Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Audience with President wraps up "nice week" for Breanna Stewart

As the UConn press conference on the grounds of the White House was wrapping up, tourists were peering through the steel bars trying to get a look at the Oval Office and many of them looked like they were about the same age as Huskies' phenom Breanna Stewart.

Stewart had no problems gaining entrance onto the facilities at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as she was not only one of the UConn players invited to meet with President Barack Obama to celebrate the Huskies' eighth national title but the President made it a point to highlight Stewart's wondrous run in the Final Four.

The amazing thing about Wednesday's festivities is that is was just one of the landmark moments she was part of in the last four days.

On Sunday Stewart had 16 points as the U.S. defeated France to win the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women. Stewart is the first U.S. team to lead the U-19 squad in scoring more than once and joined fellow Husky Morgan Tuck and Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones as the only U.S. players to win more than one U-19 gold medal.

"It has been a very exciting summer, come back from Lithuania and win a gold medal on Sunday and meet the President on Wednesday that is a pretty nice week," Stewart said. "I am happy to be here.

"I think it make you realize how many opportunities you get from basketball, being able to travel and if you succeed the opportunities continue and hopefully they will keep continuing."

Stewart finished as the tournament's fourth-leading scorer averaging 16.9 points per game and averaged 18.5 points per game in the semifinals and finals to earn MVP honors.

"I was happy with how I played," Stewart said. "It is nice to see the ball go in the hoop like that. It was obviously a team effort and I couldn't have done it without my teammates."

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White House visit puts capper on magical ride for 2012-13 Huskies

There is nothing like a trip to have an audience with the President of the United States and tour the hallowed grounds of the White House and surrounding area to put the finishing touches on celebration a national title.

This trip that seemed to be even more of the prevailing theme since the players have kind of scattered in recent months. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Bria Hartley led the U.S. to the World University Games title, Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were starters for the U.S. squad which recently won the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women. Kelly Faris is in the midst of her rookie season with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun which fellow seniors Heather Buck and Caroline Doty are transitioning to life following the end of their playing careers.

Scheduling a date was no easy task but somehow all 11 players and the entire coaching staff made it on the trip to D.C. which is the third during Barack Obama's time in the Oval Office.

"A lot has happened for our players," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "To go from people thinking that we ween't ready or this wasn't  going to be the year then winning and right after that the five players to play this summer and win gold medals for the United States, it has been a long journey for them since last September and this kind of wraps it up. Tomorrow is Aug. 1, some of them are going back to summer school, some are going home and then we start working on this year."

Faris couldn't agree with her coach more.

"It is a good way to wrap up your career," said Faris, who also was in attendance during UConn's 2010 trip to the White House. "I feel very fortunate to have opportunities like this and it is like Kaleena said it is for playing a game and you have this experiences and especially being a part of such a prestigious program."

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Geno set to appear at Jimmy V dinner in October

According to a release that Duke women's basketball SID Lindy Brown sent out earlier today, UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Duke's Joanne P. McCallie will both be at a dinner to promote the Jimmy V Classic on Oct. 2 in New York.

Here is the release:
The V Foundation for Cancer Research, one of the nation’s leading cancer research funding organizations, and Team ESPN are proud to announce the 19th Jimmy V Classic Dinner Auction will take place on October 2, 2013. Tickets are on sale now for the event which will be held at Gotham Hall in Manhattan.  Net proceeds from the auction will benefit The V Foundation and represents the charitable portion of the men’s and women’s Jimmy V Basketball Classics to be played on December 17, 2013, at two historic venues: Madison Square Garden and Cameron Indoor Stadium, respectively.  

“The Jimmy V Classic Dinner brings together college basketball coaches and V Foundation supporters for an exciting night,” said Susan Braun, CEO of The V Foundation.  “Through an evening filled with camaraderie and celebration, we will support the life-altering work of researchers nationwide to help put an end to the diseases known as cancer.”

Featured guests for the evening include coaches participating in the December Jimmy V Basketball Classics: Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Memphis’ Josh Pastner, Duke’s Joanne P. McCallie and the University of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma. The evening will include live and silent auctions to raise money for The V Foundation.  Digger Phelps will be honored with the Spirit of Jimmy V Award.  New York area collegiate coaches are also invited to attend.  

Tickets to the Jimmy V Classic New York Dinner Auction are available at a variety of levels, from individual seats to full tables.  Sponsorship packages are also available, which include game tickets to the men’s Jimmy V Basketball Classic in December.  

For more information about the Jimmy V Basketball Classic Dinner Auction, please contact The V Foundation at 1-800-4JimmyV or visit www.jimmyv.org.  To reserve tickets today, please contact Sue Tracey at 919-380-9595 or at stracey@jimmyv.org. 


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Breanna Stewart leads U.S. to U-19 title

UConn rising sophomore Breanna Stewart had 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the United States to a 61-28 win over France in the gold-medal game at the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women on Sunday. Stewart was named the tournament's most valuable player and she saved her best for last as she had 39 points in the final two games of the tournament.

Her UConn teammates Morgan Tuck (6 points, 4 rebounds) and Moriah Jefferson (four points, three rebounds, five assists and four steals) helped the U.S. to win the title for the fifth straight time. It was the second U-19 gold medal for Stewart and Tuck as well as Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones who finished with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson added four points, four rebounds and a steal for the U.S.

France which was within two points of the U.S. late in the round-robin game between the teams, only trailed by seven points at halftime but the three Huskies combined for 14 points as the U.S. outscored France 20-6 in the third quarter to break the game open.

Stewart led the U.S. in scoring and was fourth overall averaging 16.9 points per game aided by going 14 of 24 from 3-point range and 26 of 28 from the free-throw line in the nine games. She also averaged 6.2 points, 1.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Tuck led the squad with 19 steals and was the second-leading scorer (13.1 PPG) and she also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 2 assists per contest. Jefferson averaged 4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals a game while Wilson, one of three rising high school seniors on the team, led the U.S. with an average of 7.9 rebounds per game (which placed her seventh overall in the tournament) and also had a team-best 15 blocked shots while posting 10.9 points per game.

The 152 points breaks Maya Moore's U.S. U-19 record set in 2007 while Tuck's 118 points in 10th on the U.S. all-time list. Only Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender have pulled down more rebounds for a U.S. team in the U-19/World Junior Championship than the 71 Wilson grabbed. Tuck's 19 steals is tied for fourth and one of those she is tied with is Tamika Catchings. On last historical note, the last time the U.S. failed to win the gold medal the head coach was Geno Auriemma.

Speaking of Auriemma, he was in Lithuania for the early round games while assistant coach Shea Ralph was there for the medal rounds (having a prospect like Wilson will make coaches travel pretty much anywhere).

This wraps up the USA Basketball participation for the UConn players this summer. Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were outstanding in leading the U.S. to the gold medal in the World University Games while Tuck and Stewart return with their second U-19 gold medal.

Here are quotes from Stewart and Tuck courtesy of the folks at USA Basketball.


BREANNA STEWART
How different was this world championship gold from the other golds you’ve won with USA Basketball?
It was different because I had a different role. Usually I’m not one of the older players and coming into it I was looked at as a veteran because I’ve been in these situations before I’ve had to play well and try to lead my team at the same time.

What was the key to the victory?
Definitely defense. You could see that they scored 20 points in the first half and then only eight in the second. I think that we really wanted to make a third quarter run and we did that, starting with our defense, which led to transition offense.


Were you a little surprised to hear your named called as the MVP?
Yeah. I was just having fun this tournament. I was really looking forward to it. Shots were falling, which is always really nice, but the gold is the most important thing.

On becoming the USA’s all-time leading U19 World Championship scoring leader:
I think that’s news to me. Coach Meier said it after the game. But, it’s just points. You could score points and still lose the game. I’m just happy that we won the game.

Do you think your leadership role on this team is going to help you next season at Connecticut?
I definitely think it is going to help me. At UConn I was obviously an underclassman, but being really able to try to create more of a leadership role for myself, I think that will only help me at UConn.

What did you learn from this coaching staff?
From this coaching staff I learned a lot. It’s a great group of coaches from top D1 schools. I was very excited to be able to play under them. They’re on the same level that I am and I think they helped me create more of a leadership role and helped me play well.

MORGAN TUCK
What was the key to tonight’s victory?
 I definitely think it was defense. In the second we only gave up eight points. We really focused on defending them and not letting them score. If they can’t score, they can’t win.

How does it feel to win an NCAA championship in the same year as your second U19 World Championship gold medal?
It feels great. To come out here and do it twice and with a totally different team, I think it just accounts to what USA Basketball is all about, winning gold medals.

On Breanna Stewart’s performance:
She did really well. When she was open, taking her shots and taking good shots at that. I feel like she really came out, played her game, didn’t worry about anything else and just showed what Breanna Stewart can do.




Saturday, July 27, 2013

Candace Parker weighs in on UConn/Tennessee rivalry

With the recent reports that the Tennessee women's basketball program is open to playing UConn in the regular season, something that hasn't happened since 2007, made all the UConn and Tennessee grads playing in the WNBA All-Star contest fair game to weigh on what it would mean if the series were to be resumed.

Former Tennessee All-American Candace Parker addressed the issue in her post-game press conference.

"When you think of the NBA you think of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers and the same thing with football, same thing with hockey, you have rooted rivalries," Parker said. "There are people who I haven't even met who are Connecticut fans that just despise me just because I wore Orange and I happened to be in that Blue Country right now. Same thing, I had Tennessee fans coming up to me and telling me how much they despise UConn and they never even met UConn players. I think it is important just from that sense that you have that rivalry, you have that identity, you have that separation and there is more talk about it and it helps women's basketball."



Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis doing UConn No. 23 jersey proud

Maya Moore had some fun with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis when she found out in highly-touted incoming freshman wanted to wear the No. 23 which Moore wore with such distinction en route to being the Huskies' all-time leading scorer.

After playfully suggesting that she would have to think about it before giving permission for Mosqueda-Lewis the permission to wear her number, it was never in question that Mosqueda-Lewis would have No. 23.

After seeing Mosqueda-Lewis up close and in person at the Final Four in New Orleans in April Moore knows that the No. 23 is in pretty good hands.

"I told her she can keep the number in New Orleans she could officially keep the number," Moore said. "She had a great year. She is just an unbelievable shooter and can score in a number of ways. She reminds me of myself in that the coaches are trying to make sure she can score from anywhere on the court, taking advantage of those guards inside and killing them on the outside when they give her room on the perimeter. She has really expanded her game and I think she can take it to an even higher level. I think there were moments when she was struggling, kid of getting caught in the mix but towards the end of the year there was no question where she was and that is the hardest thing to do. They know she wants the ball, she can score and where she wants to score the ball she still does it anyway. I am very proud of her development."

Moore also talked about UConn's rising sophomore Breanna Stewart who earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four..

"Stewie, it is kind of scary to think of how good she can become and also not getting too caught up in how much better she can get and appreciating how good she is now and perfecting things she is good at while expanding her game at the same time because she already has a pretty good offensive game where she can shoot the ball from the outside and she can score on the inside. The mental side of things she got a good taste of it during her freshman year, how that looks and how that looks at Connecticut, just staying with things and persevering  through the hard times and nobody will be able to stop her

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Stewart leads U.S. into U-19 title game



UConn rising sophomore Breanna Stewart, coming off her first single-digit scoring game in the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women responded in typical Breanna Stewart fashion as she had 23 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots as the U.S. defeated Australia 77-54 to advance to Sunday's gold-medal game.

Stewart had 14 points during a 21-0 first-half run as the U.S. took command of the game.

Stewart's UConn teammates Morgan Tuck (nine points, seven rebounds) and Moriah Jefferson (two points, five rebounds and four assists) also helped the U.S. advance to the title game.

The U.S. will play France, a 62-58 win over Spain, in the gold-medal game which will be played at 1:15 p.m. and will air on ESPN3.

Here are quotes from the three Huskies courtesy of USA Basketball.

MORIAH JEFFERSON
On the start of tonight’s game:
 We weren’t pushing the ball well. We were playing their game by slowing it down and we weren’t going into our offense right. Once we got our tempo up and started pushing the ball, we started getting shot after shot.

On the play of Breanna Stewart:
 It’s a combination of everything. She was moving really well off the ball. We were setting good screens and our job as point guards is to get her the ball when she’s hot, so that’s who we were looking to feed.

How important was it to go into halftime with such a big lead?
 It was great. It gave us a lot of confidence, not having to go into the third quarter where it’s a close game, where you really have to bust it open. Instead we can just play and try to gain a little more of a lead.

BREANNA STEWART
What was the game plan tonight against Australia?
 We knew that they were a really good team, a good rebounding team, a good shooting team, and we wanted to really push it in transition and try to play our tempo and make the pace faster the entire game.

On the USA’s 21-0 run to end the first half:
 My teammates did a really good job of getting me open. At that time I wanted to try and get us going as a team. Obviously any player could have done it on a team. I just made shots. People seemed to follow and it seemed to get us a pretty big lead.

Do you think the fact that you’re the most experienced veteran on this team helped you tonight?
 Yes. I think definitely being a veteran, having USA Basketball experience like this helps, especially once we get to the medal rounds. I just need to help use my previous experiences to help the new people on this team.

Was the team a little nervous to start the game?
 Yeah, I think both teams were a little excited. It’s the semifinal game. What else can you expect? We were expecting a good game and I think we were both excited to get going.

On playing France for the gold medal:
 I was hoping to be able to play France again, just because when we played them the first time it wasn’t our best game at all. Hopefully we can show them how we really play basketball.

MORGAN TUCK
On the play of Breanna Stewart:
 It was a mixture of things. The guards did a good job of getting it to her when she was open. I think she did a good job of moving without the ball.

How important is it that this team has veteran leadership like you, Alexis Jones and Breanna Stewart, who have won a U19 World Championship?
 It’s important just because three of us have been in this same situation before. Now, we’re just trying to make sure everyone’s ready for it. I think the vets have done a great job of getting everyone ready.

What was coach telling you in the time outs that Australia called during your 21-0 run?
 Just to keep up our defense. That’s what really got them out of it; we were disrupting their offense. We weren’t letting them score and we were rebounding really well. When their shots weren’t falling and they couldn’t get anything, they relaxed a little bit on defense and we took advantage of it.

Are you looking forward to playing France tomorrow night for the gold medal?
 Yes. We’re very excited to try and redeem ourselves a little bit.

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Epiphanny Prince dishes on Tina Charles

Long-time friends and frequent basketball rivals Epiphanny Prince and Tina Charles
will be teammates on the Eastern Conference All-Star team this afternoon.
Many of the parade of stars who will be taking part in today's WNBA All-Star game have shared the court with reigning WNBA MVP Tina Charles in the past.

Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx teamed with Charles to lead UConn to back to back national championships; Allison Hightower has been a teammate of hers with the Connecticut Sun since both were drafted by the team in 2010 while All-Stars Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry, Moore, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen were teammates of Charles on the gold-medal 2012 Olympic squad. However, there is nobody who will take the court who knows Charles as well as fellow Eastern Conference starter Epiphanny Prince.

The two grew up playing on the same courts before becoming rivals in AAU, high school and college.

Prince let me in on a little secret as she "she wasn't good" when the two first crossed paths on a basketball court nearly a decade and a half ago.

"We have come a long way for both of us to be able to make it especially for both of us coming from New York so I think it is really special," Prince said after Friday's Eastern Conference practice at Mohegan Sun Arena..

So what impresses Prince the most about the way that Charles has emerged into one of the world's best players?

"Just her work ethic because she wasn't always the most talented and she has worked hard, now she is one of the top centers in the league so I think her work ethic definitely got her there," Prince said.

Prince has vivid recollections of those early days when Prince was 12 and Charles 11.

"I was playing with Exodus and she was playing with the Gazelles and we were always playing against each other," Prince said. "She wasn't good. I think she just started playing  and we always talk about that and she says 'do you remember when I couldn't even make a layup?' Now look at her now."

While Prince wasn't sure what kind of player Charles would turn out to be, she knew pretty much from the first day that they met that Charles would go out of her way to help others which is exactly what Charles has been doing since she received her first paycheck. Whether it is funding a school in Africa or donating money to be defibrillators, Charles' generosity seemingly has no bounds.

"She has always been a loving, caring and giving person so  for me I am not that surprised by that at all," Prince said.

I also thought I would pass on a story about UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson who ranks third in rebounding and blocked shots heading into the final two days of the FIBA U-19 World Champiosnhip for Women.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

First-time All-Star Ivory Latta loving life

Spirits were high at Mohegan Sun Arena when the East and West All-Star teams held practices in front of a couple hundred fans. However, you would be hard pressed to find a player who was enjoying herself more than Washington Mystics guard Ivory Latta.

The highlight for Latta was when she sunk a half-court shot earning the $100 that East head coach Lin Dunn promised to the player who was the first to sink a shot from mid-court. When East teammate Epiphanny Prince playfully said she thought Latta's foot was over the line, a fan provided visual proof courtesy of a photo taken with a smartphone and Latta took tremendous pleasure in displaying the proof of her money-making shot.

Latta has been a mercurial player dating back to her days as an All-American at North Carolina. She has bounced around a bit in the WNBA but seems to have found a home in Washington under the tutelage of former Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault.

When Latta found out she would be rewarded for her strong first half by being named to her first All-Star team. Her joy was evident to anybody inside Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday.

"That is what it is all about just coming out here and having fun, you are out here with the best girls in the WNBA and you have no choice but to have fun," Latta said. "This is my first WNBA All-Star game and I am trying to soak it all in. I am enjoying it, I am having a good time. This is what I love to do, get the crowd into it and make sure my teammates are smiling and having fun. This is nothing new to me, this is what I usually do when I am in D.C.

"I was so happy. I knew it was a great honor. I put in a lot of hard work and dedication, I sacrificed a lot. Before the season I didn't even really see my mom, my dad, my family I stayed in Atlanta and I trained hard and I just knew that it would pay off for me. My mom and dad are here with me to soak everything in so it is a great feeling."

Latta also made some news recently when she was hired to be an assistant coach at her alma mater.

"It is a big sacrifice and a lot played into my family, I am a big family person and right now it is all about them," Latta said. "It is a great thing that I am going back to the University of North Carolina to be an assistant coach and I can't wait to work with those girls. We have a great bunch of girls and Coach (Sylvia) Hatchell is like a second mom to me. We have been in touch ever since I left North Carolina, we talk maybe two or three times a week and I am really excited about that experience. I will have on that Carolina Blue but I won't be out there playing.

"We were sitting in the locker room and (New York Liberty guard) Cappie (Pondexter) said that coaching isn't for everybody but you have that personality and that right there made me realize I have the personality to be a coach and I have that passion, that drive and I have a love for the game."

It just so happens that Latta is joining the staff just in time to coach the No. 1 rated incoming recruiting class headlined by former UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields.

"That is great timing with the recruiting class that we have, DeShields, Jessica Washington and those other players I can't wait but right now I am going to take care of business in D.C."



World according to Dee

The first time I interviewed Diana Taurasi she was still a scoring dynamo at Lugo High in Chino, California and over the years she has rarely disappointed in being one of the most engaging, entertaining people that I have ever encountered.

Today it was no different as Taurasi handled a variety of questions from many of the people who covered her during her four seasons at UConn with typical amounts of biting sarcasm and honest replies free of political correctness.

Among the highlights was her saying that she doesn't plan on changing her ways on the court even though she was suspended for the last Phoenix Mercury game before the all-star break because she has picked up seven technical fouls although she said "I have to stay away from referees." Then she said Tina Thompson's number should be retired in every WNBA arena and that no other player should be allowed to wear the "diva" lipstick that Thompson has worn throughout her incredible career. Here are some of the other things she had to say.

On Breanna Stewart
"I have never seen her play live and I am sure it is a different beast live because she is so long and so agile and you don't see that. You kind of want to compare her to Delle Donne a little bit where you see that versatility, how hard it is to guard and how much of an impact she can make on a team and a league. I think she has that type of ability  if she keeps working through all her strengths."

On UConn winning its eighth national title
"I was more happy that they beat Notre Dame than anything. To lose to a team three times and come back and beat them in that fashion, that team went through a lot. I have been in that position, I have been in those locker rooms, those team meetings on those bus rides, on the plane and you feel just miserable because you feel like you let a whole state down, you let your coaches, your teammates down. It is really a feeling that is discomforting and for them to be able to do that, put that aside and beat them in one game it shows a lot of character in that team."

On whether she is going to be on the 2016 Olympic team
"I am going to Rio, are you kidding me. I am going to the Copacabana, I am dancing. I am taking my bikini, I am going. I don't know if I am playing but I am going. I didn't say I was playing but I am going."

On why she thinks every WNBA All-Star Game should be held at Mohegan Sun Arena
"When we come here it is always great and the games are always really good here too."

Her thoughts on a possible regular-season game between UConn and Tennessee in the next couple of years
"I think it is time. If I have to wear an orange shirt than the least they can do is give us the game back. when you say UConn and Tennessee that just brings up a lot of really good memories, really intense matchups and if they can make that happen again I think it would benefit both states, both schools, both programs, it could only help."




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Tina Charles to start for East All-Star team

Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn, who will coach the East team in tomorrow's WNBA All-Star game, selected the Connecticut Sun's Tina Charles to start in place of the injured Elena Delle Donne.

West coach Cheryl Reeve picked her own Minnesota Lynx player Rebekkah Brunson to start in place of the injured Brittney Griner. Personally, I thought Reeve would have picked the retiring Tina Thompson to start for the West since if any player has earned an honor like that it is a legend like Thompson.

Here is the official release from the WNBA

Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles and Minnesota Lynx center Rebekkah Brunson have been selected to start for the Eastern and Western Conference teams, respectively, in the Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star Game.  

 Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn, who will lead the Eastern Conference All-Stars, made the announcement regarding Charles following the East’s practice at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 26.  Charles will replace the injured Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky in the East starting lineup. The league’s No. 2 overall draft pick this April, Delle Donne – who went on to become the first rookie in WNBA history to earn the top spot among vote-getters in All-Star fan-voting – is unable to attend the All-Star Game after suffering a concussion on Wednesday during the Sky’s 82-78 loss to the Washington Mystics. Charles is appearing in her second WNBA All-Star Game (2011), both as a starter.

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, who will lead the Western Conference All-Stars, made the announcement regarding Brunson following the West’s practice at Mohegan Sun Arena today. Brunson will replace rookie Brittney Griner in the West starting lineup. Griner, the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick in April, has missed the Phoenix Mercury’s last five games due to a knee injury. Brunson is making her third All-Star appearance (2007, 2011), second as a starter.

Former Huskies Moore, Taurasi share a common basketball bond

Although Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi never played together at UConn, you would never be able to tell due to their on-court chemistry during Friday's West squad's All-Star practice at Mohegan Sun Arena,

“There is always this connection you have with former Huskies especially the ones who are former No. 1 (rated high school) player in the nation and win multiple championships, you share a lot,” Moore said. “Your journeys are different but you still share the same expectations, the spotlight, the teamwork, the sacrifice, the long hours, the toughness from coach, the same places, the same classes, the same professors some times. It is pretty cool to have that connection knowing that you make them proud when you do well just like the way the girls make me proud now that I have graduated.”

Moore, in the midst of her third season with the Minnesota Lynx, and Taurasi, who is in her 10th season with the Phoenix Mercury, were both voted to the West’s starting lineup for Saturday’s mid-season classic at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Taurasi broke the hearts of many in her native California when she opted to enroll at UConn. Three national championships later Taurasi was one of the most recognizable female athletes of her era when she thrived under Auriemma’s tutelage.

Moore, who some thought was destined to be a star in the Southeastern Conference, also opted to venture to New England to play for the Huskies. She not only was a part of a pair of national championships but also helped UConn post back to back perfect seasons.

Now they are back in Connecticut and will play in what could be a sellout crowd at Mohegan Sun.
More than a few times they figure to combine for some dazzling plays much to the delight of the UConn faithful eager to watch them and fellow former Husky Tina Charles take to the court.

“She is just so much to watch,” Taurasi said of Moore. “There aren't many players that when they are on (she watches).  I watch her the whole game because no matter how old you are you can always learn, you can always see what is working. She does so many things on the court to impact the game, it is pretty phenomenal. You can spot shadow her and you can watch her throughout the game. Her activity, her willingness to make the play, I think at times in games you get caught up in trying to make every play, she makes the right play. That comes from playing a lot of basketball being really smart and having the skill to do it.”

So what does Taurasi think about having the chance to play in front of many of the same fans who rooted her on in college?

“I think it is awesome, I really do,” Taurasi said. “It would be nice to trade for Tina and get her on the West (squad) too but I think it is great for the fans to watch a couple of generations removed.”

Three former Huskies will be in the starting lineup as East head coach Lin Dunn of the Indiana Fever picked Charles to replace the injured Elena Delle Donne in the starting lineup for the East.



Wilson, Tuck lead U.S. into semifinals

UConn recruiting target A'ja Wilson had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Huskies' rising sophomore Morgan Tuck added 11 points as the United States defeated China 108-67 to reach the quarterfinals at the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women on Friday.

UConn's Breanna Stewart had four points and 10 rebounds and Moriah Jefferson finished with four points and three assists as the U.S. advanced to meet Australia in the semifinals on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN3.

Tennessee rising sophomore Bashaara Graves had 13 points and eight rebounds while Kentucky incoming freshman Linnae Harper added 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the U.S. Kelsey Plum and Nia Coffey, who are incoming freshmen at Washington and Northwestern respectively, added 11 points each.

Here are quotes from Tuck and Wilson courtesy of the folks at USA Basketball.

MORGAN TUCK
How were you able to overpower a good team like Japan so quickly?
 It started in the first half with Bashaara and A’ja. They really established our inside presence. They were smaller, so we knew that’s what we had to do. Our guards did a good job for us, especially Moriah (Jefferson) really pushing the tempo.  We just continued doing that in the second half.

Was your game plan to pound the ball inside due to the height advantage?
Definitely. They were double- and triple-teaming, so we did a good job of kicking it out and then getting it back into the post for a layup. That was our big focus, getting it inside.

What do you expect to see from Australia tomorrow?
 I expect it to be very physical. When we played them in the Canary Islands, it was very physical. We were down the whole game, so I think we’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder that we don’t want to be the team that’s losing the whole time and then barely get a win.

A'JA WILSON
Was your size advantage helping you against Japan?
 Oh yes, a lot. Coach told us that they were going to be small, but I didn’t know they were going to be that small. She was like, ‘I want you to be 6-4, so don’t put the ball on the floor. Just look for your teammates and look for your shot.’ Once I really got used to not putting the ball on the floor, everything started to fall into place.

How were you feeling?
I felt good. I’m just trying to get used to the play out here, so I’m starting to really get it when I get in. I’m just playing my role and feeling good.

What do you expect to see against Australia?
 I expect to see their top game, their best game. That goes for any team out here when they play the U.S. They’re going their top and we’re going to play our top, so it should be a good game.

Concussion to keep Delle Donne out of All-Star Game

A day after it was announced that top overall pick Brittney Griner would miss the WNBA All-Star Game due to a knee injury came the news that No. 2 pick Elena Delle Donne will also be forced to miss tomorrow's game because of a concussion.

Former Connecticut Sun center Erika de Souza was named to replace Delle Donne on the Eastern Conference. East head coach Lin Dunn will name a starter to take Delle Donne's spot in the lineup.

Here is the release from the WNBA
Atlanta Dream center Erika de Souza has been named by WNBA President Laurel J. Richie to replace injured Eastern Conference All-Star Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky in the Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star Game.

For the 31-year old de Souza, this marks her second All-Star appearance. The native of Brazil previously participated in the 2009 All-Star event, also held at Mohegan Sun Arena.  The eight-year veteran’s seven double-doubles are tied for third in the WNBA, and she ranks fifth in the league in both rebounding (9.1 rpg) and blocks (1.81 bpg). 

The league’s No. 2 overall draft pick this April, Delle Donne – who went on to become the first rookie in WNBA history to earn the top spot among vote-getters in All-Star fan-voting – will be unable to attend the All-Star Game after suffering a concussion on Wednesday during the Sky’s road loss to the Washington Mystics.  



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Charles, Hightower excited to play in All-Star game at home

Allison Hightower was undergoing treatment earlier this week when her Connecticut Sun teammate Tina Charles received the call from the WNBA's Renee Brown that she would be one of the Eastern Conference reserves for Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

Hightower felt a certain about of joy and pride at her teammate's special achievement but she was hardly astonished that the reigning WNBA MVP would be a member of the 11-member Eastern Conference squad.

When she made her way out of the training room, however, she was in for one of the biggest surprises of her life.

“I was in treatment, Tina received a call from Renee Brown and found out she made the team and about 10 minutes later I had a voice mail to call Renee Brown,” Hightower said on Thursday. “I was like 'oh my gosh, oh my God I made the team.'

“It is a very special moment and an amazing feeling. I feel honored to be selected as a reserve. It is a great opportunity and I am just truly blessed to know that hard work pays off.”

This will be Hightower’s first All-Star appearance and it is one four years in the making.

Hightower is averaging a career-high 13 points per game. She is shooting a career-high 41.4 percent from the floor but it is her ever-improving ability to connect from long range which has been the most noteworthy aspect as Hightower has gone from being a little-used reserve in her first two seasons to being an all-star guard. Hightower has 20 3-pointers in 16 games this season after making a total of 25 in 79 games during her first three seasons. Hightower shot 22 percent from 3-point range from 2010-12 but this season she ranks 12th in the WNBA with a 38.5 percent mark on 3-pointers.

“When they went out it was pretty tough but when one teammate goes down another one has to step up and that is what I have to do,” Hightower said. “I took advantage of the opportunity to play my game. I played a lot more point guard which I haven't done in the past but I definitely have learned a lot and have been able to create some things and I have been able to go out there and play with confidence.”

While this will be Hightower’s first time as an all-star, that is not the case with Charles. The WNBA considers this to be her second all-star game appearance as she started for the East in the 2011 game played in San Antonio. However, Charles was a member of the U.S. squad which played in the Stars at the Sun game at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2010.

“It was my first experience with the USA team,” Charles said. “Being with a group of women I looked up to over the years and watched in the WNBA and playing alongside some UConn alums, it was fun.”

Charles admits it will be extra special being able to play in front of the Connecticut fans that have supported her for the last eight season – the first four at UConn and the four years she has been in the WNBA.
Charles is averaging a career-high 18.3 points per game and has attempted more shots per game (18.9) than she has at any point during her WNBA career. Although her shot hasn’t been as consistent as in years’ past, she does have 12 double-doubles and six 20-point games.

“I think it is great because we have one of the nicest fan bases,” Charles said. “It is going to be a great atmosphere to be really intimate with the fans, there will still be the UConn following, what we get from UConn (fans) is what we get from people here and to be able to see Diana (Taurasi) and Maya (Moore) I think it is going to be great.”

Not only will Charles be one of three UConn alums in the game but being able to play alongside Hightower as well as long-time friend Epiphanny Prince of the Chicago Sky will make the weekend all the more memorable.

“It is going to be an emotional feeling,” Charles said. “I have known Allison since we were 13 years old just playing in Nike tournaments, AAU, Nike camps and different things like that. We have become friends over the years. She is a person that you can rely on. (She admires) her dedication and her perseverance not to give up on it. I think she realizes her talent and her success but I don't think it is going to stop there. I think she is going to keep going and try to maximize her potential.

“Me and Piph we grew up together playing on the streets of New York, playing in tournaments and rivals in high school and college so it is really good to see somebody you grew up with progress and to go through everything together so you can get to the pros.”

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Friday
9:30 a.m.: Court dedication/WNBA FIT Clinic at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, New London (not open to general public)
3 p.m. East All-Star practice at Mohegan Sun Arena
4:15 p.m. West All-Star practice at Mohegan Sun Arena
Saturday
3:30 p.m. WNBA All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena (Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 will be announced on ABC’s broadcast)



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UConn to visit White House on July 31

UConn will be honored at the White House on July 31 for winning its eighth national title a source confirmed to the Register. The story was first reported by Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal Inquirer on his SNY blog.

The ceremony will start at 2 p.m. on the 31st. With the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women wrapping up on Sunday and the Connecticut Sun being off on the 31st, all the UConn players should be able to make it down to D.C. for the ceremony.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Former UConn guard Maria Conlon to enter Seymour HS Hall of Fame

Maria Conlon, a member of three national championship squads at UConn, is one of 11 players or coaches who will be inducted into the inaugural Seymour High School Sports Hall of Fame.

The ceremony will be held on Nov. 2 at the Colonial Tavern.

Mark Allen (Class of 1970), Vic Cweklinsky (1962), Les Dahn (1957), Jen D’Amato (1996), Ed Esson (1981), coach Joe Gesek , coach Dan Heffernan, John "Chick" Henry (1954), Dennis Rozum (1970) and Ed Shay (1968) will also be part of the class.

Tickets can be purchased at Armads Service Center, Seymour Town Hall or Seymour High School. Email SHSSHOF@yahoo.com for more information. 

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Stewart, Tuck lead U.S. past France


The U.S. team was pushed to the brink by previously undefeated France in its final round-robin game before holding on for a 69-63 victory which allowed the U.S. to clinch the top spot in the quarterfinals.

UConn rising sophomores and U.S. co-captains Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck led the way for the U.S. Stewart had 22 points, six rebounds and three steals while Tuck finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones had a key block and 3-pointer (assisted by Tuck) after France had pulled within two points.

UConn's Moriah Jefferson had five points, three assists and two steals while UConn recruiting target A'ja Wilson had eight points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

The U.S. will face Japan in Friday's quarterfinals.

Here are quotes from Stewart, Tuck and Wilson courtesy of the folks at USA Basketball.

BREANNA STEWART
How tough was tonight’s game against France?
 It was really tough. I think that was the most consistent team we played. They kept coming at us. They played great, but when it really came down to it, we really stepped up our defense so that they had a really hard time getting shots.

On the 3-pointer by Alexis Jones:
That was great. I wasn’t sure she was going to get it off in time. I saw the shot clock and Morgan (Tuck) had it with two seconds (to go) in her hands, but I knew she just had to shoot it and I was hoping it was going in.

Was it good to get a game like that under your belt heading into the medal round?
 I definitely think it’s good. To play a team of that caliber in the second round is wonderful so it can get us prepared for the medal rounds, because teams are only going to get better. We might meet up with France again.

How were you feeling tonight, having to play so many minutes?
 I was feeling good. I loved the time outs, it’s nice to get some air and some water, but in a game like that you want to be in the game.

MORGAN TUCK
Was it good to get a game like that under your belt heading into the medal round?
 I think so. We really haven’t had a close game since we played our exhibition against Australia. So, I think it gave us a good feel of how the medal rounds will be and how we have to make sure that we really focus in and be deliberate on offense and defense.

With time winding down on the shot clock, you passed the ball to Alexis Jones, who hit the 3-pointer. Will you walk me through that possession?
I saw B (Bashaara Graves) get the rebound and I saw they were really collapsing, so I called for it. I didn’t see the shot clock, but I saw Alexis wide open. So, I just passed it to her and she let it go and it went in.

How huge was the 3-point attempt that she blocked on the other end?
 It was really big. That was a really big play that we needed. We needed a stop and that’s what we were struggling to get. I think she did a great job of being really tough on the offensive end and then coming right back and being tough on defense.

What can you tell the younger kids about what you’re going to face in the medal round?
 Kind of like today, they’re all going to be really big games. The teams are great, so we just have to make sure we have the focus like we had today toward the end of the game more. We’re going to have games where each possession matters and not always games where it’s a 30-point or 40-point margin.

A'JA WILSON
On tonight’s game:
 It was a good one. We have respect for them; they have respect for us. We knew that when we came out after scrimmaging them that it was going to be a hard one. But, we came out and took care of business. It was a great game.

Was it good to get a game like that under your belt heading into the medal round?
I think it’s really good, because we learned from it. Even though we won we can still learn from it. It’s something that will wake us up a little bit, because we’ve been killing teams here. To have a close game, it knocked us back to reality. This road to gold is not about to be easy. It was a really good game to get under our belt.

How important are veterans like Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck to this team in a game like tonight?
 They are the backbone to this team. They are coming off of a NCAA championship and they have great leadership. They really help us out. I know they help me out especially. Out on the court, me being a rookie and getting a chance to play with them and feeding off of them, it’s just a positive all the way around.



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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Charles, Hightower named as All-Star reserves

Allison Hightower (No. 23), Tina Charles (No. 31) will represent the host
Connecticut Sun squad at Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Connecticut Sun teammates Tina Charles and Allison Hightower were among six players named as reserves for the Eastern Conference squad for Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

Charles, a former UConn star, is fourth in the league in scoring averaging 18.6 points per game and second in rebounding behind fellow Eastern Conference reserve Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky.

Charles had scored at least 20 points on six different occasions and had 10 double-doubles in 15 games this season. The reigning WNBA MVP, Charles is one of three UConn graduates set to take part in the 3:30 p.m. game at Mohegan Sun Arena as Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury were voted as Western Conference starters.

“It never gets old,” Charles said. “It’s an honor to play with such a talented group of fellow All-Stars. To be able to play on my home court makes it that much better.”

Hightower, a fourth-year guard out of LSU, has emerged into one of the league's top shooting guards. Hightower averaged just 2.3 points per game in her first two seasons before putting up 6.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game to help the Sun post the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2012. With guards Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery and Tan White combining to miss 27 games due to injury, Hightower has been the lone reliable perimeter threat for the Sun as she is averaging 13.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest. She has 10 double-digit scoring games this season highlighted by a 23-point effort in a July 14 win over San Antonio.

“My heart about stopped,” Hightower said Tuesday of being named to the team. “It is just a great feeling being one of the players that is going to the All-Star Game. It’s an honor.”

Joining Charles, Hightower and Fowles as Eastern Conference reserves are Crystal Langhorne and Ivory Latta of the Washington Mystics and the Indiana Fever's Shavonte Zellous.

Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx, Tulsa's Glory Johnson, the Los Angeles Sparks duo of Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver and Danielle Robinson of the San Antonio Silver Stars were named as reserves for the Western Conference.

Injury replacements will be announced on Wednesday by the league with any roster changes after that point will be handled by either Eastern Conference head coach Lin Dunn of Indiana or Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, the head coach of the Western Conference squad.


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UConn trio stars in win over Canada


UConn rising sophomores Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson combined for 32 points to lead the U.S. to a 88-54 win over Canada in the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women.

Stewart had 14 points and two blocked shots, Tuck had 13 points and four steals and Jefferson added five points, seven assists and three steals as the U.S. improved to 5-0 and is guaranteed to finish in the top two in Group F.

Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones led the U.S. with 17 points to go with five rebounds and seven assists, Tennessee rising sophomore Bashaara Graves and Kentucky incoming freshman Linnae Harper added 10 points each while UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson had seven points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

The U.S. wraps up the round robin portion of the tournament playing undefeated France in a game that will decide the Group F title. The quarterfinals start on Friday. If the U.S. wins tomorrow, it will draw the No. 4 seed out of Group E which will be the winner of the  Russia/Japan game.

Heading into the final day of round-robin play Stewart is the tournament's second-leading scorer at 17.4 points per game and she is doing it with some pretty gaudy shooting numbers as she is 17 for 17 from the free-throw line, 6 of 9 from 3-point range and is shooting 56.1 percent from the field. Tuck is the tournament's No. 8 scorer (15.2 PPG) and is sixth in steals (2.6) while Jefferson leads all players in assist/turnover ratio (16 assists/3 turnovers). Wilson is tied for fifth in rebounding (9.2) and third in blocked shots (2.2).

Here are quotes from Jefferson and Stewart courtesy of USA Basketball.

MORIAH JEFFERSON
How much has Canada changed as a team since you played them in Lanzarote, Canary Islands?
I think they’re a lot more physical tonight. They came out, especially on defense, packing it in and being really aggressive. And then on offense they were very efficient.

Is that how they were able to keep the game close through most of the first half?
Yeah, basically. They came out running their sets well. They kind of took us out of our rhythm a little bit, but then we kind of got back in the flow after that.

On the play of Alexis Jones:
Incredible. She came out on fire, so I was like, ‘well, wherever Lex is, that’s where I’m going to try to get the ball to.’ I think we all as a team recognized it and we just fed the beast.

On the USA’s 22 assists on 35 baskets:
We want to be able to get a lot of scores off of assists, so that we don’t have to try to create our own shot. We can penetrate and kick or duck in for the post, things like that.

On the USA’s 19-0 run:
It was a combination of defensive pressure and Nia Coffey, honestly. She came in and got like three steals in a row, something like that, some assists, a couple buckets. She came in and made a huge improvement on the game.

How was Canada able to limit your scoring in the fourth quarter?
We kind of got out of our rhythm on offense. Once we got out of it, we never got that flow back and then we ended up having a five-minute run without scoring. That’s something that’s not acceptable. We’ll look over it in film and fix it .

BREANNA STEWART
On the USA’s 8-0 run to close out the first half:
First of all, I our defense wasn’t as good as it usually is and we were letting them get dribble penetration. But I think that once we really refocused and got ourselves together, we got back into it.

Were you looking past Canada, knowing you had beaten the team by 20 in the Canary Islands?
I don’t think we looked past them, but I think we needed to be more prepared on how hard they were going to come at us. This was a game they needed to win and we can’t let them do that, obviously.

What were they running against you?
They have a lot of sets. They go through their sets and they get the shot they want to get. We needed to really try to disrupt that and not let them get the shot they wanted and play our best defense on their best player.

On the play of Alexis Jones:
Lex played great. I think she recognized when she could take the ball to the basket if she was open and we need more of that.

What do you know about France?
They’re a very good and athletic team and I think that we really need to pick our stuff a little bit, pick it up defensively and be ready for them because they’re going to come at us strong tomorrow.

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Radio feed is available for U.S./Canada game

For those interested in listening in, there will be an audio feed from today's U-19 game between the U.S. and Canada at this link

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi among leaders in WNBA jersey sales

After leading all WNBA players in jersey sales in the last two seasons, former UConn star Maya Moore dropped to the No. 4 spot behind the high-profile rookies Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne. Former Huskies Diana Taurasi checks in at No. 6.

Here is release from the WNBA:

The “3 to See” claimed the top three spots on the WNBA’s top-selling jerseys list, based on national merchandise sales including WNBAStore.com since the start of the 2013 regular season.  Rookies Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, Skylar Diggins of the Tulsa Shock, and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky ranked first, second, and third, respectively. Maya Moore, who’s held the No. 1 spot for the past two seasons, placed fourth, while the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker ranked fifth.

Diggins’ popularity helped the Shock claim the No. 1 position for the first time for team merchandise sales while the teams of first-time All-Stars Griner (Mercury) and Delle Donne (Sky) placed second and third, respectively. Rounding out the top five teams are the Washington Mystics (No. 4) and the 2012 top-selling Indiana Fever (No. 5). 

In its 17th season, the WNBA remains the most successful women’s professional sports league. This year’s All-Star Team includes seven players from the most popular jerseys list: Griner (No. 1), Delle Donne (No. 3), Moore (No. 4), Parker (No. 5), Diana Taurasi of the Mercury (No. 6), Seimone Augustus of the Lynx (No. 7), and Tamika Catchings (No. 8) of the Fever. 

 TOP 10 MOST POPULAR PLAYER JERSEYS:
1.                  Brittney Griner – Phoenix Mercury
2.                  Skylar Diggins – Tulsa Shock
3.                  Elena Delle Donne – Chicago Sky
4.                  Maya Moore – Minnesota Lynx
5.                  Candace Parker – Los Angeles Sparks
6.                  Diana Taurasi – Phoenix Mercury
7.                  Seimone Augustus – Minnesota Lynx
8.                  Tamika Catchings – Indiana Fever
9.                  Nneka Ogwumlke – Los Angeles Sparks
10.       Becky Hammon – San Antonio Silver Stars

TOP 5 MOST POPULAR TEAM MERCHANDISE: 
1.                  Tulsa Shock
2.                  Chicago Sky
3.                  Phoenix Mercury
4.                  Washington Mystics
5.                  Indiana Fever

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Morgan Tuck leads U.S. to another impressive win

UConn's Morgan Tuck had 18 points in win over Netherlands.
UConn rising sophomore forward and U.S. co-captain Morgan Tuck had 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in a 102-42 win over Netherlands as the U.S. improved to 4-0 at the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women.

UConn's Breanna Stewart, who led the U.S. in scoring in the first three games, finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots while Moriah Jefferson, who missed the previous game with a sprained left wrist, returned and finished with two points, two rebounds and three assists.

"Morgan) Tuck sets the tone," U.S. head coach Katie Meier of Miami said. "She sets the tone from the beginning. And Stewie (Breanna Stewart), I would give Stewie more than two blocks. From what I saw, I thought she got the ball in the air a lot and really changed the game on the defensive end. She played some of her best defense for sure tonight. She can guard every position.

"A’ja (Wilson) gets a couple offensive put-backs and it really gets her going," Meier said. "She had a couple moves tonight that were so high level and so composed. Her first game here, she had some jitters. Ever since then she’s made some great reads. She would be a starter on anyone else’s team in this tournament. "
UConn recruiting target A'ja Wilson goes up for
two of her game-high 20 points in Monday's win.

Wilson, a UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson and one of three high school players on the 12-member U.S. squad, continues to impress as she had a game-high 20 points and added eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.

"I was really just cleaning up everybody’s shots," Wilson said. "They were great shots they were taking, but they just weren’t falling. I was just rebounding and putting them back up. One of our goals was offensive rebounds, so I really focused on as the ball would go up to go get it and put it back in the basket. So, that’s what I did."

Two years ago Stewart and Tuck were in the same situation as Wilson as they were talented high school kids playing with some college stars. Now they are the team co-captains and team leaders.

"Two years ago I was just trying to fit in, trying to find a way to help in any way, trying to do the small things," Tuck said. "Now, I’ve kind of taken on a leadership role. I’m trying to make sure that everyone is on the same page for the shoot-arounds and the games, trying to be like a mother type with the team and trying to make sure that everyone has everything that they need and that we’re all ready to go."

Stewart leads the  team in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.5 steals and 0.5 blocks. Tuck is averaging 15.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals. Wilson is contributing 14 points per game and she leads the team in rebounding (9.3) and blocks (2.0). The only double-digit scorer for the U.S. is Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones, who is averaging 10.5 points and has a team-high 15 assists.

The U.S. continues play in the second stage of round robin action tomorrow with a game against Canada. If the U.S. wins and France beats China then the Wednesday showdown between the U.S. and France will be for the Group F title. With a 4-0 record, the U.S. is guaranteed to finish in the top four in Group F and has clinched a spot in the quarterfinals.


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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Courtney Ekmark anxious to "do a bunch of different things" during upcoming year

As I reported yesterday, UConn commit Courtney Ekmark is making the surprising move of bypassing her senior year of high school. Her decision to get the final few credits she needs to graduate through home schooling means that she will not be playing for the third-time defending Arizona Division I champion St. Mary's squad.

Courtney and her dad Curtis talked about the decision with me today.

"I am really excited. I think it is going to be a good year to do a bunch of different things and it will be productive," Courtney Ekmark said. "It will be a great chance to prepare for UConn, I am going to have a lot of time to train and just get bigger, faster, stronger.

"I can go and figure out what I am interested in doing after basketball so it will be cool."

Ekmark was named the Gatorade state player of the year in Arizona following her junior season. Her coach was her father. Curtis was the first to step away from St. Mary's as he resigned so he could start up his own AAU program. He is supporting Courtney's decision 100 percent.

"Our family has never been one bound by conventional wisdom," Curtis Ekmark said. "We've always tried to analyze things and see what makes sense. We kind of have a track record in that Courtney home schooled in junior high and she thought that really prepared her well for high school not just for sports but academically as well.

"She has been taking classes at summer school so she is only a couple credits shy of graduation. She just decided that rather than sit in class all day and have Senioritis, she really wanted to prepare herself for going to UConn. She will have more time to do that and also she will be able to spend a little more time with our family and we are happy about it because it is the last time we will be together for a while because once she leaves for Connecticut, they don't get much free time to come home."

Curtis Ekmark said that his daughter is looking into doing internships with a law firm, a local surgeon and real estate company. She could also provide sideline reporting of high school football games for one of the Phoenix area television stations.

"There are a couple o local news stations that I have done interviews with for basketball and I have kind of talked to them after and they are like 'wow, you are pretty good at doing those interviews,'" Courtney Ekmark said. "I said 'well, if you feel like you are interested and you need somebody to report the football games every Friday ...' They were definitely interested. It will be fun to see what I am interested in and see what a real job is like."

The toughest part of making this decision is that Courtney had to part ways with her high school teammates in both basketball and tennis.

"It was hard, I am going to miss them but they understood," Ekmark said.

The good news is that she will be able to see more of her brother Andrew's basketball games and take part in more family activities.

"We have a close family so I am excited to spend the last year with them (before heading to UConn)," Courtney Ekmark said. "I'll get to see more of my brother's games, we never got to see them last year because we were always at my games. We can go on some cool trips and I sure we will come visit you guys at UConn."


CURTIS EKMARK

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Breanna Stewart stars again for U-19 squad



UConn rising sophomore Breanna Stewart was the leading scorer for the U.S. squad for the third time in as many games in the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women.

Stewart had 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals to lead six U.S. players in double figures in a 103-26 win over Mali in the final game in Pool D.

UConn guard Moriah Jefferson is all smiles despite sitting out the win
over Mali with a sprained left wrist. She is listed as day to day.
UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson had 11 points and 12 rebounds for her second consecutive double-double. UConn rising sophomore Morgan Tuck finished with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals as the U.S. finished 3-0 in the first stage of pool play. All three wins carry over to the second round.

UConn recruiting target A'ja Wilson
recorded another double-double
UConn's Moriah Jefferson sprained her left wrist in Friday's win over China and did not play. She is considered to be day by day heading forward.

The U.S. plays Netherlands on Monday, China on Tuesday and undefeated France on Wednesday.

Here are quotes from Stewart courtesy of USA Basketball.

What do you think of the team’s play over the course of the first round?
 I think everybody’s played really good so far. We had some tough games against China. We didn’t know what to expect really from Lithuania or Mali. I think just playing when you’re not sure how the other team is going to be, I think it really helps, because that’s how it is the majority of the tournament. We don’t know everything about these teams.

What kind of goals were set for the team tonight and did you achieve them?
 Goals that we set for ourselves, we wanted to shoot 60 percent from two and 45 percent from three. I think we achieved them, we came close to them at least. We also wanted to try to really increase our assist-to-turnover ration.

Were you trying to work on anything in particular after the game was in hand?
 We were working on changing our defenses on the fly. We did that a lot. And really having people out there being vocal about it, because we’re not going to be able to hear coach Meier all the time and someone’s going to have to take charge and call the defense.

What have you been doing off the court?
 We’ve been checking out the view (of the countryside). We’ve been hanging in my room, playing cards, watching TV if there’s an English channel, just hanging out with my teammates

Friday, July 19, 2013

Courtney Ekmark skipping her senior season

Courtney Ekmark (left) seen during 2012 U.S. junior national team trials
has opted to be home schooled and will not play as a high school senior.
Courtney Ekmark, Arizona’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, and the first player from the high school Class of 2014 to commit to UConn has decided not to play high school basketball as a senior according to her father Curtis.

In an email to the Register, he confirmed that Courtney is not going to return to St. Mary’s.

“Courtney is not going to be playing her senior year,” Curtis Ekmark said in the email. “She is going to home school and get ready for UConn.”

Curtis Ekmark, the 2013 WBCA national high school coach of the year, recently resigned to start his own AAU program after coaching his daughter at St. Mary’s High School to three straight Arizona Division I titles and posting a 154-21 record in six years at St. Mary’s.

Ekmark, a 6-foot wing, averaged 19.6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals as a junior leading the Knights to a 29-1 record and the No. 3 ranking in the final USA Today national poll. She has a 4.3 GPA and is set to arrive at UConn in 2014.

She joins fellow perimeter players Sadie Edwards and Gabby Williams are early commitments to UConn. The Huskies are hoping to add a couple of post players to the list of commitments.

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Stewart, Tuck lead U.S. U-19s past China



UConn rising sophomores Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck combined for 38 points to lead the U.S. to a 103-56  win over China on day two of pool play at the FIBA U-19 World Championships.

Stewart had 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting as she was the leading scorer for the U.S. for the second game in a row to go with three rebounds and four steals while Tuck had 18 points and eight rebounds as the U.S. improved to 2-0 in Pool D. UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson added 16 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and two assists, former UConn recruiting target Brianna Turner also had 16 points while Duke rising sophomore Alexis Jones added 13 points.

Here's some thoughts from U.S. head coach Katie Meier on Wilson.

"A little bit?," Meier said with a laugh when asked about Wilson's quick adjustment to the international game. "A double-double in your second international game, that’s very poised, very composed. She had a much more difficult opponent, in terms of their inside presence. The first game jitters were definitely gone. She’s a veteran now."

The U.S. wraps up the first stage of pool play on Saturday against Mali.

Here are quotes from Stewart and Wilson from the folks at USA Basketball.

BREANNA STEWART
After China held close in the first quarter, you pulled away in the second. What contributed to that run?
 I think it was our defense, it definitely contributed. China is obviously a good team, so we knew that they were going to stick with us for a little bit. We knew that if we kept going after them and kept pressuring them on defense, then eventually things would start to crumble for them and open up for us.

Were you trying to limit their 3-point shooting?
 Definitely. On the scouting report this morning it seemed like almost all of their guards were considered 3-point shooters. So, we just wanted to get them off the line because we know that they can shoot from deep and then if they’re going to shoot it, make it a contested three.

Can you feel the changes in your team’s chemistry?
 Yeah, I think you can really feel that happening over the past two games. I know it’s only two games, but you can tell that people are more comfortable playing with each other. There have been a lot of different lineups in and it feels like there’s not a bump when a new person comes in.

On Moriah Jefferson’s lob to Brianna Turner:
 That was very nice. I was behind Bri-T, so I saw it in the making. We should do that more often.

There was a lot of unselfish play tonight, how important is that going to be moving forward?
 It’s really important, because obviously it’s a team-oriented game and there might be times when one person isn’t doing so well or has an off game, so we just need to make sure that we have five people together on the court playing with each other like a team.

A'JA WILSON 
On tonight’s game:
 It was a lot of fun, it really was. We came out with a great mindset that our defense and offense have to be on point and we have to come together and really play as a team. Coach Meier said how we play today was going to have to be the best that we’ve played together. I think we really came out, did that and got the win.

You struggled yesterday due to the international style of play. Do you feel you made some adjustments for this game?
 Yeah, yesterday was really rough. It really was. I’m not going to lie. That was probably one of the worst games that I’ve ever played. But I really came out in the second half, coach gave us another mindset, and we came out and took care of business. I think that today I warmed up to it, because that was my first big international game and I knew I was nervous and I knew I was like ‘uh oh, this is about to be weird.’ But, I think I came back tonight and really got into a flow of things and let the game come to me.

What kind of adjustments do you have to make with your game for the international style of play?
 The physicality, really. These girls are physical. And the calls are different. I’m so used to playing AAU and high school, where any little touch is a foul. Here, they let you play and I love that style of basketball. That’s my biggest adjustment, just being physical and being able to hang.

What is the team looking to improve upon?
 Maturity. That’s what we really need to come together. The chemistry’s actually pretty good for us not to have really played with each other, of course you have the UConn girls, but other than that, I think the chemistry is there. We just have to mature.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi will start in All-Star game

Former UConn stars Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi will
be teammates at next week's WNBA All-Star game.
Former UConn stars Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi were voted by the fans to be starters for the Western Conference for the WNBA All-Star Game.

Moore was the second-leader vote-getter among Western Conference players receiving 31,635 while Taurasi, who headed into Thursday’s game against Los Angeles averaging a WNBA-best 21.5 points per game, led all Western Conference guards by receiving 26,019 votes.

Reigning WNBA MVP and former UConn star Tina Charles finished as the No. 5 vote-getter among Eastern Conference players but was not voted as a starter.

The WNBA changed its format going from having one center and two forwards being voted as starters to having the top three frontcourt players earning starting positions. Under the previous format Charles would have edged out Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles to be the starting center for the Eastern Conference. However, forwards Elena Delle Donne of Chicago (who topped all players by receiving 35,646 votes), Tamika Catchings of Indiana and Angel McCoughtry of Atlanta earned the starting nods. They will be joined in the Eastern Conference starting lineup by former Rutgers stars Cappie Pondexter and Epiphanny Prince, who play for New York and Chicago respectively.

Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus, Candace Parker of Los Angeles and Phoenix’s Brittney Griner are the other starters for the Western Conference.

Former Huskies Swin Cash of Chicago and Kalana Greene of Connecticut finished sixth and 13th respectively among Eastern Conference frontcourt players while Tiffany Hayes of Atlanta was eighth among Eastern Conference guards.

Reserves for the Eastern and Western Conference will be announced next week.
The WNBA All-Star Game will be played on July 27 at 3:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena.



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UConn recruiting target commits to Michigan State

Lexi Gussert, a sweet-shooting 6-foot forward from Forest Park High in Crystal Falls, Mich. announced on her official Twitter account that she has committed to Michigan State.

Lexi Gussert @lexiigus
Proud and blessed to say I will be a Michigan State Spartan next year! Thanks to everyone who has recruited me, and everyone for the support

UConn had pursued Gussert and the Huskies were hoping to get Gussert to Storrs for a campus visit

In a Detroit Free Press story Gussert is quoted as saying .“Geno was like: ‘If you come here and you like it, it’s a go.'"

Gussert was Michigan's Class D Player of the Year as a junior when she averaged 32 points per game.

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Stewart, Tuck lead U.S. to win in U-19 opener

UConn rising sophomores and U.S.U-19 team co-captains Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck combined for 44 points as the United States rolled to a 113-47 win over host Lithuania in the first pool-play game for both teams at the FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women on Thursday.

Stewart hit her first six shots and had 19 points in the first quarter and finished with 26 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals. Tuck added 18 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals while Moriah Jefferson finished with eight points, two rebounds and three assists. All three UConn rising sophomores started for the U.S.


"The bright lights, she knows when it’s time to shine and she was just … her efficiency, too," Miami and U.S. head coach Katie Meier said. "She only missed two shots in the first half. She missed one three and one jumper. Her stroke was perfect and what I love about this team is that they were saying, ‘we’ll get it to Stewie. We have to feed Stewie.’ When she’s hitting her jumper, she’s very hard to guard. She was stroking it tonight."

UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Tennessee rising sophomore Bashaara Graves had 13 points and seven rebounds while Northwestern incoming freshman Nia Coffey had 10 points.

The U.S. continues play in Pool D Friday against China before wrapping up the first stage of preliminary round play against Mali on Saturday. There will be live streams available beginning with the quarterfinals.

Here are quotes from Stewart and Tuck courtesy of USA Basketball.

BREANNA STEWART
Do you recall having a quarter like the one you had in the first quarter?
"I’m not sure. I don’t pay attention to that, but I’m sure I’ve been hot like that before."

Were you just feeling it or were you simply wide open?
"I think it was a mixture of both. They weren’t playing that great of a defense. It seemed that after a cut, you’d be open. But at the same time, there were some of my shots that just went in."

How were you able to pull away so quickly?
 "I think our full court pressure really helped. When we press like that and get them out of their sorts, we’re able to get a lot of breakaway layups in transition. It really helped us on offense. "

You all seemed to get a lot of easy steals. Was that the case?
"I don’t know. I think that maybe they weren’t expecting us to be as strong defensively, or something like that, but we were getting up in them and we knew we had to come out strong in the first quarter and really get things going for the bench and the rest of the team."

How hard is it to stay focused when you have such a big lead?
"It’s not that hard. You have to forget the score. You have to think about your team goals, you have to try to go after those and try to complete those."

MORGAN TUCK
What was it like to finally get the U19 World Championship started?
"It was a relief kind of. We were in training camp for a little bit and then finally getting out there for a game, it was a little different. It was nice to play a different team."

On Breanna Stewart’s performance in the first quarter:
"It was amazing. She was just on fire, hitting her shots. That’s something we needed to get us going. I’m hoping she can do that every game."

How were you able to pull away so quickly?
"Our group that started, we were really clicking on all cylinders. Our defense was good. Our press was really aggressive and we were getting our hands on the ball. We were really just running the floor. When Moriah (Jefferson) or Lex (Jones) would get a steal, then me, Bre (Stewart) and Bashaara (Graves) were just running the floor and getting layups."


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