Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Looking like Catholic 7 schools gone after this season

It looks as if we are reaching the end of an era with reports that DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova will be breaking off on their own beginning next season although they aren't exactly leaving the Big East since multiple reports have them keeping the Big East name.

Now it bears watching what Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers plan on doing. Originally they were expected to remain in the Big East for next season before heading off to greener pastures (Rutgers to the Big 10, Notre Dame and Louisville to the ACC). However it would not be a shocker to see their departures moved up by a season.

If that were to occur the days of UConn being in arguably the best women's basketball conference would come to an end (unless the ACC were to come calling).

"Every school is committed to making it happen, whether that's on a super-compressed timeline or a little bit less compressed timeline," Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told the Chicago Tribune "Even if it starts next summer, there's still a lot of work to do. If it's going to happen this summer? There are going to be some real, real long days. But I think everybody is committed to doing it."

ESPN is reporting that Butler and Xavier have agreed to join the league, which will keep the Big East name, and Creighton is also expected to join for next season.

If Louisville and Notre Dame bolt for the ACC next season as well and Rutgers leaves a season early for the Big 10 UConn will be left even further behind in the conference realignment game. Big East holdovers Cincinnati and  South Florida will join Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple with the possibility of bringing in East Carolina and Tulane later this year rather than in 2014.

So with the current version of the Big East on the verge of implosion, Geno Auriemma was asked after Tuesday's Pittsburgh game if it would mean more to win the regular-season and tournament titles in the Big East this year since there is no way of knowing what the makeup of UConn's conference will look like next season.

"I don't know if it would mean anymore or any less," Auriemma said. "Whatever conference you are in you are trying to win the regular season and that is the No. 1 goal you would like to accomplish. The fact that there are a bunch of schools that may or may not (leave), we know who is not going to be here but we don't know who may or may not be here next year. Between the regular season and the tournament, we are still in the same place we were  a couple years ago, we have seven or eight teams that are going to make the NCAA tournament and it is hard to win that thing. It is hard to win the regular season and it is hard to win the tournament. I said a couple years ago when we lost to Villanova and then we lost Boston College in back to back years (in the Big East tournament) and then we won a national championship both of those years that it is a lot easier to win a national championship than it is to win our own tournament. I don't think this year is going to be any different."

So how could it look next year? Well there are seven teams on their way out with RPIs between No. 4-50 (UConn has the second best RPI).

Just for comparison purposes, here is how the Big East stacks up this year in terms of RPI numbers and how it could look if all those teams depart at season's end.

 4 Notre Dame      57 SMU
21 Louisville          58. South Florida
22 Villanova          78 East Carolina
27 DePaul             91 Tulane
37 Syracuse         110 Memphis
40 St. John's        126 Temple
50 Georgetown    146 Central Florida
58. South Florida 163 Houston
61. Marquette      166 Cincinnati
64 Rutgers

Chong leads Ossining into Class AA championship game

UConn incoming freshman Saniya Chong scored 23 of her game-high 29 points in the first half to lead her Ossining (N.Y.) High tram to an 100-57 win over Ursuline in the New York Section 1 Class AA championship game at the Westchester County Center Thursday night.

Chong, who did not play in the fourth quarter, also had six 3-pointers, five rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and three blocked shots as the Pride advanced to play Lourdes out of Poughkeepsie in Sunday's 2 p.m. championship game. It is a rematch of last year's championship game won by Ossining.

Chong is averaging 34.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 4.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. She has scored at least 30 points in 14 of Ossining's 21 games this season and in 91 career games she has hit the 30-point mark 47 times.

The news was not as good for Class of 2014 UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun as her Christ the King lost 64-50 to Bishop Ford in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I semifinals.

Calhoun finished with 16 points.

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USF's top scorer won't be lonely on Saturday

The players come and they go but the one constant in the UConn women's basketball program is the ability to play relentless, suffocating defense especially on the opposing team's top scoring option.

This year is certainly no different. I did some quick checking and of the top 10 scorers in the Big East (counting all games) the only one to make as many baskets as she missed against UConn is Pittsburgh's Asia Logan.

With Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis ranking third in scoring, Smith coming in fourth and with a tie for 10th between Notre Dame's Kayla McBride and Brianna Kiesel of Pittsburgh, UConn has faced nine players among the top 10 in the Big East in scoring.

Reigning Big East Player of the Year Skylar Diggins went 4 for 15, DePaul's Brittany Hrynko missed all 15 of her field-goal attempts, Dayeesha Hollins of Cincinnati was 2 for 11 and Kiesel was 4 of 22. When the numbers are crunched, the top 10 scorers in the league are shooting 30.7 percent against the Huskies.

The Huskies will look to do the same against Smith who has seven 20-point games and scored more than 30 points three times.

It will not be a surprise to see senior Kelly Faris get the first shot at slowing down Smith.

"What ever team it is, that is a personal challenge I take on for sure and have been (doing so) since I got here," Faris said. "When I got here as a freshman that was pretty much my role, come in and be a spark defensively. I think a few other people on the team are going to pick up that challenge.

"Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) has been good for us and that has really helped me out a lot, the way that we play defense every guard ends up playing every single guard and the fact that we can rely on her so much more to guard the best player on the team, that is huge. There are a few others that are coming along. I know Moriah (Jefferson) is getting out there and she has a little pest on defense so when we have more players who are willing to really put that much effort into the defensive end, that helps out a lot."

UConn annually brings in some of the nation's best offensive players and it doesn't take them long to figure out that you either learn to play defense the UConn way or you don't play.

"If you don't pick it up fast enough you are going to stand out and you are not going to play," Faris said. "There is no point of putting somebody on the floor who is not going to play both ends."



Report: Maya Moore returning to China

According to a report by the, the owner of the Shanxi Xing Rui Flame announced that the team has re-signed former UConn star Maya Moore for three more years.

Moore had a spectacular debut season in China, averaging 37.3 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.1 steals and was even more productive in the postseason to lead Shanxi to its first WCBA championship as she averaged 41.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 5.3 steals in the four games.

Despite 24 pointss from Stanford-bound Karlie Samuelson and 20 more from her sister Katie Lou, a top Class of 2015 UConn recruiting target, Mater Dei out of Santa Ana, Calif. suffered its first loss of the season last night.

Etiwanda defeated Mater Dei, the No. 1 team in the USA Today national high school poll, 73-72 in overtime in the CIF-South Section 1AA semifinal as both Samuelson missed potential go-ahead 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds of overtime and then Katie Lou Samuelson had a chance to tie the game but was only able to make one of two foul shots.

Etiwanda's Amy Okonkwo had 28 points. In some states a postseason loss would mean the end of the season but that is not the way it is done in California as Mater Dei will be competing in the state tournament.

With Mater Dei losing, the natural assumption is the No. 2 team (Duncanville, Tex.) will ascend to the top spot when the next poll is released. UConn commit Courtney Ekmark's St. Mary's team is ranked third. However, since St. Mary's only loss this season came to Mater Dei I'd be surprised if Mater Dei fell behind St. Mary's with the one loss.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nykesha Sales returning to Connecticut Sun

Former Connecticut Sun and UConn star Nykesha Sales is returning to the state to be an assistant to the new coaching staff and community liaison during the 2013 season.

Sales scored a team record 3,955 points in 278 games with the franchise, beginning her career when the franchise played in Orlando. She played in a team-record 248 consecutive games from June 10, 1999-July 6, 2006, and still holds the all-time Connecticut marks for points, games, minutes (8,762), made field goals (1,481), field goal attempts (3,539), made three-pointers (352), three-point attempts (990) and steals (490).

“I am extremely excited about being a part of the Sun again this summer,” Sales said in a statement. “It has always been a great organization, and I have a lot of amazing memories from my time there as a player. Although I’m returning with a whole new role and responsibilities I’m really looking forward to helping Anne and her staff as they try to bring a championship to the best fans in the WNBA. And getting out into the community as a representative of the team is going to be so much fun.”


Tina Charles' team eliminated in EuroLeague playoffs

Former UConn star Tina Charles had 19 and 16 rebounds but it wasn't enough to prevent her Wisla Can-Pack team from being eliminated from the EuroLeague playoffs.

Endene Miyem had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead four players in double figures as Bourges Basket defeated Wisla Can-Pack 66-59 in the third and final game in the first-round series. Charles averaged 23.7 points and 14 rebounds in the three-game series.


Former Mercy star still early on in recruiting process

The latest name to emerge as a Class of 2014 recruiting target for UConn is a pretty familiar one.

Sadie Edwards, who grew up in Meriden, played at Mercy as a freshman and helped the Tigers reach the 2011 Class LL championship game where they lost to Career 39-37. She transferred to play for the legendary Apache Paschall at Nazareth in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"It’s a great opportunity,” Edwards said when news broke of her transfer. “It’s not something that comes around often. I’m thankful for that. I get to play with multiple Division I players. It’s an environment where I can get a lot better. It’s exciting.”

However, Edwards' time playing for Paschall was limited as he died in January of 2012. At season's end, in which she earned New York Class AA third-team All-State honors, she made the decision to leave Nazareth and landed at Blair Academy in Blairtown, N.J.

Could she be returning to play basketball in Connecticut?

It's too early to tell. I spoke her Sadie's mother Lisa before I headed up to Hartford for yesterday's UConn/Pittsburgh game and she confirmed what I have been hearing and that is that the 5-foot-10 rising senior does not have a scholarship offer yet. What my recruiting sources are telling me is that UConn likes Edwards, a player who had seven 20-point games and four contests with at least 10 assists during Blair's run to the New England Prep School "A" title but they want to see her play this spring on the AAU circuit.

"Right now she is right at the beginning, right now she has no idea," Lisa Edwards said. 

UConn visited with Sadie a week ago and then she took an unofficial visit to take in Saturday's game against Seton Hall. Lisa Edwards said it was an enjoyable trip for her daughter who got to meet the UConn coaches and players. Since I hadn't heard much about UConn being involved in the recruitment of Edwards, I asked her mom what the level of interest has been.

"Just casual stuff, a birthday card, have a good season," Lisa Edwards said. "With a visit (to UConn) and (UConn) coming in to meet her I would think the interest is there."

Lisa Edwards believes her daughter's experiences the last couple of seasons has helped her on and off the court.

"Everybody likes to say they have grown but she really has come into her own game now," Lisa Edwards said. "Her offense, when you are young offense is important but she is just as happy with 14 assists."

My recruiting sources have told me that UConn would like to sign three perimeter players and two frontcourt  ones in the next class. With Saniya Chong the only incoming freshman to sign with UConn, it's pretty obvious that this is a pivotal recruiting class for the Huskies. It is evident by the number of players the Huskies are linked with that they are going to be looking at more kids this year than they often do because they simply can't afford to just recruit four or five kids and land just one or two of them. As it is the Huskies could be playing with fire with just nine scholarship players on the roster for next season. A transfer here, an injury there and things could get a tad bit tricky.

I don't think it's earth-shattering news if I were to state the A'ja Wilson, a versatile 6-foot-5 forward at Heathwood Hall in Columbia, S.C. is at the top of UConn's recruiting wish list. The Huskies have also offered another forward, Kathryn Westbeld out of Fairmont High in Kettering, Ohio. Of course the Huskies already have a commitment from 6-foot wing Courtney Ekmark out of St. Mary's in Phoenix.

Christ the King guard Sierra Calhoun, whose brother Omar is a standout freshman on UConn's men's basketball team, is another top prospect UConn is involved with. While I previously reported that the interest in highly-touted Texas forward Brianna Turner and speedy Los Angeles guard Jordin Canada appears to have waned a bit, what I am hearing is the Huskies continue to consider them to be recruiting targets. Then there is one of most intriguing prospects in the class in Nevada guard Gabby Williams. Williams is one of the nation's top high jump prospects who finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials and UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph went out to Nevada to see her play in a game early this season. Unfortunately, Williams injured her knee the next next day. She had surgery to repair the torn ACL and meniscus earlier this month. Williams has gone on the record as saying that she wants to do both sports in college and her plan is to redshirt in 2016 so she can focus solely on making the Olympic team.

For those interested in such things, the list of players I mentioned feature the top three rated players and six of the top 10 in the Hoopgurlz ratings. Of course they also list Edwards (who comes in at No. 39) as playing at Nazareth so keep that in mind before viewing those ratings as gospel.

I wouldn't anticipate seeing any commitments coming soon especially considering that four of the seven uncommitted players I mentioned above have yet to visit UConn. It's also possible and even likely that more names could emerge in the coming weeks and months.

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Four Huskies on Naismith Player of the Year list

The UConn quartet of Stefanie Dolson, Kelly Faris, Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis are among 30 players in contention for the Naismith Trophy.

UConn is the only team with four candidates while Baylor, Notre Dame, Duke, Maryland and Penn State each have a pair of players on the list.

Dolson is a 6-5 junior center who is averaging 14 points a game (while shooting 60 percent from the field), 6.4 rebounds and 37 blocked shots. Faris, a 5-foot-11 senior guard/forward, is the only UConn player to start every game this season. She led the Huskies with 114 assists and 77 steals and is averaging a career-high 10.8 points per game. Hartley, a 5-7 junior guard, is averaging 9 points per game while Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot sophomore forward, is averaging a team-best 17.1 points per game and her 85 3-pointers is tied for the eighth most in UConn history.

Baylor's Brittney Griner, who was last year's winner, is among the other candidates. The winner will be announced on Apr. 8.

Here is the list of candidates:

Bentley  Alex  Senior  G  Penn State
Bone  Kelsey  Junior  C  Texas A&M
Clarendon  Layshia  Senior  G  California
Delle Donne  Elena  Senior  F  Delaware
Diggins  Skylar  Senior  G  Notre Dame
Dolson  Stefanie  Junior  C  Connecticut  
Ellenberg  Aaryn  Junior  G  Oklahoma
Evans  Shante  Senior  F  Hofstra
Faris  Kelly  Senior  G  Connecticut 
Goodrich  Angel  Senior  G  Kansas
Gray  Chelsea  Junior  G  Duke
Griner  Brittney  Senior  C  Baylor
Hartley  Bria  Junior  G  Connecticut 
Hawkins  Tianna  Senior  F  Maryland
Hill  Tayler  Senior  G  Ohio State
Hooper  Jordan  Junior  F  Nebraska
Lucas  Maggie  Junior  G  Penn State
Mathies  A'dia  Senior  G  Kentucky
McBride  Kayla  Junior  G  Notre Dame
Moore  Lindsey  Senior  G  Nebraska
Mosqueda-Lewis  Kaleena  Sophomore  F  Connecticut 
Ogwumike  Chiney  Junior  F  Stanford
Penn  Karisma  Senior  F  Illinois
Rasheed Niveen  Senior  F  Princeton
Rodgers  Sugar  Senior  G  Georgetown
Rowe  Ebony  Junior  F  Middle Tennessee State
Simmons  Meighan  Junior  G  Tennessee
Sims  Odyssey  Junior  G  Baylor
Thomas Alyssa  Junior  F  Maryland
Williams  Elizabeth  Sophomore C Duke

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UConn signee Saniya Chong a finalist for N.Y. Miss Basketball

UConn incoming freshman Saniya Chong is one of five finalists for the Miss New York Basketball Award.

Chong is a 5-foot-9 guard at Ossining High who is averaging 35.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 4.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. Chong is the sixth all-time leading scorer in New York girls' basketball history and owns the state record for most career 3-pointers.

Chong has led Ossining to an undefeated record against New York competition this season and leads the Pride against Ursuline of New Rochelle, N.Y. in the state playoffs tomorrow.

The other finalists are Cassidy Chapko of Hoosic Valley, Alexandrea Flint of Keshequa, Irvington's Lexi Martin and Albany's Emia Willingham-Hurst. The winner will be announced next month. Current UConn freshman Breanna Stewart was last year's winner.

Keeping on the subject of New York stars on UConn's recruiting radar, Sierra Calhoun out of Christ the King did not make the list of finalists. Calhoun has been out of action recently with tendinitis in both knees. She returned in impressive fashion last night as she had 24 points, four rebounds and six steals in a 64-43 win over Mary Louis in the quarterfinals of the Catholic High School Athletic Association Brooklyn/Queens Diocese Division I tournament. The Royals play Bishop Ford in the semifinals on Thursday.

UConn men's basketball signees Kentan Facey and Terrence Samuel are among five finalists for the Mr. New York Basketball Award.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stewart's defense sets the tone

When Breanna Stewart arrived at UConn it was impossible not to be impressive with the vast array of her offensive skills. However, in Tuesday's win over Pittsburgh she was able to make an impact on the other end of the court.

It began just 29 seconds after she checked into the game when she blocked a shot by Ashlee Anderson. She ended up with four blocked shots and three steals to go with her 15 points and nine rebounds in a 76-36 victory.

"I like it obviously," Stewart said of her blocked shots including a couple rather emphatic ones. "I think it gets the crowd into it sometimes and they get excited, it just helps the team get into a transition game."

Stewart hit a low when she played just seven minutes and failed to register either a point or a rebound in a loss to the nation's top-ranked team.

While the level of competition wasn't exactly world class, it is an encouraging sign to see Stewart average 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in the two victories.

"I think getting her some playing time and letting her just kind of do more things than just figure out a way (to produce)," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When we were playing well with her in the lineup she was doing a whole bunch of things and when the game got away from he she sopped being aggressive, she started being tentative with the ball and just settling for jump shots and I think the last couple of games she has gotten more involved in more different places at both ends of the floor. I think she feels a lot better about herself now and hopefully that will carry over to this weekend."

It wasn't all positive for UConn. Freshman Morgan Tuck did not play in the second half and Caroline Doty saw only four minutes after halftime which resulted in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis playing all 40 minutes.

"Morgan has said her knee was bothering her and she really couldn't go any harder and it was going to be a little bit of a struggle for her so Caroline same thing, she has been banged up a little bit and her knee has been bothering her," Auriemma said. "We were down in numbers and it is never a bad thing to have her (Mosqueda-Lewis) out on the court."

Auriemma had a different attitude concerning sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes who did not play.

Stokes actually got some nice things done late in Monday's practice when UConn ran 4 on 4 half-court offensive drills. However, Auriemma was blunt when I asked him after the game why Stokes didn't get into the game at all.

"There are only so many minutes in the game and right now I am trying to get minutes for the guys I think have earned it,' he said.

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Tuck vs. Tuck NCAA showdown a possibility

There's still plenty of work to be done and games to be played before the NCAA pairings are announced next month.

While there may be some clamoring for a showdown with Tennessee or the Elena Delle Donne-led Delaware squad, there is an under the radar matchup possibility that I think would make for an intriguing story.

Normally a second-round NCAA game between UConn and Illinois would be met with little more than an indifferent yawn but when you consider that UConn freshman forward Morgan Tuck's sister is Illinois sophomore Taylor Tuck and that could make for an intriguing story line.

A year ago at this time it would not even be a realistic possibility that the Fighting Illini would be eyeing a berth in the NCAA tournament as Illinois finished 11-19. But this season the Illini are 16-10 and 9-5 in the Big 10.

UConn has faced a team from one of the power conferences in four of the last five seasons although Illinois' current RPI of 57 is a little lower than the teams the Huskies have met up with in the second round.

If that happens, Morgan Tuck would absolutely love it.

"I think that would be great," said Tuck, who is averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. "She said that she doesn't want to play our team but at the same time, to be on the same court as her again that is something that I hope some day will happen.

Taylor Tuck averaged 0.9 and 0.5 rebounds as a freshman but she seemed to have benefited  from the arrival of first-year head coach Matt Bollant this season.

"She is doing really well this year, a big improvement from last year. I know they have a good chance of getting into the tournament so my parents are trying to balance out the game times. I am really proud of her and really glad she has made such a big improvement."

Morgan Tuck credits her sister for sparking her interest in basketball as well as igniting the competitive fire inside of her.

"She always has been (a role model) ever since we were little," Morgan Tuck said. "We played all the same sports, she was great at everything and I was horrible. She was who I was striving to be better than and if she wasn't there I don't think I would have tried to compete as much in sports."

Teams like Cal-Davis, which recently agreed to play a home and home with UConn, UCLA and California are among the teams showing interest in playing UConn during the regular season. Surprisingly, I've been hearing that there have been no communications between UConn and Illinois to meet.

If the game were to happen, it would like be the second-round game on Mar. 25 and last game of the season at Gampel Pavilion. Maybe that matchup would spur on ticket sales because what I was told today is that only about 3,000 tickets have been sold for the subregional at Gampel.


3 Huskies on USBWA Player of Year list

UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Kelly Faris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis are among 20 players on the midseason watch list for the USBWA's Ann Meyers Drysdale national player of the year award.

The winner will be announced during the Final Four.

Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot sophomore forward, is UConn's leading scorer with an average of 17 points per game and has a team-leading 80 3-pointers. Dolson, a 6-5 junior center, is averaging 14 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while Faris, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward, is the only Huskyto start all 27 games. She is 10.7 points and leads UConn with 111 assists and 73 steals.

Here is the complete list

G 40 Kayla Alexander, Syracuse 6-4 Sr. Milton, Ont.
G 20 Alex Bentley, Penn State 5-7 Sr. Indianapolis, Ind.
C 3 Kelsey Bone, Texas A&M 6-4 Jr. Houston, Texas
F 25 Gennifer Brandon, California 6-2 Jr. Sylmar, Calif.
G/F 11 Elena Delle Donne, Delaware 6-5 Sr. Wilmington, Del.
G 4 Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame 5-9 Sr. South Bend, Ind.
C 31 Stefanie Dolson, Connecticut 6-5 Jr. Port Jervis, N.Y.
G 34 Kelly Faris, Connecticut 5-11 Sr. Plainfield, Ind.
G 3 Angel Goodrich, Kansas 5-4 Sr. Tahlequah, Okla.
G 12 Chelsea Gray, Duke 5-11 Jr. Manteca, Calif.
C 42 Brittney Griner, Baylor 6-8 Sr. Houston, Texas
F 21 Tianna Hawkins, Maryland 6-3 Sr. Clinton, Md.
G 33 Maggie Lucas, Penn State 5-10 Jr. Narberth, Pa.
G 1 A'dia Matthies, Kentucky 5-9 Sr. Louisville, Ky.
F 23 Kaleena Moaqueda-Lewis, Connecticut 6-0 So. Anaheim Hills, Calif.
F 13 Chiney Oguwmike, Stanford 6-3 Jr. Cypress, Texas
G/F 24 Niveen Rasheed, Princeton 6-0 Jr. Danville, Calif.
G 0 Odyssey Sims, Baylor 5-8 Jr. Irving, Texas
F 25 Alyssa Thomas, Maryland 6-2 Jr. Harrisburg, Pa.
C 1 Elizabeth Williams, Duke 6-3 So. Virginia Beach, Va.

Faris continues to move up the charts

In recent weeks there have been no lack of updates on where Kelly Faris ranks on UConn's career charts.

However, when I think of what Faris contributes to the team it does not come down to the number of points, rebounds, assists or even steals that she gets on a nightly basis but the way that everything she does is about trying to win games. Faris, who will move into a tie with Ann Strother for the number of games played, is currently 10th all-time at UConn in the number of victories she has been on the court for..

Faris could finish as high as No. 5 on this list if UConn were to win the remainder of its games.

Here is the list
1. Maya Moore 150-4
2. Kalana Greene 148-9
3. Tiffany Hayes 147-7
4. Tina Charles 146-6
5. Renee Montgomery 139-11
6. Lorin Dixon 136-4
    Diana Taurasi 136-8
   Ashley Battle 136-13
9. Asjha Jones 135-9
10. Kelly Faris 133-9 (heading into tonight).

Curtis Ekmark, the head coach and father of UConn commit Courtney Ekmark, was named the WBCA National High School Coach of the Year after leading St. Mary's to a 29-1 record and Arizona Division I state title.

Ekmark has a 154-21 record in six seasons at St. Mary's
Ekmark will also coach the Purple team in the WBCA High School All-American Game and one of the players he will be coaching is UConn signee Saniya Chong out of Ossining (N.Y.) High School. The roster of the Purple team has some familiar names as former UConn recruiting targets Taya Reimer, Diamond DeShields (who was named the WBCA National Player of the Year), Erica McCall, Stephanie Mavunga and Karlie Samuelson are all on that squad.

The game will be played on Apr. 6 at the New Orleans Arena. Courtney Ekmark, a junior guard, is planning to join Curtis at the Final Four.

Former UConn star Swin Cash will be the honorary co-captain of the Black team while Tamika Catchings will be the honorary co-captain for the Purple squad.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Brianna Banks talks about season-ending injury

The tears flowed a couple of times for UConn sophomore guard Brianna Banks.

The first time was when she was told by UConn coach Geno Auriemma that her season was over after tearing the ACL in her right knee in a Feb. 2 win at St. John's. The next time was when she saw her somber teammates dealing with a loss to top-ranked Baylor two weeks to the day that she found out the severity of her injury.

“It is a lot harder to watch how hurt the team is and feel like you could have done something to make it better,” Banks said.

“I wish I could (play). It is starting to get to me a little bit.”

Banks will miss her seventh straight game when the third-ranked Huskies play Pittsburgh at the XL Center tomorrow in the final regular-season home game. The good news is a surgery has been scheduled for Mar. 14 to repair the torn ligament.

After struggling as a freshman, Banks had worked her way into an important role for the Huskies coming off the bench. She had already recorded more points, rebounds and assists while making six times as many 3-pointers in 21 games this season as she did while playing in 32 games as a freshman.

The play which led to the injury seemed so innocent as she drove to the basket in a Feb. 2 win over St. John’s. She fell to the ground and she felt the knee buckle.

“I feel like it is my fault,” Banks said. “I had Kelly (Faris) in the corner. I should have dished it and if I had dished it, I wouldn't be here.

“When she (St. John’s guard Briana Brown) hit this (left) leg, I buckled with this (right) leg. It buckled real fast and I felt it buckle but I didn't feel it pop.”

On the surface Banks has put on a brave face as both her head coach Geno Auriemma and her position coach Shea Ralph have raved about how much she has grown up. Out of the glare of the spotlight, however, Banks predictably was devastated when she learned she would miss the rest of the season.

“I cried,” Banks said. “My mom took it harder than I did. If I go into a deep depression like my mom did it is not going to do me any good, I would take a step back and that is not what I want to do.”

Auriemma said Banks has been diligent going through the rehab process which can be a tough task for a player knowing they won’t be able to step back onto the court for several months.

“She has been great,” Auriemma said. “It is an impossible situation but her attitude has been great. She has been pretty diligent being where she is supposed to be where she is going to be there. She is out there whenever she can be so she is doing everything she can and the rest of out of her hands.”

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Leedham signs with Sun

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham signed with the Connecticut Sun on Monday.

Leedham was selected in the third round of the 2010 WNBA draft by Connecticut after a record-breaking career at Division II Franklin Pierce. She led Great Britain with a 16.2 scoring average during the 2012 Olympics and will compete for a position at small forward or perhaps even shooting guard.

In an interview with the Register before the Olympics Leedham made it clear that she planned to come over for the 2013 WNBA season.

"Absolutely I am going to come over,” Leedham said. “It is just bad timing really with the Olympics and stuff like that. It has been a busy time and a fun time for basketball in Britain. I've had to commit myself to that so I haven't had time to go to the WNBA yet. Next year is my time to go and give the WNBA a shot. I am going to put all of my time into that.

“I went to prep school in Connecticut and New Hampshire is not that far so I feel like I have a really good support system in New England which is great. I have a lot of positive vibes there and it would be lovely.”

UConn's Geno Auriemma coached against Leedham during the Olympics and following Monday's practice, he had some great things to say about Leedham's game.

"I liked her," Auriemma said. "The team from Great Britain came in last in our pool I believe but I'll be you that every game that they played except on with five minutes to go in the game, the game is undecided that is how good they arre but they just couldn't get over the hump. She had a lot to do with that. I liked her, she is the kind of kid I would like to coach."


Olympic ring ceremony tomorrow

Just a reminder that USA Basketball will be making a presentation of Olympic rings to head coach Geno Auriemma, who was the head coach of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic squad, as well as to video coordinator Keith Anderson, associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph who weren't official staff members but assisted Auriemma.

Breanna Stewart, seen driving to the basket during U-18
training camp in May, is among the Huskies who will be
recognized by USA Basketball tomorrow night.
Also, Bria Hartley will be recognized for being a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the FIBA 3x3 World Championships as well as the three freshmen (Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck) for being members of the United States team which on the squad which won the FIBA U18 Americas title. My apologies for omitting Jefferson from the list of UConn players on the U-18 team when I reported this news a couple days ago.

The ceremony will take place before tomorrow's game with Pittsburgh.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Injury scare for Caroline Doty

All the positive vibes making their way around Gampel Pavilion Saturday afternoon came screeching to a halt  less than two minutes into the Senior Day game against Seton Hall.

The visions of Caroline Doty favoring her left leg as she limped off the court brought a hush over the crowd of 9,107. Doty has been dealt a rugged fate over the last five or six years with a series of serious knee injuries but through it all she has persevered. It seemed to be too cruel to imagine that her career would come to an end on the day when she was being celebrated along with her fellow seniors.

Doty was in obvious pain as UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle began to examine her. It didn't take long for Ragle to realize that it was not another issue with Doty's oft-injured left knee. Before long Doty was bending her knee so Ragle to get a closer look at her ankle and her foot and you could almost hear the crowd breath a collective sigh of relief.

The irony of Doty receiving medical treatment on Senior Day was not lost on the fifth-year senior.

"It was more of 'you've got to be kidding me' tape me up and I am going back in," Doty said. "It is the way things work out. The situation was 'really? Is this really going to happen?' I had Rosemary tape me up and take care o me like she always does and got right back on the floor. I had to see Rosemary. Rosemary had to take care of me one last time.

Doty checked out of the game just 1:37 into the game and did not return until there was 9:32 left in the first half.  She played 17 minutes, made both of her field-goal attempts and finished with five points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocked shots in the 90-30 win despite dealing with some more pain than usual.

"It was definitely a stinger but we got ice on it and it was nothing, we'll get treatment and it will heal," Doty said.

When UConn coach Geno Auriemma was asked about joining Stanford's Tara VanDerveer as the only Division I women's basketball coaches to win 400 games in one conference, his reaction was little more than an indifferent shrug. But, being the volatile competitor he is, Auriemma used to innocent inquiry as a chance to fire back at critics saying this group can't win the big game and they have a lot to prove when they play at Notre Dame a week from tomorrow.

"We just won a regular season game on Senior Night but obviously if we don't win next Monday night we are not going to win the national championship," Auriemma said. "Today was just a game so a week from this Monday, if we don't win that game there is no chance finishing out the season so we know we have a real busy week coming up for us because that game is going to determine the season and also the future career of a lot of these kids so I don't want to get too excited about tonight."

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mixed results for UConn recruits

While UConn commitment Courtney Ekmark had 14 points to lead her St. Mary's team to the Arizona Division I title, fellow Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson's Heathwood Hall team fell in the state championship game on Saturday.

Ekmark was the only player in double figures despite playing with a broken nose suffered in an earlier tournament game as St. Mary's defeated fellow Phoenix school Pinnacle 49-37. Pinnacle is the last Arizona team to beat St. Mary's back during the 2011 state tournament. Ekmark had 10 points after Pinnacle took a 28-25 lead late in the third quarter.

Heathwood Hall lost to two-time defending Pinewood Prep in the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA championship game despite 30 points from the 6-foot-5 Wilson. Wilson also had 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots as she finished with 20 double-doubles in 21 games. She ended up averaging 28.7 points (while shooting 69 percent from the field), 14.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals and 5.3 blocks per game. She had 12 30-point games with a high of 48 in a Jan. 15 win over Hammond.

Auriemma apparently had some traveling issues when he went to see Wilson play in Friday's semifinals. He was not able to fly into Columbia, S.C. so he had to fly in and out of North Carolina and what I am hearing is he had to drive three hours after flying down there to make it in time for the game.

Another UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target extended her season as Kathryn Westbeld had 12 points in Fairmont's 58-21 win over Sidney in the Ohio Division I Harrison District tournament. Fairmont awaits the winner of the Cincinnati Ursuline/Cincinnati Mother of Mercy game in the Mar. 2 district final.

Closer to home, former Mercy High star Sadie Edwards was in attendance at today's game against Seton Hall.

Edwards, who grew up in Meriden, left Mercy to play for New York powerhouse Nazareth (where she earned third class Class AA all-state honors highlighted by a 28-point game against Christ the King) before transferring to Blair Academy in New Jersey over the summer. Edwards is a 5-foot-10 junior guard who has made the transition from being more of a wing player earlier in her career to playing point guard. I don't have official stats on her but she had some pretty big games for Blair Academy including a triple-double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in 70-53 win over Lawrenceville in the Mid-Atlantic Prep School championship game earlier this month. She also had 24 points and 11 assists in a regular-season win over Gill St. Bernard's.

Edwards led Blair Academy to a 21-3 record and the Prep School Class A title where she scored 12 points in the championship game.

Edwards was named a first team All-MAPL selection, named to the all-conference defensive team and was named the newcomer of the year. I was able to find scoring stats from 22 of the 24 games Blair Academy played in (missing both games against The Hill School) and she scored in double figures in 20 of them including seven 20-point games with a scoring average of 17.2 points per game. She also had at least four games with 10 or more assists. I saw a tweet from @weworkhoops which reported that coaches from UConn and Kentucky were in to see Edwards on Tuesday.

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Special day for Kelly Faris, Huskies

There is always something special when UConn honors its senior class and today was no different.

The biggest question coming into the game was whether Kelly Faris would record her 1,000th career point, being the first senior to do it on Senior Day since Ashley Battle 2005.

Faris needed 18 points coming into the game and was stuck on the 10 points she had at halftime for what seemed like an eternity. She hit a 3-pointer with 11:48 to play and another with 8:34 remaining to get within two points of her milestone.

She missed a pair of 3-pointers as her teammates were running plays to try to get Faris the ball which wasn't lost on Faris.

"I eventually figured it out because I saw Coach (Geno Auriemma) call a few people over," Faris said. "I think we were forcing it a little too much. They got really excited and I said 'wait a second, I see what they are doing.' I pulled them in and said 'I know what he is telling you to do but it will come within the offense and don't force it too much.'

"I am not usually the one who has to take every shot and I am not sure I like that position but it was good. It means more to me that they were bound and determined to give me those shots. I am usually the ones trying to get people those shots so it is different. It is a great accomplishment and definitely credit a lot of my teammates for those."

Nobody was happier to see Faris scored her 1,000th point than teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored her 1,000th point earlier in the game. She thought it was fitting that Faris' milestone basket came after a steal.

"I wouldn't have it any other way that for Kelly  to get her 1,000th on a hustle play, that is Kelly Faris all the way," Mosqueda-Lewis said.

"For her to be able to have her 1,000th point on senior night and to have us win the way we did, I couldn't be happier for her. I wouldn't rather have scored my 1,000th point with anybody else."

As for Mosqueda-Lewis, only Maya Moore (55 games) and Svetlana Abrosimova (63) got to the milestone in fewer games than the 64 it took Mosqueda-Lewis. It was also the first time that two UConn players scored their 1,000th point in the same game since Nykesha Sales and Carla Berube accomplished the feat on Nov. 17, 1996.

Since I look at Mosqueda-Lewis filling the same role of being the young, talented shooting star like Sales was in the 1996-97 season while a jack of all trades player like Faris plays a game similar to the way Berube  did in the mid and late 1990s.

"I see a similarity there," Auriemma said after the game.

"Kaleena, the she started the game was kind of a reflection of  what I think all great players do. What great players do is they impose themselves on the game right away and they continue to impose themselves on the game the entire time they are out on the floor.

"What Kelly does is sometimes Kelly's contributions are a little less noticeable, they don't hit you right between the eyes like  those first five minutes that Kaleena was on the floor, not everybody can do that and that takes kind of a special player. The two of them have a lot in common, the both  want to impact the game, they both want to win and they are both changing their games to suit the occasion. I am hopeful that today was an omen of things we can do down the road. It is a good day for our seniors and I think some of our younger guys made sure that it was."

A couple other statistical notes about Faris: 

She recorded her 500th assist 43 seconds after recording her 1,000th point as she set up fellow senior Heather Buck for her first basket.

She had seven steals to move by Renee Montgomery and into sixth place on the Huskies' all-time list. She moved by Pam Webber and Tina Charles and into eighth place on the all-time list in minutes played and she will tie Ann Strother for 10th on the all-time list at UConn in games played when UConn hosts Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

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Special moment for Faris, Auriemma before game

There were no lack of Hallmark moments on Saturday at Gampel Pavilion as seniors Kelly Faris, Heather Buck and Caroline Doty played their final regular-season game at UConn's on-campus facility.

However, as I was shooting video of the pre-game ceremony, I was especially struck by a moment when UConn coach Geno Auriemma leaned over and said something to Faris. The words led to Faris cracking a smile and her reaching out to give him yet another hug.

After the game Faris talked about Auriemma said to draw that reaction.

"He said he is going to do everything he can to make this end the right way," Faris said. "I care about him a lot and I respect him a lot. I know he cares about us and this group of seniors a lot. He is willing to put everything he can into it and not even for himself but for his team, for us to go out the right way and it is on us to give that back."

Senior Day not the final act

There used to be a time when the Senior Day/Senior Night festivities had a sense of finality to it. Well, that is certainly not the case today.

While eight UConn seniors including players Kelly Faris, Heather Buck and Caroline Doty will be honored before today's game, it seems surreal to go crazy on Senior Day coverage since the Huskies could play eight more games in Connecticut this season including the regular season home finale on Tuesday against Pittsburgh at the XL Center. UConn could play three more games at the XL Center in the Big East tournament, the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament will be played at Gampel Pavilion while the regional semifinals and finals will be held in Bridgeport.

"It is kind of how it goes," Faris said. "Technically it is not our last game but  it is the only for sure given. We are different because we have two venues and it depends on the tournament who goes where but this night that is what it is meant for and that is the way we are going to treat it."

As for Buck, the game has special meaning for her even if she plays in more games in her home state.

"It's our last Gampel game before the tournament," Buck said. "The Big East and NCAA tournament it is a otally different focus. It is a different kind of feeling to those games so having the last regular season game here, we love playing in Hartford and we've had Senior Night there before, it feels right when it is in Gampel on campus and all the students are here, this really is our home."

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UConn recruiting targets go after state titles today

On a day when UConn seniors Heather Buck, Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris are honored as part of Senior Day festivities, a pair of potential future Huskies will have a chance to end their junior seasons in style.

Courtney Ekmark, the only member from the Class of 2014 committed to UConn, will lead her St. Mary's team against fellow Phoenix school Pinnacle in Arizona's Division I state championship game. The game, which starts at 4 p.m., will be live streams on the site.

A'ja Wilson, who is at the top of UConn's wish list among the uncommitted high school juniors, had 33 points (on 16 of 24 shooting), 13 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead Heathwood Hall out of Columbia, S.C. to a 63-47 win over Northwood Academy on Friday night. UConn coach Geno Auriemma and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley were among those in attendance according to media reports from the game.

Heathwood Hall will face defending champion Pinewood Prep tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA championship game.

In two tournament games Wilson is averaging 34 points while shooting 70.7 percent from the field, 14.5 rebounds and 5 blocks per game. On the season she is averaging 28.6 points (shooting 68.7 shooting), 14.4 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game.

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Fifth-year seniors have had intriguing journey at UConn

Shortly after 3:42 p.m. Heather Buck and Caroline Doty will make the emotional walk onto the court at Gampel Pavilion with their parents by the side. As the fans inside Gampel Pavilion roar their approval, a flood of images figure to be bouncing around inside the heads of the two fifth-year seniors.

They have been members of undefeated national championship teams but individually their basketball careers have not lacked for either ebb or flow.

“It's definitely been a roller coaster, that is for sure,” Doty said. “If we were at an amusement park, I would think our five years have been the most insane roller coaster there can be. You can't regret it, you have to learn from everything, from the ups and downs and have it fulfill you not only as a player but as a person.”

Most of the downs for Doty are a result of her surgically-repaired knee. She suffered her first torn ACL when she was playing soccer as a senior at Germantown (Pa.) Academy. A couple more followed. One ended her freshman season after 17 games another resulted in her sitting out the entire 2010-11 season.

This won’t be Doty’s final game in Connecticut as the home regular-season finale is Tuesday at the XL Center versus Pittsburgh and there could be three Big East tournament games at the XL Center and if the Huskies advance to the Elite Eight, their first four NCAA tournament contests will be played in the Nutmeg State. Still, this day is going to be one Doty doesn’t figure to forget.

“You know you never want to go through an injury or anything like that but everything happens for a reason and the coaches make decisions for a reason and you kind of have to trust (them),” Doty said. “It is hard kind of thing to trust but looking back on it, the best you can do is have fun, play smart and just trust everybody around you.

“(It is special) just to have your parents and take one quick kind of view of the fans, the atmosphere and just know that nothing really ever lasts. We are lucky to be here and have five years to be able to play and be on the court and contribute. You can contribute even when you are not on the court and that is an important thing that we have learned that if you are on the team, no matter what your role is you are important to it and you are on the team for a reason and I am just happy to be a part of this team.”

Buck sat out the 2008-09 season as a non-medical redshirt with the hope that she could be a go-to post player by the time she was an upperclassman.

However, Buck’s minutes have been limited over the last four seasons. Still, while some players in a similar situation have opted to transfer out of UConn, Buck is glad she stuck around for the long haul.

“My whole career took a different track than I think anybody expected so it has been about adjusting and finding new ways to contribute,” Buck said. “It really is all about the love of the game. You still want to have that opportunity to come out and compete every day in practice and hopefully you get that opportunity in a game too but if you don't you find another way to contribute, another thing you can do that can help your team so that is what it has all been about.”

In a perfect world every senior would be like Kelly Faris, who has started every game in the last three seasons or former teammates of Buck’s and Doty’s like Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes who earned quality minutes pretty much from the time they first slipped on a Connecticut jersey. However, life is not always a fairy tale. Nobody is more appreciative that they both stuck it out than their head coach.

“What it does is it tests how much you love this game,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If somebody loves the game, they love coming to practice and they love being on the team and love everything that goes along with that than it is not a grind at all, it is a labor of love. In our situation we are lucky, we have two fifth year seniors who love the game, they love coming to practice, and they love being a part of a team.

“In Caroline's case she has had a chance to experience the absolute best, being a starter on a team that is 39-0, sitting on the bench and watching an entire season of basketball and then being somewhere where she is hoping she can rekindle some of the things she used to be able to do. You've got that and then you have Heather who has had a completely different experience that really tests your love of the game and wanting to be a part of the team.”

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Tina Charles' double-double not enough for Wisla Can-Pack

Former UConn star Tina Charles was her normal brilliant self with 28 points and 15 rebounds as she did all she could to help Wisla Can-Pack close out its first round series in the EuroLeague playoffs.

However, her teammates were a combined 3 for 31 as they lost to Bourges Basket 50-38 in game two of the best of three series. The teams will meet in a winner take all third game on Wednesday.

Charles had 24 points, including three in the final two seconds, and 11 rebounds in a 57-54 win in the opener.

Charles' Connecticut Sun teammate Renee Montgomery saw her team's championship hopes end as Nadezhda lost 76-70 to CCC Polkowice in the second game to get swept out of the playoffs.

Montgomery had 12 points, three rebounds and an assist in the loss.

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Lawyers for Geno Auriemma refile motion to dismiss lawsuit

As expected, lawyers for UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma have refiled the motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by NBA security official Kelley Hardwick.

As I provided the link to the motion above, I will merely highlight the points of the motion to dismiss.

As the previous motion also focused on, Auriemma and his representatives are disputing Hardwick's right to sue him in a New York court since he does not reside or work in the state of New York as well as stating  that Hardwick's amended complaint does not support a claim of Auriemma being an aider or abettor.

Auriemma is also questioning how Hardwick being assigned to security detail for the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team can fall under the category of  "significantly diminished material responsibilities."


Thursday, February 21, 2013

UConn commit eyes state title

Courtney Ekmark, the only member of the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn, didn't have her best shooting performance but she did score 28 points as St. Mary's advanced to the Arizona Division I state championship game with a 74-55 win over Hamilton on Thursday.

Ekmark was just 10 of 26 from the field including 2 of 15 from 3-point range but she did help St. Mary's advance to Saturday's championship game where they will face Pinnacle which is the last Arizona team to beat St. Mary's


Impressive end to today's practice

The last few practices I have attended at Gampel Pavilion have come to an end simply because the allotted time had expired and not because the UConn starting unit performed at such a high level that head coach Geno Auriemma thought it was the appropriate time to call it a day.

However, there was something a little different about what I witnessed and heard on Thursday. It actually started before we were allowed into the court to catch the final 30 minutes of practice. I heard more on-court chatter than I had perhaps all season long. Then there was a crispness when the UConn starters worked on the half-court offense.

The final play of the afternoon was a thing of beauty as Caroline Doty took a couple dribbles straight ahead before dishing the ball off to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Mosqueda-Lewis threw to ball to Stefanie Dolson in the high post who then got it to Bria Hartley on the left side of the court. Hartley dribbled to the middle of the court and then made a perfect pass to Kelly Faris in the left corner. Faris' wide open 3-pointer rattled in and Auriemma had a question for his team.

"Who called that play?" Auriemma demanded to know. The five starters were afraid to answer so he repeated his inquiry. Finally Dolson meekly raised her hand and said "we ran it before."

Figuring she would get reprimanded for going off script, the opposite actually happened.

"I know you ran it before. You should coach the team because that was good."

Following practice Auriemma explained why he was so thrilled with what he saw.

"The best players that play and the best teams that play are teams that can always do two things very well, they can take direction and only have to see things once or twice and they've got and they can also think for themselves," Auriemma said. "When you have a bunch of young guys playing all they want is direction over and over and over and over again. The problem is that when you are out there playing, it is not like football when there is a stoppage of play after every possession that you can give them direction so today's practice was a little more about thinking on the fly and making decisions and making sure we are all on board, we are
all on the same page because there is some stuff that happened Monday that I was scratching my head and so where the other coaches 'where the hell did this come from' and that is because nobody wants to take some direction, take some ownership out on the floor, say 'I've got it, let's go' so little by little hopefully it improves."

The tone for practice was set by senior Kelly Faris who made a simple request that her teammates work through practice together no matter how much Auriemma might rip into them.

"I think it was a step in the right direction for all of us on the floor especially with our starting five," UConn junior guard Bria Hartley said. "We have pretty experienced players so we should know and I think we do know what to bring, what works best and to be honest w should know it better than the coaches do because we are the ones out there doing it. It was good that we all had input on the play that we ran. I think it says a lot because when you are in games, big games like Baylor, a sold-out arena it is hard to hear. In the two Final Fours I have played in, I have experienced that so you have to go out there and make the right play if you can't communicate and then if you don't agree with what Coach, you have to show him something different and say 'hey, Coach we need to run this.'

"It was a step in the right direction and it can help with our team unity. At times instead of being on the court and work together, we kind of tried to do it individually and that is not going to work in a team sport like this. I think it is good that no matter what, it was like what Kelly said at the beginning of practice that no matter what challenges Coach gives me, we need to make sure we are a cohesive group and that is what we focused on today. That is what you saw today when we were able to come up with those plays."

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Breanna Stewart hoping to think less, play more

Breanna Stewart isn't lacking for people offering helpful hints or giving the talented UConn freshman unsolicited advice to get her out of her current on-court funk. However, Stewart admitted that any adjustments that need to be made need to start with the person who knows her the best - herself.

"I seem to be getting a lot of encouragement, oh my gosh," Stewart said with a laugh. "But  talking to my dad, he is somebody he is always there for me so he is somebody I can talk to about it and help me get out of it as well.

"I am not going to say it is too much (feedback) because I appreciate people's support but there are only a few people who are going to be able to help me figure out and I am going to have it figure it out because I know myself best."
Stewart had played at least 17 minutes in her first 24 games but found herself limited to seven uneventful minutes in Monday's loss to Baylor. She missed both of her field-goal attempts and failed to register a point or a rebound, a first for her since arriving at UConn.

"I think maybe I was worrying about things too much and sometimes when you do that, it doesn't help you," Stewart said. "I think that is something I am really holding onto is  knowing what I can do. I think if it was something that was unreachable or something like that and I wasn't that type of player than it would be different. Being in this situation before, I know I can do it so it is something that is just helping me
"Obviously I feel like I let my team down because not playing well and not helping the team as much as I can. You want to try to play through those things but obviously a big game like that, there is only o so many minutes in the game and you kind of run out of time."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't in much of a mood to address the short-term playing time of Stewart.

"There is really not much you can say because when you struggle like she has struggled, searching as much as she is searching it is hard to come in here every day and walk around like you have the whole world in the palm of your hand so it is going to take a while so hopefully little by little (it will come back)," Auriemma said. "We can't worry about Breanna Stewart right now, we have games to win Saturday and Tuesday, we have two next weekend and we can't worry about Breanna Stewart. Breanna Stewart has got to take care of Breanna Stewart and I have to make sure I am doing the right thing for the rest of the team."

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Connecticut Sun sign three players

The Connecticut Sun signed Natasha Lacy, Ashley Walker and Latoya Williams to training camp contracts.

Lacy scored 12 points and six assists in an exhibition game against the Sun last season and also had nine points in a regular-season game against the Sun during the 2012 season. She played with Good Angels Kosice in Slovakia in the EuroLeague during the winter where she averaged 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. In the first game of the EuroLeague playoffs she had four points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals to help Good Angels Kosice defeat Perfurmerias Avenida 82-68.

The 5-foot-10 Lacy has played in 65 games with three different teams over the last three seasons.

Walker is a 6-foot-1 forward was the 12th overall pick in the 2009 WNBA draft. She played 13 games for Seattle  during the 2009 season and two games with Tulsa in 2010.

Willliams is a 6-foot-4 center who has plenty of experience playing overseas. She was sixth in the EuroLeague with four double-doubles and averaged 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds for Novi Zagreb but her team did not qualify for the playoffs.

Chong scores 30 in playoff win

UConn signee Saniya Chong, seen driving against current
UConn freshman Moriah Jefferson during 2012 U-18 trials,
had her 45th career 30-point game last night for Ossining.
It was just another day at the office for UConn incoming freshman Saniya Chong who had 30 points, six rebounds, six steals and season-high five blocked shots to lead Ossining to a 94-49 win over Scarsdale in the second round of the New York AA Section 1 tournament.

The win, which was the 350th of Ossining coach Dan Ricci's career, advances Ossining to the semifinals against Ursuline a week from today at the Westchester County Center.

Chong, a 5-foot-9 guard, is averaging 35.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 4.2 steals and 2.1 blocked shots per game as a senior.

Chong's future UConn teammate Courtney Ekmark is back in action in the Arizona Division I state tournament when her top-seeded St. Mary's team plays No. 5 Hamilton at 8 p.m. The game will be live streamed on the site.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mosqueda-Lewis overcomes early fouls to record career game

When Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis got a little too aggressive in the pursuit of an offensive rebound and was whistled for a her second foul with 11:32 left in the first half, the general consensus was that the Huskies' leading scorer would spend the rest of the half sitting on the bench.

However, the UConn coaches never flinched and they kept her on the court. Nearly two minutes passes before she was reluctantly pulled from the game with 9:37 left in the opening half.  Perhaps she would have stayed on the sidelines had senior Kelly Faris not been whistled for her second foul just 62 seconds after Mosqueda-Lewis came out of the game.

Following a television timeout the Huskies hierarchy rolled the dice and reinserted Mosqueda-Lewis back in the game. Although she came perilously close to picking up her second foul while blocking a pair of shots, Mosqueda-Lewis would only be called for one more foul for the rest of the game.

"He (Auriemma) told me to be careful, other coaches told me to make sure you are playing smart and I told them that I would," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I guess since he did keep me in, he trusted me right then. Luckily I didn't get into too much foul trouble and tried to play smart."

Not only did Mosqueda-Lewis play smart, she played extremely well. Mosqueda-Lewis had 26 points (one shy of her career high) to go with 15 rebounds, two assists and three blocked.

Still, she was in no mood to celebrate in the game. She was on the verge of tears when meeting with the media about an hour after the game ended. She was especially disappointed that she attempted one shot in one stretch of 12:43 and that came when she grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 1.6 seconds remaining in the first half.

Mosqueda-Lewis is tiring of losing tight games to the nation's elite programs. In the two seasons she has been at UConn the Huskies are 1-6 against Baylor and Notre Dame with another game with the Fighting Irish just a couple of weeks away.

"Coach (Auriemma) has been telling us for the longest time that you can't change for a day and think that is going to fix everything," Mosqueda-Lewis said. You can't change in a week and think that is going to fix what is going to happen in a month. You have to make sure it is a conscious effort every single day and listen to those who try to help you and until we make that conscious effort every single day nothing is going to 

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UConn fails to seal the deal

It was all there for the taking.

UConn, spurred on by an energized sellout crowd, had the defending national champion Baylor squad on the ropes.

Brittney Griner, the reigning national player of year, was limited to four first-half points thanks to timely traps by the Huskies. Fellow All-American Odyssey Sims' only basket in the opening 20 minutes came when she raced by everybody for a transition layup.

UConn's national-leading defense certainly lived up to the advance billing and with 3 1/2 minutes the Huskies had a chance to build on a nine-point lead. Yet, when they needed to deliver the knockout punch, they were unable.

Rather than heading to the locker room at halftime with a double-digit lead, the Huskies needed a pair of late Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis free throws to go in with a slim three-point edge.

"I thought we were in control of the game for the whole first half until the last three minutes and it just goes to show you that against a really good team when mentally you make a couple of mistakes how quickly the game can change," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "As well as we played defensively and as well as we executed defensively, it should have been a 15-point game in the first half instead of a three-point game. That changes everything. We knew they weren't going to get 26 in the second half, that is not going to happen. I don't know that last three minutes was the deciding factor in the game but I think it was indicative of things that happened in various points in the game that decided the game."

Other than Griner's 21 second-half points, the statistics that jumped off the box score were the 18 UConn turnovers and 21 Baylor offensive rebounds. Auriemma seemed more distressed about the turnovers even if some of them were a result of the raveling happy officiating crew in the early stages of the game.

"It seemed like every turnover tonight was a bad one," Auriemma said. "Every time we threw it away, it was for a layup those are killer turnovers.  We knew we weren't going to make a lot of layups but there weren't many layup to  be had but we needed to shoot a better percentage. I thought it we shot 45 percent we would win the game but I wasn't counting on 18 really bad turnovers. The 21 offensive rebounds what are you going to do? You can't have it both ways. It is disappointing that  Kiah Stokes and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) are not ready to play in this game, that really, really (ticks) me off because that would eliminate some of those and that is just the fact of the matter. Either we have to get better at coaching them or they have to get better as players."

Auriemma said he doesn't have an explanation for Stewart's current funk but it was telling that he played the reigning national high school player of the year just seven minutes against Baylor.

"When you are a young player and you get stunned at some point during the season it takes a lot to recover," Auriemma said. "I don't know exactly when it happened but right now Breanna Stewart's mind is not going to let her be the kind of player that I think she can be. Maybe a month from now that changes right now it is not good up there and that is where it is. It is not good because there are things that she is struggling with on a regular basis so that gets into your head."

As good as Griner was, UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis may have been the best player on the court for long stretches of the game. Still, the sophomore star was in no mood to celebrate her individual brilliance.

"It seems like every big game we come into we get up and  we hit them in the mouth first but we come up short," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It's almost like the (other) team turns up the volume, it seems like. Unless we change the attitude or something we are going to keep getting the same result."

Mosqueda-Lewis was upset at herself for not attempting her first shot in the second half until there was 10:45 remaining. Still, she finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds.

Next up for Auriemma is a recruiting trip to South Carolina.

Auriemma is expected to be in attendance when top high school junior A’ja Wilson leads Heathwood Hall against Ben Lippen in the second round of the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA tournament on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Jefferson excited to see old friends

Even when it was evident to Moriah Jefferson’s closest friends that her heart was set on heading to UConn, she was getting the unsolicited advice that she should stay home and suit for Baylor.The Lady Bears had done so well securing commitments from the DFW Elite program that Jefferson played for and with a couple of years to study under All-American point guard Odyssey Sims, Jefferson would be walking into a great situation.

However, Jefferson knew that the best decision for her was to leave home and become the first Texas native to play for the Huskies.

“You had that (banter) during the whole recruiting process, Baylor and UConn,” Jefferson said with a laugh.
“I grew up close to them and played for the same (AAU) team and played against each other during AAU season so I pretty much know everybody on the team.”

Jefferson had some midseason struggled and she played fewer than 10 minutes six times in a 12-game span but she headed into Monday night’s showdown with Baylor she had played at least 20 minutes in a career-high four straight games. She made the UConn coaches look good by scoring in double digits in back to back games for the first time.

“It has helped a lot especially getting some shots in and getting some (confidence),” said Jefferson, who is averaging 4.4 points per game and is second on the team with 37 steals.

Sims was among the Baylor players that Jefferson was able to get to know through her AAU experiences and she was excited about the chance to square off against the Lady Bears’ star point guard.

“Any time you can play against a great player like Odyssey Sims, it is a great challenge,” Jefferson said. “I played with her too, we went back and forth in practices so any time you get a challenge like that, it is a great opportunity.”


Dolson hopes she has learned her lesson

On the list of Stefanie Dolson's "must-see episodes" in the last couple of days was not one of the current hit television shows or one of the most popular movies in the theater.

The viewing period was quite the painful one for UConn's starting center. She watched last year's loss at Baylor and could only cringe as she watched herself pick up a pair of fouls just 4:54 into the game. She remained in the game for an additional 70 seconds and even hit a basket during that time before taking a seat for the rest of the first half. Coming off a forgettable performance against Baylor as a freshman when she committed her first foul 38 seconds into the game and played a mere 12 minutes before fouling out, Dolson was determined to have more staying power in the rematch. Officially, she reached her goal, but in reality she was left with lingering feelings of what could have been.

Dolson engaged in a rigorous offseason conditioning program so she could be in the shape to have a bigger impact in games like the ones against the Lady Bears and their All-American Brittney Griner. She also worked on her mental game. Tired of committing fouls 90 feet away from the basket or being called for fouls setting screens, Dolson wanted to be a more mature, disciplined player now that she is an underclassmen.

In a few hours comes the greatest challenge she will have faced this season.

"I watched a couple clips of us versus Baylor last year and it was like 'why, why did you do it,'" Dolson said. "It is definitely just immaturity and I don't think being ready to play. I've made changes, I am going to make a few changes of how I prepare. My mentality, going in and being more confident on what kind of player I am, how my team is compared to the last two years and know that I have grown a lot and I am just ready for the challenge.

"It's a fun challenge. I am excited to go out there kind of prove myself to others than I am one of the best centers in the country. I am ready and I am excited."

The University of Connecticut is taking part in an online auction and all proceeds will benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.  The auction is live now through February 25.

Below is a list of what is available for auction.

Geno Auriemma Autographed Tie worn vs. Baylor
Geno Auriemma Autographed Tie worn vs. Rutgers
#5 Game Worn Jersey vs. Baylor
#14 Game Worn Jersey vs. Baylor
#23 Game Worn Jersey vs. Baylor
#31 Game Worn Jersey vs. Baylor
#34 Game Worn Jersey vs. Baylor
Courtside VIP Experience vs. Pittsburgh
Team Autographed Poster
Team Autographed Poster

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Let's get ready to rumble

Both UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Kim Mulkey, his Baylor counterpart, have followed the script pretty well in the last few days spouting propaganda about how tonight's clash at the XL Center means nothing in the quest of capturing their respective conference titles.

For the media, this is about as good as it gets. I'd be hard pressed to recall a more worthless string February games UConn has played in during 10-11 years I have covered the Huskies. Other than freshmen Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck starting to gain some confidence and Bria Hartley (before her 4-minute cameo against Rutgers) has shown flashes of returning to her pre-sprained ankle form. Other than that these games have had little benefit for the Huskies. It's no UConn's fault that this could be the worst season in Big East women's basketball in recent memory and teams like Villanova, DePaul, Marquette barely made the Huskies break a sweat. UConn's biggest challenge was trying to keep the score from getting even more out of hand than it already was.

Now comes a test against top-ranked Baylor and the possibilities are endless. I always find myself intrigued by how the coaches choose to attack the opposing team in colossal matchups like this one.

It's safe to say that Baylor's Brittney Griner and UConn's Stefanie Dolson will see plenty of each other and I fully expect Baylor defensive stopper Jordan Madden to draw the assignment on UConn's top scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Then it gets interesting. Does Kelly Faris start out on Odyssey Sims? I would say no and that Hartley gets her to start this. If that is the case, does Faris try to keep Brooklyn Pope off the offensive glass or does she try to prevent Kimetria Hayden from being the secondary playmaker?

One of the biggest questions is what UConn does with Caroline Doty? Her steady hand in the backcourt is often overlooked but she could struggle defensively to match up on either Madden or Hayden. Doty will need to have an aggressive mindset on offense and if she can hit a couple of early shots, she could have a chance to impact the game. If not, I'd have to think that freshmen Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart may need to eat up the minutes that typically go to Doty and that is especially true if UConn gets down early or gets beaten badly on the boards.

Stewart is also a major question mark. Saying she is in a bit of a funk right now would be a major understatement. Stewart is shooting 33.3 percent from the field in the last three games and is 0 for 7 from 3-point range over that span. I was among those who wrote stories saying that the arrival of Stewart and Tuck should benefit UConn when it faces Griner this year. Well now we will get to see if this is just idle chatter and nobody knows that more than Auriemma who said yesterday  "(Stewart) gets too fast. It is a blessing and a curse, she wants to be really good really fast and that is not going to happen that fast. If it did happen that fast and you would ask me how I would feel about (tonight), I'd feel a lot better." Stewart and Kiah Stokes have the length to make things difficult for Griner but they need to play with confidence.

I'm also very curious to see how the Huskies execute in the half-court offense. It should be noted that the Huskies are the highest scoring team in Division I (and also tops in scoring defense). But when things get difficult, UConn would often look to get the ball to Stefanie Dolson in the lane. With the menacing shot-blocking presence of Griner looming, that can't be the bail-out option. Perhaps even more important is that Baylor's three top perimeter players (Sims, Hayden and Madden) were all in the top 20 nationally in assist/turnover ratio in the most recent NCAA statistical database so it will not be easy to get free points. If UConn's offense bogs down against Notre Dame, what will it do when trying to find room to operate against Griner? A year ago UConn did a nice job early on of moving the ball from side to side to somewhat minimize Griner's ability to disrupt the offense and that has to be a point of emphasis today. Dolson has the range to step out on the perimeter and draw out Griner and she is a top-notch passer so the Huskies have the pieces in place to attack Baylor.

More than a few eyes will be on Hartley. She was still coughing a bit in yesterday's practice and if she is not 100 percent, that won't help the Huskies. Hartley has been a big-game player from the second she stepped on the court. Hartley was just starting to look like the player who earned All-American honors as a sophomore before getting sick. Hartley will need to not only be strong defensively but also make some shots.

It should be a fun one.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Duke's Chelsea Gray goes down with knee injury

While I didn't see the play in question, I noticed on Twitter that Duke's star point guard Chelsea Gray went down with a knee injury in Sunday's win over Wake Forest.

After the game Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie addressed Gray's situation.

"We will find out after the MRI. It’s been dislocated and team doctors can’t see right now whether there is any ligament damage. We do know she will be out for the rest of the regular season regardless of what the MRI shows. The best thing we can hope for is a dislocation, which would allow her to be back by a defined period of time.”

Although Gray struggled against UConn, she is one of the nation's best players and it would be an incredibly devastating blow to a Duke team very capable at making a run at the Final Four.

UConn coaches to receive Olympic rings at Pittsburgh game

There is a ceremony set up on Feb. 26 for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team, as well as associate head coach Chris Dailey, assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph and video coordinator Keith Anderson to receive Olympic rings. Also, Bria Hartley will be recognized for being a member of the winning 3x3 World Cup squad while U-18 team members Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart will also be honored.

Former UConn stars Swin Cash (pictured at right with Tamika Catchings) and Maya Moore (right) received their rings last night as they took part in NBA All-Star game weekend.

Courtesy of the wonderful folks at USA Basketball, here are quotes from Cash and Moore.

"It’s awesome, awesome and awesome again," Cash said. "The fact that it’s gold and has the diamonds in it, it symbolizes exactly what the gold medal was about. I love it. It’s nice and classy …  sleek."

"What a special way to get the ring," Moore said. "In front of all the basketball fans and just to see everybody’s faces again. It was a really special moment."

Bria Hartley said she is feeling better

Shortly after I entered the court to catch the end of today's practice, I could hear UConn junior guard Bria Hartley coughing just a little bit so obviously she is still dealing with a bit of illness. However, Hartley said she is feeling much better and UConn coach Geno Auriemma said she looked good at today's practice.

"There is nothing yo can do about it (being sick)," Hartley said. "You just have to go out and push yourself as hard as I can. I definitely feel a lot better today than I did the last couple of days."

Hartley was expecting to go back into the game even after she was told Moriah Jefferson was starting the second half but Geno Auriemma opted not to put her back in.

"At practice on Friday she was really bad physically, she was just bad," Auriemma said. "She was all stuffed up, coughing and hacking and it was bad. We went out to dinner Friday night and it was no better, it was really bad. At shootaround Saturday it wasn't any better. I told her you are either going to try to play through this or you are not playing. She gave it a little bit of a go and I could tell by her body language that it wasn't worth it. She was really good today."

Gampel Pavilion was nearly empty when we came in except for UConn AD Warde Manuel, Nike rep Lauren Westendorf and some other noticeable onlookers in the form of highly-rated high school juniors Sierra Calhoun out of Christ the King and Kathryn Westbeld out of Fairmont High in Kettering, Ohio.

Also, Ossining (N.Y.) coach Dan Ricci said UConn signee Saniya Chong, talented eighth grader Andra Espinoza-Hunter will be in attendance at tomorrow's game.

Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 forward who is averaging 14.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 71.8 percent from the field will also take in the Baylor game. Her Fairmont team has only lost one game this year and it happened to be the one Auriemma went to see her play.

Fairmont is the top seed in the OHSAA Division I tournament's Harrison 3 bracket and will play the winner of tomorrow's Vandalia Butler/Piqua game on Thursday.

Also, there is a chance Calhoun could be back for the game but we'll have to see if that is the case tomorrow night.

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