there was after the Jan. 5 loss to Notre Dame.

In that game the Huskies trailed by two at halfime but rallied to take five-point lead with 11:55 to play. Unable to deliver the knockout blow, UConn allowed Notre Dame to walk out of Gampel with a 73-72 victory.

Faris, who struggled defensively against Notre Dame junior Kayla McBride, took blame for the defeat and vowed not to repeat her mistakes when placed in a similar situation.

That time came last night with Duke only down by two at halftime. All Faris did was have 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in the second half alone as the Huskies pulled away for a 79-49 win.

This is our home court and we've already lost one this year," Faris said. "It is a horrible feeling so you are sitting there at halftime saying 'dang, I am coming into this locker room feeling like that again."

While Faris' performance attracted the headlines, she had plenty of help.

Bria Hartley, who has been battling ankle issues all season long, showed flashes of the play which earned All-American honors as a sophomore during the game. Although she only had six points, she did have a career-high nine assists in the game.

Another highlight was the defense that freshman Breanna Stewart played on Duke's Elizabeth Williams in the second half after Stefanie Dolson went to the bench with four fouls with 16:15 left to play and the Huskies only up by eight.

Williams scored three seconds after Stewart checking into the game but after that had as many points (two) as she did turnovers the rest of the way. Meanwhile Stewart had 13 points, three rebounds and three blocks during the remainder of the game.

"She is actually pretty good at following directions," Auriemma said. "You tell her 'I want you to do this' she will do it. There are stretches there when you tell her 'look, I want you to try to score every time you touch the ball and on defense I want you to block her shot every time down the floor. It was like 'OK, that was all you needed to tell me.'"

Auriemma admitted that the coaches had to do a better job of getting Stewart touches after she failed to take a shot in the second half. He also apologized publicly to official Bonita Spence for his over the top reaction to Dolson's fourth foul. He obviously saw the replay before coming into the press conference and admitted that Dolson did commit the foul.

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3 Huskies on Wooden Award midseason watch list

UConn senior guard/forward Kelly Faris, junior center Stefanie Dolson and sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis are among 20 midseason candidates for the Wooden Award,

UConn is the only team with three players on the list. They are now candidates for the Wooden All-American team which will be announced around the time of the NCAA tournament regional finals and the Wooden Award which will be announced on Apr. 12.

Mosqueda-Lewis is the Huskies' leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game and has a team-leading 54 3-pointers. Dolson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds while Faris leads the 17-1 Huskies with 54 steals and 82 assists while averaging 10.6 points per game. Dolson was also named the United States Basketball Writers' Association National Player of the Week

Here is the complete list of candidates

Alex Bentley
Penn State
Kelsey Bone
Texas A&M
Elena Delle Donne
Skylar Diggins
Notre Dame
Stefanie Dolson
Kelly Faris
Angel Goodrich
Chelsea Gray
Brittney Griner
Tianna Hawkins
Tayler Hill
Ohio State
Maggie Lucas
Penn State
A’dia Mathies
Kayla McBride
Notre Dame
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Chiney Ogwumike
Sugar Rodgers
Odyssey Sims
Alyssa Thomas
Elizabeth Williams

Ekmark delivers for St. Mary's

UConn commit Courtney Ekmark is already earning a reputation of delivering when it counts the most.

Ekmark, a 6-foot junior for St. Mary's out of Phoenix, scored 10 of her 17 points after Pinnacle had pulled within four points.

It was pretty interesting that Pinnacle is the last Arizona team to beat St. Mary's and that happened two years to the day.There would be no repeat on Monday as St. Mary's won 63-43.

I reached out to Courtney's dad Curtis, who is also the St. Mary's head coach and he said organizers from the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. have reached out to him about having St. Mary's play in the 2014 event but that he won't start discussing next year's schedule with the St. Mary's athletic director until the end of the state tournament. He also said that while Courtney is not planning to make trips east to see UConn play during the season, they are planning to attend the Final Four in New Orleans in April.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Geno: Kelly Faris has performance for "the ages"

Kelly Faris' 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists line in the boxscore simply does not do justice to the way the UConn senior played in Monday night's 79-49 win over Duke.

She simply outhustle every other player on the court and played with such energy and determination that you have to wonder if members of the Duke team stole the last piece of pizza from under her nose or insulted her entire family.

When Faris checked out of the game for the final time with 1:36 remaining, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was waiting with an emotional bear hug and the UConn student section let loose with chants of “Kel-ly Far-is, Kel-ly Far-is.”After the game Auriemma but Faris’ performance in the class of some of the best he has ever witnessed during his 28 years at the helm of the Huskies.

“What happened in the second half was indescribable,” Auriemma said. “That is one of those occasions when you are watching it in the stands, you were on the bench, if you were part of what Kelly did tonight, you just saw a performance that people are going to be talking about for a long time. There have been some great players playing in this building, there have been some legends playing in this building but I don't think there has anybody who represented that uniform, herself and her family like that kid did tonight. That was one for the ages right there.”

Admitting to an empty feeling when UConn failed to close out Notre Dame, Faris was flying through the air grabbing rebounds, tipping away passes, making clutch shots all while shutting down Duke junior point guard Chelsea Gray.

“I think it was a lot of built up frustration from the last couple of games and practices,” Faris said. “We have seen what we can do as a team when we all come together like that. Coach was pretty mad at halftime and I think it might have been as mad as he has been in a while. We were mad; we knew we were better than that. When we came out in the second half, when we bring the energy, we feed off of each other."

It was the scrappy fashion with which the Huskies won the game which delighted Faris.

“That makes it a lot of fun when it is more about the hustle plays, who is going to come up with the ball and who is going to do that?” Faris said. “When you do that and you are lying on the ground with the ball and you have four teammates come over and pick you up and they are all excited, you are like 'OK, let's go do it again.' That happened on almost every play no matter who was on the court, who dove for the ball, who got a tip on the ball, one of our players was constantly there to get the ball.”

Following the game, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie used the word "soft" to describe her team's play but that word was never uttered when I asked her about Faris' performance.

"She plays like a senior. She is a good example to a lot of young kids. You don't have to have awesome size in order to get the job done. I think she is 5-11. maybe 5-10,  but the reality of it is that she gets it done. She plays very, very hard and she plays unaffected and I thought she was just great for her team."

Auriemma said that Faris' subpar performance against Duke last season would be something that wouldn't sit well with his senior leader but Faris seemed to draw more inspiration from some recent efforts that were not up to her normal standards.

"I have been rally frustrated with how I've played, especially offensively with the turnovers, it is ridiculous," Faris said. "I tihnk I had three tonight which is still too many, I shouldn't be getting that many. I am motivated to get back to how I know I can play, slow down, stop trying to fix everything and trying to do too much. I think the second half we all did that."

On my drive home I tried to figure out what Faris' relentless pursuit of every loose ball reminded me of and about all I could come up with was when John Lynch was in his prime as the starting strong safety with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lynch's teammate Warren Sapp gave Lynch the nickname "friendly fire" due to the way that Lynch hit anything that moved which occasionally included his own teammates. There was more than once that Faris wrestled a loose ball away from her own teammates.

"I was a little scared, she actually did steal a couple of rebounds from me," UConn sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said with a laugh. "When Kelly is going full speed like that you kind of feel like 'all right, Kelly's doing her thing tonight and we have to do our part.' We have to make sure we are matching her energy.

"Kelly kept coming out of nowhere. One of the rebounds, it literally bounced between two Duke players and I thought they were going to grab it. They came out of nowhere, zipped in and grabbed the ball." 

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Freshman Jones delivering for Duke

More than a few eyes will be on UConn's Breanna Stewart tonight but she won't be the only freshman in the spotlight.

Alexis Jones has scored in double figures four times this season but her biggest impact has come on the defensive end . She has 10 steals in the last three games and has had multiple steals 10 times in 16 seasons

"Lex is a tremendous impact first-year player, very confident, understands what we are going defensively and is not afraid to distribute the ball and do all sorts of things on the floor," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "She can also learn from Chelsea (Gray), the older (guard) and Elizabeth (Williams) had more time, I think that is a really special thing they have out there, Chelsea the ability to mentor her and bring her along."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been impressed with the way Jones worked her way into the starting lineup immediately.

"Being a freshman, you find out what somebody is really good at and you throw them out there, tell them to go be good at it and she seems to have blended in like she has been there a bunch of times," Auriemma said. "I think when you have a really solid guard like Chelsea Gray, somebody can come in. It was like when Renee (Montgomery) was here and somebody like Caroline (Doty) or Tiffany (Hayes), you just throw them out there and you have a really good guard and you just kind of guide you along in whatever you want to do."

Looking ahead to tonight's showdown

Recent games against Duke haven't exactly been thrilling theater as UConn has simply dominated the Blue Devils.

Maybe I'll be proved wrong but I have a hunch tonight will be a different story. I went to see Duke play on Jan. 6 when they won at Boston College. While the Eagles were simply overmatched physically by Duke, I was able to get a sense of how this year's Duke plays and I came away impressed.

The first thing I was struck by was the difference freshman Alexis Jones has made for the Blue Devils. Defensively, she is used to harass the opposing point guard and also gives her team a secondary ball handler. Something tells me UConn's Bria Hartley will see plenty of her tonight.

I was also impressed with the way Chelsea Gray rebounds the ball as well as the improvement of juniors Tricia Liston and Haley Peters. I would say that Duke's starting five is the best the Huskies have faced so far this season.

It will be interesting to see how the teams approach things tonight. The first thing I will be looking for is whether the Huskies will attempt to press Duke. UConn's press had very little impact against Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and didn't even make much of a dent against Syracuse. If UConn is too aggressive pressing and trapping, there is a risk of Elizabeth Williams, Peters, and Liston getting uncontested layups in transition.

I am also curious how the Huskies handle the ball. UConn has turned the ball over 18 times in each of the last two games. Many of these miscues were of the unforced variety and even more shockingly, have been committed by UConn's most experienced players. Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty and Hartley need to value ball security more than they have been in recent games.

There is always the wait and see approach to see how freshmen react on a big stage. UConn's Breanna Stewart finished Saturday's game against Syracuse in impressive fashion but her classmates Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson looked out of sorts in the game. The aforementioned Jones has quickly emerged as a key player for Duke so it bears watching how she handles playing a challenging road game.

Both teams have the makings of strong bench play - if their coaches let them play. Tuck, Jefferson and Brianna Banks combined to play 24 minutes against Syracuse. Hopefully they will get more of a chance to show what they can do tonight. For Duke, Richa Jackson, Allison Vernerey and Chloe Wells came into the season with 52 career starts between them so I wonder what impact they can have coming off the bench.

Finally, I can only hope that I don't find myself writing, blogging or tweeting about the officiating. This game should be a physical affair but the last thing anybody wants is for the game to be decided by which team's stars are relegated to sitting the bench due to foul issues.

This should be a fun one.

Dolson is Big East Player of Week

UConn junior center Stefanie Dolson was named the Big East Player of Week after averaging 20.5 points, 8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

UConn to be tested by Duke's dynamic duo

There paths crossed at various AAU tournaments or through USA Basketball circles over the years but it wasn't until Elizabeth Williams followed Chelsea Gray to Duke that the duo really began to click.

Gray, quite possibly the best pure passer in the college game, beat Williams to Durham, N.C. first arriving in 2010. The next year Williams, a highly-touted post, burst onto the scene. It didn't take long for Williams to be on the receiving end of a host of nifty set ups from Gray.

"Since the beginning I have always admired how she was able to pass the ball," Williams said. "As a post player you love that your guard is willing to pass the ball. It is just my job to finish. She makes me look good and I make her look good so it works out."

The first documented time that Williams scored off a Gray assist came midway through the first half of an exhibition win over Pfeiffer on Nov. 3, 2011. Now with a season and a half together they form a dynamic combination.

"She has excellent hands so it makes me look good when she puts it in the basket," Gray said. "Sometimes the help side tries to come over and I have an easy dump down."

Obviously dealing with an active post player like Williams and a heady floor leader like Gray figures to be at the top of UConn's scouting report heading into tomorrow's game.

"I think it is one of those things that you have a really good guard and you have really good big guy, you have a really decent wing player that you have a chance to have a great team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Elizabeth Williams is great, she is really good inside, Chelsea Gray is a really, really good guard and Tricia Liston has become somebody that they can count on. Maybe between her and (Haley) Peters, the two of them have given them a pretty good wing players. Just that alone makes them really good plus I am sure what has happened the last couple of years we have played them I am sure it is on their mind a little bit. I think the last time they came to Gampel wasn't really a fun trip for them, I am sure they are coming to make sure it has not been like that at all. I know Monday night is going to be very difficult for us."