Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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."

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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