Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Special day for Tina Charles

With each passing week it seems as if the maturity of former UConn star Tina Charles reaches new heights.

Nobody has ever questioned Charles' talent. She was the national high school player of the year coming out of Christ the King and emerged into one of the best players ever to suit up for the Huskies.

Since Charles has turned pro, she has proven that she is more than just a talented basketball player but somebody with a philanthropic spirit. She was honored as the annual honoree at the Channel 3 Kids Camp annual Women Raising Awareness Philanthropically luncheon this afternoon in Farmington.

“Basketball is what I do and not I am,” Charles said as she accepted the award. “This is who I am, I love to give back.”

Charles’ charitable soul first started to get noticed when she funded a school in Africa through a partnership with Build-On and OmniPeace. She took the next step by forming a partnership with the Connect to Learn organization to hand out scholarships to underprivileged girls in Africa. Now one of her passions is distributing Automatic External Defibrillators to schools in Michigan after hearing about the death of Fenville (Mich.) High basketball player Wes Leonard shortly after he made the game-winning shot in a 2011 game. During her acceptance speech Charles revealed that she has started a foundation and she will purchase a defibrillator for each double-double she records this season.

“Out of all the accolades I have received, it is definitely one of the top ones,” Charles said. “This is what I am about. A lot of people don't know me personally, they just see me on the basketball court so to be honored for something I am dedicated to and I can say who I am, it means a lot.

“It is really is important because me being a believer in Christ, God gives you what you need so you can give others what they need. I have been put in a position where I can live comfortably and impact others in a positive light.”

Charles just returned to the U.S. after playing overseas. According to Connecticut Sun head coach Anne Donovan, both Charles and fellow former UConn star Renee Montgomery won’t be reporting when training camp opens on May 5 so they can recharge a bit after grueling offseason schedules. Their absence will be a brief one and will enable Donovan and her staff her evaluate other players before Charles and Montgomery report.

When Charles does come to camp a familiar face will be missing as Asjha Jones will take off the 2013 season to allow her body to rest.

“It is going to be totally different,” Charles said. “I think like the second half when Asjha wasn't around due to injury and after the Olympic break we had people step up so I believe everybody is professionals, whoever is going to be on the team this year and everybody will step up and do the best that they can.”

Charles is confident that Kelsey Griffiin is among the players who can step forward to fill the void left by Jones' absence.

"I always love the potential that Kelsey brings," Charles said. "I think when you play elsewhere you  your role changes on teams. When she was at Nebraska, she was the best player on the team and here she was more of a role player. Whatever adjustment she has to makes she always does in a professional manner, just the first one in and  the last one out."

That is a similar description that could be used to describe the newest member of the Connecticut Sun, former UConn star Kelly Faris.

"Having played with her for a year she was always quiet but to see her blossom during her collegiate career, it was unbelievable what she was able to do last year and the impact she had on her teammates," Charles said.

Charles, like so many of the former Huskies, took great pride in seeing UConn win its eighth national title earlier this month.

"I was at the Big East championship game when they played Notre Dame and that was a heartbreaker," Charles said. "I was definitely excited (after the national title game) because I know that feeling, Coach Auriemma he has a way of getting on you in the first preseason (practice) and he knows when the athletes turn that corner and they did, especially Breanna Stewart."

So what did Charles think about Stewart's performance at the Final Four?

"She is just an all around player, you could tell she wasn't just limited to one position and because of that, it definitely propelled UConn to get that championship," Charles said.


Chris Dailey dishes on Bria Hartley's unselfishness

Thanks to the folks associated with the Channel 3 Kids Camp for allowing me to take in today's Women Raising Awareness Philanthropically Luncheon I have a chance to update the good works of former UConn star Tina Charles.

I am working on a story schedule to run in tomorrow's edition of the Register about Charles being the annual event's honoree. UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey was there as the keynote speaker and the part of her 30-minute speech which was of the most interest to me came when she said junior guard Bria Hartley volunteered to come off the bench for the NCAA tournament during a meeting that Hartley and the rest of UConn's guards had with head coach Geno Auriemma.

I knew that Hartley accepted the role but was not aware that she was the one who actually volunteered to come off the bench.

I thought people might be interested in what Dailey had to say about Hartley's decision which Dailey believes was pivotal in the Huskies run to an eighth national title.

"I guess you guys know Geno and know his personality, there is no real roundabout way of him saying anything," Dailey said. "We had some real direct conversations with our players and the conversation that he talks about which I think was one of the turning points for us was he met with our guards for probably an hour or hour and a half and talked  with them about what we needed moving forward and how important their pay was going to be on whether we were going to have a chance to win a national championship. He had to get the guards to see what he saw and that we needed to have more from our guards and we needed to bring more off the bench and in doing that he had to ask Bria Hartley, actually she volunteered, to volunteer to come off the bench.

"Bria Hartley last year was an All-American as a sophomore when we went to the Final Four. There is was in this meeting, she had a difficult year because of injury, she didn't play the same way, she struggled and was up and down the whole year. In this meeting she volunteered to come off the bench and be that person that we need to give us more offense off the bench. I couldn't have been happier for Bria (after the national title game) because I think that says everything you need to know about her. She wants to win a national championship and she knew that was what she had to do, that was the role she had to fill and she was a big part of why we won the game. People like to point out Breanna Stewart and how she played but I am telling you that if Bria Hartley doesn't accept that role and doesn't realize that 'hey I want to win a national championship and this is my best chance to do it with my teammates and my teammates need' then we don't win the national championship this year regardless of how Breanna Stewart played. I was happiest for Bria. She is our most confident, most competitive (player). We were standing in the runway (the day before the national semifinal) and I looked at her and said 'this could be our last practice.' She said 'it won't be.' I said 'are you guaranteeing that?' She said 'yes.' I said 'all right.' I knew for three days that there was no way we were going to lose to Notre Dame because of the way our kids approached it and the way Bria approached it and the way people accepted their roles."

After heaping incredible praise on Hartley, she did the same for another veteran Husky - little-used senior forward/center Heather Buck. Dailey said she had a heart to heart with Buck before it was announced that she would return for her fifth season and needed an assurance that Buck would be able to handle a role similar to the one she had in her first three seasons. Buck said she was and other than one time early in preseason camp when Dailey had to remind Buck of the talk that they had, Dailey couldn't have been more impressed with the way Buck acted as the good and supportive teammate even though her minutes were limited. Dailey said one of the highlights for her in the title game was the steal and layup by Buck.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Auriemma humbled by Connecticut Hall of Fame honor

When Geno Auriemma first heard that he was about to be inducted into the Connecticut Hall of Fame, he thought that was a nice honor. When he realized that Mark Twain, Harriett Beecher Stowe and Noah Webster were among some of the previous recipients and Auriemma was admittedly floored by the impressive company he joined on Wednesday afternoon.

"The Hall of Fame is something that was unexpected," Auriemma said. "When you first hear about it you aren't quite sure what it is and it probably doesn't get all the attention it deserves. Once you find out what the names are on that wall and what the history is, you really do get a sense of 'wow, these are some of the - forget some of the greatest people from Connecticut but the greatest people in the history of our country.' It is incredibly gratifying and rewarding that people feel your contribution is worthy of that."

Auriemma will take part in another ceremony on tomorrow and this one will be for the opening of Geno's Grille in Storrs Center.

Auriemma said that the restaurant has been opened for about three weeks and the response has been a positive one.


Geno Auriemma has no objections to playing league tourney at Mohegan

According to a tweet by Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs earlier today, the American Athletic Conference could hold its women's basketball tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma didn't confirm the validity of the information although he did say the topic was raised earlier today. He certainly is on board with the possibility to playing the event at Mohegan.
                                                                                   (Associated Press photo)
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma laughs as he shakes hands
with William Clement (AKA Mark Twain) after being inducted into the
Connecticut Hall of Fame at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

"I think it is like anything," Auriemma said after he was inducted into the Connecticut Hall of Fame at the State Capitol. "I know people in the conference office have always been asked by the coaches and other administrators 'are there other options other than the XL Center and is the XL Center the best option?' Each year I believe the conference tries to go out and gauge what the interest level is and for I don't know how long, we have always kind of come back to the XL Center is the best place for us to have it. It is just today that somebody brought up the possibility of having it at Mohegan. Certainly there have been a lot of great events there and obviously they are in the event business.

"Given the fact that the league is so new and we are kind of geographically challenged so to speak in terms of finding some place in the middle, I would hope that this is (Connecticut as a host site for the AAC womens tournament) viewed the same way that Madison Square Garden was viewed by the Big East and I would think both on the men's and women's side Connecticut is going to play a prominent role going forward on where the tournament is going to be."

Auriemma, who owns a restaurant at Mohegan Sun, downplays any potential backlash from hosting a college conference tournament inside a casino.

"There is no sports wagering at Mohegan and as far as the other aspects of the casino, if high school administrators are not worried about bringing high school athletes to play in the tournament ..." Auriemma said. "I am sure for a lot of people it is always going to be a concern and it is always going to be a question but I believe the fact that there has been both high school and college games played there I think that aspect at some point is going to go away."

There are some other topics Auriemma discussed which I will get to later. One of them is a lighter basketball schedule load from the end of the season to the start of official practice now that he no longer is the U.S. senior women's national team coach. However, Auriemma admits it doesn't feel like he has all of this spare time on his hands.

"The worst part is that everybody knows that so everybody wants a piece of that so in some ways because they know you don't have a lot of commitments there is an unbelievable push of 'we need Coach Auriemma to do this,'" Auriemma said. "I look at the month of May and there are three (free) days. When the White House asked us 'give us some days when we would be available to go down there' I think Sarah (Darras, UConn's Director of Women's Basketball Administration) had three days available during the month of May. Part of it is I am finally getting a chance to take a vacation for the first time in a long time but just an awful lot of things and 90 percent of them I enjoy doing."

Among the events on Auriemma's schedule is a basketball camp he is set to work with legendary former Indiana men's basketball coach Bobby Knight later this week.

There is still no date set for a trip to the White House when the Huskies can be honored for winning the program's eighth national title. It is possible it could happen in May and likely would have been had the Boston Marathon bombings not occurred. Obviously the aftermath has put something like celebrating national championship teams on the back burner.

After the Hall of Fame ceremony, Auriemma and the Huskies were honored on "Husky Day" at the State Capitol. Auriemma and assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph were in attendance as where all were all eight returning UConn players. Associate head coach and senior guard Kelly Faris were the only ones missing from the event.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jessica Moore not returning to Connecticut Sun

With the recent signing of undrafted rookie free agent Chatilla van Grinsven out of Saint Joseph's by the Connecticut Sun I noticed that when you added her to the three draftees and the players on the roster, that gave the Sun 17 players apparently set to come to training camp. With the WNBA training camp maximum being 15, that made me a bit curious.

Well, the one thing I was told was that although former UConn forward/center Jessica Moore is on the roster she is an unrestricted free agent and at this point the team has no plans of bringing her back.

Moore played 37 regular-season games with Connecticut during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and had 60 points and 30 rebounds. Moore played for five WNBA teams during her career and averaged 2.9 points and 2 rebounds in 221 career regular-season games.

That brings the roster to 16 meaning at least one player is planning to report late so the Sun will be able to start training camp on May 5 at or under the roster limit.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Sun sign former Saint Joseph's star

According to a release on the Saint Joseph's site, the Connecticut Sun signed Big 5 Player of the Year Chatilla van Grinsven to a training camp contact.

As a senior van Grinsven, a 6-foot-3 forward from Hellmond, Netherlands, led the Hawks in scoring averaging 14.9 points per game, rebounding (10.5 per game) and blocks with 47 in 31 games. Ironically, her collegiate career came to an end in the state of Connecticut with a loss to Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Gampel Pavilion.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Svetlana Abrosimova retires from Russian national team

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova announced on her official Twitter account that she has retired from the Russian national team.

Here is what she wrote on her page

I decided not to come back to my national team. It was always an honor to represent my country. Thank u for supporting me for last 14 years.

Abrosimova played on Russia's 2000 and 2008 Olympic team and was a member of the bronze-medal winning squad in 2008. She was left off the 2012 Olympic squad. She averaged 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 15 career Olympic games.

Anybody in Storrs today can stop into the Daily Bar and order the " “GR8 Celebration Cake Ice Cream.”

GR8 Celebration Cake Ice Cream has a sweet cake batter base with eight candy sprinkles, representing each of the eight national championships won the by the women’s basketball team under the leadership of Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma.

The special flavor was developed by the ice cream-making staff at the UConn Creamery, a part of the Department of Animal Science and CANR.  The ice cream was produced on Tuesday and is undergoing the freezing process that will allow the final product to be available in the Dairy Bar (3636 Horsebarn Hill Road Extension) on Thursday.

Also, Kelly Faris and Bria Hartley will be among the UConn student-athletes modeling UConn's new uniforms with the new logo at Gampel Pavilion this afternoon.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Former Husky a win away from Israel league title

Former UConn standout Charde Houston had her third double double in as many games in the Israel championship series to lead Maccabi Ashdod within a victory of the title.

Houston had 16 points and 11 rebounds as Maccabi Ashdod defeated Elizur Ramla 70-64 on Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in the best of five game series.

Houston is averaging 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in the championship series.

Allison Hightower of the Connecticut Sun had game-high totals of 22 points (on 10 of 14 shooting), five assists and two steals for Elizur Ramla and she is averaging 20 points and four assists in the championship series.


UConn coaches ready to hit the recruiting trail

Fresh after leading UConn to its eighth national title and taking part in the post-championship celebrations, it is time to get back on the road for UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph.

Like so many of the coaching staffs from the major programs, the quartet will head out to the Deep South Classic in Raleigh, N.C., the Boo Williams event in Hampton, Va. and Windy City Classic in Chicago.

With commitments from Class of 2014 perimeter players Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams the obvious focus for the UConn coaching staff is landing some inside players.A'ja Wilson is clearly at the top of UConn's recruiting wish list and she will be playing in the Deep South Classic.

I spoke to Wilson's AAU coach Jerome Dickerson (who also coached former Husky Kalana Greene with the Palmetto 76ers AAU program). He said that "everybody loves UConn and loves Geno" and UConn is very much in play with the multi-faceted Wilson who stands anywhere from 6-4 to 6-6 depending on which site you choose to believe. Dickerson believes Wilson will wait to take her official visits before making a decision. Dickerson also said that Wilson received her invitation to try out for the U.S. junior national team. What I've been hearing if that the list of invitees could be out as early as the end of the week but it is more likely for the list to be announced by USA Basketball next week.

Kathryn Westbeld who led her Fairmont squad to the Ohio Division I state title and the 6-foot-2 forward plays for the All-Ohio Black and Taylor Rooks, an AAU teammate of Edwards and the Gatorade State Player of the Year in New Jersey as a junior, have both visited UConn. Another frontcourt player on UConn's radar is Lexi Gussert out of Forest Park High in Crystal Park, Mich. There was a recent television report stating that Gussert narrowed her list to five schools and UConn was not on that list. However, what I've been hearing is UConn is still very much involved in the recruitment of Gussert while Christ the King star Sierra Calhoun is another player drawing interest from UConn.

With so many of the top players at events the UConn coaches will be attending this weekend it would not be shocking to me if a new name or two emerged but we'll have to wait and see.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Employee discrimination lawsuit against Geno Auriemma dismissed

The employee discrimination filed against UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and USA Basketball by NBA security officer Kelley Hardwick in the Supreme Court in Manhattan on June 11 has been dismissed.

The court ruled that the lawsuit filed in Hardwick’s behalf “lack subject matter jurisdiction” and “this court find that the alleged discriminatory conduct or retaliation had no impact in New York.”
In the official dismissal filed on Monday, it was written that “plaintiff's complaint contains allegations of discrimination which took place outside of New York by foreign corporations or non-residents. It is undisputed that defendant USAB is a foreign corporation and neither Auriemma or (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley reside within New York State.”

Hardwick alleges that Auriemma attempted to kiss her in the hallway of a hotel in Ekaterinburg, Russia in 2009. Auriemma was there as the head coach of the U.S. senior national team while Hardwick provided security detail during the tournament the U.S. squad was playing in.

Hardwick claims that Auriemma sought to have her removed from providing security for the U.S. national team due to her rejection of Auriemma’s advances.

In the initial filing Hardwick claimed that she received “significantly diminished material responsibilities” after Auriemma said he did not want Hardwick to prove security for the U.S. women’s team at the 2012 Olympics. Hardwick did not work security for the U.S. women’s basketball team but was on the security detail for the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball squad. USA Basketball and the National Basketball Association were also included as part of the lawsuit.

Auriemma’s attorneys filed a response denying the accusations and questioning whether he was liable to be sued since he does not reside or work in New York. An amended complaint was filed attempted to prove his actions do fall under the jurisdiction of New York since he had business dealings with New York-based companies. However, the court ruled that Hardwick’s amended complaint did not prove that.
“Mr. Auriemma is very pleased with the decision,” said Kenneth Novikoff, one of the attorneys representing Auriemma. “He unconditionally denies all of the allegations against him made by the plaintiff and he was confident that when the court reviewed all the facts and all of the arguments that the case would be dismissed so he is pleased that the case has been dismissed.”

USA Basketball issued a statement on Tuesday regarding the dismissal of the lawsuit against them.
“USA Basketball received noticed yesterday that it as well as Geno Auriemma has been dismissed from the lawsuit filed in New York by Kelley Hardwick. USA Basketball is pleased with decision and will make no further comment on the litigation.”

Attorneys for Hardwick filed an appeal on Tuesday. An attorney for Hardwick did not immediately return a call seeking comment while Auriemma referred questions to his attorney and declined to comment.


Practice facility now a reality at UConn

It was a day Geno Auriemma thought would never come.

He remembers when weeks turned into months and ultimately years and the completion date of state of the art basketball arena he was promised would be built on the UConn campus kept getting pushed back. For years he was hearing that there would a practice facility.

Finally it all became a reality with a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday.

"I thought this was the day Gampel would open when I got the job," Auriemma said. "The way they talked about Gampel 'hey, we are going to open Gampel Pavilion.' I said 'when? Oh, next year, next month, next week.' So to think that we went to the (Greer) Field House to Gampel to this, if anybody told you we were going to be able to do this I would think they are smarter than I am because I didn't see it coming but it is at a time when it is supposed to be here, this is when it is supposed to be here with all the questions of where are you as a program, where are you there is no better statement to make that we are no retrenching, we are not feeling sorry for ourselves, we are building, we are going forward and this is a step in the right direction, We already get the best players and the best people and our job is to make them better and this is another way to make them better.

"Players have to make their class schedules around practice (now). Tuesdays and Thursdays you can only practice at this time because you have to share with the men and Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you can only practice at certain times and kids are limited academically but now if we want to practice at 3 o'clock and the guys want to practice at 3 o'clock, not a problem. That allows us some more flexibility academically, kids what to go in the gym and work out well you can't because there are intramurals or you can't because there is a science fair, there are a lot of things that the building is used for and there is an academic center that we don't have. It just enhances their ability to be really, really good."

A whirlwind week for Kelly Faris

Kelly Faris admitted that she has never had a week quite like this one.

It all began Tuesday night when she helped UConn complete the run to an eighth national title. The following day the team was welcomed home by fans at Bradley Airport followed by a "Victory Lap" on a double-decker bus and a rally outside the UConn Student Union attended by about 2,000 people.

Next up for Faris were some trips to and from Bristol in preparation for the WNBA draft before she headed to Hartford to join her teammates for a championship parade. As she did during the on-campus rally, Faris stepped to the microphone and thanked the fans for their support not only on the day of the celebration but every day.

Finally came a night Faris won't soon forget as she was taken with the 11th overall pick in the WNBA draft Monday night by the Connecticut Sun.

So Kelly, just how has this past week been?

"I couldn't even tell you," Faris said. "I was sitting here this week trying to go to bed and 'wait, what happened to our national championship.' It kind of got pushed to the side a little bit so after this I am going to relax, go back, catch up on some school work and kind of soak it all in."


Monday, April 15, 2013

Kelly Faris thrilled to stay "home"

                                                  (Associated Press photo)
Kelly Faris poses for photo with WNBA President
Laurel Richie after being taken in first round by
Connecticut Sun in Monday's WNBA draft.
There have been UConn players who privately longed to head out of the Nutmeg State for the start of their WNBA career. However, Kelly Faris, is not in that category.

Faris was beaming with joy after the Connecticut Sun selected the former Husky with the 11th pick in the first round of Monday's WNBA draft.

“I wasn't ready to leave Connecticut yet,” Faris said. “I can't explain what it feels like. It is like a dream come true“This is probably the most nervous I have ever been because I didn't know and I had absolutely no clue. I am somebody who needs a plan, I like to know what I am doing and I didn't. The whole time I didn't (know), maybe it could be my name, maybe it couldn't and I had to wait, it was the hold waiting game finally they called my name and it was a relief.”

Faris is heading to a team seemingly pretty stocked with perimeter players with Kara Lawson, Montgomery, Kalana Greene, Allison Hightower and Tan White. Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham, who was the leading scorer in the 2012 Olympics while playing for Great Britain, is coming into training camp and the Sun also signed Natasha Lacy.There was some pre-draft chatter that the Sun wouldn’t need a player like Faris since she has a similar skill set to Greene.

Even with Asjha Jones sitting out the season, Faris is one of five UConn products on the Sun roster with Jessica Moore joining reigning MVP Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Greene.

Faris is especially thrilled to be reunited with Charles and Greene, who she played with on UConn's 2009-10 national championship team.

“There are always memories in this (UConn) program,” Faris said. “You see them here and there trying to get up there when I was here for summer school, I wanted to be with people who had the same process of going to UConn, I wanted to have them as teammates because we had that common bond, we had that same mindset.

“It is so good for me to feel like all that hard work paid off. It means the world to me that they are going to trust me, put their faith in me just like Coach (Geno Auriemma) did four years ago.”
Faris finished tied for second on UConn’s career list with 154 games played, was fifth in minutes played (4,258) and steals (294) and sixth in assists (545). She also scored 1,109 points and had 821 rebounds helping UConn to four straight Final Four appearances and a [pair of national titles.

Faris is the 25th Husky taken in the draft and the run of first rounders began in 2001 when Svetlana Abrosimova and Kelly Schumacher were taken seventh and 14th overall. The following year Sue Bird became the first UConn product to go No. 1 overall and the Huskies made history by having four of the top six picks in the draft. Diana Taurasi (2004), Tina Charles (2010) and Maya Moore (2011) were also No. 1 overall selections.

Former Baylor star Brittney Griner was taken with the first pick by Phoenix. Elena Delle Donne went second to Chicago followed by Tulsa selecting Skylar Diggins with the third pick.

The Sun took Iowa State’s Anna Prins in the second round and South Florida’s Andrea Smith was taken in the third round.


In wake of Boston tragedy, WNBA considered postponing draft

WNBA President Laurel Richie said about 75 minutes before the start of the WNBA's college draft that the league considered postponing the event follow the tragic events earlier in the day at the Boston Marathon when there have been two reported deaths and nearly 80 injuries following a pair of explosions near the finish line.

"We had discussions whether or not we should continue," Riche said. "Those are always tough decisions and (the WNBA made) the decision to go ahead with tonight's draft."

Richie began her press conference by expressing her sympathies on the events in Boston.

"I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the tragedy in Boston and to say to everyone affected, to the city of Boston," Richie said, "I know I speak for the entire WNBA family in saying that our hearts and prayers go out to all who were affected in Boston."


Connecticut Sun in waiting game

                                                                                   (Associated Press photo)
Former Oklahoma State forward Toni Young is among the prospects who
could be a good fit with the Connecticut Sun if she is still around at No. 11
While there were no complaints as the Connecticut Sun was rolling along to the best record in the Eastern Conference last summer, the result of the special regular season is that the Sun will be in a waiting pattern during tonight's WNBA draft.

Connecticut has the No. 11 pick and with Asjha Jones decision to sit out the upcoming season, the Sun suddenly looks a little thin at the power forward position with Kelsey Griffin (who averaged 16.5 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Bendigo Spirit in Australia's WNBL) and Mistie Mims the returning players with the best chance of getting Jones' minutes. Other potential power forwards on the roster are former UConn standout Jessica Moore (who averaged 1.5 points and 0.9 rebounds in eight regular-season games with the Sun), former first-round pick Ashley Walker (who averaged 13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocked shots for Targoviste in Romania's pro league) and Latoya Williams (who played for Novi Zagreb in Croatia where she averaged 16.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game). What all of this means is it would benefit the Sun if there was a power forward for Connecticut to take with the 11th pick.
                                                        (Associated Press photo)
Illinois' Karisma Penn is one of more versatile forwards
available in 2013 WNBA draft which will be held tonight.

It is a whole new world in Connecticut Sun land with Mike Thibault now calling the shots on draft day in Washington. New head coach Anne Donovan, assistant coach Jen Gillom (who did the majority of the scouting during the college season while Donovan was focused on her duties in her final season as the Seton Hall head coach) and general manager Chris Sienko will be the ones comparing notes before making the second to last pick in the first round.

While the trio never asked for my opinion on this matter, here are some thoughts on potential picks for the Sun especially since Brittney Griner should go No. 1 overall to Phoenix while top posts Kelsey Bone and Tianna Hawkins also figure to be long gone by the time the Sun get the make their first-round selection.

Kayla Alexander, Syracuse: There's absolutely no way the all-time leading scorer in Syracuse history would fall to No. 11, crazier things have happened on draft day. The 6-foot-4 Alexander made remarkable strides during her four seasons with the Orange and is one of the best shot blockers not names Brittney Griner in the draft.
Toni Young, Oklahoma State: Every year it seems as if an under the radar prospect rises up the draft boards and Young is that player in 2013. Young averaged a double-double as a senior and when you factor in that the 6-foot-2 Young is a world-class high jumper and it's easy to see why she is drawing some much attention heading into the draft.
Carolyn Davis, Kansas: Probably more likely to be taken in the second round, Davis is a terrific finisher around the basket as she set Kansas' career mark in field-goal percentage although the fact that she set career lows in field-goal and free-throw percentage should be a bit of a concern.
Karisma Penn, Illinois: Penn is another player that many expect to be taken in the second round but she is a multi-faceted player who unlike the other candidates mentioned, was able to connect several times from 3-point range and her versatility is epitomized by the fact that she is the only one of the 49 prospects listed on the WNBA official site with more than 200 assists, steals and blocks.
Markel Walker, UCLA: Some of her offensive numbers are concerning especially the fact that she shot 39 percent from the field in the last two seasons but she is a terrific rebounder as well as a solid passer and defender. It might be a bit of a reach to take her in the first round but with a new regime in Connecticut nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

Obviously the landing spot of former UConn guard Kelly Faris who is expected to be gone by the time the Sun picks at No. 11 is one of the story lines I will be following tonight and it will be interesting to see where Faris lands. It will also be worth watching if a Connecticut native goes in the draft for the first time since Jen Rizzotti was taken by Houston in 1999.

Former Wilbur Cross star Chantell Alford is one of the 49 players on the WNBA's online draft database and the former Boston University star was one of three Connecticut natives to take part in the WNBA combine in New Orleans earlier this month. Former Mercy High star Bianca Simmons and New Britain's Symone Roberts also were at the combine so I'll be curious to see if any of those three get the call.

Finally, individual game tickets for Connecticut Sun home games went on sale this morning at 10 a.m.

Fans can purchase tickets to all 17 regular season home games at Mohegan Sun Arena as well as tickets for a preseason game on May 11 against the New York Liberty. Tickets will be available at,, or by calling 1-877-WNBA-TIX.

Season tickets and mini plans are also on sale now, and can be reserved by calling a Sun Ticket Representative at 1.877.SUN.TIXX (786-8499) or via e-mail at Fans can also purchase season tickets and either a Big Game or Pick Six Mini Plan by visiting

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Geno hoping for good fit for Kelly Faris

There are few players that Geno Auriemma holds in higher regard than Jamelle Elliott so when Auriemma compared the career of graduating senior Kelly Faris to the former UConn forward and assistant coach when he spoke to the crowd at today's post-parade rally, there might not be a greater compliment.

A few minutes later Auriemma expressed his hope that Faris finds an ideal landing spot in tomorrow's WNBA draft much like Tiffany Hayes did last season when Atlanta swooped in and grabbed her early in the second round.

"I hope she lands with a really, really good team, an established coaching staff that has a lot of good, veteran players where she can use her talents as a role player early on kind of like she did when she was a freshman and helped us win a national championship and grew into the type of player she is today," Auriemma said. "I hope the same scenario plays out in the WNBA (rather) that she goes to a team that throws her out there for 35 minutes and says 'OK, help us make the playoffs.' I am hoping she lands with a good team."

While it is dangerous to buy too much into pre-draft speculation, the thought it that Faris will land somewhere between 6-10 and figures to be gone by the time the Connecticut Sun's turn comes up at No. 11.

Faris has been slotted in as early as No. 6 to Seattle in mock drafts. New York, San Antonio and Indiana come up next and Faris could easily go at any of those spots. If would be a dream scenario if Faris were taken by Indiana, the reigning WNBA champions. Faris played her high school ball at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis which is about a 15 mile drive on I-70 from the home court of the Fever.

The draft starts at 8 p.m. and the first round will air on ESPN2. The second and third rounds will be televised on ESPNU.

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No predictions for national title No. 9 from Geno

Geno Auriemma certainly knows how to play to the crowd and those who gathered following Sunday's parade honoring the national-championship UConn squad would have roared their approval had Auriemma proclaimed that the Huskies would be back for another parade in 2014.

However, he opted not to burden his talent-laden 2013-14 squad with that albatross.

“Everybody knows that is the goal so why do we need to talk about it?” Auriemma said. “Every single person that was out there (on the stage) knows we have the ability to win a national championship. It is understood so let's not throw it out there all the time.”

Auriemma’s Huskies will return not only Final Four Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart but a trio of All-Americans in Bria Hartley (who earned that honor a season ago), Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

“We want to do this again,” said UConn freshman forward Morgan Tuck said. “We want to have the same feeling. We want to experience what we are experiencing now.”

Organizers estimated than 10,000 turned out on a blustery day in Hartford to watch the team make the rounds in a double decker bus similar to the one used during the team’s “Victory Lap” around campus on Wednesday.

With eight of the 11 players having never been a part of a national-championship team or its emotional aftermath, there was a sense of exuberance among the Huskies as they were able to celebrate winning the program’s eighth national title.

“It just kind of validates how hard we worked all season and proved why we do this,’ Dolson said. “It is such an exciting thing to see so many of them out there. It's just overwhelming. I never would have expected all of this stuff after winning a national championship. I expected maybe a trophy, a ceremony like this but nothing like when we came back people on the side of the highway gong to campus and then coming here and doing this whole parade.”

Auriemma said that Stewart and Tuck have expressed interest in playing for the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U-19 World Championships while Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley are among those expected to try out for the U.S. World University Games squad. He said that Moriah Jefferson hasn't made it clear that she wants to play for the U-19 team while the condition of Dolson's right ankle and left foot would decide whether she decides to try out for the World University Games team.

"Going to play USA Basketball again because that is something really important to her (Stewart) and they will be playing for a gold medal in the 19-and under World Championship, that is what she lives for is winning, if she has an opportunity to win a gold medal and I hope she does," Auriemma said. "I hope she takes this experience and just builds on it. I hope her confidence level gets to the point where it is unshakable. What  happened this year is her confidence was shook because she had never been in that situation before. I am hoping when she comes back in September she just picks up where she left off, I don';t see why she wouldn't. I am not going to try to project Stewie from a freshman who is the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four to sophomore year, Stewie is the best player in the country college or WNBA. I am not going to put those expectations on her, I am just going to show up in September and enjoy it.

"Kaleena, Bria, Morgan, Stewie (will play for USA Basketball). Moriah don't know, Stef I think it is going to depend on how her leg feels. I am inclined to think she is probably going to take the summer off, that is what I would advise her to do is get healthy and be 100 percent, ready to go in September."

Auriemma said that the Final Four that he was planning to be at the Masters on Friday but he never made it.

"I had every intention on Friday of getting up in the morning, going down there but my flight was at 7:20, I got up at 12:30 and I missed my flight. It was a bad time but I wish I could have gone."

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Kelly Faris likely to become UConn's 13th WNBA first-round pick

                                                                                                (Associated Press photo)
Kelly Faris is expected to be taken in the first round in Monday's WNBA draft

There is a sense of uncertainty right now in Kelly Faris' world.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the former UConn guard will become the 13th Husky to be taken in the first round in the WNBA draft since 2001. Where she ends up being taken, well that is still be determined.

“I don't know,” said Faris, who finished fifth all-time at UConn in steals and sixth in assists. “We will see what happens, it is one of those things that is kind of up in the air and you will have to wait and see.”

The pre-draft speculation has centered around Faris potentially landing somewhere between picks 6-9. Barring a major stunner, Brittney Griner of Baylor will go first to Phoenix with Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame the next two picks.

Washington has the No. 4 pick and the Mystics coach is Mike Thibault formerly of the Connecticut Sun who joked on Thursday’s conference call that Washington has the top pick in “the other draft.” The feeling is the Thibault will take a post player at No. 4 and with New York having the No. 5 pick, Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said he’d like to take a post player as well.

Seattle, picking sixth, figures to be the earliest Faris could go. New York picks again at No. 7 and some mock drafts have slotted Faris to the Liberty with that selection. San Antonio and Indiana are other possible landing spots. Indiana would be intriguing since Faris grew up in nearby Plainfield, Ind. If Faris is still sitting there when the Connecticut Sun pick at No. 11 it will be an interesting dilemma for the Sun which would seem to be better served taking a post player since the Sun has a major void at forward with Asjha Jones sitting out the 2013 season.

The track record of UConn graduates certainly is a factor which could help Faris come draft day.
There have been 24 former UConn players drafted by WNBA teams since 1998 and the only one not to play in the league was current assistant coach Shea Ralph but that was a result of her surgically-repaired knees not allowing her to pursue a professional career than an indication of her status of a potential professional player.

“I think when you go to a program like this the expectations are high and people automatically think certain things about you, the caliber of player that you are and because of all the people that went before and they performed the way that they did and set a standard,” Faris said. “They have definitely paved the way for the rest of us.”

Here's a look at the UConn players taken in the WNBA draft.
1998 Rita Williams 2-13 Washington
1999 Kara Wolters 3-36 Houston
1999 Jen Rizzotti 4-48 Houston
2000 Paige Sauer 2-31 Los Angeles
2001 Svet Abrosimova 1-7 Minnesota
2001 Kelly Schumacher 1-14 Indiana
2001 Shea Ralph 3-40 Utah
2002 Sue Bird 1-1 Seattle
2002 Swin Cash 1-2 Detroit
2002 Asjha Jones 1-4 Washington
2002 Tamika Williams 1-6 Minnesota
2004 Diana Taurasi 1-1 Phoenix
2005 Jessica Moore 2-24 Charlotte
2005 Ashley Battle 2-25 Seattle
2006 Barbara Turner 1-11 Seattle
2006 Ann Strother 2-15 Houston
2006 Willnett Crockett 2-22 Los Angeles
2008 Ketia Swanier 1-12 Connecticut
2008 Charde Houston 3-30 Minnesota
2009 Renee Montgomery 1-4 Minnesota
2010 Tina Charles 1-1 Connecticut
2010 Kalana Greene 2-13 New York
2011 Maya Moore 1-1 Minnesota
2012 Tiffany Hayes 2-14 Atlanta
*-Former UConn stars Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales were not drafted since they were allotted to the New York and Orlando franchises.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

What's left for UConn? How about a 40-0 season

Over the last couple of decades the NCAA record book looks like a shrine to the UConn women's basketball program.

However, there at least one record left for the Huskies to strive for and that is a 40-0 season.

Last season Baylor became the first women's basketball team in NCAA Division I history to go 40-0 but the Huskies have a chance to match that mark during the 2013-14 season.

Here's a look at UConn's schedule for next season.
18 games in the American Athletic Conference
Non-conference road games: Baylor, Duke, Maryland, Penn State
Non-conference home games: Hartford, Oregon, Stanford and one more game likely to be against UC Davis
Maggie Dixon Classic: Opponent yet to be finalized but expected to be California
Hall of Fame Challenge: UConn plays Boston University, Old Dominion, St. Bonaventure and Ohio State

Certainly UConn has the returning pieces to make a run at an undefeated season. UConn returns 83.1 percent of its scoring off the national championship game which ranks third among UConn's title-winning teams. After winning the title in 2003, UConn returned every player who scored a point en route to a third straight championships and after winning the title in 2000 the Huskies brought back 92.1 percent of its scoring.

I've received a few emails inquiring why Breanna Stewart was credited with having the most points by a freshman in the NCAA tournament since 2000. The reason is that the ESPN stats department researched the top scoring freshmen and stopped at 2000. Our of curiosity I took a closer look at the NCAA record book and found two freshmen who had more points in the NCAA tourney than the 105 scored by Stewart.

In 1998 Tamika Catchings had 117 points and Cheryl Miller had 109 points in 1983. That's some pretty good company for Stewart.


Parade sponsorships rolling in

In about 24 hours the committee planning tomorrow's national-championship parade in Hartford have received enough money from the business and civic community to be able to hold the parade.

As of 9 p.m.Friday night, the following have contributed funds to the parade and rally:
·      Webster Bank;
·      Northeast Utilities;
·      Travelers;
·      United Technologies Corporation;
·      Aetna ;
·      Cigna;
·      Bank of America;
·      Virtus Investment Partners, Inc.;
·      The Hartford ;
·      The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company;
·      Whelen Engineering;
·      Robinson & Cole LLP;
·      Berkshire Bank;
·      SNY;
·      Global Spectrum;
·      UCONN Co-op;
·      Connecticut Sun; and
·      The Metropolitan District.

The 2013 parade will begin at 4 p.m. at the State Capitol, travel north on Trinity Street, take a right on Jewell Street, bear right at Gold Street and halfway around Pulaski Circle onto Hudson Street, then make a right onto Capitol Avenue before returning to the State Capitol, where the rally will be held.  

For a map of the parade route and more information, visit

Friday, April 12, 2013

Groundbreaking for practice facility set for Tuesday

UConn announced that groundbreaking for the UConn Basketball Developmental Center is planned for Tuesday at 1 p.m. near the Stadium Facilities Building.

The 78,200 square foot facility, estimated to cost $35 million, will feature practice gyms for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with locker rooms, coaches’ offices, and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine and strength training. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

UConn debuts its new logo

UConn has unveiled its new logo which is the centerpiece in the university's rebranding with "UConn" replacing "Connecticut" on the front of the uniforms. The court at Gampel Pavilion was covered up yesterday so that the logo can be painting onto the court.

Championship parade will be held on Sunday

A parade and rally to honor the UConn women's basketball team's run to an eighth national title will be held on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. at the State Capitol in Hartford.

The parade will begin at the State Capitol, travel north on Trinity Street, take a right on Jewell Street, bear right at Gold Street and halfway around Pulaski Circle onto Hudson Street, then make a right onto Capitol Avenue before returning to the State Capitol, where the rally will be held.

“The UConn women have once again focused the spotlight of college basketball on Connecticut by bringing home another national championship and proving to the nation why the road to the Final Four always runs through Connecticut,” Governor Dannel Malloy said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to joining thousands of Husky fans in Hartford on Sunday to let the team and Coach Auriemma know how proud we are of their success this season.”

Kelly Faris invited to ESPN for WNBA draft

                                                                                                                       (Associated Press photo)
Kelly Faris, seen scoring two of her 16 points in Tuesday's national championship game, is
one of 12 players invited to Monday night's WNBA draft at ESPN's headquarters.
Former UConn guard Kelly Faris is one of the 12 draft prospects expected to be in attendance at ESPN for Monday's WNBA draft.

The WNBA announced that Faris will be joined by likely No. 1 overall pick Brittney Griner of Baylor, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame, Ohio State's Tayler Hill, Alex Bentley of Penn State), California's Layshia Clarendon, Lindsey Moore of Nebraska, Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers, Maryland's Tianna Hawkins, Oklahoma State's Toni Young and Kelsey Bone of Texas A&M.

Faris was a member of two national championship teams at UConn, finished tied for second with 154 games played with the Huskies, was fifth in minutes played (4,258) and steals (294) and sixth with 545 assists. She also finished with 1,109 points and 821 rebounds and led the Huskies to a 143-11 record during her four seasons.

The draft will be held in prime time for the first time and will begin shortly after 8 p.m.


Bright future for the Huskies

The last strand of the basketball net had yet to be snipped on Tuesday night when the talk likely had already commenced about the chance of a run at a second straight national title for UConn.

                                                                                              (Associated Press photo)
The return of All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis are
two reasons why UConn will be a serious threat to win a second straight title. 
With all due respect to the multi-faceted Kelly Faris whose absence will not be an easy one to contend with, all the pieces are in place for the Huskies. UConn will bring back three players who earned WBCA All-American honors (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stefanie Dolson this year and Bria Hartley in 2012) and anybody who watched even a snippet of the Final Four would be hard pressed not to think that Breanna Stewart is one of the very best returning players in the country. When you add in the return rising sophomores Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck and juniors to be Brianna Banks and Kiah Stokes to go with talented incoming freshman Saniya Chong and it would be a shock if UConn does not start next season as the No. 1 team in the country.

"I told them they can do it," Faris said. "They have more talent than anybody. I think they learned in the last month or so what it takes and you don't see that very often in young guys and from the bottom up everybody grew up a little bit. The fact that they were able to figure it out at a young age and they have a few more years with the younger ones and obviously Stef and Bria, they matured and they will be good."

Of course at this time last year Baylor was in a similar situation with the return of a nucleus off a team which went 40-0 and won the national title. Even with national player of the year Brittney Griner, All-American point guard Odyssey Sims, talented seniors Brooklyn Pope, Destiny Williams, Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden all back and a talented incoming freshman class coming in, there was a sense that Baylor had all the pieces to make a run at another title. Instead, the Lady Bears fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

After Tuesday's game Hartley and her teammates weren't about to entertain thoughts of what it will take to defend its national title..

"We'll worry about that next year," Hartley said after the title game. "We want to enjoy this moment and enjoy what is going on. You don't want to think about next year yet, just get some rest, regroup and (take it)
one step at a time."

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kiah Stokes' dad said she's at UConn for the long haul

Apparently in Iowa there have been rumors of Kiah Stokes considering leaving UConn due to a lack of playing time.

I received an email when I was in New Orleans from a reporter from the Des Moines Register to see if I would do a phone interview with him on Kiah Stokes. I spent a few minutes on the phone with him and one of the questions I was asked was whether I thought Stokes would be leaving. I said that she seems to like it at UConn but you never can predict such things and I said I was not expecting either Michala Johnson or Lauren Engeln to transfer after last season.

Well, today another Iowa paper, The Gazette, posted a story where Stokes' father Greg Stokes shot down any talk that Kiah is thinking of leaving.

Here is some of what Greg Stokes, one of the best players in the history of the Iowa men's basketball program, had to say in the story.

“I think it would be correct to say that it’s been a disappointing season for her. She’s been battling (leg and back) injuries.

“And the mental things, she’s had to deal with a lot. (Coach Geno Auriemma) has expectations for everybody, including her, that she has to bring it every time she steps on the floor.

“If she doesn’t bring it every day, she’s not going to be rewarded with playing time.

“She has the physical skills. That’s the easy part. Once she gets the mental aspect, she can be a beast.”

I thought Greg Stokes was one of the best parents I've ever dealt with in the recruiting process and reading those quotes only strengthens my opinion of him. Stokes obviously "gets it" iny opinion and is supporting UConn coach Geno Auriemma's coaching of his daughter.

Stokes is an extremely talented player, a natural shot blocker who could make an impact at UConn but as her father said, it starts in practice. Stokes has made some progress in that area and if she can put it all together, she brings a unique dimension to the UConn team.


National champions receive rousing welcome home

The day after celebration following a national championship is not a new phenomenon on the UConn campus but there was a little bit of a new twist this year,

Rather than have a pep rally inside Gampel Pavilion, the UConn players and staff member rode on a double-decker bus on what was called a "Victory Lap."

While there weren't too many fans on the route, when the team arrived at Fairfield Way Plaza more than 2,000 supporters made up mostly of fellow UConn students were waiting for them.

"We talked about how we were going to do it this year and usually we had it in here and we thought that having it outside and making it more kind of spontaneous for the students and that is kind of who this is all for anyway," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I thought it worked out great, I thought the kids were generally really excited when they saw the crowd and just felt the energy."

The players were soaking up the energy generated from the crowd.

"It is amazing and they are behind us every day, every game and to have them all turn out like this is really special," UConn senior forward/center Heather Buck said.

"It is cool. They have had a great turnout in Gampel but it is nice to be out in fresh air and do the little double decker."

UConn President Susan Herbst, Director of Athletics Warde Manuel spoke at the rally outside the Student Union followed by Auriemma and Kelly Faris.

The highlight of Auriemma's time at the podium came courtesy of the energetic son of team videographer Keith Anderson who was wearing a bunch of beads from the week spent in New Orleans.

"You know how you get beads in New Orleans?" Auriemma asked drawing a rise out of the crowd. "You don't see me with any, Stef (Dolson) has a bunch actually Morgan Tuck has the most."

On a more serious note, Auriemma said the impact of winning the national title truly hits home when the team returns to campus.

"When you do something like we did last night, sometimes you don't realize because you are playing in it and it is a basketball game you think people here, we do it kind of in a bubble," Auriemma said. "We play Louisville and then you wake up the next morning, we didn't just win what we did was we gave a whole lot of people a reason to have a party I didn't go to school here but I have been here 28 years and the only thing we do better than championships in Storrs, Connecticut is we party. I know there are probably a lot of student-athletes here but I know that there are a couple and the other thing that you understand is when we do something like this, when one of our teams does something like this that reflects back on every single kid who plays sports at this university and that win was as much for you guys men and women as it was for our team."

Maya Moore thrilled to witness title No. 8

It goes without saying that Maya Moore had a part of UConn's sixth and seventh national titles and she was downright giddy about having the chance to be at New Orleans Arena when the Huskies captured their record-tying eighth national title on Tuesday night.

"It is amazing and I am really grateful to have played for him and be here in person to watch him win his eighth," Moore said.

"They don't quit, as hard as it is and the expectations, the struggles, they don't quit and I am so happy to see them finish it off."

It was especially gratifying for Moore to see former teammate Kelly Faris leave UConn as a national champion.

"It is so sweet," Moore said. "I remember sitting on that podium with Kelly next to me and we just lost to Notre Dame and for her to go out, not the way I went out, but to achieve it and the way they did it, it is great."

Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas were among the other former Huskies who were in UConn's locker room following the national championship game.

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Dolson, Hartley save their best for last

It wasn't a season of smooth sailing for UConn's All-American duo of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley.

                                                                                                 (Associated Press photo)
Juniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson delivered in a major way in Tuesday's
national championship victory over Louisville.
Dolson had a stress fracture in her right ankle which led to her missing more practices than she was able to take part in during the NCAA tournament and severly limited her offensive impact. Hartley lost her timing following a month-long hiatus in the preseason due to an ankle injury and struggled all season long to find the range from the perimeter and especially to get her mojo back.

However, they were able to leave any of their previous ailments and issues behind them as they combined for 25 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, five steals and two blocked shots to lead the Huskies to their eighth national title but first one since they have been at Connecticut.

"These last two years we kind of went through some growing pains a little bit, especially me and Stefanie we just had to develop, become better players, become better leaders for the rest of our teammates," Hartley said.

Earlier in the NCAA tournament UConn coach Geno Auriemma expressed his concerns whether Dolson would be able to survive the rigors of playing six games with her dealing with the issues in her right ankle and left foot. However. when Dolson woke up on Tuesday morning she was feeling better physically than she had been in some time.

"It did feel a lot better," Dolson said. "I came out real confident and ready to play just knowing that it was one more game, 40 more minutes and that was all I had to endure, that was worth it. Going out there, fighting through the pain every game during the tournament was worth to get this win for myself and for this team.

"I have grown up a lot as a person and a player in this last month of being injured and it has taught me a lot about the game and myself and my team. It means a lot that I was able to go out there and help my teammates to win a national championship."

While Dolson was thrilled to wake up feeling as well as she did, Hartley was just glad she was able to get any sleep the night before the game.

"I swear I had a dream, I was imagining this moment and the excitement," Hartley said. "Last night I couldn't sleep, I was up and I was sitting there and I was trying to force myself to go to sleep but I was really excited, really anxious to get out there and play for a national championship."

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Stewart leads UConn to eighth national title

Even before Breanna Stewart had played a second as a member of the UConn women's basketball team, the hype machine was in overdrive.

Her exploits with USA Basketball including being the leading scorer on a Pan Am team featuring a roster of college starts led one prominent WNBA coach to guarantee that Stewart would be a member of the 2016 Olympic team and others predicting that she was destined to join the all-time greats.

When she scored at least 20 points in three of her first four games, it seemed like she would live up to all the advanced billing.

Then without warning Stewart began to look like an ordinary freshman. The low point came when she missed 8 of 10 shots in the final two games of the regular season.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't quite sure what to make of his gifted prodigy. Then all of sudden the proverbial light bulb went on. In the days leading up to the Big East Auriemma boldly told his coaching staff that he thought Stewart would be the Big East tournament's Most Outstanding Player if the Huskies were to win the Big East title. She likely would have just that if UConn hadn't fallen to Notre Dame in the title game.

After missing the NCAA opener against Idaho due to a strained calf, Stewart erupted onto the scene but nothing could top her effort in the two games in the Final Four when she had 52 points, many of the spectacular variety to become the first freshman since 1987 to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the event.

"I just wanted to go out and play hard," Stewart said. "I was glad I was able to help my teammates out. They deserved it, especially the seniors, they deserved the national championship.

"It was an adjustment and I didn't think coming in from high school to college things are going to be easy. I kind of had to overcome some adversity and was able to get back to playing basketball."

Stewart joined Southern California’s Cheryl Miller, Texas’ Clarissa Davis and Tonya Edwards of Tennessee as the only freshmen to be Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Edwards was the last to accomplish that feat back in 1987 which is seven years before she was born.
"I've seen her play in the summers a bunch and in high school," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "She's just a phenomenal player.  I think Geno saved her for the tournament because he didn't play her as much throughout the year.  So I guess he knew what he was doing. 

"I think what you've seen from her in the NCAA Tournament, especially in the Final Four, is what all of us had expected the entire year, to be honest.  And I think she got injured at one point and then was going through just some growing pains as a freshman, but she sure figured it out at the right time." 

Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart partnership could be special

                                                                                    (Associated Press photo)
Breanna Stewart is averaging 20.3 points per game in her first four
NCAA tournament games and has a chance to become the first freshman
since 2000 to have at least 100 points in the NCAA tourney.
The last time UConn had back to back No. 1 recruits play together the result was Tina Charles and Maya Moore leading the Huskies to consecutive national titles.

Now it is time for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart to try to return UConn to the top of the women's basketball mountain.

They have a chance to make a bit of history tonight.

If Mosqueda-Lewis scores six points and Stewart ends up with 19 they will become just the second pair of UConn teammates to score at least 100 points in the same NCAA tournament (Sue Bird and Asjha Jones accomplished that feat in 2002).

The scary thing for opponents is that the duo will have two more seasons to play together.

"I am really happy for her and proud of her," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It does mesh well, she is somebody I have been playing with for so long (on USA Basketball teams) and we are so comfortable with each other that it is not really hard for us to find each other on the court if one of us is double teamed or try to get each other open especially if we are working together one of us is bound to be open."


Diana Taurasi 2003     155
Maya Moore 2009     124
Sue Bird 2002     121
Diana Taurasi 2004     118
Kara Wolters 1995     108
Asjha Jones 2002     101

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Huskies eyeing glorious finish to imperfect season

If ever you needed a reminder that the members of the UConn women's basketball team live in a different world from just about anything else, I bring you the perception of the 2012-13 season.

UConn lost one game to defending national champion and top-ranked Baylor by six points and the other three losses came to No. 2 Notre Dame by one point, in triple overtime and by two points. Yet people (myself) included are asking questions this week about UConn "salvaging" a season by winning the national title.

For the sake of full disclosure, I asked Geno Auriemma if this team has made a bigger jump in its collective mindset from the end of the Big East tournament and into the Big East tournament more than any other team he has had.

"Maybe not.  Maybe not. There's been other times when we've had to readjust how we do things, who we are and recalibrate, I guess.  I remember in 2003 and 2004 we lost in the Big East Tournament, one time in the finals and one time in the semifinals, and after that we had to go back and kind of switch gears a little bit and ended up coming out and winning the national championship both of those years.
"I'm kind of torn about all this, you know, because I know we made some changes and I know we changed a little bit, but, like I said yesterday ‑‑ and I know a lot of you guys weren't here ‑‑ we didn't have a ten‑game losing streak during the season and then we had to like fix everything and then come in as a 9th seed and shock the world and here we are:  How did they get here?  You know?
"We won 30‑some games and we beat the ACC champion by 30, the Big Ten champion by 30, the Pac‑12 champion by 26, and the Southeast Conference champion by 30.  So we didn't sneak into the tournament.  We just had to make a couple adjustments to how we thought and get a couple kids to kind of step outside their little world they lived in that was not helping them. So in terms of how much we've changed as a team, it looks like a lot on the outside to what you're seeing, but internally it wasn't that much.  It was just a few little things that had to be adjusted."

It is a bit of a double-edged sword. Players come to UConn because they want to compete for a national championship every single year but once they get here, they quickly realize the fishbowl they reside in.

"You know that when you get here," UConn senior guard Kelly Faris said. "If you don't understand how to handle that then this is not the place for you and when you get here as a freshman you will learn how to handle situations like that and understand the expectations. That is what makes this program what it is. If there is anything less that expected then you are every other school in the country. This is different because you lose a couple of games and it is like 'dang, you guy didn't do so well this season.' When you sit and think about, we only lost so many games but as a player and as a part of the program you are thinking along those lines, we should have won that game, this game and we shouldn't have a loss."

For the first time since the 1992-93 season UConn failed to win either the Big East regular season or tournament title but none of that will matter if the Huskies beat tonight to win the national title.

"That is how it is when you come to Connecticut, they win so often and they have so many undefeated seasons," UConn junior guard Bria Hartley said. "If we end this year with a national championship, I think it is a pretty great season."

Special honor for former SCSU star

Former Southern Connecticut State star Kate Lynch received the Junior/Community College National Coach of the Year honor at last night's WBCA awards dinner.

Lynch led the Community College of Rhode Island to a 24-5 record and the Region XXI title in her second season as the head coach at CCRI.

Lynch graduated as Southern Connecticut State's all-time leading scorer with 1,779 points and led the Owls to the 2007 Division II national title.

The other coach of the year recipients were Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw in Divison I, Bentley's Barbara Stevens in Division II, Kris Huffman of DePauw (Division III) and George Wilson of the College of the Ozarks (NAIA).

Baylor's Brittney Griner was named the winner of the Wade Trophy and WBCA Defensive Player of the Year (UConn's Kelly Faris was one of the three finalists for that award).

Monday, April 08, 2013

Interesting memories of 2009 title game for Monique Reid

                                                (Associated Press photo)
Monique Reid is the only player remaining who took
part in 2009 national title game.

A chance encounter with former UConn great Tina Charles resulted in a flood of memories returning for Louisville fifth-year senior forward Monique Reid and the effervescent Reid was more than happy to offer her unique recollections as the only player who took to the court when UConn and Louisville met in the 2009 national title game.

So did Reid recall one of the two baskets she made? No, something significantly more humbling is what she took out of that contest.

"My great memory was playing against Tina Charles and I remember she blocked my shot three times but I got three rebound. I shot, she blocked it, I shot, she blocked it and I got it, I got it, I pump faked and she  blocked it into the band. She tapped me on my butt and said 'that's all right, good job.' I saw her this summer and we talked about it and I thought it was pretty funny. I always looked up to her so it was pretty funny."

That is not the only piece of UConn history she is fully aware of. She didn't hesitate when blurting out the year "1993" asked if she recalled the last time Louisville defeated UConn.

"I was 3," Reid said with a laugh. "I think I was at the game. Just kidding."

Reid wasn't laughing when she fell to the court with yet another knee injury in Sunday's semifinal win over California.

"I was thinking 'this could not be happening,'" Reid said. "Then Coach (Jeff) Walz came over and said 'which leg is it' and I said 'it was my bad leg.' He said you have been playing on one leg and you've been fine and I said 'you are right.'"

Reid has scored more than 1,700 career points but she has been slowed later in her career due to serious knee injuries. She has already undergone microfracture surgery and likely will need another one after the season is over but she has no regrets about returning for a fifth season of eligibility.

"The doctor said 'you are going to be in a lot of pain every day and it is going to be hard but I talked to my family, I talked to my trainer and it really helped a lot just helping to push through is my teammates believing in me," Reid said. "Coach Walz believes in me. Some people might think he is crazy putting somebody out there on one leg but I just go out there and try my hardest to help my team and it is just inside me, I have come too far to quite now."

Hammond has no regrets

                                                                                                                 (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn recruiting target Sara Hammond happy at Louisville.
Perhaps if the lure to play close to home wasn't so strong Sara Hammond would be a member of the UConn squad which is 40 minutes away from a record-tying eighth national title.

However, the native of Mt. Vernon, Ky. has no regrets about her decision to play at Louisville.

"That's been the main question since I've gone to college, why did you pick Louisville over UConn?" Hammond said. "It is ironic because every time we play them that's the main question that gets brought up: 'How does it feel to be playing UConn?' You could be on the other side playing with the Stefanie Dolsons and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis'. I decided to stay at home because I wanted my family to watch me play. I took a visit to Connecticut. I loved their program. I loved their campus. Geno Auriemma, besides Jeff Walz, was my next favorite coach. I saw the look on my mom's and dad's face when they saw me excited. They loved it and they were happy for me. But I could tell they were going to be really sad if they couldn't watch me play basketball. I knew 15 hours away from home would be heartbreaking for my family and me. That was the main reason I stayed at Louisville. Instead of driving 15 hours they would have to drive only two hours down the road.

"Connecticut's a great program. I love Geno Auriemma. The whole recruiting process with him was wonderful. Their players were amazing to me. But I'm happy to be at Louisville. I wouldn't trade it for
anything in the world. It's just kind of crazy how it's all evolved and we're here playing Connecticut for a national championship."

UConn got in late in the recruitment of Hammond but nearly was able to steal her away from under the noses of Big East rival Louisville.

"It was hard," Hammond said. "Throughout that summer I had my mind made up that I was going to Louisville just because of how hard they had recruited me. And then in late July I got a phone call from Geno Auriemma saying that they wanted me to come up and they were going to offer me a scholarship. At that point it was a toss-up. Me and my family sat down, we prayed about it, we talked it over, and I talked with my high school coach about it too. We came to a decision that you've got to do what your heart tells you and my heart told me to stay at home with my family."

When Louisville freshman forward Courtnee Walton arrived at New Orleans Arena for Saturday's open practices, there were a couple of familiar faces in the crowd ready to catch up for lost time.

Curtis Ekmark, Walton's high school coach and her former St. Mary's teammate Courtney Ekmark have been down in New Orleans and were able to chat with her for a few minutes.

Walton has precious memories of her time playing at St. Mary's for Curtis Ekmark, who was in town as one of the coaches for the WBCA High School All-American Game and with her daughter having committed to UConn, they play on sticking around for tomorrow's national title game.

"It was a lot of fun and I think it helped prepare me for practice like it would be in college and I would be a little more prepared," Walton said. "I definitely had great memories in high school and winning the national championship was great. We just played so we learned more about the game than just run here, do this and do that so as well as learning a lot of defensive principals. 

As for Courtney Ekmark, NCAA rules limit what a current college player can say about a player yet to sign a letter of intent but she did have this to say about Courtney:

"I love the way she is always positive and she always had so much energy and is really fun to play with."

UConn announced that fans can head to Gampel Pavilion to watch tomorrow night's national championship game. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. for the 8:30 p.m. game