Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rare trip North for UConn

UConn has played in venues across the country and even some locales outside the U.S. but have never played at the nearby MassMutual Center (formerly the Springfield Civic Center). That will change on Sunday when the Huskies play Ohio State in the final game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.

"It is cool to know that we are going to be able to play there," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "I don't know why we haven't played there, we don't get out much here in Connecticut but it is a cool opportunity to be able to go there, go to the arena and I know the night before we are going to the Hall of Fame and seeing all of that stuff."

If UConn's going to play a game in the arena, chances it is going to be either at the XL Center or Gampel Pavilion or at an on-campus facility which is why there have been no games in Springfield.

"The Hall of Fame hasn't done much with women's college basketball," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They have a really good high school tournament every January but they have not done much with college women's basketball so I am glad that they have decided to do a little bit with it. I am thrilled they are doing something with the women but it is kind of an unorthodox setup, three games out there (in Ohio), three games here then you wait a week and play a game up there it is not typical tournament."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Progress for UConn's Mosqueda-Lewis?

While junior All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is still sidelined due to a nerve contusion in her right elbow, the Huskies' leading scorer in each of the last two seasons has gotten back to doing what she does best - shoot.

Mosqueda-Lewis has been able to take some shots this week. Now this is not the majestic 3-pointer she is known for but one-handed set shots from about 10-12 feet while wearing a brace to protect her right elbow.

Don't look for either Mosqueda-Lewis or Morgan Tuck (currently sitting out after knee surgery) to be back when UConn plays Ohio State on Sunday or UC-Davis on Thursday but the fact that she feels good enough to take some shots would seem to me like it is good news as she works her way back.

Tuck was jumping rope so that seems to be encouraging as well although UConn coach Geno Auriemma isn't sure when they will be able to practice without restriction.

"They are starting to do a little bit more," Auriemma said. "Kaleena was just trying to go through some shooting motions. A little bit but not much. They had hoped that maybe next week or the week after to at least jump in there and doing some practice stuff but I don’t know if that is the case or not. I don’t know if it is going to happen. The way it is right now I don’t envision next week anybody going to be at practice."

Auriemma reiterated that he has no plans of rushing either player back until they are fully cleared.

"The last thing you want at this time of the year is to have a situation where things just kind of linger," Auriemma said. "Let’s take care of it, get it over with and when you are a 100 percent you come back. That is kind of what you do, that is how our medical staff and (athletic trainer) Rosemary (Ragle) treats things, when you are fully ready to go you go and not earlier and not because we have a certain game or games coming up, that is never in the equation."

While they don't know when Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck will be back on the court, their teammates have been impressed with how well they've dealt with this unscheduled hiatus.

"With those two, you see how hard they are working on the side," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "I was there, not in the same exact position but last year I had the chance of sitting out and knowing how bad it feels to not be able to do everything. I feel for them and I am excited that they will be able to get back on the court with us and I know they are just as excited to get back on too."

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Jefferson knows how to put on a show for UConn

There were too many scintillating plays during UConn's recently-completed stretch of four wins in five days to recount them all. However, a couple of plays sophomore point guard Moriah Jefferson made certainly are worth revisiting.

She put on a dribbling exhibition that the Harlem Globetrotters' Marques Haynes could appreciate when she was knocked to the ground and had the ball in her hands. She couldn't find a player to pass to so she did what comes naturally, and started to dribble. After a couple of seconds she got up and raced up the court as the fans roared in unison.

"I don't even remember what happened, I was on the floor and I was looking for somebody to pass to," Jefferson said. "There was nobody there so I started dribble and got up. If I had stood up and started dribbling it would have been a problem but if I started dribbling, I knew I'd be all right because I did that a couple of times before. I heard kind of a roar but I was trying to stay focused on the play."

Still, that was not her most memorable play of the week. That came when she threw a lob to classmate Breanna Stewart in something that resembled what Chris Paul and Blake Griffin might do on a fast break for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. However, rather than dunking the ball, Stewart caught the pass and attempted to knock in a shot.

"She looked at me and as soon as she looked at me, I said 'OK she wants (the lob),'" Jefferson said. "I should have waited a second and not (thrown) it as high. She is long, she caught it. I didn't think she was going to dunk it but I figured she would lay it in."


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4 UConn players among 50 Naismith Trophy candidates

The Naismith Trophy's list of 50 candidates was released a few minutes ago and to the surprise of nobody, the UConn quartet of Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart made the cut.

Stewart is UConn's leading scorer, averaging 18.9 points to go with 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.8 blocked shots, 1.4 steals and 10 3-pointers.

Dolson is averaging 14 points, 10.3 rebounds and is one of three Huskies with at least 20 blocked shots while ranking second on the team with 35 assists.

Hartley is also averaging 14 points per game and has a 47/10 assist to turnover ratio.

Mosqueda-Lewis, the Huskies' leading scorer in the last two seasons, is averaging 10.4 points per game. She has not played since injuring her right elbow early in the first half against Stanford.

AAC honors UConn's Stef Dolson

UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson was named the American Athletic Conference's Player of the Week after averaging 18.5 points, 12 rebounds, 5.8 assists in four games for the Huskies. She recorded the second triple-double in program history against Oregon and then had a pair of double-doubles in three games during the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Maturation of Kiah Stokes continues at UConn

Kiah Stokes had played 75 games at UConn heading into Sunday's contest against St. Bonaventure and had never led the Huskies in scoring. She accomplished that thanks to hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field en route to a career-high 19 points in an 88-39 win over St. Bonaventure at the XL Center.

In her first two seasons Stokes had never had back to back games with double digits in points. She has now done it in four consecutive games as she has brought more energy to the court in games and in practices than she did as a freshman or a sophomore.

If one stretch of plays typifies Stokes' new approach it came in the final minutes when she made three aggressive hustle plays on the baseline to give the Huskies an additional possession even though UConn was leading by more than 50 points.

I thought that there might not be a better person to get insight into Stokes' improvement as a player and higher rate of effort than her dad Greg, who is one of the best players in the history of the Iowa men's basketball program. After the game he gave me a few minutes to answer my questions about the maturation of his daughter.

"She is playing with a lot more confidence and has spent a lot of time (working) this summer and as a result of that, you can see it on the court," Greg Stokes said. "She is also getting an opportunity to play and I am excited for her.

"The thing with Kiah is she has bring it every day in practice, that is what Geno preaches and what he stresses. As long as she is doing that in practice, she is getting able to play and she is making the most of it. It is really nice to see."

Greg Stokes wanted Kiah to come to UConn to see if a demanding coach like Auriemma could light a fire inside of his daughter.

"One of the reasons she came here is because she wanted to be pushed and he is definitely pushing her," Greg Stokes said. "It is a lot of fun to see her have some success and the main thing now is she has to keep it going, she can't be satisfied, she has to keep working in practice.

"As a parent, I am probably her biggest critic but I am also her biggest fan so just to see her have some success is really nice to see."

When the coaches talk about Stokes, they invariably mention what a sweet kid she is and how well she gets along with her teammates. Greg Stokes said that can be a double-edged sword.

"She grew up in Iowa," Greg Stokes said. "Iowa is nice people, everybody is sweet, in harmony and all of that so she brings that on the court. She needs to be a little meaner. It is fun for her. I think the girls like her and she likes being a part of it."

Kiah Stokes has an added bonus of her mother Julie Saddler doing a fellowship in Massachusetts. She is renting a home for the year which is about 40 minutes from the UConn campus.

"It's kind of nice," Kiah Stokes said. "I get enough space but if I need something she is right there. It is awesome, the first couple of years when they couldn't come to as many it was kind of hard that freshman year I had my ups and downs and I wasn't the best mentally but having her here is great.".


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What a week for UConn signee Kia Nurse

You can excuse Kia Nurse if she just wants to use today as a time to take a deep breath and relax considering the activities of the previous seven days.

Nurse returned home from an official visit to Penn State last weekend after taking in UConn's victory over the Lady Lions, on Monday she made her college decision when she committed to UConn. The following day Nurse made it official when she signed her letter of intent at a ceremony at St. Thomas More. Then Nurse had to play five games between Thursday-Saturday to lead St. Thomas More to a third straight OFSAA Class AAAA title.

"It's been a long week, that is for sure." Nurse said. "I am thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to go to UConn and finally get the decision over with so I can focus on the rest of my senior year.":

Nurse was quoted as saying that she put down playing at UConn as her future goal when she was in seventh grade so what led to her desire to be a Husky?

"Probably just watching them dominate and win," Nurse said. "I like to win."

The basketball portion of her senior year at St. Thomas More in Hamilton, Ontario is over. Nurse said the team will head down to Florida for a tournament. She certainly ended on a high note averaging 21.6 points per game to lead STM to a third-straight provincial title.

"It is great," Nurse said. "Of course championships are always really exciting to win and to have three of them is better than anything and more than anybody could have asked for. I think that was super exciting and to do it with my best friends is the best part."

Nurse committed two early fouls and had to sit for most of the first quarter in Saturday's gold-medal game before returning to finish with 31 points to lead her team to the title.

"I committed two fouls and I had to deal with the consequences, you take them and it is a new game once you go back out there," Nurse said. "You sit there and you learn from your mistakes. You have to have a feel on how the refs are calling the games from that point on. When I went back in I just knew how to avoid getting fouls but how to draw fouls. .

"It's sad (that her high school career is over) but a new chapter begins and things go on."

Nurse, who took in the Huskies' season-opener against Hartford, said that at this time she is not planning to make it down for another UConn game this season. She also said her next national team commitment comes in May,

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Thrree-peat for UConn signee Kia Nurse

Despite sitting for much of the first quarter after two early fouls. UConn signee Kia Nurse had 31 points as her St. Thomas More squad defeated Blessed Pope John Paul II 73-47 on its third straight OFSAA Class AAAA title.

Nurse averaged 21.6 points as St. Thomas More went 5-0 in the tournament.. She had 16 points in the first round win over the St. Peter Knights 80-21 and had 18 points in a 76-55 win over the Newmarket Raiders on Thursday.

On Friday Nurse had 18 points in a 60-36 win over the Sarnia Northern Vikings 60-36 in the quarterfinals and had 25 points in a 60-41 win over the Pickering Trojans in the semifinals.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Getting challenging games in holiday tourney no easy task

In a perfect world UConn would be squaring off against teams like Stanford, Old Dominion and Duke as was the case six years ago in the Paradise Jam. Even as recently as three years ago LSU out of the Southeastern Conference came to Storrs for the 2010 World Vision Classic.

There are no such challenges for top-ranked UConn in the three games in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge this weekend. The Huskies rolled past Boston University and Monmouth by a total of 112 points. Next up is a St. Bonaventure which needed late offensive bursts to escape wins against both teams.

In today's post-game press conference I asked Auriemma if the Huskies get anything out of blowing out three overmatched opponents in three days.

"You always get something out of everything, very rarely do you walk away and say thee was no point to it all," Auriemma said. "Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way and you get teams that want to come here and they don't want to come unless they know they have a chance to win at least two games, that narrows the field a little bit and all of these other events that have popped up all over country but off the mainland, it seems like anybody who wants to go some place around Thanksgiving can find a place to go.

"It is not as easy as you think, scheduling. If you could go to the same place every year but when they put those four-year restrictions (for tournaments outside the continental U.S.) on it, it starts to limit where you can go and what you can do and when people fund out you are in the tournament they go 'I don't want to play' so you have have that problem too.

"It does make it very difficult on the coaches, on the players, on everybody. It is one of those, you agree 'yeah it would be great to play in the Hall of Fame Classic. It would be great to play three home games. It is great after the stretch that we had to be home for three day and it is an exempt event.' You agree it and you put in the time and at least one team that is at a high level."

In recent years even the to tournaments in the tropical locations are not drawing the same level of competition. Last year the Huskies barely broke a sweat in wins over Wake Forest, Marist and Purdue at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The only options would be to bypass these exempt tournaments and set up more challenging games but that would result in fewer games being played.

"The way it has come to right now  is you either need to be willing to play everybody home and home where sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't or you've got be willing to pay teams to come and play you which sometimes makes sense and sometimes it doesn't and the people who are  going to take money to come play you aren't going to be much better than the teams we are playing right now," Auriemma said. "The really good teams you play home and home, that does a lot of damage to some of the big TV games you are trying to play because then there is not going to be any room for them. It is always a balancing act how many road games you can schedule every year. Our friend (DePaul women's basketball coach) Doug Bruno thinks there should be an NCAA rule that you have to play as many road games as you play home games. He said everybody in the country should be make to play the same number of home games as road games. I said 'yeah, I think we will get to that point when we have the 9-foot rims."


Juniors Banks, Stokes step up for UConn

When they were freshmen or even sophomores, Brianna Banks and Kiah Stokes were often little more than luxury players for the UConn women's  basketball team.

If they happened to make an impact that was great but the Huskies did not need necessarily need them to win games.

However, with All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis out with an elbow injury and Morgan Tuck sidelined following knee surgery, the Huskies are down to seven full scholarship players. They have responded in a positive fashion in being asked to deliver more while the Huskies are short-handed.

Banks scored the first eight points in Saturday's 100-46 win over Monmouth and scored in double figures for the second time in the last three games with 12 points to go with three assists and three steals. Stokes had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. She scored in double figures in three straight games for the first time in her collegiate career and her three double-doubles this season tops her mark of two in her first two seasons combined.

"We have seven scholarship players and if two of our main players go down we have to step up, we can't play with only five," Stokes said. "I know for me personally, if Stef or Stewie were to go down tomorrow I would have to step up even more but you are really trying to do what they (Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes) do every day in practice so it is hard to make up for those two but if each person does a little bit more we can fill what they bring when they are playing."

Stokes has shown flashes of brilliance in her first two seasons but her lack of consistency has driven the UConn coaches crazy. Both associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant coach Marisa Moseley have raved about Stokes' improved work ethic and intensity both in practice and games this season. On Saturday Auriemma weighed in on Stokes' improved production.

"I think there is more of a go try to do something, go try to get a rebound, go try to block a shot, go try to post up," Auriemma said. "Maybe she is having a little bit of success and wants more of it, that is the only thing I can think of. It is not like all of a sudden she has changed her (body), she has gotten any taller, any quicker or any faster, she is still the same person but just the same person trying to do more things than she did last year, that is 90 percent of the battle, just trying more."

Stokes still wants to be more.

"I feel like there are times when I could have gotten one more rebound or one more block so you are never satisfied but it is the first step," Stokes said. "It is way better than the past few years. I am just playing harder and playing with more confidence. I know I am able to do those things so if I am able to rebound and block shots every game, start with that and be more aggressive offensively. I can always offensive rebound so if I can do that, any little thing I do helps and the confidence comes with it.

"I have been yelled at for the past two years and it is kind of getting old, I just wanted to work really hard and I wanted to come into my junior year with a new mentality, I am not an underclassman any more, I have to be one of the role models and leaders for the team so working on it to prove I could do it. I know the past two years I was kind of iffy, should I do this or should I do that and now I am comfortable with our offense and how he runs his program and that helps a lot. Just knowing that I can do what I can do."

In the morning shootaround Stokes knew that Banks was going to have a big game based on how well she was shooting the ball and how aggressive she was playing.

"We were so happy for her in practice, she was making 3's and we telling her 'be confident, shoot,'" Stokes said. "She is a good shooter so we like when hard work pays of."

Banks also had a sense that she was going to make an impact against Monmouth.

"I could tell by the way I was warming up that my shot was (falling)," Banks said.

"We have to support the players that are out and make up for what they bring so we definitely come hard every game and try to make up for what we don't have."

Homecoming for BU freshman Courtney Latham

Considering that both of her parents graduated from UConn and that she grew up in Glastonbury, it figured that Courtney Latham grew up following the perennial powerhouse UConn women's basketball program.

However, when it came time to pick a college it didn't take her long to realize that she belonged in Beantown.

A starting guard as a freshman at Boston University, Latham had a chance to play at Gampel Pavilion as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.

She received a nice reception from her sizeable cheering section before Friday night's game against UConn.

"It defintiely felt good to know we had so many fans here for our team," Latham said. "We are playing the best team in the country and it was a great experience for us. We came out, played hard and fought a lot. It was a great game experience."

Geno reveling in special day for UConn

When Geno Auriemma arrived at UConn he was among those caught up in the excitement when the Huskies' field hockey team won the 1985 national title. So when the field hockey team ousted North Carolina to advance to the national championship game for the first time since '85 on the same day that the UConn men's basketball team won a thrilling game at Madison Square Garden against Indiana, he gave his thoughts on the special day.

"We have a great athletic department," Auriemma said after Friday night's win over Boston University. "If you are out there and you want to take umbrage with the University of Connecticut, it certainly not going to be about the quality of our athletic department. The quality of teams we have is amazing from top of bottom, our soccer team is playing in the tournament, I remember in 1985 they won a national championship when Diane Wright was the coach so we have a long tradition of winning in men's soccer, field hockey and men's basketball we certainly have a great tradition. It all starts in September so when your football team gets off to a great start it has the tendency to trickle down and everybody gets caught up in it. Unfortunately it didn't happen this year with our (football) team but when you look past that, it is incredible and I don't think it happens at every school."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Early benching gets attention of UConn's Breanna Stewart

It's highly unusual to see sophomore sensation Breanna Stewart be the first of the UConn starters summoned to the bench. But after watching Stewart take and miss three more challenging than necessary shots, UConn coach Geno Auriemma had the quick hook.

The 3 minutes, 7 seconds she spent on the bench seemed to work wonders for Stewart.

“I don’t know what I was thinking," Stewart said. "I kept wanting to do a turnaround jump shot in the post. It is not something that I do a lot. I honestly don’t have a reason for it. I did it, then I did it again and I did it again. Then I came out. Usually when we are around the basket like that we do hook shots.”

Nobody was more surprised to see Stewart's bizarre shot selection than Auriemma.

"It is not easy to clear your head when there is nothing in there, that would be a very difficult thing to do," Auriemma said. "I asked her during the first timeout 'Stewie do we practice those shots you are taking?' She said 'no. I said 'why are you taking them?' She said 'I don't know.' So when people start talking to you like that, you just shake your head. She did it three times in a row so they are kids and you don't know what goes through their heads. It is unlike her, usually she takes the kind of shots that we know she is going to take and we know she is going to make, those first three were just bizarre. She is shooting 90 percent on those jump hooks over the front of the rim  and decided she didn't want to shoot them, they were too easy of something.

"I talk to Stewie all the time about that stuff, all great teams have great players on it so it makes them great teams. I don;'t know if last year we were a great team, we won a national championship but I don't know if we were a great team based on some of teams we've had here in the past. If you have great players on your team, you have a chance to have a great team because every night like when Maya (Moore) was here, Maya played great every night so every night you stepped on the floor you had a chance to play great. Same when Diana (Taurasii) was here, some players they just define what the team is going to do and I talked to Stewie about that. When Stefanie, Stewie, Bria, we don't have Kaleena, but guys who have already done it in the past but have great seasons and great moments and we know they are going to bring that every night we have a great chance to be a great team every night regardless of who we are playing, that is irrelevant who we are playing."

CAR FOR POLLY?
Auriemma is not know to mince words with his players, even the ones he didn't recruit.

So when he watched sophomore walk-on Briana Pulido fire up shot after shot at Thursday's practice, he let her have it.

"Polly (ticked) me off so much yesterday I told her I would buy her a car if she ever gets an assist, that kid refuses to pass the ball to anybody even in practice. This kid high jumped all of last year and comes out here and thinks she is Kobe Bryant so what did she do today? She got an assist and now she wants a car..'"

LIMITED MINUTES FOR BANKS
Although junior guard Brianna Banks started for the second consecutive game, she played the fewest minutes of the full scholarship players and that was by design.

Banks had her foot stepped on in Wednesday's win over Oregon and although it wasn't enough to sideline her, with three games in three days Auriemma said he wanted to limit her minutes.

"Brianna Banks would have played more tonight but somebody stepped on her foot in the Oregon game and it has been bothering her the last couple of days, we had three games in three days otherwise she would have played more minutes," Auriemma said.

NURSE GOES FOR TITLE ON SATURDAY
UConn signee Kia Nurse led her St. Thomas More team to two more victories and now they are one win away from a third consective Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association Class AAAA title.

St. Thomas Moore defeated Northern S.S. 60-41 in the quarterfinals and then topped Pickering 60-41 behind 25 points from Nurse to advance to Saturday's gold-medal game.

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Years at BU were "positive experience" for UConn assistant

Although Marisa Moseley didn't play for current Boston University head coach Kelly Greenberg and did not have the scouting responsibilities, it was still special for UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley to go up against her alma mater.

"I had a great four year experience," said Moseley, who played for the Terriers from 2000-04 after was the third all-time leader in blocked shots when she graduated. "It was close to home for me and I got to play quite a bit from freshman year on and I had a great coaching staff and it was a good, all-around positive experience."

Moseley was on the BU team which lost to UConn 91-44 in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament. The junior forward had six points, four rebounds and three assists.

"I remember we got blown out by about 40 points, it was a real intimidating place to come into at Gampel but it was exciting," Moseley said. "I like to say that they had to go through BU.

"Kelly has done an awesome job with the program. I think she has pushed the program, they had an undefeated (conference) season a couple years ago and they were awesome. it was good. It changed my life and gave me an opportunity, it afforded me to come and work here."

Moseley, who is in her fifth season as an assistant at UConn, works with the post players so I asked her for her thoughts on how well junior Kiah Stokes has been playing.

"Her biggest thing has been consistency since she has gotten here, there was never a question of whether she had the skill or ability," Moseley said. "She is extremely cerebral and she knew what we needed her to do but it was just pushing through and now that she has risen to that (level) she needs to stay there to give us even more. You never want injury but if you are going have people step up and she has taken advantage of it and so has Brianna Banks and that is what you want.

"I just love her since I was recruiting her, she gets along with everyone,will do anything for any of her teammates and what they need now is for her to be consistent."

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UConn signee stars in postseason

UConn signee Kia Nurse had 34 points as two-time defending champion St. Thomas More defeated the St. Peter Knights 80-21 and the Newmarket Raiders 76-55 on day one of the OFSAA Class AAAA tournament.

Nurse and St. Thomas More will meet Northern Secondary School in the quarterfinals at 11:30 and with a win would play either Pickering or St. Edmund Campion in the semifinals tonight at 6:30 p.m.

I can't vouch for the quality of whether there is a subscription needed but here is a link to a live stream

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stefanie Dolson joins select company in UConn win

If she had her way, Stefanie Dolson would have preferred that assistant coach Marisa Moseley didn't tell her that she was an assist shy of become the second player in UConn women's basketball history to record a triple-double.

Dolson has never played basketball with the intention of posting gaudy individual statistics and she did not want to start in the final minutes of Wednesday night's 114-68 win over Oregon.

Dolson did everything she could to play just as she would have if she was not within range of joining Laura Lishness in this select club. Still, Dolson couldn't help but quietly chuckle when the XL Center crowd of 7,961 groaned when Moriah Jefferson passed up an open layup on what would have been Dolson's 10th assist with 4:02 to play. The magical assist came on a jumper by Kiah Stokes with 1:20 to play.

"If you try too hard to get something people get frantic and things get crazy and I really wanted to finish the game off well," Dolson said. "Even though 'Ris told us, we did a good a job of executing at the end I figured it was going to happen, I pass the ball a lot."

Dolson finished with career highs of 26 points and 11 assists to go with 14 rebounds.

"It's amazing, I am honored," Dolson said.

Oregon is coached by the Guru of Go Paul Westhead who used his system to put up incredible offensive numbers in the NBA, WNBA and in college with the Loyola Marymount men's program.

With Oregon pushing the pace and attempting to pressure UConn's guards, there was plenty of opportunities for UConn's frontcourt to spread the wealth.

Dolson and Breanna Stewart combined for 15 assists and just one turnover as UConn posted the seventh most points in school history.

"We want our big guys handling the ball a lot," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Oregon's strategy was to pressure our guards and make them handle it and not a bad way to go bu our big guys are pretty good passers and we felt like once we got the top to the top of the key, I thought we had a chance to score and we did. Stewie and certainly Stefanie are terrific passers and Kiah is becoming a better passer every day and all three of them are prety good ifinishjes too so they help each other.

"I think when you play against a team that is going at attempt as many 3's, the tendency is to get caught up in that game. Thee are times in that first half when we did. We shot more air balls tonight than we did all year long because your heart is going 100 miles an hour because you are playing that way and it is not easy to make shots at that pace so for us the game plan going in, let's make sure we make two or three passes and unless we have a layup. let's make them play some defense then we can catch our breath and we will still get whatever shot we want I hope and that is."

Dolson spread out her assists to six different players. She set up Breanna Stewart and Kiah Stokes three times each, assisted on both of Saniya Chong's baskets and had one assist each to Moriah Jefferson, Bria Hartley and Briana Pulido.

Stewart had 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists (two each to Dolson and Brianna Banks), two steals and two blocked shots.

"It makes it us a lot better," Dolson said. "I pride myself with my passing and I know Stewie does too so for us to be able to pass the ball makes us harder to guard because not a lot of teams have bigs that can do that. Most of them  look to rebound and post up but we are a big part of the offense to get it moving, get it flowing and find open shots."

Dolson joins Laura Lishness as the only Huskies to record triple doubles. While Auriemma was the UConn coach when Lishness had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in the 1989 Big East championship game against Providence, Auriemma wasn't there to see it.

During the 1988-89 season Auriemma set up a scrimmage against Eastern Connecticut however, the game ended up being counted as an official game by the NCAA. Syracuse agreed to cancel its game against the Huskies so UConn would not go over the allotted number of the games. As a result of the situation Auriemma was suspended for the entire Big East tournament.

"I know for that time Laura is unique, there wasn't anything on the basketball court that she couldn't do," Auriemma said. "She is probably still one of the best athletes to ever play here, I just wish I had been here to see it."

AURIEMMA ON KIA NURSE
Although Kia Nurse signed and faxed her letter of intent on Tuesday, Auriemma hadn't been given the thumbs' up from the compliance department at the time we spoke to him after practice. Following the Oregon game he spoke about the Canadian national team guard who committed to UConn on Monday.

"Every time I watch her play, she plays the same," Auriemma said. "She does remind me of Svetlana in terms of her demeanor, she knows how to run a team, she knows how to play defense, she enjoys playing defense, she makes open shots, she is a willing passer. Some people are good passers but they don't want to be passers, she is one of these kids that a young age is a complete basketball player and is only going to get better.

"She is a tremendous athlete, she probably got it from mom and her brother got it from her mom. Her dad Rich, he takes all the credit and he always tells me how great he is but I know exactly where it came from."


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Uptempo Oregon team next up for UConn

The first time I took a look at Oregon's stats I'm not sure I believed what I was seeing.

The Ducks averaged 109.7 points per game in the first three games of the season and perhaps as staggering was the 62 rebounds that they averaged.

Oregon took 109 3-pointers and the Ducks' opponents fired up 107 3's in the games. Yes, this could be a wild affair.

"They really like to push it in transition, we are going to have to control the tempo and play the game we want to play and not the game they want to play," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said.

With UConn playing games on Friday-Sunday and down a couple of players due to the injuries to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, perhaps fatigue will be an issue.

"I am not sure you want that kind of game when you come off the travel and emotion of the previous three games and it is what it is, Stanford was one way, Maryland was another way Penn State was another way and Oregon is completely different from any other team in the country that I have seen," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They have a unique style that they have committed to and you have to deal with it. We saw a little but of it last year when we went out there and you have a different cast of characters this year that are more in tune with what they are doing it and they run it, they are going to shoot their 40 3's whether you do anything about it or not, there is nothing you can do about it, they are going to get those shots up. It could be whatever number they want it to be and from some places where they shoot it there has never been a defender in any of those areas."

Oregon's coach is Paul Westhead, the Guru of Go whose teams have set offensive records in the NBA, WNBA and in college basketball.

"He has always been innovative, he has always been thinking outside the box and I don't know in their league, I only know Stanford what kind of players they have, I have seen Cal and I don't know what some of other teams have but I think if you commit yourself to it, you can make anything work," Auriemma said. "Obviously if you have Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, if you have Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, I think it works a lot better. If you asked him if his stuff would work as well as it did those other times, he could lie and say yes but if he told the truth, he would say no."

First national title opened recruiting doors at UConn

UConn's run to 1995 national title and TV exposure
enabled UConn to secure commitments from Georgia
phenom Maya Moore and Californian Diana Taurasi
As UConn officially sent out a release on the signing of four players during the early signing period it was impossible to see the hometowns of Phoenix, Sparks, Nev. and Hamilton, Ontario and not be immediately struck by how much times have changed.

The first eight classes signed by Geno Auriemma after he arrived at UConn were comprised entirely from players on the Eastern seaboard. Pennsylvania was a particular favorite recruiting spot for Auriemma, Chris Dailey and the rest of the UConn staff. Players from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Virginia were also in those early signing class.

The pendulum began to swing during the Huskies run to the first of eight national titles during the 1994-95 season. The following season freshmen included Oregon's Tammy Arnold and Ohio's Amy Hughes. The following year marked the first time that UConn signed a class with players made up exclusively from spots outside UConn's recruiting primary area as North Carolina native Shea Ralph was joined by Oklahoma natives Stacy Hansmeyer and Paige Sauer.

Now if you look at UConn's all-time leading scorers, the current top 13 includes a player from Georgia (Maya Moore) one from California (Diana Taurasi), others from Russia (Svetlana Abrosimova), West Virginia (Renee Montgomery), Florida (Tiffany Hayes), North Carolina (Ralph) and Ohio (Barbara Turner).

"I think the area that you recruit from sometimes has to do with the level your program is at," Auriemma said. "(When) we started wherever we could drive to in a reasonable time that is our recruiting base so we made a decision that if we could recruit that triangle , Boston-Pittsburgh-Washington, D.C. if we could be good in that area than we could be good. Back then, if we could drive there in four or five hours, let's go recruit those kids because they might not know who we are at least they know who we are playing against. Once games starting being televised and people across the country could watch us play and we got to a level of success that meant there would be kids from all over the country and in some cases other countries that were watching play so then it became much easier to get involved with those kids."

It is a double-edged sword as most of UConn's recruiting misses in the recent years have done as much with geography than basketball issues. Auriemma tries to play devil's advocate with recruits from places where driving to home games is not an option.

"I tell them they should stay home, that is the first thing I should tell them," Auriemma said. "Who wouldn't want to play close to home. That works for some kids but not the kids we are recruiting, they know what we have is pretty unique."

While a class including Courtney Ekmark, Sadie Edwards, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams will be rated as one of the best classes nationally, the Huskies may not be done as they are still very much involved with the nation's No. 1 player A'ja Wilson out of South Carolina. The 6-foot-5 Wilson will not be signing during the early period which ends today and she will not complete her official visits until after her senior season at Heathwood Hall is completed.

Regardless of which towns they grew up in, the constant among all recruits is the ability to deal with the relentless pursuit of perfection as Auriemma is constantly pushing his players. Case in point, sophomore Breanna Stewart had a spectacular first half offensively with 19 points in a win at Maryland. At halftime Stewart did not receive words of praise from her head coach but a tongue lashing for not pulling down a single rebound.

"I think when it comes the type of person, it goes it is a different thing, everybody is different but it is just the mindset you have to have," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "You have to be comfortable with being yelled at and every little thing you do criticized and be willing to learn. It is tough but when people know this is where they want to come, they make the decision."

Auriemma talked about Ekmark, Edwards and Williams yesterday since their letters of intent have been received. With Nurse's letter now having been received, Auriemma can speak about her after tonight's game. Here is an interesting story about how Nurse wrote when she was in seventh grade that her dream was to play at UConn.

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Recent road trip was beneficial for UConn's Brianna Banks

With no brace on her surgically-repaired knee and the aggressive mentality she displayed during the two exhibition games, there would be no way that the casual observer would know she was the same player who saw her sophomore season ended with a torn ACL.

Banks had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes in wins over Division II programs Gannon and Philadelphia. But the numbers didn't tell the complete story. She dove on the floor with reckless abandon, never hesitated when she had an opportunity to shoot.

However, a more tentative Banks was on display in the first two regular-season games.

Watching Stanford play well off of Banks and not liking her response, UConn coach Geno Auriemma only played Banks eight minutes in a win over No. 3 Stanford.

Perhaps it was the confidence that freshman Saniya Chong played with against the Cardinal or the fact that the Huskies were down the seven full scholarship players after the injuries suffered by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, but a much more confident Banks took to the court when the Huskies faced Maryland in the road opener.

Banks had nine points, three rebounds and an assist in 25 minutes and played another 18 minutes against Penn State as the Huskies posted a pair of double-digit victories on the road against ranked teams.

"I was trying to redeem myself, I was thinking a little bit too much," Banks said.

"It is like a different flow now, I have figured out my role on the team which is to work hard, be good on defense and my offense will come so I am just trying to do it in practice and it will transfer to the game."

Banks shot 48 percent from the field including 35 percent from 3-point range in the 21 games she played last season. Her shooting eye has not fully returned just yet as she is 6 of 17 on field goals and 1 of 7 from 3-point range in the first four games this season.

"My shooting right now is the biggest thing and looking more in the post for my teammates," Banks said,

With the graduation of defensive stalwart Kelly Faris, Banks is also being asked to chip in defensive on the opposing team's best perimeter player to give Bria Hartley a break.

"I have to work on not fouling with the different rules, it is a lot harder to play somebody and keep them in your sight when the fouls are so touchy now," Banks said. "We work on that in practice every day and I will get better at ."


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Report: Former UConn star injured in accident

According to a report by the Love Women's Basketball site, former UConn forward Charde Houston was struck by a hit and run driver as she rode a bike to yesterday's practice for the Spar Uni Girona in Spain where she is currently playing.

There are reports that Houston needed to be hospitalized.but was able to make it to the team's practice last night.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Geno Auriemma happy with UConn's early signees

Although he could not comment on the most recent player to commit, Canadian national team guard Kia Nurse until the UConn compliance department looks over the letter she signed today, UConn coach Geno Auriemma did speak on the record about the trio of guard recruits who signed with the Huskies on the first day of the early signing period.

While he still has a chance to add the No. 1 recruit in the country, 6-5 A'ja Wilson in the late signing period, adding some quality players on the perimeter was a priority for Auriemma and his staff in this recruiting class.

Courtney Ekmark, a sweet-shooting 6-foot wing out of Phoenix, the incredibly athletic Gabby Williams, a 5-11 wing from Sparks, Nev., and guard Sadie Edwards, who is originally from Meriden but currently a senior at Blair Academy, fit that bill.

"When you are trying to put together a recruiting class you are looking for things you are going to need that are going to help you sustain for a four year period so you are always thinking ahead four years," Auriemma said. "We are pretty fully aware that Caroline (Doty), Kelly (Faris), Bria (Hartley), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) and Brianna Banks and in a three-year period that is five guards who are no longer going to be playing at Connecticut so I think getting the players we got is perfect for us because it addresses an immediate need that we have among others, there are other needs. The way they play complements what we do and complements each other. Not one of those players is identical to the other which we try to stay away from, we try to stay away from recruiting players who are similar, that is when you run into a program.

"When we played last year I think we played with Kelly, Kaleena and Stefanie, I don't know that (Faris and Mosqueda-Lewis) come out of (high school) as anything but guards. The fact that Courtney is 6-feet tall, Gabby is 6-feet tall or close to it, that is two out of the three - Sadie being a little bit smaller - that there is no reason that they can't do for us exactly what Kelly did for us and what Kaleena is doing. The way we put our players out there, there might be mismatch but I always like that mismatch in our favor."

Auriemma loves the blue-collar aspect of all three of the recent signees.

"They love basketball, they love to play, they study a lot, they are in the gym a lot so that is a huge (bonus) for us," Auriemma said. "I think to be really good here you have to love the game. I think Gabby can play a lot of different positions, I think Courtney shoots the ball and knows the game about as well as anybody we have ever recruited and I think Sadie with her ability to penetrate and get into the lane, her basketball smarts she is going to get better and better all the time. I think we get a little bit of everything in these three."

Ideally Auriemma would have liked to landed one or two post players and if he misses out on Wilson, he won't have any players taller than 6-feet in this class. There were post players on the Huskies wish list but they went elsewhere.

"We never go in saying we are going to recruit one player in this class, that makes no sense," Auriemma said. "The reason sometimes that happens and I think what happens is players that you want, maybe they told you one thing and it turned out to be something different, maybe something came up that you didn't anticipate or maybe somebody else just did a better job of recruiting. If we got every player we recruited, who would be play against. These people who think that just because we makes a phone call, they are coming to Connecticut they are out of their freaking minds. We recruit five other players and we get four out of those five and for whatever reason it just kind of falls apart and what are you supposed to do, run out and go 'there are three other kids' they suck, they can't play here but at least we will have a four-person recruiting class or they will get a lot better by the time they are junior and they might help us. Really? By the time they are junior, four other kids have come in to play their position that are better than them."

UConn's Mosqueda-Lewis expected to be back in 3-5 weeks

As promised, injured All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had her injured right elbow re-examined.

After viewing the results of the MRI, conducted by Dr. Michael Joyce on Monday, UConn announced that Mosqueda-Lewis is expected to be out 3-5 weeks due to the nerve contusion in her right elbow. UConn doesn't play from Dec. 6-16 due to the break for exams so the timing could be beneficial.

"The standard answer is 4-6 weeks," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after Tuesday's practice. "It covers pretty much every injury. After the initial evaluation, I was pretty much resigned that it was going to be a month. If it three it is great, if it is five it is what ever it is just as long as Kaleena is making progress, that is pretty much the best we can (hope for) as long as she is making progress every day which she is."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Canadian national team guard Kia Nurse commits to UConn

It seems true to Kia Nurse's blue-collar nature that she headed off to practice shortly after news of her commitment to UConn began to make its way around various social-media platforms.

Nurse, a 6-foot guard, announced her decision earlier today on her Twitter account.

With her St. Thomas More squad going after the OFSAA title beginning on Thursday, Nurse and her teammates had some work to do so it was off to practice she went.

Her father Richard discussed his daughter's decision which came this morning after she returned from watching the Penn State/UConn game.

"I think it is a great opportunity for her, it is a great coaching staff for her to maximize her potential," said Richard Nurse.

"Now it is just getting ready, I coach her club team and now we can focus on basketball."

The most difficult part was telling the other two finalists (Penn State and Indiana) of her decision. Indiana coach Curt Miller coached Kia's older sister when he was at Bowling Green and the Nurses seemed to hit it off very well with Penn State coach Coquese Washington and her staff when they were at Sunday's game.

" It was hard, they are both solid programs," Richard Nurse said. "Curt's building a program (at Indiana) and Penn State is an up and coming (program) so it was great competition."

So is UConn the perfect landing spot for his daughter?.

"We believe so with their style of play and their commitment to excellence," Richard Nurse said.

To say that the Nurses are an athletic family would be an understatement of incredible proportions. Richard played in the CFL, his sister Raquel is a former star at Syracuse University (who is married to former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb), Kia's brother Darnell was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, a 6-foot-4 defenseman who has 7 goals and 16 assists in 21 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. Her older sister Tamika Nurse played collegiately with Oregon and Bowling Green. As a senior at Bowling Green she was the third-leading scorer on the NCAA tournament team with an average of 10.5 points per game and led the team with 115 assists and 54 steals.

Nurse has become a regular in the Canadian national team program. Nurse was a star on Canada's teams which competed in the FIBA Americas U-16 Championships in 2011 and U-17 World Championships in 2012. More recently, Nurse was Canada's third-leading scorer (averaging 10 points per game) and averaged 2 rebounds and 2.5 assists as Canada finished second in the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women to clinch a spot in next year's World Championships.

She is the fourth player in the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn. Meriden's Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark of Phoenix and Gabby Williams of Sparks, Nev. have already signed with UConn. Richard Nurse said there is a ceremony planned at St. Thomas More tomorrow where Nurse will make it official.

Although UConn will need to wait until the spring to find out where A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014, hopefully Nurse's letter will arrive at UConn by the time we speak to UConn coach Geno Auriemma after practice tomorrow so we can get reaction to the four players signed during the early signing period.

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Chong's delivers monster first half for UConn

While she may be somewhat quiet when she is away from the basketball court, UConn freshman guard Saniya Chong's game speaks volumes when it is time to play.

After making a couple of huge shots in Monday's win over Stanford Chong looked very much like a freshman in Friday's game at Maryland. She was timid, unsure of herself and caught in the dreaded "should I or shouldn't I? mode.

Even though he was without the services of All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and key reserve Morgan Tuck, UConn coach Geno Auriemma didn't even summon Chong off the bench in the second half against Maryland.

I've seen some of the best players in UConn history get into a funk when they were benched by Auriemma but watching Chong's impressive first-half performance against Penn State on Sunday you would never know how much she had struggled just two days earlier.

Chong had 13 points (hitting 4 of 5 shots), four rebounds and an assist in the final nine minutes of the half as the Huskies turned a two-point deficit into a 15-point lead at the break.

“Last game I didn't really contribute so much,” Chong said. “Coming into this game I knew I had to create, I had to do what they needed me to do so coming out, hitting a couple of 3's, if that is what they needed that is what I am going to do.

“When a teammate is in trouble or needs help, I am right there. I know if things don't go my way, they will help me out. I think it helps a lot, games like this being up by a lot of points and then dropping a lot (of points off the lead), it was such a good experience for me being in that situation, knowing what to do.”

Chong finished with 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal in 27 minutes in the 71-52 win over Penn State. Her teammates and coaches knew that the game’s outcome could have been quite a bit different if not for Chong’s impressive first half.

“She has great instincts,” Auriemma said. “You think Moriah Jefferson was fast, that was a blur going to the basket that one drive. She doesn't hesitate, we constantly encourage her to be more aggressive and when you are like that; if you play a bad game it doesn't bother you.
“She is a really good basketball player. Saniya has great talent but her instinct help that talent come out even more. We have a pretty good player and I want her to keep getting better. She has a lot of (guts) to make that 3 from the wing, same thing with the Stanford game and she is pretty bright.”

Bria Hartley, who delivered some pretty impressive performances against ranked teams when she was a freshman, liked what she saw from Chong against the Lady Lions.

"She has great instincts and she is aggressive so when she is aggressive like that, she can make plays," Hartley said. "We all know she can knock in shots so if she is doing this consistently we think she is going to be pretty good."





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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Foul issues concern UConn's Auriemma

Before taking his top-ranked UConn women basketball team on a challenging two-game road trip Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma stressed the importance of staying out of foul trouble.

Then he watched as the fouls piled up, especially in the frontcourt in Friday's game at Maryland and the same thing happened on Sunday against Penn State.

Senior center Stefanie Dolson picked up fouls. No. 2 and 3 nine seconds apart late in the first half and although she was not whistled for a foul in the second half, she came perilously close to being called for her fourth early in the early stages of the final half. Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were called for their third fouls by the 15:45 mark of the second half and they too flirted with danger with some over aggressive plays.

"There is a fine line between how aggressive you can be and how smart you can need to be," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You just get yourself where you want to make a play. The fouls that were called on Stefanie today, they were all fouls and they are fouls that can be prevented. One is a moving screen, you don''t have to set moving screens. One was she was standing there and the kid just threw herself at her but she had her hands (extended), the next time her hands were up here. Stewie, you have two fouls, they are running down on transition the kid stops at the foul line and you run by and smack her on the back of the head, what are you thinking?"

UConn posted wins over ranked teams by 19, 17 and 19 points and do not play a ranked team again until playing at No. 2 Duke on Dec. 17. Still, the Huskies are not about to rest of their laurels.

"When we go back to school we have a lot to work on," Auriemma said. "We don't take anything for granted, we don't disrespect any team when we are out there thinking we are going to win every game just because we show up. Contrary to public opinion we do practice and we do work really hard, we don't just roll the ball out there because we have 17 high school All-Americans."


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Hartley delivers for UConn

Her first two 3-pointers in the second half, like so many others in the previous game and a half, were off the mark and rather than get frustrated, UConn senior guard Bria Hartley decided to get creative.

Seeing her injured teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who ranks third all-time at UConn in 3-point percentage, sitting on the bench Hartley decided to seek aid from her good friend.

"I actually went to Kaleena and said I need something and I want to rub your hands," Hartley said with a laugh.

It seemed to work as Hartley made 4 of her last 5 3-pointers and had eight straight UConn points after Penn State pulled within nine points.All of this happened while she was guarding Penn State All-American Maggie Lucas.

"I think anytime I am out on the court I like to play and I like to create for my teammates and when you are out there you have to be ready, be aggressive and make plays whenever you are out there," Hartley said.

"I have taken a lot of my pride in my defense, as a freshman, sophomore, junior he (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) has been on me that I have to be a better defensive player and I really think I have gradually improved every year and this year I knew Kelly (Faris) was gone, Tiffany (Hayes) was gone and we needed people to step up, Saniya is new and she isn't stepping into that role. It is tougher at times but I am just do my best to make sure I am doing my best out there because defense is only effort

"If you want to be a great player and you want to reach that next level you have to play both ends, if you have to guard their best player you have to go out there for 40 minutes and you need to step up on offense as well. I take a lot of pride in my conditioning."

Hartley has been given the primary defensive assignments on Maryland's Alyssa Thomas and Lucas while playing 79 of 80 minutes in wins over Maryland and Penn State. Perhaps no player has been asked to do more since Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck have been sidelined.

"Some players physically are able to handle things like Kelly was last year, whether we helped her or not, it was going to be difficult to score on her," Auriemma said. "She's got to do it kind of a different way and it adds to the stress because she also has to be responsible for getting us a lot of offensive stuff and the fact that when we had Caroline and Kelly, we had two guys in the rotation that are pretty smart and experienced. Now she looks over and sees Saniya over here, Moriah over here, Brianna Banks over there who didn't play at all next year (after Feb. 2) so she is like a sophomore really so there is a lot that goes into her mind right now about what I've seen based on the (four) games she has played so far, she has been phenomenal at handling all of those things."

Auriemma has been impressed with Hartley's confidence dating back to her days at North Babylon High School.

"I've had some great ones obviously and if you mention her in the same breath as the other ones, you would probably forget because she struggled last year but not too many guys at Connecticut have made first-team All-American as sophomores and she did," Auriemma said. "None of it surprises me. I saw her in high school and she was incredibly confident and always wanted the ball in pressure situations. I kind of knew when they cut it to nine that we just kept running our stuff, we are going to find her and she is gong to knock them down because that is what we does, that is what she has done since high school.

"When we were up by 23 and they cut it 9 I loved the way we responded. You expect Bria to make those shots because she is a senior but Saniya made some big, big plays for a freshman on the road and I think that says a lot about her."


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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Banks makes most of opportunity for UConn

While no team wants to deal with injuries, especially this early in a season. However, if there is a benefit from All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis being out indefinitely due to an elbow injury and Morgan Tuck expected to be out of action for 4-6, it does open up playing time for other players.

Kiah Stokes had strong second-half performances in wins over Stanford and Maryland, Moriah Jefferson had a brilliant performance in Friday's victory over Maryland and perhaps even more encouraging was the showing of Brianna Banks last night.

Banks looked pretty good in the two exhibition games but played 15 ineffective minutes in the first two games of the season.

Banks showed some of the form she played at as a sophomore before her season-ending knee injury in the 72-55 victory over Maryland.

Banks' numbers (9 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist in 25 minutes) don't tell the story of the impact she had in the game.

"When you come to Connecticut and you play in this particular program there are certain expectations and you have to try to reach those expectations and sometimes it is on your terms and sometimes things are forced upon you," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Moriah Jefferson, Brianna Banks they were phenomenal. As good as Kiah was on Monday against Stanford that is how good Moriah and Brianna Banks were.

"I remember (when Bria Hartley was a freshman), Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty, Kely Faris, Maya, we had all of these guys and a couple of them couldn't practice and Bria got so many repetitions with the ball in her hands and it did wonders for her, she turned into a completely different player. Sometimes when the door opens for somebody, Brianna got more minutes than if Kaleena was playing or Morgan Tuck (was able to play) so sometimes when those things happen you get a lot of minutes and you have to play through mistakes because we can't afford to take you out, you get the opportunity to do a lot of great things."

There was a scary moment when Banks suffered a lower-body injury. After her teammates came over to check her out, she jogged gingerly down the other end of the floor hoping that she would stay in the game. It didn't work as Stefanie Dolson replaced Banks with 1:29 left in the first half.. Banks checked into the game just 1:45 into the second half  When she quickly drew an offensive foul and had an assist on a Dolson basket  it was pretty clear she was OK.

"It didn't look bad," Auriemma said, "I think I saw what happened. Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) told me she was fine."


Friday, November 15, 2013

Short-handed UConn passes major test

There was actually some drama and uncertainty surrounding top-ranked UConn tonight.

Down to seven full scholarship players due to the injuries to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck and with fouls to their frontcourt players mounting the Huskies were on the verge of losing control of the game against No. 8 Maryland.

Stefanie Dolson headed to the bench with 15:16 to play with the Huskies up by six. Kiah Stokes had three fouls at that point and Maryland had to figure it was now or never. Fielding a lineup of Brianna Banks, Stokes, Bria Hartley, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart the Huskies began to pull away.

After Stewart hit a pair of free throws Banks calmly drained a 3 from the right corner and converted a layup 84 seconds later. Jefferson sandwiched a layup and 3-pointer around an assist to Stewart and UConn was rolling.

Using just six players in the second half the Huskies outrebounded Maryland 26-17 and held the Terrapins to a mere 17 points to emerge with a 72-55 victory.

"Everybody just assumes that we are going to win and win by a lot it doesn't matter how many players we have, who is in and who is out," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "In reality, it is not as easy as you would like to think.

"One of the things I was trying to prove to our players, I think we proved Monday we have the ability to be a great team and tonight I wanted them to come out and prove we are a great program, those two things are not necessarily the same thing. There are lots of teams that are great teams but we have an opportunity tonight to prove that we are a great program, we don't rely on certain individuals, it is the strength of our team, the strength of our program, the culture that we have created that has allowed us to do some of the things that we do."

The contributions came from a variety of places.

Stewart had an explosive first half with 19 points but caught grief from Auriemma at halftime for not recording a single rebound in the second half. She promptly had seven boards in the second half including three in rapid succession early in the half. Moriah Jefferson and Brianna Banks seemed reluctant to shoot, especially from the perimeter, in Monday's win over Stanford. They each had a key 3-pointer, combined for 24 points, five assists and no turnovers while playing 35 and 25 minutes respectively. After a quiet first half in her first start of the season Kiah Stokes pulled down six rebounds and had two pivotal blocked shots. Even Bria Hartley, for as horribly as she shot the ball (4 of 21 from the field, 0 for 11 from 3-point range), contributed with six assists and some pretty solid defensive work on Alyssa Thomas.

"When you come to Connecticut and you play in this particular program there are certain expectations and you have to try to reach those expectations and sometimes it is on your terms and sometimes things are forced upon you and today Moriah Jefferson, Brianna Banks they were phenomenal," Auriemma said. "As good as Kiah was on Monday against Stanford that is how good Moriah and Brianna Banks were. That is what teams do."

Stewart and her teammates were delighted to leave the Comcast Center with a second straight win over a top 10 team.

"Even when we have a little adversity, we two injured players we are still coming out and playing Connecticut basketball, we are going to come out and get a win even if it is a sloppy win," Stewart said. "We came out and got it done."

Now UConn heads to Penn State to play the No. 13 team in the country. Among those expected to be in attendance is Class of 2014 recruiting target Kia Nurse. Nurse, who is lists UConn and Penn State among her finalists, has not committed to a school despite what might have been reported and no commitment is expected before Monday.

In the post-game press conference Maryland coach Brenda Frese said she would be interested in continuing to play UConn.

Report that Kia Nurse commits to UConn denied by her dad

Multiple recruiting analysts including Bret McCormick from All-Star Girls Report are reporting that Canadian national team guard Kia Nurse has committed to UConn before reporting that the initial news was untrue - or perhaps premature.

Nurse's father Richard said that no commitment has been made and one could come by Monday or Tuesday however he did confirm that a planned visit to Kentucky was cancelled. Penn State and Indiana are the other finalists along with UConn.

If she does chose UConn, Nurse would become the fourth member of the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn. No official word will come from UConn until she signs her letter of intent. She has until Wednesday to sign during the early period or she would have to wait until the spring to sign.

On Thursday Nurse had 25 points in three quarters of play to lead her St. Thomas More squad to a 69-42 win over Lords to win the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference Quad A title. The victory advances St. Thomas More into the OFSAA tournament which starts on Thursday.

BROADCAST DETAILS FOR SUNDAY
Due to a conflict with the men's basketball game, Sunday's game at Penn State will be carried on 96.5 FM and will not be on either WTIC-1080 or WELI-960. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.

UConn's Stewart eager to atone for rough outing

You could almost sense the anxiety in Breanna Stewart's voice as she looked ahead to this weekend's games.

Stewart didn't even make it to the first television timeout in Monday's game against No. 3 Stanford when she was forced to take a seat after picking up two fouls. Even when she returned in the second half, she bore little resemblance to the dynamo who erupted with a brilliant stretch of games in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

"The refs are calling it a lot closer this year, I just need to learn to continue to be smart and at the same time, even if I get two quick fouls I still have to continue to be aggressive," Stewart said. "I think this weekend is going to be really exciting, it is going to like the NCAA tournament when we play Friday and Sunday, also Penn State and Maryland are both pretty good teams."


AAC TOURNAMENT TICKETS ON SALE
All-session ticket packages for the American Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Championship went on sale at 10 a.m. via all Ticketmaster outlets. The tournament will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena, March 7-10.

Package tickets to all nine games of the championship will be priced at $99 each, discounted by nearly one third of the face value. Ticket offices at all 10 American institutions will have all-session packages available, and tickets may also be purchased at the Mohegan Sun Arena Box Office.

Tickets can also be acquired by phone or online. To purchase via phone, call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. Both the Mohegan Sun website (www.mohegansun.com) and Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) will have packages available for online purchase. For group sales (10 or more) information and discounts, please contact the Connecticut Sun Group Sales Department at (860) 862-4000.

 

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Former UConn standout earning her stripes as a recruiter

Considering the number of years that Temple coach Tonya Cardoza spent in the state of Connecticut as a trusted assistant on Geno Auriemma's staff it would be easy to assume that she was front and center at the recruitment of Career High star Tanaya Atkinson.

However, with Atkinson one of four players to sign with the Owls, Cardoza was quick to credit Temple assistant coach and former UConn forward Willnett Crockett for picking up on the talented Atkinson.

"Will found her," Cardoza said. "She's a great kid who is athletic, can get up and down the floor. We got her up on campus and she  enjoyed her visit, the kids enjoyed meeting her, they got to play with her and enjoyed playing with her. She loved it and I am excited to go watch her, I haven't seen her a lot but what I have seen I have really liked and I think she is going t do some good things for our team.

"I thought she was interested in other schools and she really wanted to come to us and we were lucky to have her because I think she is really going to be good for us."

UConn stressing quality over quantity

In a perfect world the UConn women's basketball team would not have gone into the season with nine full scholarship players and certainly wouldn't be facing a pair of bruising ranked teams on the road with seven healthy full scholarship players.

However, the combination of having three of the five-member senior class transfer out and some swings and misses on the recruiting trail leaves UConn with a perilously thin roster at the current time.

With Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis out indefinitely with an elbow injury and Morgan Tuck expected to miss 4-6 weeks following knee surgery, the Huskies are pressing forward. They did not request a postponement of either Friday's game against Maryland or Sunday's contest vs. Penn State.

"(With) 13-14-15 (players) not one kid gets hurt ever," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It all part of the game, it is all part of sports. You have to be able to deal with things like this that happen. Sometimes these things happen in March after you've had a whole year and all of sudden the most important time of the year you are scrambling to try to put it together. The fact that it is November, we have some time to get our bearings with this group. I don't think there will be any fundraisers for us around the country, there won't be any telethons or 'Race for the Huskies' to raise scholarship money or people loaning us players. I think people think we will be OK."

UConn does still have three players on the major preseason award watch lists in seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and sophomore Breanna Stewart. Add in Moriah Jefferson, Kiah Stokes, Brianna Banks and Saniya Chong and that is a seven-player rotation that most programs would be delighted to go into a game with.

This is probably the worst time to have a shorthanded team considering the increase emphasis on calling fouls for the away from the ball contact that restricts freedom of movement. If a couple of Huskies get into foul trouble this weekend things could get pretty interesting.

"I think it is really important, we can't have Stewie (Stewart) in foul trouble like she was against Stanford and it just about being smart," Hartley said. "I think Coach (Auriemma)  put an extra emphasis on defense, if a guy beats you, get out of the way so somebody can help you and just work on recovery because with the new foul rules, you don't want to get those ticky-tack fouls. We want to have our good players on the floor for as long as we can, we are not at as full strength as we would have like but as full strength as we can be.

"I think we will stick to our original game plan because we still have really versatile players. I think it changes how many people we can keep fresh but I think we are a team that works really hard, we are going to be in good shape and we are not going to complain about being tired."

NEW GIG FOR FORMER HUSKY
Former UConn guard Maria Conlon is one of the directors for the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven Youth Basketball League which begins next month for players in grades 2-7.

Conlon played for three national championship teams at UConn in the early 2000s and also had a stint as an assistant coach at Southern Connecticut State under Joe Frager, who coached Conlon at Seymour High School.

For additional information, please contact Allan Greenberg at (203) 387-2522 x252 or Debra Kirschner at (203) 387-2522 x253.  Register online at jccnh.org.



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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mosqueda-Lewis, Tuck sidelined for UConn

All things considered things could have been worse, significantly worse.

The sight of seeing All-American forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis screaming out in pain after striking her elbow hard on the court early in the second half of Monday's win over Stanford and it would have been a surprise to absolutely nobody if UConn announced on Wednesday that she was going to miss the rest of the season.

However, test results showed no broken bones and just a nerve contusion in her elbow. She will be out indefinitely and will have the elbow reexamined next week assuming the swelling goes down enough to get a better look at it.

“I am really happy that nothing too major happened,” Mosqueda-Lewis said, “It is just a contusion, it will heal with a little bit of rehab.  just want to know when I am going to be able to get out there with my team and help them out.

“They (UConn’s medical staff) haven’t given me any idea (how long she will be sidelined). They just told me I have to take it day by day.”

The news wasn't all good.

Sophomore forward Morgan Tuck, who would have been the likely choice to replace her in the starting lineup, said she knew she would be undergoing surgery to fix loose cartilage in her right knee even she had 11 points in 18 minutes in Monday’s win over Stanford. She underwent the surgery on Tuesday morning and is expected to be out at least a month.

“It didn’t really bother me while I was playing, it was the after and the before,” Tuck said. “I went all summer, all preseason and after maybe five or six practices was when it started to swell up.

“There was a little bit (of pain) and that is why they put me in a brace,. Obviously that wasn’t (working) because I had to get the scope.”

In a perfect world UConn would stagger the time that the two forwards would be out of action as Tuck could have helped to fill the void while Mosqueda-Lewis was sidelined. However, the goal was to have both of them as close to 100 percent as possible come NCAA tournament time.

“I knew I was going to be out before Kaleena got hurt so it wasn’t a shocker that I wasn’t going to be able to play,” Tuck said. “I wish I could be out there helping my team, I don’t know who wouldn’t want to but with the injury I still think I am going to be pretty good.”

Mosqueda-Lewis is thrilled to say that she is going to be fine as well.

“I had about 56 texts after the game, people asking if I was OK, if everything was all right, how I felt,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I called people back, texted people back and said I will be fine, I will be back before the season is over so no one needs to worry any more.

“It was good news. Rosie (Ragle, UConn’s athletic trainer) told me nothing was broke, it is just a nerve contusion and you will be back and I was really relieved. I think it (not playing) is going to test my patience.”

UConn will head on this weekend’s road trip against Maryland and Penn State with just seven healthy scholarship players and that includes Brianna Banks, who is still working her way back into the rotation after recovering from a torn ACL suffered during her sophomore season. It could have been a lot worse as the Huskies could face the remainder of their season with just seven scholarship players.

"There are lots of good signs," Auriemma said. "If you want to take the positive view of this, if Kaleena's arm doesn't bend when she hits than who knows what would happen? Doc (Robert Arciero) would have gone in and found a lot of really bad stuff in Morgan's knee, who knows what is going to happen. We could have potentially lost both of these guys for the year."

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3 letters expected to arrive at UConn today

While UConn is not doing with its pursuit of Class of 2014 prospects, the letters from commits Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams are expected to be signed and faxed today.

According to Blair Academy coach Quint Clarke, there will be a short ceremony before practice today when Edwards will sign her letter. According to Williams' mom, it is the same deal at Reed High School when Williams will be one of two athletes to sign at around 3:15 local time (6:15 p.m. in Connecticut). Softball pitcher Jacke Sertic will sign with North Dakota State.

I'm not exactly sure how the signing is going to be done with Courtney Ekmark since she is being homeschooled for her senior season. Her dad Curtis emailed me on Monday saying that they hadn't really discussed it yet so perhaps it will be similar to Breanna Stewart, who signed her letter on the roof of the family car.

The national early signing period began today and runs through Nov. 20.

Canadian national team guard Kia Nurse could make her decision before the end of the early signing period but the nation's No. 1 recruit A'ja Wilson is not expected to sign until the late period.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Injury to Mosqueda-Lewis casts pall over UConn's victory

In a perfect world all the post-game banter after UConn's 76-57 win over third-ranked Stanford would be centering around the production the Huskies received from reserves Kiah Stokes, Morgan Tuck and Saniya Chong.

However, the vision of All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis writhing in pain after she injured her right elbow and perhaps her right hand and/or wrist as well after a hard fall to the ground with 18:08 left in the game changed the focus in a major way.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he doesn't expect to know the severity of Mosqueda-Lewis' injuries until tomorrow morning although he said he didn't expect to have for the upcoming road trip against Maryland and Penn State.

UConn senior guard Bria Hartley spoke to Mosqueda-Lewis in the locker room after the game and she received encouraging news.

"She said it was probably one of the most painful things that she felt but she said she was going to be all right," Hartley said.

Obviously it would be a major blow if Mosqueda-Lewis is out for an extended period and seeing and hearing her crying on the court was disconcerting for her teammates, coaches and fans alike.

"They don't know anything right now, she landed on her palm on the floor and her elbow hit the floor so there are two separate things that they are trying to figure out there and I guess we will know more after tomorrow morning," Auriemma said. "When I saw it, I could tell that her elbow had hit the floor, I didn't see what had happened before that..We have all been there at some point and it hurts, so I am sure it is all new to her. We are playing with our fingers crossed the entire season so anything that we see that looks like that is kind of disheartening a little bit.

"It is hard to tell. Some people just scream and yell like they just got run over by a car and it turns out it is nothing because mostly they are panicking, they are scared and that is why they are screaming and yelling, you look at their face and they are in shock because they are scared death. Then we are running a 3 on 2 drill when Sue Bird was here and 'oh, I felt something.' I go 'you all right.' She said 'yeah, I'm good let's keep going' and it turns out she just tore her ACL so sometimes it is confusing because everybody reacts differently. some minor things hurt like hell and some major things don't hurt at all. I have kind of learned to wait, let it go and stop hyperventilating because it hurts, wait until the doctors and Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) tell me what is going on."


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Enjoyable visit to UConn for Kia Nurse

I caught up with the dad of UConn recruiting target Kia Nurse, a starting guard on the Candian national team, earlier this afternoon to get a sense of how Nurse enjoyed her official visit to campus this weekend.

"It was an excellent visit," Richard Nurse said. "I think UConn showed us the best it had to offer. I thought it was a great opportunity for her to get a look at the best U.S. university in women's basketball in the country. We got an opportunity to see the campus, walk the campus and kind of get a feel for college life."

The Nurses were at the UConn/Hartford game on Saturday but also got to see Friday's practice and Saturday's pre-game shootaround.

"We kind of got a feel of (as if) they where getting ready preparing for an NCAA tournament (caliber of game) because obviously because they are playing Stanford tonight so it was a good opportunity to see how they work in a short period of time with a big game coming up. I think she loved it. I think it was a great opportunity for her to kind of see Stewie play, see Bria play and I think it is outstanding for her."

If there was a downside it was recruits can only be on campus for 48 hours on an official visit so they couldn't stick around to see tonight's game against Stanford.

"We would have loved to have seen that," Richard Nurse said. "It would have really have given us an opportunity to see them play, not that Hartford is a bad team, but kind of see them play against a high-level program."

He said a decision could be coming soon as they have already taken official visits to Penn State and Indiana with one planned to Kentucky this weekend.

"The last place for her to go is Kentucky and by this time next week, because I am sick of this stuff too, I am hoping she can give us all an answer," Richard Nurse said. "That is the game plan as we speak. She is ready (to make a commitment)."

With the early signing period beginning on Wednesday and running to Nov. 20, there is a time frame for the decision to be made if she wants to avoid waiting until the late signing period.


"(St. Thomas More) won league championship Thursday night (with Nurse scoring 31 points)," Richard Nurse said. "They go to play in state final, as long as they win Wednesday they should be ranked No. 1."

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

UConn game a special one for Amber Bepko

Last year Guilford's Amber Bepko was dealt a cruel hand.

The long-anticipated first home game against national powerhouse UConn was fast approaching when the former Mercy High star turned her ankle in practice. Bepko could only sit and watch as the UConn team which would eventually win the national title easily dispatched her Hartford team.

Bepko, now a junior, was healthy and in the starting lineup when UConn and Hartford played on Saturday afternoon's season opener at the XL Center.

"I wasn't able to play in last year's game and playing them this year there was a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement," said Bepko after scoring three points in a 89-34 loss to UConn. "It is always good to play against the No. 1 team in the country and the national champions so I was very excited."

Bepko is the only one of Hartford's top five scorers returning from a 21-12 team. Heavy graduation losses, injuries and an attempt to match up with the mighty Huskies led to Jen Rizzotti starting three freshmen against UConn.

"You kind of feel for them," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They are already kind of undermanned and then to have kids injured but I always like the way she (Bepko) plays, She is a tough kid and you watch those kids, they started three freshman and they looked like Jen's team, they are not intimidated, we just have too much talent to see how good those Hartford kids are, they are probably a lot better than they showed."

Bepko, who was named a team captain as a junior, is being called upon to contribute in a variety of areas on a young Hartford team that has designs on making a run at an America East title.

"Her being an upperclassman is huge, playing teams that win championships is big," Hartford assistant coach Brian Mik said. "It is now her time to pick up her role, she is a captain now and she is going to be a leader and it is time to shine.

"I think defensively she has picked it up a lot. She is very tenacious and sometimes she is a little bit over the edge but the good teams and the teams that scout us know they are going to put their best defender on her and she has to be able to react by that and do all the little things, rebound, defend and stuff like that."

Bepko is closing in on Hartford's top 10 lists in career 3-pointers and steals but she is trying to spread her wings now that she has two seasons under her belt.

"I need to step up a lot more, I need to take control," Bepko said. "I need to be able be a leader, calm them down when I need to. Because we are such a young team now I need to be the one who needs to be the one who steps in and is talking and not the the one being talked to.

"We are still learning but I think by the time conference (play) comes around we are going to be a very strong team and go really far."

REUNION TIME
Rizzotti didn't need to look at game tape to break down the strengths of UConn's best players.

She coached Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck during her two-year stint as a head coach on U.S. junior national teams in 2010 and 2011 and last month was a court coach at the U.S. national team training camp which included Dolson, Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis.

"Let's just keep in mind who they got coached by first," Rizzotti said with a laugh. "They just play hard and that is all you can say. There is not one way you can defend them because you take one thing away and they are great."

Rizzotti said she enjoyed her time working with all the players, including the current UConn stars. The feeling is mutual.

"I really enjoyed her when we went to Chile sand Las Vegas," Stewart said. "She is an intense coach and she wants to get the best out of you and bottom line she wants to win."


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