Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bria Hartley excited to meet up with ex-AAU teammate

Other than when they are vying for a spot in the Final Four, Bria Hartley considers Kentucky guard Jennifer O'Neill to be one of her closest friends.

However, the two former AAU teammates have not had any communication over the last few days they have been at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena.

“We saw each other but it was kind of like 'hey Jen, hey Bria,'” O’Neill said. “It was kind of like she was going to her game and I was going back to the locker room.”

Perhaps they will exchange a quick hug before the game but after that, the friendship will be put aside for a couple of hours.

“Off the court we are fine but on the court we are competitive, it is business,” Hartley said.

It’s safe to say they will see plenty of each other on Monday night as they lead their teams into the Elite Eight.

O’Neill is coming off a 19-point effort in the regional semifinal victory over Delaware and is one of three double digit scorers for the Wildcats. Ironically, two of those three did not play when the teams met in the Elite Eight a year ago. O’Neill was out for the season with a foot injury while DeNesha Stallworth had to sit out after transferring from California.

Hartley knows O’Neill will be trying to make up for lost time after missing what would have been her sophomore season.

“I am sure it was really hard for her because I know more than anything she wants to be out there on the court and it was unfortunate that she couldn't,” Hartley said.

Hartley and O’Neill were two of the best guards in the state of New York. They shared a trainer and it was only a matter of time before they took the court together. The powerhouse Exodus AAU program was the place with their two phenoms joined forces.

“She was always a threat, people would always (key) on her,” O’Neill said. “She is a great teammate, always talking to people, encouraging them. She can shoot the ball really well, quick off the bounce and explosive in transition. I loved playing with her in AAU.”

Hartley’s first recollections of O’Neill came when she was on the opposing teams in either scheduled or impromptu games.

“I saw her play and started playing with her after my freshman year,” Hartley said. “I think it was the summer after my freshman year when I started to go play with her. Even though I didn't play with her (before that); I played against her and I saw her play around the city.

“I loved playing with her, she is one of my closest friends and I know we really complemented each other when she was on the court. We were both quick, shifty guards and we really worked well together. We had the same competitive nature; we worked out together so we were really familiar with one another when we were on the court so it worked in our favor.”


Dolson doesn't plan on letting injuries slow her down

Not really much new to report on the ailing feet, ankles, legs and knees of junior center Stefanie Dolson as for the third straight day she shrugged off any potential issues due to the pain she is currently dealing with.

Dolson said she is feeling better today and doesn't plan on letting these ailments keep her from taking the court against Kentucky.

"Our athletic trainer (Rosemary) gave me a lot of treatments last night," Dolson said. "I am just working to make it better and fight through practices and games.

"I only have one more year and we have a great chance after this or going far. I am not going to hold anything back, however hurt or in pain I am in, it is not going to faze me."


String of minor injuries have tested UConn's depth and resolve

You know it's been a long season when a head coach is asked questions about the workload that the squad's athletic trainer has needed to endure.

Such was the case as Geno Auriemma met with the reporters in between his official off day press conference and a scheduled radio interview.

Stefanie Dolson, dealing with some issues in her legs, feet, ankles and knees, is the latest player added to the injury list.

When you go down the roster, the only UConn player who has physically been able to practice every day this season is senior reserve forward/center Heather Buck and even she missed practices due to the clinicals that she is required to attend as a nursing major.

"It has just been a 24 hour a day job for her and the her whole staff, mostly for her," Auriemma said. "It is just non-stop. It started on Oct. 15 and just hasn't stopped, then you throw in Brianna Banks (who suffered a season-ending torn ACL) and that is three hours of rehab every day so you put that plus everybody else, she (UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle) deserves everything she is getting paid and is woefully underpaid as are most of the athletic trainers in the country."

I asked Auriemma that if UConn is able to have the full use of the rest of the Huskies for the remainder of the NCAA tournament would he consider nominating Ragle for a Huskies of Honor spot.

"Depends on how she gets everybody through the next game and if we win tomorrow and everybody is healthy beyond it will be a miracle," Auriemma said. "There is the ongoing Caroline one, there was the Stewie out for two weeks or a week, there was Stefanie, Kelly with the boot on her foot, Kaleena missing time, Morgan Tuck didn't practice regularly until three weeks, four weeks ago, Kiah Stokes got an MRI on her back about a week ago but look at Maryland's team, they had it worse than we did so there is no feeling sorry for yourself because everybody has had their issues all season long."

Dolson said she is feeling better and merely has to fight through whatever pain she is feeling which is not too different from what she said yesterday or the day before.

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Kentucky strikes recruiting paydirt in UConn territory

As the Kentucky players made their way onto the dais for the off day press conference, I couldn't help but be struck that one of the Wildcats' five starters is Bronx native Jennifer O'Neill and a couple seats away sat fellow guard Kastine Evans, the pride and joy of Salem, Connecticut.

I asked Mitchell whether recruiting in the Northeast is a priority of whether lightning merely struck twice. His answer was just spectacular and a blog writer's dream.

"People were mesmerized by my accent and really want to come down and listen to this all day," Mitchell deadpanned. "I know you guys are really enjoying this right now. That is a big advantage right now.

"What we were looking for when we got those two kids, Kastine and Jennifer, we just wanted people who wanted to come to Kentucky and I had a real tradition view of recruiting coming from the Coach (Pat) Summitt school. When I was at Tennessee we had real big 5's (centers) and real athletic power forwards and you just go down the line. When I got to Kentucky, we just weren't having any luck recruiting that way. I finally said the heck with it and the first No. 1 requirement for us is somebody who actually believes in what we are doing here and believes that Kentucky can be special. I don't care what position they play, just get me those kids.

"Kastine, I just tell you that it was God working there. I don't know how in the world we ended up with a kid from Salem, Connecticut at Kentucky but we did. It was a really unusual recruiting process and it worked out for us so I think there was a little bit of Providence there that led her to Kentucky and she has been exactly what we have wanted a Kentucky basketball player to be.

"With Jennifer, Jennifer was sort of different. She kind of came on the scene as far as being a top player, if there are 22 or 24 McDonald's All-Americans maybe she was No. 24.She wasn't this dynamite player that everybody was knocking the door down so I think we got fortunate there to and we had some good relationships up in this area and people believed in what we are trying to do. Right now I am real grateful to those kids because it proves that we are not out in the middle of the sticks and we are not just some school that only Southern players can comer to, it is really a place where you are from, it matters who you are and who you want to become and that is what we want to be about at Kentucky is helping people get on the pathway to being their best. That is what we do and I am real fortunate for those kids. If we find some more in this area, if that is the right kind of kid in Kentucky that is what we will do."

One championship run ends for the Tuck sisters

On a day when Morgan Tuck helped UConn advance to its eighth straight NCAA regional final, the sophomore season of her sister Taylor came to an end.

Taylor Tuck's Illinois squad fell to Kansas State 66-48 in the WNIT quarterfinals.

Even with the loss, it was a remarkable turnaround season for the Fighting Illini who finished with a 19-14 record after going 11-19 during Tuck's freshman season.

"Taylor's team, they made a big turnaround from last year so them being in the WNIT is a big improvement from last year," Morgan Tuck said.

Taylor Tuck played 10 minutes, missed her only field-goal attempt but did record a steal in Saturday's loss. She averaged 4.5 points and 2.7 rebounds and had 28 assists, 30 steals and seven blocked shots while playing in all 33 games as a sophomore after managing a total of 16 points, nine rebounds and six steals as a freshman.

Tuck's role could increase next season with the graduation of Illinois' top two scorers Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Freshmen deliver for Huskies

It hasn't always been the smoothest of rides for the highly-touted UConn freshman class but it certainly does appear they have figured it out just in the nick of time.

They obviously had a major impact on Saturday's 76-50 victory over Maryland combining for 35 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots. The 35 points were the fourth most for a Connecticut freshman class in the NCAA tournament and most since Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Willnett Crockett combined for 38 in the 2003 NCAA opener. THe trio of Tamika Williams (19), Asjha Jones (12) and Swin Cash (8) combined for 39 points versus Xavier in 1999 and in a 1994 loss to North Carolina, Kara Wolters had 23 of the 36 points scored by UConn's freshmen.

"I think definitely this is our time, we want to make sure our teammates can rely on us and we can go out and make a difference on the court," Stewart said.

Stewart started against Maryland as she did against Vanderbilt while Jefferson's strong first half earned her the starting nod for the second half and Tuck was her normal reliable self in a reserve role.

"They didn't play like freshmen at all, they came out in the second half, were confident and were ready to play and did what they needed to do," UConn junior center Stefanie Dolsoin said. "Moriah came out and did
what great point guards do, Breanna Stewart came out and got rebounds, blocks while Tuck , they all played great and I am proud of them."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma admitted that there were times this season when he wondered if the freshman would ever come around after an up and down season for the trio.

"Shea has been unbelievably relentless on Moriah on what we have to do," Auriemma said. "CD and Marisa have been relentless on Stewie and Morgan and some days you look up in the sky and why aren't we making any progress? Why can't I get through to these guys and all of a sudden a night like tonight makes it all your hard work pay off and you feel  a real sense of accomplishment that 'wow, we helped these guys get to this point.'"

While Geno Auriemma always wants to be there backing his players when he feels it is appropriate, he apologized to the team after getting a technical with 7.5 seconds left in the first half after a non-call on a Kelly Faris layup attempt.

Alyssa Thomas made one of the two free throws and then Tianna Hawkins made a jumper in what proved to be a five-point swing and allowed Maryland to go into halftime only down by nine.

Auriemma was asked after the game what was going through his mind as he was whistled for the T.

"Obviously nothing," Auriemma said. "I thought the call was unbelievable. Those two free throws that Kelly makes puts us by (14) so you don't get the two free throws and I give them four points (actually three), there wasn't anything going through my head when I got the technical. After the technical, I am 59 years old and you are just as stupid as you are when you are 29. You are just a (dummy). I felt like a 12 year who got caught doing something they weren't supposed to do. I told the players that there is no excuse for that."

It did not come back to bite Auriemma as the Huskies opened the second half by scoring the first nine points.

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Geno Auriemma was high on Ohio State's wish list

Ohio State is one of the plum women's basketball jobs to come out in the last few years and after firing Jim Foster, the hierarchy in Columbus were aiming high.

According to sources, a call was placed to UConn coach Geno Auriemma to gauge his interest in the job. With Auriemma having just signed one of his best recruiting classes in years in current freshmen Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck and having just turned 59, it was a long shot that Auriemma would leave what he has built at UConn. Add in the fact that Foster is the coach who gave Auriemma his first women's basketball gig when he hired Auriemma to be an assistant coach at Saint Joseph's which a source indicated that Auriemma mentioned when he was approached about his interest in Ohio State. Auriemma was never presented with a formal offer to take the Ohio State job.

Ironically, the interest from Ohio State came as the final details were being ironed out on Auriemma's new five-year $10.8 million contract which was announced on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night Auriemma addressed the rarity of spending more than three decades as a head coach at the same school which will be the case as he would have coached at UConn for 33 seasons if he were to serve out the entirety of the new contract.

"I don't think anybody thinks that far ahead," Auriemma said. "I think there comes a point in every coach's life where they seriously consider making a move, maybe it is early in their career when the grass is greener on the other side and the lights are brighter and maybe it is in the middle of your career where that is your last shot at it or it is at the end of your career when I have had enough of the pressure, I have had enough of the grind so to have lasted 28 years at the same place doesn't happen much anymore and I certainly didn't come up here my first year and think 'yeah, I am going to be here for the rest of my life.' That was just never a part of it."

Foster coached at Ohio State for 11 seasons, going 279-82. He won six Big Ten regular-season championships and four Big Ten tournament titles. However, Ohio State perennially underachieved in the NCAA tournament including posting an 0-3 mark in the Sweet 16.

The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. has reported that South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is one of three candidates being brought in for an interview.

UConn, Maryland to meet again early in 2013-14 season

While I do not have the exact date, Maryland coach Brenda Frese confirmed that next season's game against UConn will be the third game of the regular season which puts it into the middle of November.

"Obviously it should have tremendous buzz," Frese said. "To be able to play them at home, I expect our arena will be sold out and for us to play them a third time and to hopefully come back healthy and have a roster of 14. We hope that we can continue the series, that is why we did it. We felt like Connecticut has been the best team in the country consistently and to be able to play against them and compete against them is the next step for the program if you feel like you can get your team to that point."

The teams will look a little bit different as Tianna Hawkins is graduating for Maryland and Kelly Faris is one of the three seniors moving on at UConn. Still, both teams figure to be ranked in the top 10 and perhaps it could even be a top five showdown.

"It will be cool to play them, it is always good when we play Maryland," UConn sophomore forward and leading scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It will be a good test to see where we are at and it will be good to see where we are at."

UConn's latest recruit could do double duty

As luck would have it, former Amity High star Allison Barwise made the finals in the high jump in the 2012 Olympic trials so I made sure to tune in when the event was being televised. At the time one of the stories drawing the most attention was a teen named Gabby Williams putting on quite the show.

Williams, just weeks removed from the end of her sophomore season at Reed High in Sparks, Nev., soared over the bar at 6-2 3/4 en route to finishing fifth. Although she missed making the Olympic team by two spots.

Little did I know as I heard the announcers rave about Williams that just nine months later I would be writing about Williams as being the latest UConn basketball recruit.

Now the issue is whether Williams, a dynamic 5-11 junior guard, will play both sports at UConn.

She has been on the record as saying that she would not consider a school unless it lets her do both and that she wants to redshirt her sophomore season so she can focus all of her athletic energies to making the Olympic team.

When I spoke to Williams yesterday, she said she is not set on that previously reported scenario.

"I am still thinking about, I haven't decided," Williams said. "I still have plenty of times to figure it out."

UConn coaches are not allowed to comment on Williams until she signs her letter of intent in November but Williams said they are willing to allow her make that decision.

The last time I can recall a Husky play two sports was during the 1994-95 season when Jill Gelfenbein was a star goalkeeper on the women's soccer team. However, she was not a scholarship basketball player so this could be a little different.

With commitments from Williams and fellow perimeter players Courtey Ekmark and Sadie Edwards, obviously the focus will be on trying to secure commitments from inside players.

A'ja Wilson, a 6-foot-5 phenom out of Heathwood Hall in Columbia, S.C., is considered by many as the top player in the Class of 2014 and she is at the top of the Huskies' wish list. Kathryn Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 forward out to Ohio Division I state champion Fairmont, and Taylor Rooks, a 6-foot-1 forward for Gill St. Bernard's in Gladstone, N.J. have made unofficial visits to UConn and everything I've heard is that the Huskies are high on all three of them. Lexi Gussert, a 6-foot forward out of Forest Park HS in Crystal Falls, Mich. is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the class and she is very much on UConn's radar. Then there is Christ the King star Sierra Calhoun whose older brother Omar is a member of the UConn men's basketball team.

Former UConn recruits square off

                                                                                                                                                                       (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn recruit Elena Delle Donne has no regrets after leaving the Huskies to play for her home-state Delaware squad. Delle Donne recently scored her 3,000th career point and has Blue Hens in Sweet 16 for 1st time.

                                                 (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn forward Samarie Walker back in state
as member of Kentucky basketball squad.
Had things turned out differently, Elena Delle Donne and Samarie Walker would have been part of the same star-studded UConn lineup.

However, Delle Donne left after spending two days on campus in the summer of 2008 while Walker played 17 games for the Huskies during the 2010-11 before transferring.

Now their paths cross on a court in the state of Connecticut but not as members of the seven-time national champions but in the regional semifinal between Delaware and Kentucky at a sold out Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Both players would rather have talked about anything else when meeting with the media yesterday but knew that the questions were coming.

My colleagues Chris Hunn and Mary Albl caught up with the former top UConn recruits updating folks of Delle Donne's remarkable four years at Delaware and Walker's continued success at Kentucky.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tina Charles continues to give back

Former UConn star Tina Charles continues to display her philanthropic side.

A year after funding the building of a school in an African village, the reigning WNBA MVP has partnered with OmniPeace for another charitable endeavor as four scholarships have been awarded to girls in the Millennium Villages Project site, in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Look for more on the story when Tina arrives at Connecticut training camp.

Quest to be great leads to Gabby Williams' commitment

Even before she boarded a plane headed back to her Nevada home, Gabby Williams knew this was not going to be the last time she stepped foot in Connecticut.

The bond that she formed with the UConn players and coaches, the uptempo style of play and belief that she could be a part of national-championship contending teams made it clear that the junior guard at Reed High in Sparks, Nev. was destined to become a Husky.

Williams made it official on Friday as she became the third member of the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn.

"I really liked the atmosphere and the way they play," Williams said. "I just want to be a part of that legacy and that tradition. I met with everybody and they really took the time out to make sure I really saw all of UConn and I appreciate that.

"I knew right away that UConn was the place. I know my family was kind of sad that it was so far away but they are going to support me anyways. I know they want to see all my games but making choices like this, you have to be selfish. I think at Connecticut I can reach my potential, they are going to make me the best I can be."

Williams' dad Matt, who played collegiate basketball at Nevada-Reno, admitted that convincing him was a major obstacle to Gabby heading East.

"I am extremely surprised but after meeting with Geno (Auriemma) and his staff, there are no regrets," Matt Williams said. "There are regrets on my end as a father but like my daughter reminded me,  it is not about me because I wanted her closer to home. Between Stanford and Arizona State that is where I thought we were leaning and maybe I was pushing her a little bit.

"This is a young lady that could have dragged this process on. I think she is really excited. I think she was worried about what my thoughts would be. I told her I didn't want her to commit right after the visit because everybody is always in their honeymoon stage. She is ready to get rehabilitated and try to be one of the best players and athletes she can be."

Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in January and had surgery to repair a torn ACL six weeks ago.

"I am already walking and doing some stuff so probably around December considering that I want to do it the safe way," Gabby Williams said. "I will take the long recovery because I don't want to risk a re-tear right away, why come all that way just to re-tear. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Williams becomes the third member of the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn joining Courtney Ekmark out of Phoenix and Meriden's Sadie Edwards.

"I played (against) Courtney Ekmark before," Williams said. "I have seen her play before and it is really nice to have players that good next to me."

Not only is Williams considered to be one of the best basketball players in her class but she is a world-class high jumper who finished fifth in the event at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. She has been quoted as saying that she would like to redshirt during the 2015-16 season so she could concentrate on the pursuit of Olympic glory. That is an option she is still debating.

"I am still thinking about, I haven't decided," Williams said.

What she does know is that her experience in the Olympic trials is not one she will soon forget.

"It was really surreal and humbling just to see I am not competing with the best athletes at my age, I am competing with the best athletes in the world and the nation," Williams said. "It was real eye-opening and a great experience, I learned a lot."

Father of latest UConn commit gives his blessin

Matt Williams, a former basketball player at Nevada-Reno, admitted that he was perhaps the last obstacle before his daughter Gabby could commit to UConn.

Williams thought that locations like Stanford or Arizona State would be ideal for her considering the proximity. But with Gabby's heart set on going to UConn after she made an unofficial to the campus earlier this week, she was able to get the blessing from her father and committed to the Huskies on Friday.

"I am extremely surprised but after meeting with Geno and his staff, there are no regrets," Williams said. "There are regrets on my end as a father but like my daughter reminded me, it is not about me because I wanted her closer to home. Between Stanford and Arizona State that is where I thought we were leaning and maybe I was pushing her a little bit.

"She said 'I want to be the best and be with the best, I want to win national championships and I felt that this staff can get me some national championships.'

"This is a young lady that could have dragged this process on. I think she is really excited. I think she was worried about what my thoughts would be and I told her I didn't want her to commit right after the visit because everybody is always in their honeymoon stage. She is ready to get (her torn ACL) rehabilitated and try to be one of the best players and athletes she can be."


Report: Gabby Williams commits to UConn

Gabby Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard out of Reed High in Sparks, Nev., has committed to UConn according to a tweet by Bret McCormick of the All Star Girls Report.

Williams made an unofficial visit to UConn earlier this week and was in attendance at UConn's second-round game against Vanderbilt.

Williams was averaging 30 points and 11 rebounds heading into a January game where she suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Williams is one of the country's top high jumpers who finished fifth in the event at the 2012 Olympic trials.

Young post players could decide outcome of UConn/Maryland game

Maryland's Tianna Hawkins is a self-made player who has put herself in position to be a possible lottery pick in next month's WNBA draft while UConn's Stefanie Dolson will likely be one of the first post players off the board in the 2014 draft.

However, it could be some of the dynamic post players younger teammates who ultimately make the difference in tomorrow's Sweet 16 game.

UConn's Breanna Stewart could be in line to make her 11th career start or perhaps the UConn coaching staff will go with classmate Morgan Tuck or sophomore to try to match up with the Terrapins' towering front line. Meanwhile, freshman Malina Howard is the only healthy reserve over 6-feet tall.

With a trip in the regional final on the line, there can be no time for rookie jitters.

There certainly has been ample opportunities for UConn's young post players to get into a groove as Dolson has practiced on a limited basis due to issues with her right ankle and left foot.

"We talked to the post coaches and they were  telling us how Stef was not going to be in practice so we had to really step up," Stewart said.

When the teams met on Dec. 3 in Hartford, Stokes and Tuck combined to play just 15 minutes and they finished with a total of two points and four rebounds.

"Maryland is a physical team and Stef is our main post option right now but with me, Stewie and Tuck we really have to get our act together to help out because she can't do it by herself," Stokes said.

The promising sign is that Stewart, Stokes and Tuck have had impressive practices leading into tomorrow's game.

"They have had to step up and they have gotten more reps," UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley said. "Stef is such an integral part of what we do that I think those guys know how much we rely on her and how much we need them as well so I think they really have stepped up. Obviously Stewie and Morgan as freshmen have really given us some big minutes especially for their first time (in the NCAA tournament) and Kiah always seems to finish strong. She may be up and down during the season but she has finished well in the last couple of years.

"For Stewie, the first time we played Maryland it was our first ACC game and second game (against a ranked team). I think having gone through 34 games with us and knowing what the expectation of what they could do and really the Big East tournament for  both of them they kind of came into their own a little bit. I think they have come out somewhat and maybe they continue to come out and I think it is just going to be a team effort offensively and defensively."

Howard, a one-time UConn recruiting target, was held scoreless against UConn during the regular season although she did have six rebounds in 15 minutes.

"We have gone through so many injuries and it was our first game without Laurin (Mincy) so I think was definitely a learning experience for us and it was the beginning of the freshman year and I was learning how physical the college game is," Howard said. "Now I have some great teammates and great coaches who taught me along the way to realize how physical it is and how to play the physical aspect of the game."

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Dolson vows to be ready

Whether it is her ankle or foot, there is not a day that goes by that UConn junior center Stefanie Dolson doesn't get reminded what a long grind this season has been. But, despite being limited or held out entirely of practices more often than not in the last couple of week, Dolson said she is ready to roll for tomorrow's Sweet 16 game against a physical Maryland team.

"I am OK and ready for the game," Dolson said. "It is something that I am not going to use as an excuse if I play poorly in the game. It is not really in my mind right now. The only thing that can get somebody down is feeling sorry if they are hurt and that is definitely not me. 

"It is a new thing but I think I am going through it pretty well, just trying to push through. It's gong to be be tough but I think I am ready for it. I am preparing for it, have been preparing for it. It is going to be tough with Hawkins and DeVaughn down there, they are two really great, tough players but I think I am ready."


Maryland a rugged test for Huskies; Geno dishes on Delle Done

UConn coach Geno Auriemma knows that the NCAA selection committee didn't do his team any favors by making a physical Maryland team the No. 4 seed in the Bridgeport region.

Auriemma considered the Dec. 3 game against the Terrapins as one of the most physical games the Huskies have played this season and he is expecting more of the game in tomorrow's Sweet 16 game.

"I think this is one of the more difficult first-round games tomorrow among the regionals and the other game, you have really good players on every team and I am sure every region has their own but I don't know if anybody has more than what exists here," Auriemma said. "Kentucky is back again, Maryland is in it again and I think when you have this many teams who are traditionally in this situation, it is because they have really good players.

"One of the things that makes tomorrow interesting is that Alyssa Thomas is a really good passer. You look at some teams and their leading scorer can't pass and they are teams you love to play against because you know that kid is going to shoot the ball every time she touches it. What makes her difficult is when you trap her, she finds people and sometimes that is worse than letting her shoot the ball."

There are some people who love to ponder just what might have been had former UConn signee Elena Delle Donne opted to spend four seasons with the Huskies.

Auriemma and the folks at UConn have moved on after Delle Donne's to leave UConn after just two days back in 2008 to enroll and play at her home state University of Delaware.

Delle Donne scored more than 3,000 points and led the Blue Hens to their first Sweet 16 appearance where they will face Kentucky tomorrow at noon.

He was asked a couple questions about Delle Donne in Friday's press conference.

"It is hard not to follow when a team such as Delaware that is a mid-major program playing in their own little world down there all of a sudden becomes a national program because some of the teams that they beat, naturally you take notice of it," Auriemma said. "But the fact that so few of their games have been on national television and we have never really had a chance to play them or anybody they have played so I haven't really seen that much of them on film so all I can go by is what I hear, what people tell me but in terms of actually sitting down and watching I really can't comment on how much or what has changed in Elena's game or how she has impacted the game but I would say that there has been a huge chance in maybe her approach the game in that she is able to take on that responsibility with that kind of God-given talent.

"The object of going to college is to find out a little bit of who you can become. If that happens, it is a good four years or five years in her case. Whether it is at Connecticut, Delaware or Maryland or Kentucky it doesn't matter. When kids go to college and it turns out right, they have enjoyed the experience and grown up a lot, that is the whole point. When you are recruiting somebody and they decide to come to Connecticut, you hope that is what you can do for them and that is what they can do for themselves. When they go some place else, at least you know you are recruiting the right type of kids. If the kid doesn't go to Connecticut, goes somewhere else and is a failure then you were going down the wrong path anyways. I am happy for her and her family and I am glad we can still identify talent even at this old age."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bridgeport regional officially a sellout

Organizers announced that the Bridgeport regional semifinals are offically sold out.

Here is the release

The two semifinal games of the 2013 NCAA Division Women’s Basketball Bridgeport Regional, which will be held Saturday, Mar. 30 at the Webster Bank Arena, are officially sold out.

“Great news on the sellout of the NCAA Women's Basketball Regional on Saturday afternoon and the strong sales for Monday night," MAAC Commissioner Richard J. Ensor noted. “It seems reflective of the strong field of teams, favorable game times and the sales efforts of the Bridgeport local organizing committee, including the staffs of the Webster Bank Arena, Fairfield University and the MAAC.”

In addition, the building is near capacity for the regional final game on Monday, Apr. 1.  The 2013 NCAA Division Women’s Basketball Bridgeport Regional is co-hosted by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Fairfield University.

“We are excited to have a full house at Webster Bank Arena on Saturday afternoon for the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship,” said Eugene P. Doris, Director of Athletics at Fairfield University.  “To have a sellout, 48 hours in advance of the games, is a tremendous display of the region’s support for college athletics and we are proud to partner with MAAC and Webster Bank on this prestigious event.”

The regional semifinals on Saturday will feature No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 6 Delaware tipping-off at noon, followed by No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 4 Maryland at approximately 2:30 p.m. Monday’s regional final is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Geno Auriemma reacts to signing five-year contract

On the day that he signed a five-year $10.8 million contract which will keep him in place as UConn women's basketball coach until the 2017-18 season, Geno Auriemma could help but be a tad bit reflective about what a wild ride it has been.

When he accepted the UConn job back in 1985 when he was a well-respected assistant coach at Virginia, he could barely contain his enthusiasm at a bump in salary.

"When I shook hands with (former UConn AD) John Toner and I went back to the office and his secretary gave me a one-page (contract) and it was very simple, it said 'Geno Auriemma is going to be the head coach at the University of Connecticut for five years at a salary of 29 (thousand) and change and that was a huge step up from what I was making at Virginia, I thought I hit the lottery. You do the absolute best you can and you keep your fingers crossed and that is kind of what happened."

Now he is one of the most well-paid coaches in women's athletics and considering that he will be 64 at the time the contract expires, it figures to be the final contract of his Hall of Fame coaching career.

"I don't think anybody thinks that far ahead," Auriemma said. "I think there comes a point in every coach's life where they seriously consider making a move, maybe it is early in their career when the grass is greener on the other side and the lights are brighter and maybe it is in the middle of your career where that is your last shot at it or it is at the end of your career when I have had enough of the pressure, I have had enough of the grind so to have lasted 28 years at the same place doesn't happen much anymore and I certainly didn't come up here my first year and think 'yeah, I am going to be here for the rest of my life.' That was just never a part of it."

Auriemma is now the state's highest paid employee, something no other women's basketball coach can say. He credits that partly to having a young men's basketball coach as well as the championship culture at UConn.

"We've always had a great commitment to the women's basketball program," Auriemma said. "The expectation level here is the highest of any place in America and it has been like that for a while now. We are also the only place in the country where a station like SNY pays us a million dollars to broadcast women's games, that doesn't exist anywhere else. It is just a unique place, a unique situation and I am fortunate that I am here and I have been here at the perfect time at the perfect place."

Auriemma also didn't seem to think that the uncertainty regarding what conference UConn will be playing in for those next five years will negatively impact his program.

"I don't think we got to be where we are as a basketball program by thinking about the past and fretting about the future," Auriemma said. "We are where we are because we always believe in ourselves. I know the men's program had the benefit of the Big East to help raise the level of the program to the point where we became the dominant men's program in the Big East. We never had that and we had to believe in ourselves and we helped raise the level of the Big East to a national level. We don't think about what could have been, where are we going next and what is in the future for us. The only thing we think about here every day is how can we put the best product on the floor that we possibly can, how can we put ourselves in position to win championships every year and as long as we keep doing that, I think we are going to be one of the major athletic departments in the country. Our goal is to win championships and whether it is the Big East or any other conference that we are in, that is not going to change. President (Susan) Herbst and Warde (Manuel, UConn's AD) have made it very clear that is not going to change, not one bit."


Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis finalists for Wade Trophy

UConn sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and junior center Stefanie Dolson were among 12 finalists for the prestigious Wade Trophy.

Mosqueda-Lewis is UConn's leading scorer, averaging 17.7 points per game. She set a program record with  108 3-pointers and is the ninth Huskies to score more than 600 points in a season. Dolson is averaging 14.2 points and a team-leading 7 rebounds per game.

Five of the 12 finalists will be playing in the Bridgeport regional semifinals on Saturday as Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware and Kentucky's A'dia Mathies also made the list.

The Wade Trophy will be announced on April 8. Baylor's Brittney Griner, who is also a finalist, was last year's winner.

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Geno will be sticking around for a while

The details were finally ironed out as Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma signed a new five-year contract which will keep him at UConn through the 2017-18 season.

Auriemma will be paid $10.8 million over the duration of the contract and will likely be the final contract he signs since Auriemma will be 64 by the time the contract runs its course.

Auriemma will receive a base salary of $400,000 for each year on the contract, which runs from April 15 to April 14 of each year. In 2013-14, he will receive $1,550,000 for institutional speaking engagements and media related appearances for a total of $1,950,000. The payment for institutional speaking engagements will increase by $110,000 each year, except in the final year when it will increase by $120,000.

Auriemma has been UConn's head coach since the 1985-86 season and has led the Huskies to seven national titles and 13 Final Fours including the last five.

“I would like to thank President Susan Herbst, Director of Athletics Warde Manuel and the entire University of Connecticut community for their continuing commitment to me and my family,” Auriemma said in a statement. “The last 28 years at Connecticut have been amazing and I am even more energized by what the future holds for our women’s basketball program and our athletic department as a whole.”

 Auriemma will receive the following payments for postseason performance (all determined by base salary): a half-month for winning a conference regular season championship; a half-month for winning a conference tournament championship; one month for participating in the NCAA tournament; one month for participating in the NCAA Sweet 16; one month for participating in the NCAA Final Four; and two months for winning the NCAA national championship.

 Auriemma will receive a half-month for winning a national coach of the year award and one-quarter month for winning a conference coach of the year award. If he wins both, he will receive one payment of half a month.

 If Auriemma resigns or retires from the University in good standing following the completion of the new contract in 2017-18, he will be entitled to a payment of $1,000,000 or an appointment at the university for up to five years at a salary of $300,000.

Another honor for Sanya Chong

UConn signee Saniya Chong continues to pile up the postseason honors.

The 5-foot-9 guard out of Ossining, N.Y. won both the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of New York and was named New York's Miss Basketball and now MSG Varsity named her as its All-Metro Player of the Year.

She was joined on the first team by Class of 2014 UConn recruiting targets Taylor Rooks and Sierra Calhoun.

The only Connecticut player to make the list is Lauralton Hall's Michelle DeSantis.

Also, I wanted to clarify the time frame of UConn recruiting target Gabby Williams' recent unofficial visit. I originally thought she was going to be here for the Idaho game on Saturday but she actually flew into Connecticut on Sunday and was in attendance for Monday's game against Vanderbilt and she left with a scholarship offer and it might not be a reach to say that other than Heathwood Hall's A'ja Wilson, there might not be another uncommitted high school junior any higher on UConn's wish list than the 5-foot-11 Williams who is also an Olympic caliber high jumper who finished fifth in that event at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.

While Williams, Rooks and 2014 commit Sadie Edwards were all recent visitors to UConn, don't expect to see too many recruits at the upcoming games in Bridgeport. Since Webster Bank Arena is not one of UConn's home courts, if a recruit wants to come see the Huskies pay they need to purchase whatever available seats they can get just like any other member of the general public.

Ossining coach Dan Ricci said there is a possibility Chong could make it to Bridgeport for either the regional semifinals on Saturday or Elite Eight game if the Huskies get by Maryland.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Matchups set for Bridgeport

With Delaware rallying past North Carolina and Kentucky posting an impressive win over Dayton, the field is set for Saturday's regional semifinals at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Second-seeded Kentucky faces the No. 6 seed Delaware in the first game shortly after noon on Saturday. Top-seeded UConn will play No. 4 seed Maryland around 2:30 p...

There will be no lack intriguing story lines especially in the Kentucky/Delaware game which could be dubbed the "what might have been" bowl in the eyes of some UConn fans and media members as Kentucky features former UConn forward Samarie Walker and the story of Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, who was at UConn for all of about 48 hours before heading back home, is well documented. Of course, if Delle Donne had stayed at UConn, she would have graduated in 2012 and be playing professionally.

Chong is New York's Miss Basketball winner

Not sure how I missed this one but since I haven't seen any official releases or stories on UConn incoming freshman Saniya Chong being named the winner of New York's Miss Basketball award, I reached out to Ossining High coach Dan Ricci to see if the award has already been announced. He said Chong was named the winner of the award during the state tournament..

The 5-foot-9 senior guard at Ossining set a New York single-season record with 928 points and is New York's fourth all-time leading scorer with 2,988 points.

Chong is averaging 34.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 4.8 steals per game. She has scored at least 20 points in every game this season including 18 30-point efforts and a high of 51 against Irvington and she a state record with 108 3-pointers as a senior.

She is the sixth UConn recruit to win the award joining last year's winner Breanna Stewart, Bria Hartley, Lorin Dixon, Tina Charles and Sue Bird.

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Mosqueda-Lewis learning to adjust

It wasn't too hard to figure out Vanderbilt's defensive game plan last night. The Commodores obviously watched footage of how Notre Dame has defended the Huskies so they came out determined to deprive Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of any open looks from the perimeter.

Mosqueda-Lewis, who became just the ninth UConn player to score 600 points in a season during the 77-44 win, forced the issue a bit early on as she fired up some ill-advised shots.

A pair of missed shots by Mosqueda-Lewis played a role in Vanderbilt scoring six straight points to pull with five with 5:44 to go in the first half.

Then, just a Vanderbilt was entertaining thoughts of coming all the way back, Mosqueda-Lewis went to work both inside and out. She had seven points, a rebound and steal during a 12-0 run and had seven more points as the Huskies opened the second half on a 17-0 run to turn the game into a laugher.

"I just saw that the team needed a little push," said Mosqueda-Lewis, who had a game-high 22 points for the second straight game. "We were not going to back down whenever they came at us and let them pressure us to the point where we couldn't function and I wanted to make it a point to show my teammates that 'come on guys, we've got this, we can ride it out and as much as they want to give it, we can give it right back.'

"I want to show my teammates that regardless of the physicality or anything like that I am going to work as hard as I can to get rebounds or just help them any way I can. If I can't get open on the outside, I going to score (inside), I am going to get putbacks."


Monday, March 25, 2013

UConn turns up the defensive heat

Defensive stinginess is nothing new for Geno Auriemma's UConn women's basketball team.

In the last four years UConn posted four of the top 13 marks in NCAA Division I history in scoring defense and have the top two marks in field-goal percentage defense during the 2009-2010 and 2011-12 seasons so when Auriemma starts throwing around words of lavish praise on UConn's defensive effort, it is wise to take note.

After the Huskies pulled away for a 77-44 victory over a game Vanderbilt squad in the NCAA second-round game on Monday night, Auriemma was thrilled about the team's defensive effort which was able to buy time until UConn got rolling offensively.

"I thought Vanderbilt did a really good job taking us our of some things and most of the time we couldn't find our footing but our defense was so good that it never felt like we were struggling to keep the lead," Auriemma said. "I thought our defense was as good as it has been at any time this year and it is exactly what you need at this time of the year."

One thing I noticed defensively was how aggressive the Huskies were in jumping into the passing lanes going for steals and deflections. It paid off as the Huskies had 34 points off 23 Vanderbilt turnovers which is the highest total since a Feb. 12 game against Providence. With 31 points off turnovers, it is the first time UConn hit 30 in that category in consecutive games since contests against Oakland and Hartford in December.

"We are at the end of the season, we have to take chances and Coach (Auriemma) wants us to get back to run and gun defense whenever we get a steal," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said.

Among those in attendance was highly-touted junior guard Gabby Williams out of Reed High in Sparks, Nev. who has been on an unofficial visit. When last I saw her, she was leaving the locker room with the UConn players and seemed to be having the time of her life.

It is pretty clear that UConn is very high on Williams. Assistant coach Shea Ralph went to see her play in January but unfortunately she suffered a season-ending torn ACL in a game the following day.

She has a long road back before she can get back on the court and on in the high jump pit as Williams is one of the nation's best high jumpers who finished fifth in the event at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.

Seniors bid adieu to Gampel tonight

While UConn could have as many as three more games in the Connecticut this season counting tonight's game against Vanderbilt, the second-round game will mark the final true home game for seniors Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty and Heather Buck.

While the trio was honored before their final regular-season at Gampel last month, there is a sense of finality for the three who have only been on the losing side two times inside their basketball home since arriving at UConn.

"We pretty much live here if we are not in our apartment or we aren't in class we are probably here so this is pretty much our home away from home," Faris said.

"This is it. This is our last chance to play on this court, this is our main home court and to think that four years ago I was coming in and it was my first game and now the excitement that came with that and now it is all about to  and it is hard to believe it went by fast."

Faris will make her 111th career start and become the sixth Husky to play 150 games while Doty will play in her 127th game.

"Every good thing has to end. I was fortunate to be able to play here," Doty said. "Gampel is known to be one of the best places to play for college women's basketball and to be a part of it for five straight years is a dream come true and I am happy. I am going to miss it but I have the memories."

The Huskies will miss the blue-collar aspect of the senior class when they aren't here for the start of practice in October.

"They have both been here, Carol five and Kelly four and they do a great job of playing, even though they are more facilitators than scorers," UConn junior center Stefanie Dolson said. "Kelly has become more of a scorer so they really work really well together.

"We are going to miss them a ton, just (Doty's)  leadership on the floor and her aggressiveness on defense kind of controls things on offense and with Kelly, just hard hard she works. She always holds herself accountable and we are going to miss them both with their leadership and how awesome they are."

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Stokes looks to build on strong showing

                                                                                                                                                                  (Photo by Melanie Stengel)
UConn sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes has responded since 

being benched for the regular-season finale.
A year ago Geno Auriemma thought so much of the potential of sophomore forward/center Kiah Stokes that he said she could be the wild card on whether UConn could win another national title.

Twelve months later he became perturbed at a question regarding Stokes' possible impact in the preseason, a sign of his annoyance in how Stokes was practicing.

Auriemma's mood when it comes to Stokes has increased dramatically since the end of the regular season. She had her second career double-double in Saturday's NCAA first-round win over Idaho and with some nagging issues with Stefanie Dolson's leg limiting some of her practice time, Stokes has been seeing more practice time with the starters.

It hasn't been the easiest of seasons for Stokes. The UConn coaches look at her and see the makings of a star. Then they watch her grab one offensive rebound in a two-hour practice and want to scream.

The frustration boiled over when Stokes was a healthy scratch in the regular-season finale against Notre Dame. Although it didn't result in gaudy stats (five points, eight rebounds, three blocks) during the Big East tournament, her teammates could see a more aggressive Stokes during practices. Finally it translated to a game as Stokes had 14 points (on 6 of 7 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks against Idaho.

"When I don't play it is a message that I have to do something different and something better to help the team," Stokes said. "Everything that Coach has done has helped me, I have had my ups and downs but keep working and keep getting better

"It has been gradual, you can't change overnight but every day try to give more and help the team as much as I can. As long as I keep in the direction I am going, this is going to end better than it did last year for me personally and as a team so we are all just focused on staying focused at practice and doing all we can so this season ends the way we want it to."

Last year Stokes also made an impact in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament as she averaged 9.5 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in the first two rounds. She barely played in the regional final against Kentucky and had a quiet four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes in the Final Four loss to Notre Dame.

Her teammates have confidence that this year things could be different for Stokes as the Huskies progress deeper into the tournament.

"She has been doing a great job of practice, working hard, pushing herself, finishing around the basket and not second-guessing what she is doing," Dolson said.

Fellow sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis echoed Dolson's sentiment.

"She has been working really hard, she has been in the gym extra working on her jump shot, working on her post ups and she has been doing a lot better," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I am really happy to see her come out and have a lot of positive things come out. Whenever I know she is behind me I feel a lot more confident. I know I can put a lot of pressure on this person because she has my back."

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jordin Canada commits to UCLA

Jordin Canada, who was on UConn's recruiting radar, committed to UCLA..

Canada is a lightning quick point guard who stars at the Windward School which won the CIF Southern Section Open Division title with a win over Mater Dei.

Although UConn has long been listed as one of her top schools, she never visited Connecticut and was considered to be a long shot to come to UConn.

"I was going to take a look at UConn, but I realized that I wanted to stay close to home where my friends and family can support me," Canada told the Full Court Press.

UConn already has commitments from a pair of perimeter players in the Class of 2014 - St. Mary's wing Courtney Ekmark and Blair Academy combo guard and Meriden native Sadie Edwards. What I've been hearing is that Gabby Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard at Reed High in Sparks, Nev. is a guard that the UConn coaches are extremely high on. Williams was among those in attendance at last night's win over Idaho.

Williams is a dynamic player who was averaging 30 points per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury. She is also one of the country's best high jumper who finished fifth in the event at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. Williams has been quoted as saying that she intends on competing in both basketball and track & field in college and will only consider programs which will allow her to do both. Obviously UConn is OK with that scenario.


Another honor for UConn recruiting target

UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target Taylor Rooks was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of New Jersey earlier this month and now she was bestowed with another honor as the Newark Star-Ledger named the junior forward at Gill St. Bernard's as its girls' basketball player of the year. She was also recently named the Courier News Player of the Year.

Rooks, who has been seen in person by multiple members of the UConn coaching staff, averaged 26.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3.1 steals and 2 blocks per game and also carries a 4.17 grade-point average.


Stewart vows to play tomorrow; Dolson is fine

If it were up to Breanna Stewart, the UConn freshman forward would have played in Saturday's NCAA tournament opener against Idaho. But after feeling some discomfort in her left calf, the decision was made to sit her.

                                                                                            (Associated Press photo)
Breanna Stewart is hoping to play against Vanderbilt after missing UConn's
NCAA tournament opener against Idaho with a left calf injury.
Well, Stewart was back at practice on Sunday and plans on playing against Vanderbilt in tomorrow's second-round game.

"I am doing a lot better," Stewart said before Sunday's and I am practicing today. No, I will be able to go. I am ready to roll. It feels better and I think I will play. If they try tell me I shouldn't, I am going to tell them that it feels good."

Stewart said she has never had an issue with her calf before.

"It was just a one-time thing," Stewart said. "I think it is getting better. I think when it first happened it didn't feel the greatest."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is hoping to have the services of Stewart, who has been practicing better than she has all season heading into the postseason.

"I hope she goes through (Sunday's) workout and feels pretty good and no problems," Auriemma said before Sunday's practice. "We are not going to do a lot and I don't think she needs to do a lot either and we will see how she feels tomorrow and I am plan on her playing.

Auriemma praised Stewart's toughness and perhaps her attempt to practice after suffering the injury did more harm than good.

"It is not the first time she has been hurt and not the first time she has tried to fight through something that I have seen other kids who have not been able to fight through," Auriemma said. "Stewie avoids the training room like all the great players do."

Auriemma said he has noticed a difference in Stewart since the end of the regular season.

"I don't know it was exactly but the week that we had leading up to the tournament was different, she just had a different look about her, a a different attitude about her and you could see it," Auriemma said. "It was so evident, it wasn't even like you had to look for it. I told the coaches that if we win the (Big East( tournament, Stewie is going to get MVP and they are like ;yeah, right.' I said just look at her, people have this look about them when you know that they are ready to go and they are prepared. She had it and she was doing things that she hadn't done since probably preseason."

Keeping on the subject of injuries, junior center Stefanie Dolson has been some of her practice time limited in the last week according to UConn coach Geno Auriiemma due to a lower leg issue.

"It's just soreness, end of the season stuff a lot of teams go through it at this time of the year and you just have to play through it," Dolson said.

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Vanderbilt's Foggie rebounds from injury case

                                                                                                         (Associated Press photo)
Christina Foggie, who was the SEC's scoring champion as a sophomore, has overcome
a knee injury and increased attention from opponents to lead Vanderbilt into the second
round of the NCAA tournament. The Commodores play at UConn on Monday night.
Christina Foggie's first reaction was one of absolute dismay as she experienced the pain in her right knee last month.

Her Vanderbilt team has already needed to press forward without the services of the multi-faceted Stephanie Holzer and now Foggie, the reigning Southeastern Conference scoring champion, was faced with an uncertain short-term future.

There was a sense of relief when she was told that the knee injury was not of the season-ending variety. She was forced to sit out four games including showdowns with top 15 teams Tennessee and Texas A&M before returning in time for the Feb. 28 game against Auburn.

While still working her way back, Foggie will be front and center when the Commodores face UConn in Monday's second-round game.

So was Foggie scared that her season was over?

"A little bit," Foggie said. "I definitely had to go with what the prognosis and the injury. Missing time was tough but at the end of the day I was rooting for my team to bounce back and recover really helped me and coming back now has helped me be solid and bring experience for them.

"It is a scary injury and something I hope (nobody) has to do but I was very grateful to be able to come back and play for the rest of the season. It is tough because at that point of the season everybody is really in stride and I am trying to come back and get back to the level of shape that I was before I got hurt. I have done a decent job of doing that and I am feeling pretty good so it has been good but having to play with a brace is different too."

It has been a slow road back as she had only four points in 23 minutes in her first two games back before scoring 12 points against Missouri, her first double-digit game in nearly a month.

"Quickness on defense (has been a struggle) but I have been good to go," Foggie said. "I have really got back faster than I thought I would."

The knee issue and playing with a knee brace is not the only adjustment for Foggie this season. Coming off a breakthrough season as a sophomore, stopping Foggie has been the focus of every team's scouting report.

"People play you a little tighter, they know your every tendency a little more not and it is definitely more of reacting to what they are doing and it is not as easy as it was last year," Foggie said.

Foggie drew praise from both UConn coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey for coming back so quickly from an injury that could have been of the season-ending variety.

"Sometimes you just will yourself to play and you have to admire kids like this," Auriemma said. "They just love to play and don't want anybody telling them that they can't play."

Dailey remembers Foggie playing for some powerful Fencor teams, the same AAU program that one-time UConn signee Elena Delle Donne played for.

I watched her play in AAU and she is a good player," Dailey said. "You want to talk about toughness, clearly she has to be a pretty tough kid to come back in the same year off the partially torn ACL and just now I think she is just starting to get her form back and get her shooting back. She is a tough kid and knows how to play."

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Taurasi wins another EuroLeague title

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals to lead UMMC Ekaterinburg to an 82-56 win over Fenerbahce in the EuroLeague championship game.

Candice Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks had 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists and former Connecticut Sun forward Sandirne Gruda had 19 points and eight rebounds for Ekaterinburg, which won its three games in the EuroLeague Elite Eight by an average of 28.3 points per game.

Angel McCoughtry and Ivana Matovic had 22 points each for Fenerbahce. New York Liberty star Cappie Pondexter was held to one point and was 0 of 14 from the field. She came into the game averaging 12.5 points per game and had 45 points combined in the quarterfinal and semifinal games.

Bourges Basket won the third-place game with a 65-57 win over Good Angels Kosice. Two players headed to the Connecticut Sun training camp played in the contest. Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham had eight points, two rebounds, three assists and three steals for Bourges Basket while Natasha Lacy had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists for Good Angels Kosice.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saniya Chong's career ends in defeat

UConn signee Saniya Chong  led her Ossining High squad to the New York Class AA title but was not able to lead the Pride to the Federation of Champions AA championship.

                                                                            (Associated Press photo)
UConn commit Saniya Chong (left) finished her high school career
with 2,988 points and a New York record 320 3-pointers.
Chong had 26 points, eight rebounds, six steals, two blocked shots and a Federation Class AA title game record seven assists but it was Bishop Ford which emerged with the 75-60 victory.

Chong finished as New York's fourth all-time leading scorer with 2,988 points,  a New York single-season record 928 points as well as the single-season and career marks for 3-pointers. In 97 career games she had 564 rebounds, 718 assists, 494 steals, 169 blocked shots and 320 3-pointers. She had 51 career 30-point games, 18 games with at least 40 points including four 50-point outbursts and five triple-doubles.

Aaliyah Jones, a junior guard and tournament MVP, had 25 points, seven assists and eight steals to lead Bishop Ford to the title. 

Geno not concerned about setting 30-win mark

Geno Auriemma's biting, sarcasm-heavy sense of humor was at its best when he was asked to reflect on the Huskies posting another 30-win season.

The 103-37 win over Idaho improved the Huskies' mark to 30-4. It is the eighth straight season UConn has won 30 contests, something no other women's Division I program has accomplished and the 18th time in the last 20 seasons.

"You know there is not a lot of parity in women's basketball, there is not a lot of really good teams so we should win 40 games every year so winning 30 is no big deal so winning 40 is the bar now so I glad we only play 39 so we can't reach that bar," Auriemma said with a slight grin on his face. "It just becomes numbers, right now the only thing that matters at the University of Connecticut is winning a national championship and the fact we won 30 games in 18 of the last 20 year, I don't think anybody gives a rip about that because if they did, there would have been tremendous excitement leading up to today 'come watch Coach Auriemma win 30 games for the 18th time in 20 years.' Obviously that was way under the radar (as the crowd of 4,625 was the lowest for a Connecticut women's home game since drawing 4,165 against Providence in the semifinals of the 1994 Big East tournament) and right now it is about winning national championships so unless somebody reminds you then you really forget about the numbers but when people remind you, it is kind of staggering."

What is also staggering is that UConn is the only Division I women's program to win its first-round NCAA tournament game in each of the last 20 tournaments.

The UConn players watched many of the games in the men's tournament in the previous games and were well aware that No. 1 seeds like Kansas and Gonzaga struggled to win and No. 2 seed Georgetown was knocked out of the tournament. So when it was their time to take the court, they left little doubt using a 15-0 run to start the game and throwing in a 29-0 run later in the game for good measure.

"When you get to this point everybody is going to be gunning for you and we are going to leave it out on the court, whether they are a 16 seed, an 8 seed or 4 seed whatever it is you have to expect the most out of everybody," UConn senior guard Kelly Faris said. "If you overlook (a team)  you will see some of the teams did that today and you are not going to come out the way you wanted to.

"It was a good team effort and it was a good way to start out especially in a game like this because there were a lot of situations we wanted to put ourselves in to try to work on and I think we were able to do that, I think everybody was able to contribute."

There was another record for the Huskies thanks to the career-best scoring efforts of freshmen Moriah Jefferson (16 points) and Morgan Tuck (18 points) matched the program record for most points by a class in their first NCAA tournament game

Back in 1993 Jamelle Elliott had 21 points and Jen Rizzotti 13 in a loss to Louisville. The Stefanie Dolson-Bria Hartley led class combined for 32 points two years ago and last year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Kiah Stokes and Brianna Banks combined for 33 points..

Breanna Stewart downplays her calf injury

If it were left up to UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, she would not have been reduced to the role of spectator in Saturday's NCAA tournament opener against Idaho.

However, after feeling some discomfort in her left calf in Friday's practice, the decision was made to sit her for the game.

Stewart went through some of the pre-game warmups and seemed to move without any issues but she understood that it is better to be safe than sorry especially with the Huskies easily outclassing the WAC tournament champions.

Following the Huskies' 105-37 win Stewart discussed how the injury happened.

"It was just in practice yesterday just taking off, I felt uncomfortable," Stewart said. "I think I am all right, they said I am all right and it was more of a precaution. I would have like to have played today."


Breanna Stewart won't play against Idaho

UConn freshman Breanna Stewart is not expected to play in the NCAA tournament opener against Idaho.

Stewart was complaining about an issue in the Achilles' tendon area and although an MRI came back negative, she is expected to be held out of the game for precautionary purposes.


Banks ready for next step of recovery

More than a week removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in her right knee, Brianna Banks is now ready for the next stage of the long road to recovery.

Banks spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since undergoing the surgery on Mar. 14 and is keeping up the same positive attitude she has shown since injuring her knee in a Feb. 2 game against St. John's.

"`I’m doing pretty well," Banks said. "I’m like a week and a day in. So I’m just trying to get my motion in my knee back.

"I’m just more excited for my teammates than anything right now. I’m just happy to cheer them on and keep spirits up on the team.’’

UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle is taking things slow with Banks even though she has no history of knee issues. The plan is that she won't be back on the basketball court in six month. Banks has plenty of work to do over those six months.

"I spend everyday in there (the training room), about two-and-half hours pretty much the same time they practice," Banks said. "But I’ll get there.

"I just never thought it would have happened, But it has so I’ve just got to make the best of it."


Friday, March 22, 2013

Geno reacts to mentor Jim Foster's departure

This is always quite a hectic time for the coaching carousel but few coaching coaches generated the buzz of Jim Foster's removal as the head coach at Ohio State.

When Foster was the head coach at Saint Joseph's University, which coincidentally is in the same subregional with UConn, he gave Auriemma his first college coaching gig as an assistant coach so natural the news that Foster was no longer coaching the Buckeyes despite having multiple years on his contract came as a shock to Auriemma.

"It is an indescribable situation in the sense that he has won 75 percent of his games and he has won (six) Big 10 championships, (four)  tournament championships and he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in June and he has five years left on his contract, Auriemma said. "You put all of those things together and you are like 'wow.' I don't know anything about the situation, how it happened and when it happened but it is not your typical 'well, we are getting a new coach.' I don't profess to know all the answers but I was the most shocked person in the world other than Jim."

It is the second time in three years that one of Auriemma's mentors left their gigs as Debbie Ryan retired at Virginia in 2011.

"I guess that tells you something about where we are," Auriemma said. "Look at the critics, all coaches get if you lost your last game or if you lose your next game so that is just the world we live in. Two of the people I spent a lot of time working with are no longer coaching and it is kind of sad."

Three recruits expected to attend tomorrow's game

Three highly-touted high school juniors including recent commitment Sadie Edwards are expected to be in the stands when UConn plays Idaho in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday afternoon.

Edwards, a Meriden resident who now attends Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., committed earlier this week after making an unofficial visit.

Fellow New Jersey star Taylor Rooks, a 6-foot forward who was recently named New Jersey's Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 27.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.2 steals, 2.1 assists and 1.7 blocked shots as a junior at Gill St. Bernard in Gladstone, N.J., caught the attention of UConn recruiters when she had a huge game (34 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots) against UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun's Christ the King squad with UConn coach Geno Auriemma in the stands for the early February game. The Clarence, N.Y. resident also has a 4.2 grade point average and is said to be a relentless competitor on the court.

Also expected to be at the game is Gabby Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard at Reed High in Sparks, Nev.

Williams is a dynamic athletic who finished fifth in the high school at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials but the day after UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph went to see her play, Williams tore the ACL in her right knee. She was averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists per game heading into the game she suffered the  injury.

Another player on UConn's radar is 6-foot forward Lexi Gussert out of Forest Park High School in Crystal Falls, Mich.

Gussert was selected as the Associated Press Class D Player of the Year in Michigan last week after averaging 27.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.2 steals, 2.1 assists and 1.7 blocked shots per game as a junior.

Also, I noticed that the New York Mr. Basketball Award was presented to Christ the King's Jon Severe after the Royals' game in the Federation tournament. It would not shock me to see the same thing happen tomorrow night with New York Miss Basketball since UConn signee Saniya Chong would seem like the no brainer pick to win the award and she will lead Ossining against Bishop Ford in Saturday night's Federation Class AA title game.

Finally, the Orange County Register announced its Player of the Year and it went to UConn Class of 2015 recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson beating out an impressive field of candidates including her older sister Karlie who is headed to Stanford in the fall.

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Faris healthy and ready to go

Selection Monday was not the best time UConn senior guard Kelly Faris has ever experienced.

The lingering memories of the nightmarish end to the Big East tournament final six days ago were still fresh in her head and then more misfortune struck as she caught a flu bug from roommate Heather Buck forcing her to miss a rare practice. Then while her teammates were gathered together to watch the unveiling of the NCAA tournament bracket, Faris was alone in her apartment loaded up on cough medicine.

"My whole team is out here watching the Selection (Show) and I was by myself in my room isolated so nobody else would get sick but there are some things that you can't control and it is what it is," Faris said. "I was pretty much out of it and I was just watching so I didn't have a reaction."

What Faris did have a reaction to was the nightmarish final offensive possession in the Big East final.

UConn was tied with Notre Dame and had a chance to win the game. Faris had the ball in her hands three times but she missed a shot and then threw a pair of passes that were off the mark. As a result of the chaos which ensued, Skylar Diggins was able to intercept a Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis pass and fed Natalie Achonwa for the game-winning basket.

"Any loss sucks especially the way it went down and the way we lost and our last chance at a Big East championship so that was a really disappointing  game especially the way we lost and the fact I got the ball and I didn't convert the way I needed to," Faris said. "A lot of things could have been different in the game but in the end you always try to learn something from it, we try to take it as a positive going into it thinking that had we won we would have pushed all of these things aside that would have come to hurt us later on."

Faris and her teammates held a players' only meeting and the result has been a renewed focus in practice.

"We just have to lean on each other," Faris said. "We have to hold ourselves accountable. If you need to say something to somebody say it. If I am going too fast either one of the coaches or somebody has to say it and I need to hear it."

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Taurasi leads Ekaterinburg into EuroLeague title game

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists as UMMC Ekaterinburg rolled to a 73-44 win over Bourges Basket in the EuroLeague semifinals on Friday.

Ekaterinburg will play Fenerbahce, led by the high-scoring duo of WNBA All-Stars Cappie Pondexter and Angel McCoughtry, in Sunday's championship game.


Vanderbilt coach takes trip down memory lane

The second she stepped foot  inside Gampel Pavilion, the memories all game rushing back into the mind of Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb.

It was 14 years ago when Balcomb was leading the Xavier program to heights it had never seen before and the Muskateers were on verge of the victories to top all victories.

It was in the second round of the 1999 NCAA tournament and Xavier was on the verge of taking down  top-seeded UConn much to the shock of the home crowd inside Gampel.

The Huskies were able to rally and advanced to the regionals on a pair of free throws with 7.9 seconds left by freshman and Ohio native Tamika Williams.

Balcomb, who has not been in Storrs since that day, couldn't help but reflect on a game that forever changed the complexion of her program.

"There are signature wins and signature losses and that was one of those obvious signature losses," Balcomb said. "I reflect back on it a lot. I didn't have to walk in the arena but that was the first thing  I thought of was that game and being in here. You see The Pavilion on TV all the time but it doesn't look like it looked to me here and probably the biggest thing I remember is how we were treated by the UConn fans. It is very similar now that I am (in) Tennessee in that they are great women's basketball fans period, they bleed UConn blue and all that great stuff but when we worked as hard as we did, played as well as we did and lost at the end and my point guard who missed the shots (Nikki Kramer) was on the ground crying on the floor and Shea Ralph picked her up and as we walked off, I looked up and people cheered for us and UConn fans cheered for us.

"As I walked in that is the last memory I had and that will always be in my mind, we had every opportunity to win that game and we lost it but we were appreciated by those fans and I got hundreds of emails from fans saying that was one of the best games ever played so it was a devastating moment for me, how I felt for that player and the program but also really rewarding afterwards to be appreciated by a fan base that appreciates quality women's basketball."

Two years later Xavier would finish what they started by knocking Tennessee out of the tournament.

"It put my program on the map and we lost. I had taken over a program that was not successful in the year before we went to the WNIT and this was our first year (in the NCAA)," Balcomb said. "We beat FIU and also we are on national TV beating UConn for most of the game and losing in the end. Everybody talked about us. We didn't become Cinderella but it put our team on the map. I don't know how else to explain it but it was a signature loss. We got attention, exposure and talked of in respectable places.

I had one senior (Kramer) and she was the one who missed the free throws and the rest were sophomores, that was their first NCAA tournament appearance and three years later when they were seniors was when we beat Tennessee in the Sweet 16. They were so hungry after that loss to revenge that loss against UConn. It didn't have to be against UConn but they wanted to beat a big-name team and felt like they should have won as sophomores and it gave them a level of confidence."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

So what's next on UConn's recruiting front?

The commitment of Meriden's Sadie Edwards gives UConn pledges from two of the top perimeter players in the Class of 2014 (to go with Courtney Ekmark) and it would not be a shocker to see another perimeter player be a part of the this recruiting class. However, the ultimate grade of this class could ultimately be determined by the abilities of the Huskies to secure commitments from inside players.

Connecticut coaches have made multiple trips to see A'ja Wilson and Kathryn Westbeld play and the two already have scholarship offers.

Wilson is considered by many to be the best prospect in her class is an intriguing player. When she was a freshman she played on the perimeter before growing a couple of inches before the start of her sophomore season. Now she is listed at 6-5 but does not consider herself a prototype low-post prospect. However, that shouldn't be taken as a sign that she doesn't mix things up. She has averaged more than 14 rebounds in her four seasons at Heathwood Hall Episcopal in Columbia, S.C. (Wilson suited up as an eighth grader).

Despite being sidelined at the beginning of her junior season with a wrist injury, Wilson was spectacular during the 2012-13 season. She recorded a double-double in all 21 games she played in and finished the season shooting 69 percent from the field. Her final numbers were 28.7 points, 14.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals and 5.3 blocks per game. She stepped out and was 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

Wilson has yet to make a visit to UConn but everything I've heard is that there is plenty of mutual interest.

Westbeld is a 6-foot-2 forward led Fairmont High in Kettering, Ohio to their first state title. Westbeld had double-doubles in all four games in Ohio's Division 1 tournament and averaged 15.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Fairmont had lost to Twinsburg in the Division 1 championship game during her freshman and sophomore seasons before preventing Twinsburg's bid for a three-peat with a 52-48 victory.

The game was rebroadcast on SportsTime Ohio yesterday and I taped the game to see Westbeld play. I could see why the Huskies are pursuing her. She is an extremely well-rounded player who can score inside and out, sets screens, helped break the press and looked comfortable handling the ball out on the perimeter. One recruiting source I spoke to compared her game to Louisville's Sara Hammond. The player she reminded me of was Kelsey Griffin of the Connecticut Sun.

Westbeld's final numbers were 14.5 points (on 66.3 percent shooting), 9.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.7 blocked shots. She is a product of the highly successful Dayton Lady HoopStars AAU program and is the type of highly-skilled player the Huskies (and any other program for that matter) love to coach.

She was also one of five players named to the All-Ohio first team

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It's now or never for Huskies

Six of the 11 players on the current UConn women's basketball squad were not even born and it's highly unlikely the other five team members had yet to get their hands on a basketball the last season in which the Huskies failed to win either the Big East regular-season or tournament title.

With the bitter taste of another loss to Notre Dame fresh in their minds, the UConn players gathered together to air out some issues. There were no coaches, no friends or family members allowed. Knowing that their next loss would bring an end to a season which started with so much promise, there were things that needed to be said and a course that needed to be plotted.

"I think everyone knows it is tournament time, if you lose you go home," UConn junior center Stefanie Dolson said. "We knew we all had to come together, get in here and work on our individual stuff and came together as a team."

While we won't likely get to know if the players' only meeting had the desired impact until the Huskies are cutting down to nets in New Orleans next month, all indications are that practices have had a different feel to them.

"We have been practicing extremely well," Dolson said. "We came in here with that fire and that anger because of that loss and have been taking it out on the practice players. We have done a good job of focusing on the little things and making sure everything we do is perfect, crisp passes, good shots, great defense."

After falling in the Big East tournament final on March 12, UConn coach Geno Auriemma gave his players the next three days off before reconvening on Saturday to get ready for a run at an eighth national title.

Even with senior Kelly Faris missing Monday's practice with the flu, Auriemma was liked what he has seen in practice since the most recent loss to Notre Dame.

Faris is back at practice and the other nine healthy Huskies are also practicing as the Huskies prepare to face Idaho in the NCAA tournament opener on Saturday.

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