Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

UConn venturing into new territory

With all due respect to Cincinnati, which played UConn eight times from 2006-13 as Big East foes, it just didn’t feel like the Huskies were in a new league when they hosted Cincinnati on Sunday.

However, there will be a sense of the unknown when UConn plays at Central Florida on Wednesday and at Memphis on Saturday as it will be the first meeting for the Huskies against either team.

Playing their first two road American Athletic Conference games in arenas that they have never been in before will add to the sense of newness for the UConn players and coaches.

“It is exciting to go somewhere new and play people we have never played before” UConn junior forward/guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It is going to be interesting just because we don't know what to expect.”

While UConn has never played either Central Florida or Memphis, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is familiar with the programs and coaches.

“I know all of them and they know me and we talk about a lot of things,” Auriemma said.

“It is certainly going to be different for us as coaches and usually you know (the teams). 'Hey, who do we have? We are at Syracuse and at Pittsburgh. OK, we've got it. We know what the Carrier Dome is, we know what Pitt is, we know who their coaches are, we know what their tendencies are. Right now we don't know any of that and it is kind of exciting I think. I have never been in a lot of these gyms. I have never been in SMU's gym, Central Florida or Memphis or Houston, I am looking forward to it.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

UConn's dynamic duo more than offensive phenoms

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is one of five UConn players with at least 750 points in her first 50 games. With 10 points against Central Florida on Wednesday, Breanna Stewart will join that select company so it is rather obvious that the duo are incredibly gifted offensive players. However, during the Huskies' worst offensive game of the season the duo showed that they are more than just great shooters.

Stewart pulled down a career high 10 defensive rebounds and matched her career high with four steals. Mosqueda-Lewis recorded four of the Huskies' season-low 10 assists. In a game with few highlights, the continued growth of Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis certainly is worth mentioning.

"Even if your shot is not falling you can impact the game in other ways and just moving around a lot," said Stewart, who recorded her fourth straight double double after managing a total of four of them in her first 45 games. "Coach (Auriemma) has been on me about getting on me about getting open in different ways, it helps other people get open and it helps me rebound.

"I don't know if it (double doubles) means a lot to me but it is something I should be getting for my team, I should be getting in double figures in rebounds in every game and hopefully points and I have to keep being aggressive rebounding."

With the way Mosqueda-Lewis can shoot the ball, piling up assists isn't always the ideal scenario but Auriemma cited her all-around game as a reason why, when healthy, she can pile up the minutes.

"I think anybody who is a really good shooter who can't pass is a bad player because they can't help anybody but themselves," Auriemma said. "Kaleena is a great shooter who is a pretty good passer and I think that is one reason why I think she led the team in minutes played last year because I love having her out on the floor. I know she is going to either make a couple of 3s to break the game open or she is going to make a pretty good pass more times than not."

Mosqueda-Lewis was the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in the history of the Mater Dei High program which has sent its share of players to major colleges. In her fifth career game she displayed a passing fancy with seven assists.

"Coach has been talking about how we have to be complete players and if you don't hit your shots you can't just disappear," Mosqueda-Lewis said.

"It is not going to be crucial for me to score 20 points a night with Stewie, Stef, Bria all on this team but it is going to be crucial for me to do the little things, play good defense and make sure I don't get three fouls in the first half.

"It is especially important for our team just to get some inside game for our post players that we have, we have to take advantage of that."

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Huskies of Honor a chance to reflect at UConn

It seemed only natural that while the members of the 2002-03 and 2003-04 national championship teams gathered this weekend that some of their magical moments would be played for them all to take a trip down memory lane.

So before seven members of those teams were on hand at Gampel Pavilion as their teams were inducted into the Huskies of Honor, they spent some quality time with UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

"We were watching the game last night and we were watching the Texas game (in the 2003 Final Four) and at some point during the game they all took turns saying to each other 'how did we win that game?'" Auriemma said. "It brought back a lot of great memories, you got a chance to see and a chance to relive some of their moments and they are still as feisty as they were.

"They came to shootaround, it was a fun weekend I am glad we got a chance to do it. I am glad we will be fortunate enough to do this again with a couple more teams in the future."

With some of the players (most notably Diana Taurasi) still playing and others involved in coaching at the collegiate level, it was impossible for the entire team to come back but it still made for a memorable experience for the ones who were able to make it.

"It was great to see my teammates," Ashley Battle said. "It is terrific, we are spread out all over the country, all over the world and whenever we get a chance to meet up we try to. We are here now enjoying something that we worked very hard for.

"It is different. It looks a lot different in here from when I played before, the Husky dog is different, there are LED lights all over the place but home is home."

It isn't always easy for people like Battle, who live out of state, to attend UConn games but even for a Connecticut native like Maria Conlon, this was a special occasion.

"It was nice to come back and relive the glory days for a couple of days and see everybody's families, see how everybody has grown professionally and emotionally, it was amazing," Conlon said.

Auriemma took particular delight in Battle's admission that she understands what he was trying to get accomplished now that she is a coach herself.

"Some of these guys that are coaching I shake my head and say 'you've got to be kidding me,'" Auriemma said.. "I saw her this morning and she said 'I hate to say this but you were right about everything. I find myself saying every day 'you guys don't get it.' "

"It is great," said Battle, who is in her first year as the head coach at Chartiers Valley High in Bridgeville, Pa.. "I had a conversation with Coach earlier today and I said I understand everything you were trying to instill in us and I know understand completely.

"I always had a knack for the game and I played so much, this is just a way for me to give back. "

Not the prettiest of wins for UConn

Perhaps only at UConn can the majority of the questions in the post-game press conference following a 33-point win be focused on how poorly the Huskies played.

However, when the Huskies struggled to break into double digits in assists, posted their lowest scoring total of the season and had more turnovers than assists for just the second time this season, the uneven offensive performance is going to draw some attention.

UConn opened the game by hitting 7 of its first 10 shots but when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis left the game with three fouls with 14:26 to play in the first half and Cincinnati packing the lane to prevent Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson to get touches in the low post, UConn was just 5 of 23 for the remainder of the first half.

"There was no flow to the offense. We spend as much time as probably anybody does to make sure we do have that kind of flow," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We were up 16 to start the game and then part of it was earlier this week we had really good practices and that second group really had a couple great days of practice. I thought I'd try a New Year's resolution and play those guys a lot more minutes and that is never going to happen again so that kind of got us away from what we were doing. We got stuck and stayed stuck for most of the first half.

"It is easy to get the ball to Stef at the high post but the difference is we need to balance that out by getting her the ball in the low post and we did a lousy job of that today. Breanna was OK offensively, I think she was stuck in one spot for most of the game and when K (Mosqueda-Lewis) came out the game with her third foul so now you have not such a great scenario. This having nine guys available is all great, lovey dovey and everything but it going to take a while to get used to after we played with six or seven. I have to do a better job of figuring out who should be in with who so that it doesn't end up being stand around and watch."

Moriah Jefferson and Stefanie Dolson were the only UConn players to make more shots than they missed and if you take away freshman Saniya Chong's 3 for 6 effort from 3-point range, the Huskies were 2 of 19 from 3-point range.

"It is not the first time that is happened that we spent four or five days shooting the ball a lot and don't make shots," Auriemma said. "We are not going to shoot the ball at all the next few days and we will probably go 12 for 25 from the 3-point line on Wednesday (when the Huskies play at Central Florida), that is the way it usually works.

Stewart did finish with 12 points and 12 rebounds to record her fourth straight double-double while Bria Hartley and Jefferson also finished with 12 points. But it was a bit of a struggle to get into the flow against Cincinnati and especially difficult to get out in transition.

"We were trying to make things happen that weren't there, if we came off the screen we didn't look like we were trying to be scorers first and felt a little bit stagnant out there," Mosqueda-Lewis said.

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UConn ready for post-Big East life

The newness of at all won't hit home today when UConn plays former fellow Big East team Cincinnati in its inaugural American Athletic Conference game but when the Huskies play at Central Florida and Memphis it will be rather evident that they are not in the Big East any longer.

"It is certainly going to be different for us as coaches and usually you know (the teams). 'Hey, who do we have? We are at Syracuse and at Pittsburgh. OK, we've got it. We know what the Carrier Dome is, we know what Pitt is, we know who their coaches are, we know what their tendencies are.' Right now we don't know any of that and it is kind of exciting I think. I have never been in a lot of these gyms. I have never been in SMU's gym, Central Florida or Memphis or Houston, I am looking forward to it.

"I think the teams that have made a conscious effort to upgrade their programs are on their way to doing that, the teams that were really good last year that came into the league like SMU and Memphis are playing really well and the teams that struggled are still struggling. I think it is going to take a little bit of time before everybody kind of sorts it out to see where you fit in to the league picture.. I think it is a great opportunity for a lot of the teams in the league that they never would have gotten had they just remained where they were. There is a lot of excitement around the league because they have a platform now that they can have the kind of success they haven't had in the past. SMU has won the regular season in the last couple of years but they lose in the tournament and don't go to the NCAA tournament. Teams in our league once they sort it all out will have the opportunity to say where to we fit in, how do we schedule and what do we have to do in the league to make the NCAA tournament. I think all the schools in the league have resources that can allow them to be good."

UConn to honor '03, '04 national championship teams

Ashley Battle is one of seven players from 2002-03 and 2003-04
national championship teams expected to be on hand for today's
Huskies of Honor ceremony before Cincinnati game.
All these years later there is still a little bit of amazement in Geno Auriemma's voice when he reflects on what the 2002-03 and 2003-04 UConn women's basketball team accomplished.

Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams were taken within the top six picks of the 2002 WNBA draft and even Auriemma wondered just what his revamped squad would be able to accomplish.

It's a safe bet that winning the 2003 and 2004 national championships was not exactly what he was expecting from that group.

"That 2003 team, that was kind of a magical ride, we just graduated four of the best players to ever play here and we could be just as good," Auriemma said. "It was great because we kind of took everybody by surprise."

Those UConn teams, which will be inducted into the Huskies of Honor before today's game against Cincinnati, didn't lack for talent. Diana Taurasi was the unquestioned star of those teams and she willed the Huskies to three straight national titles. However, Taurasi was one of six players from those teams who played in the WNBA (Ann Strother, Barbara Turner, Ashley Battle, Jessica Moore and Willnett Crockett were the others).

Later this year Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will be added to the Huskies of Honor and while he will revel in his two seniors receiving that prestigious individual honor, there is something extra special about having an entire team recognized for their collective accomplishments.

"You are really leaving out a lot of incredible people who had a lot to do with the success of your program and putting those teams up there is a way of honoring the great players who played here who did not make first-team All-American and I know it is important to us to recognize them and reward them and I think it is important to them to feel a connection to the school because they consistently want to," Auriemma said "They follow our team from wherever they are, they stay in touch, they have a tremendous loyalty to their program and we do to them and by putting the '95 team and 2000 team up there, you are also putting Pam Webber up there, you are putting Stacy Hansmeyer, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and you are putting a lot of great players up there who had a lot to do with our success and this is the same thing, Ann (Strother), Barbara (Turner), Maria (Conlon), Willnett (Crockett) in terms of doing stuff on the court, what they did was incredibly significant. Ashley Battle, Jessica Moore when you are walking around and saying I went to the Final Four five years in a row, I won three national championships when I was at Connecticut, that was pretty amazing and this is our way of recognizing how special those guys were.

"I hope our guys put on a great show and I hope it is a environment and not just for our team but for Jamelle's team and for her personally and all the players that are back from all of those teams. I hope our fans come out and show their appreciation for what those players did. We are going to look back and a lot of those players were part of three in a row. That might not be something you will see in the future."

Auriemma made it clear his current players were made aware of the impact the players on those two teams had in UConn's women's basketball legacy.

"It is always cool to see former players and for us to come out and play for them, it is a special moment," Dolson said. "Coach said at the end of practice today to put on a good show for them. That is what we want to do, they came and won national championships and we want to play well for them."

Speaking of the WNBA, Auriemma addressed the emergence of Dolson and Hartley into likely first-round draft picks.

"I thought 12 teams passed on Tiffany Hayes and seven of them probably wished they hadn't looking back so you don't know," Auriemma said. "I think Stefanie will probably go higher than Bria, it is hard to find 6-5 players who do the things that Stefanie does but I know there are a lot of teams that are drafting 10, 11, 12 and they aren't really quite sure Bria is going to be around so I don't know when they will go but winning counts for a lot and those two guys have won a lot."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Veterans helping Cincinnati get off to strong start

For somebody accustomed to winning during her time as a player and assistant coach at UConn, her first four seasons as Cincinnati's head coach have not always been all smooth sailing.

The Bearcats have lost between 16-20 games each season but with a team consisting completely of players she recruited Cincinnati is off to a 7-4 start including wins over Ohio State and Xavier.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that Elliott has simplified things and put the ball in the hands of seniors Dayeesha Hollins and Jeanise Randolph.

"She is bright enough to take advantage of the fact that kid (Hollins) is hard to guard, she is hard to guard one on one, she is hard to guard in the ball screen and sometimes I think we make it really complicated," Auriemma said. "We throw 17 passes and then we end up with a ball screen so Jamelle said 'let's eliminate all of that stuff and let our two best players operate.' Obviously they have had a lot of success with it. Her teams have always played hard, compete, they are passionate just like she is. When they get in trouble they just struggle scoring points.

"For them to beat Xavier and Ohio State, that is huge for them given where they located."

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Mosqueda-Lewis trying to get back in the flow for UConn

When Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis returned to game action she was wondering what was going to happen the first time she took a shot to her injured elbow.

Well, that happened during the Huskies' 80-47 win over California in the Maggie Dixon Classic last week. Although she was grimacing in pain she her elbow struck the Madison Square Garden court, she did not have to leave the game. With the fear factor out of her system, Mosqueda-Lewis could get back to playing with the reckless abandon she needs to in order to be successful.

"I had to (experience) getting hit and not be tentative going for rebounds, going for steals and playing tough defense," Mosqueda-Lewis said after Saturday's practice. "That is one thing I didn't really do in the first game, I just shot the ball basically. There were a couple of times I went up for a rebound and somebody tried to battle me for it and I just kind of let the ball go

"It just hurt because I landed right on my elbow but I didn't think it was anything major. I was like 'dang, that hurt but get back up.'"

While there is still some work to do in terms of the non-conference schedule, UConn coach Geno Auriemma addressed the series starting with Notre Dame, DePaul and South Carolina after practice.

"That was Doug (Bruno, DePaul's head coach) coming up to me and saying I really want to continue to series if there is anyway we can continue to do it. I said fine, I will let Deb (Corum, UConn's Senior Women's Administrator) know and you guys can work it out. Then it was a matter of I didn't care where the game was going to be played, he needed that game to be here to balance out the schedule so that was easy, painless. Notre Dame was a little bit more difficult to put together but I did see where (Notre Dame coach) Muffet (McGraw) said we needed the game more than she does so I did appreciate them giving us the opportunity to play against them. I don't know where we'd be without their help these last 10 years or so anytime you get the chance to play the University of Notre Dame, I don't think you can pass that up so we are going to take advantage of that and go for it."

As for a matchup with South Carolina, "I think it was something that Deb said 'how do we spread everything around. The focus of our non-conference  schedule is usually take the five best conferences in the country and then figure out how do we balance it out home and away so how do we get a good mix without getting it top heavy one way or the other. For a while there it got kind of crazy (with ACC schools) because we had Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Georgia Tech so we feel like we had the Maryland and Duke thing under control, we tried a couple of two or three schools in that (conference) that didn't want to play. South Carolina wanted to play and that is kind of how that came about."

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Former UConn players thriving in Pittsburgh coaching circles

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran a story this morning on former UConn players Ashley Battle and Jill Brumbaugh who are a pair of first-year high school coaches in the Pittsburgh area.

Battle played at UConn from 2000-2005, finishing with 1,054 points, 235 assists and 191 steals in 149 games and playing on three national championship teams. She is now coaching at Chartiers Valley in Bridgeville, Pa.

Brumbaugh played on Geno Auriemma's first three teams at UConn and finished with 707 points and 143 steals in 107 games is a first-year coach at Quaker Valley in Leetsdale, Pa.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

UConn's Stewart honored by USBWA

UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart was named the United States Basketball Writers Association national player of the week after averaging 26.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in wins over Duke and California.

Stewart, who has been UConn's leading scorer in six of the first 12 games this season, is averaging a team-leading 19.3 points per game and tops the team with 35 blocked shot and she is second on the Huskies in rebounding (7.7 per game), tied for second with 14 3-pointers.

Stewart is one of 17 Division I players to reach double digits in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots and 3-pointers. Stewart and Northern Kentucky's Melody Doss are the only Division I players with at least 10 points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and 3-pointers while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.


Monday, December 23, 2013

UConn's Stewart earns AAC honor

UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week after averaging 26.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the floor in wins over Duke and California.

Stewart had 24 points and 11 rebounds in a win over then No. 2 Duke and followed that up by matching her career high with 29 points in Sunday's win over Cal.

It is the most points for a Husky in back to back games since Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 32 points against South Florida and 26 against Notre Dame last season.

Few tests remain for UConn

Facing five ranked teams and playing 10 games in six different states  in the last five weeks proved to be no problem for the top-ranked UConn women's basketball team.

With just two more ranked teams on the schedule for the final 31 games of the regular season, where do the Huskies go from here?

That is a question UConn coach Geno Auriemma has heard before.

“I've had some fun with that question,” Auriemma said. “I get it in recruiting, what conference are you in? Who are you playing? What level of competition exists in your conference? All that stuff and to me, what do we have 18 conference games? That is 18 nights that we are going to be playing basketball. Rutgers just beat Georgia so they are pretty good; Louisville is pretty good so there are four games that are going to be pretty good right off the top of my head but that is only 18 games, 18 nights. If we just gauge our improvement with how we play in those 18 games, you are doing a disservice to who we are. I will know if we are getting better. I will not need the score of those games, I will know if we are getting better. There are a lot of teams that play in great conferences and play great competition all year long and then get their (butts) beat in the NCAA tournament so it doesn't matter who we are playing, I will know if we are going to get better.”

UConn knows making its non-conference schedule as strong as possible is more important than ever. A home and home series with former conference rival Notre Dame will kick off next season with a game in South Bend, Ind. The Huskies will also host Duke and will play at Stanford. There’s interest on both sides for UConn and Louisville, teams which have played in two national championship games, to play each other on an annual basis. Maryland and Penn State are other perennial top 25 teams who played the Huskies earlier this season and could play them in the future. South Carolina has been in talks to play UConn as well. The Huskies would add more ranked teams to its non-conference slate if at all possible.

When it comes to the conference schedule, UConn went from being in the powerhouse Big East Conference to being in a league where it could be the only ranked team as early as the 2014-15 season.

The process of what view as an inevitable march to the inaugural AAC title will begin next week.
After getting a few days off for the holidays, the UConn players were reconvene in Storrs and open conference play by hosting Cincinnati on Sunday. The Huskies ring in 2014 by playing at Central Florida on New Year’s Day in the conference road opener.

“After playing Duke and Cal this week, we are really confident in what we are doing but still there is still a lot to be gained in practice and we are going to do that before we play Cincinnati on Sunday,” UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. “Everybody is really clicking and it is only going to help us going into the conference schedule.”

Jamie Dixon knows a thing or two about winning leading the Pittsburgh men's basketball program to seven straight NCAA tournament appearances and four trips to the Big East championship game.

With Dixon on hand at Madison Square Garden for the Maggie Dixon Classic, staged annually in honor of his late sister Maggie, I spoke with him for a few minutes before the game and asked him what impresses him the most about Auriemma's UConn team.

"They are good year in and year out because he always adjusts to his talent," Dixon said.

"You couldn't have a better coach and a better program or a better venue. He has been so supportive, he is a dear friend of our family and we can't thank him enough for all his support of this event."

UConn AD Warde Manuel has witnessed his share of special moments in his time at UConn but Sunday was the first time he was able to accompany the UConn women's team to Madison Square Garden and he enjoyed what he saw during the dominating win over Cal, a team which played in the 2013 Final Four.

"It was my first time with the women’s team here in the Garden and to have our women’s team where they are to play against Cal, it was a special time to be here in the Garden and watch them play," Manuel said.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Notre Dame, UConn to play next season

While the date is yet to be finalized, UConn and Notre Dame have agreed to a home and home series beginning with a game next season in South Bend according to a Notre Dame official.

The long-time Big East rivals are not set to meet in the regular season for the first time since the 1994-95 season with ND joining the ACC.

UConn leads the series 30-11 but Notre Dame has won seven of last nine meetings.

North Babylon High School well represented in Garden

When the dusk settled Eugeneia McPherson couldn't argue too much about the day's festivities.

McPherson, a fifth-year senior who saw what was supposed to be her senior season end prematurely after suffering a torn ACL, made her first start of the season for St. John's and did it at Madison Square Garden in the Maggie Dixon Classic. McPherson finished with 14 points and hit a huge 3-pointer in the final three minutes as the Red Storm defeated Texas A&M.

"I enjoyed it," McPherson said. "This is my favorite game by far, we played in this tournament for three years and we have never won so it is nice to go out with the bang and it is my first game back in the Garden."

McPherson also got to see her former high school teammate Bria Hartley help the top-ranked UConn women's basketball team move to 12-0 with an 80-47 win over California.

In between games I asked McPherson to reflect on her time playing alongside Hartley at North Babylon High School.

"We were best friends in high school," McPherson said. "She was very shy and I was the more outgoing one and seeing her now, I feel like I am the big sister to her, she is out of her shell now and it is nice to see her leading UConn, the No. 1 team in the country.

"She has always been a great player and she has become a better player at UConn, she was a great leader, she helped me out and we helped each other out. Now to see her out there leading the No. 1 team in the country is a great thing to say I played with her in the past, I am proud of her for what she accomplished so far.

Stewart's monster game powers UConn past Cal

There was a sense of "haven't we seen this before" as Breanna Stewart scored UConn's first seven points and 13 of the team's first 16 minutes in Sunday's dominating win over No. 21 California.

Stewart started off Monday's Duke game in similarly dynamic fashion but also had stretches were she was barely noticeable offensively. Obviously, UConn coach Geno Auriemma might have mentioned that fact once or twice this week.

This time when Stewart started to get rolling she did not ease up. Stewart matched her career high with 29 points and had she not sat out the final 12:49, there's no telling what her final point total would have been.

"The first 10 minutes was pretty ugly as a team," Stewart said. "Obviously we struggled getting things going and I was trying to be more aggressive just to help get the team going, help get some points on the board and I am happy everybody else followed "

Auriemma spoke in almost reverent tones about the talent that Stewart, the dynamic 6-foot-4 sophomore from Syracuse, N.Y., possesses following the game.

"We've never had anybody like her," Auriemma said. "We've had some of the greatest players to ever play college basketball and we have never had anybody like her.

"Maya Moore was unique, Diana Taurasi was unique, Tina Charles was unique, we have had an incredible amount of great, great, great players but I don't think we've ever had anybody who has all the God given things that Breanna has. The 6-4 kids we have had have been great around the basket and do a couple of things great and all the great perimeter players that we had were really good. She is just somebody that because you can't describe her, what she does it makes her an impossible matchup for people. Unless you have a really athletic 6-4 kid that you can put on her for 40 minutes, you can't stop her from scoring because any big kid she is just too quick and any guard she just shoots over you. We have talked about getting her 20 shots a game. I have never done that with any other player so that is one thing she has to get better at, finding shots. The ball usually finds great players. With Stewie being on a great team, sometimes we have had to orchestrate things for her to make sure she gets shots at the end of the half."

There were some impressive shots made by UConn on Sunday afternoon, most of them delivered by Stewart. However, I don't think any drew the same exuberant reaction from the UConn coaches and players than the final one.

Freshman walk-on Tierney Lawlor connected with a 3-pointer with 18 seconds to play and as she delivered an emotional fist pump on her down the court, a huge smile came to the face of Auriemma and the star players on the bench rose together in unison in celebration of Lawlor's special moment.

"That is unbelievable isn’t it?” Auriemma said. “I looked up at the scoreboard and I thought maybe the score was 78-77 and that was the game-winner, because that kid acted like that was the shot of the century. And you know what? That is what sports are all about. A kid like that. You think that last year that kid was sitting at home going, ‘You know what? Next year at Christmastime, I am going to be at Madison Square Garden and I am going to knock in a three on my only shot attempt.’ You’ve got to be crazy. The kid is living a dream. God bless her, she deserves it, because she works her butt off every day in practice. The kids love her. The kids’ reaction was probably just as great as hers.”

The soft-spoken three-sport start at Ansonia High's reaction was typically understated.

"It was awesome," Lawlor said. "I was excited it went in.  It was a great feeling."

Homecoming for UConn quartet

Breanna Stewart has played in so many arenas during her young life but remarkably, Madison Square Garden is not one of them. That will change this afternoon when UConn faces Cal in the World's Most Famous Arena in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic.

"It's my first time playing there," Stewart said. "I have been there before for one WNBA game. I am really excited. You always see in on TV, the historical basketball games that have been there. It will be a great experience but at the same time, it is a business trip."

Although she grew up in Syracuse, which is about four hours from New York City, why has Stewart been such an infrequent visitor to MSG?

"It is my dad's fault," Stewart said with a laugh. "He never took me to an NBA game or Big East tournament."

Of course for Stewart and her teammates, is there a better time to head into NYC than with Christmas just a few days away.

"You are going to New York City at Christmas time, you've got Rockefeller Center, everything is going on and you have the basketball as well," Stewart said.

The team headed to New York on Friday so there has been plenty of time to check out the sights.

"It is absolutely amazing," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "It is the best time to be in New York City when it is Christmas time, the tree is there and the lights ... Rockefeller Center. I know we are going to be able to go out and see that for the girls who haven't seen it yet and I excited to show them around. It is nice, it kind of helps with team camaraderie and with us as a family kind of hanging out, seeing the different spots in the city, we look forward to it more."

Dolson and fellow senior Bria Hartley got to play in the Maggie Dixon Classic in MSG as freshmen as UConn defeated Ohio State 81-50 to win their NCAA Division I record-tying 88th straight game. Dolson had 15 rebounds and Hartley 13 points and five assists in the 2010 game.

"I was nervous, I had to guard Jantel Lavender but I had a lot of rebounds so I was happy," Dolson said. "It was so big an it is so cool to play at that arena, I am exciting."

Hartley and freshman Saniya Chong grew up the closest to The Garden so they have been there more than their teammates but it very gets old.

"I am a senior, it is New York and I am going to have a lot of family that is going to cheering for us and it is one of the greatest arenas so it doesn't get much better than that," Hartley said. "I used to go to quite a few of the Knicks games when I was real little. When I got older I didn't go as much but I went to Liberty games as well."

It's not too often that Geno Auriemma squares off with coaches who he saw play when they were high school stars but as luck would have it, the next two games fall under that category.

Obviously, he recruited Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott out of Washington, D.C. and Elliott was a key member of UConn's first national championship team. He also got to see Cal coach Lindsay Gottleib play at Scarsdale High School when Auriemma was trying to convince Hilary Howard to play for the Huskies (Howard chose to attend Duke).

"I have known her since she was 17 years old," Auriemma said. "I am thrilled because she has done in a way, did it the way you need to do it to be successful at this level today. She was an assistant for a number of years at some pretty good places, went to a mid major (UCSB), learned how to build a program, how to run a program and took that went to Cal and has them at places they haven't been in a long time or ever. I couldn't be more proud of her or happy for her to be honest with you."

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Samuelson leads Mater Dei to TOC title

UConn Class of 2015 recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson had 15 of her game-high 19 points in the first half to lead her Mater Dei High squad to a 47-38 win over Long Beach Poly in the Tournament of Champions Joe Smith Division title game on Saturday.

Samuelson added 11 rebounds and three blocks as she posted double-doubles in all three games in the tournament. She averaged 29 points, 12 rebounds and had 13 3-pointers in the tournament.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Double-double for UConn signee

UConn signee Sadie Edwards had 19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks (according to a tweet by Chris Ryan of the Newark Star-Ledger) as Blair Academy defeated Fenway (Mass.) High 59-38 in the Festival of the Phoenix at University High School in Newark, N.J.  on Saturday.

Blair Academy (3-1) will face Bishop McDevitt tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. on the second and final day of the event.

Gabby Williams had 12 points in her second game back at Reed High in Sparks, Nev. but that was not the big story in Friday's 85-45 win over Hug as Williams' teammate Tyler Sumpter hit 14 (yes, that it correct 14) 3-pointers and scored 50 points.

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Jefferson spreading her wings as UConn's floor leader

The last two practices the media has been allowed to attend ended in similar fashion with sophomore point guard Moriah Jefferson making the plays necessary for UConn coach Geno Auriemma to utter "5-spot" which has been the Huskies' practice-ending drill for decades.

At the first of the aforementioned practices Jefferson calmly hit 3-pointers from the right corner on the final two possessions to bring an end to practice. Yesterday it was Jefferson setting up Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for an elbow jumper. Few things make Jefferson any happier than to deliver the plays resulting in the end of practice.

"We can always feel when Coach is about to call 5-spot so we say 'do whatever you have to do to make a play and lets get out of here' because we know if we mess up it can be 10-20 more minutes so whatever I have to do to get practice over with when we have been out here for so long, I am going it."

After the win over Duke Auriemma went around the room and asked the players how well they played. When he got to Jefferson, who Auriemma thought might have played her best game at UConn, she responded with a lukewarm 'OK."

"Maybe it is a year and a half of me saying 'you just played OK' so that is the response when I ask her but I think she knows that she played well," Auriemma said.

I went straight to the source and asked Jefferson why she said she played just OK when she had a rock-solid effort.

"I was just going with what everybody else was saying as they were going around the room," Jefferson said. "I didn't want to be like 'I did this.' So I just kind of went with it."

Although their paths will not cross on the basketball court at tomorrow's Maggie Dixon, perhaps former North Babylon High School teammates Bria Hartley of UConn and Eugeneia McPherson of St. John's were cross paths inside Madison Square Garden and have a chance to catch up a little bit.

McPherson, who was a year ahead of Hartley at North Babylon, missed all but the first five games last season before tearing her ACL in a game against Hartford. She returned for a fifth season of eligibility and after missing the first seven games, she has averaged 12 points and 2 assists in the last two games including a team-high 15 points in a 64-51 loss to James Madison.

"I haven't really followed or seen her stats but I know she is back and I am happy she is back," Hartley said. "I thought we worked really well together when we were out there on the court. We were pretty good friends, now you don't really keep in contact as much but in high school we were pretty good friends, we were together all the time because we played basketball."

Some of her teammates like Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck came out of programs that sent a host of players to Division I programs over the years, for a program like North Babylon there aren't as many major-college players come out of there.

" It is always a different scale," Hartley said. "Growing up in Long Island, I always thought we were the best players in the country but you are not because it is a whole other scale but we were players from the small town and we were able to contend and compete with some of the best players in the country. Coming from North Babylon it is awesome."

McPherson and St. John's will face Texas A&M at 11 a.m. followed by the UConn/Cal game at 1:30 p.m.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

UConn's Tuck looks to move forward from Duke game

For more than a month Morgan Tuck patiently waited for her chance to get back on the court at UConn are undergoing surgery to clean up some things in her right knee. It's safe to say that the nine-minute performance against Duke wasn't quite the welcome back moment she was looking for.

Tuck did not attempt a shot nor did she pull down a rebound in the 83-61 UConn victory. The only statistics of note were one assist and two turnovers.

"During the Duke game I didn't do anything, I was just out there and that is why I didn't play a lot," Tuck said. "I didn't hurt but I didn't help so you can't expect to play. Coming into the game on Sunday, I just want to contribute in some way. I am not saying I have to score but (grab) rebounds, (defensive) stops or anything I can contribute that keeps me on the floor.

"I was really excited for the game, I wish I would have done better but we came out as a team and really played well so it is great to finally get into the game and not just be out there watching.."

Following the Duke game UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was concerned about how a cerebral player like Tuck would react after missing eight straight games and only having a limited amount of practice time.

Following Friday's practice he said that every player is different in how they respond following time away from the court.

"Not everybody comes back in their first game back and have the kind of game that K (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) had and Kaleena's personality is a little bit different from Morgan's but I happy we are playing again on Sunday rather than waiting seven or eight days because she is anxious to get out on the court and play and I am anxious to see her play as well.

"The Stanford game is a perfect example of how Morgan can help, we were not exactly lighting it up on offense, she comes in and bangs in two 3's and if you have a post player that can come in off the bench and do that, you have Kiah Stokes coming off the bench that can play defense and rebound and then you have another post player coming off the bench that can score a lot of ways. It is all coming together."

With her high school coach Tony Smith not only moving from Bolingbrook (Ill.) High to rival Homewood-Flossmoor and nearly pulling off the upset of Mater Dei (the alma mater of Mosqueda-Lewis) in day one of the Nike Tournament of Champions, I got Tuck's take on seeing her high school coach switching up schools.

"It is weird," Tuck said. "I know when I was home this summer, I would go and practice with him just to stay in shape and it was weird going to Homewood-Flossmoor which is our in-conference rival. I understand you want to move onto bigger and better things. I guess it is not as bad if he would have moved when I was
there it would have been more of an issue but I am happy for him, I am glad he is advancing in his career
and I wish him the best. I still hope Bolingbrook does well because it is my old school but I hope he does

"He helped a lot I have known him since seventh grade and he was encouraging and then freshman year he was on me the most anybody has ever been on me in my life and I think he knew how to push me and pushed me to be a better player. If he wasn't there I don't think I would be here honestly."

Auriemma has known Cal coach Lindsay Gottleib since she was in high school and has tremendous respect for her and the job she has done at Cal. But that being said, there aren't any future UConn/Cal games being planned.

"I think they (UConn officials) have been talking to UCLA and if you go to the Bay Area and play Stanford, I don't know unless you are going to do it (with) two games in one trip, I don't know if you would go out there twice to the same region but who knows, that is the kind of school that I like to play against because they value the same things that we value and I am anxious to see how they do going forward."

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Geno thrilled that UConn signee Gabby Williams back on court

At some point today Geno Auriemma will place a call out to Nevada to offer his congratulations to UConn signee Gabby Williams, who played for the first time in 11 months in last night's win over Reno (the same team that she tore her ACL against as a junior).

Williams had 21 of her 24 points in the first half in a 50-47 win.

"I just think she is something special and I know it hurt her to not be able to play," Auriemma said. "There is a kid who loves to play, loves to compete and I am happy to have her back and on the court and I am anxious to go out and see her play."

The 2003 and 2004 national championship teams will be inducted into the Huskies of Honor before the Dec. 29 game against Cincinnati.

The timing allows Cincinnati head coach Jamelle Elliott, an assistant coach on those UConn teams, a chance to take part in the ceremony.

They will be the fourth and fifth women's teams to be part of the Huskies of Honor program joining the 1995, 2000 and 2002 squads.Ann Strother, Ashley Battle, Jessica Moore, Maria Conlon, Nicole Wolff and Stacey Marron are expected to be on hand for the ceremony.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

UConn signee Williams back on court

UConn signee Gabby Williams did not play in Reed High's season-opening loss but she played her first game on Thursday since a torn ACL brought a premature end to her junior season.

Williams had 21 of her 24 points in the first half in the 50-47 win over Reno.

Also, UConn Class of 2015 recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson hit a pair of late free throws (her 15th and 16th free throws of the game) as Mater Dei defeated Homewood-Flossmoor 62-61 in the first day of the Tournament of Champions. Samuelson finished with 38 points and 14 rebounds in the win. She has scored at least 20 points in five of the six games this season for Mater Dei, which will play St. Mary's College, a 56-50 win over Christ the King, in Friday's Joe Smith Division semifinals.

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Tournament of Champions kicks off today

The prestigious Tournament of Champions kicks off today in the Phoenix area.

Many eyes will be on Mater Dei, which is led by UConn Class of 2015 recruiting target Katie Lou Samuelson, as the Monarchs face Homewood-Flossmoor at 7:30 p.m. tonight. It will be a tough test for Mater Dei, the No. 4 team in the USA Today national poll as No. 12 Homewood-Floosmoor has six seniors committed to Division I school and one of the nation's best juniors in Faith Suggs. The head coach is a familiar name as Tony Smith coached UConn sophomore forward Morgan Tuck at Bolingbrook High School.

A second-round meeting against Christ the King and former UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun as the Joe Smith Division is packed with the nation's elite once again.

Five teams ranked 16th or higher in the USA Today poll are among the eight teams in the division including No. 1 Long Beach Poly, No. 6 Riverdale Baptist and No. 16 Christ the King. The championship game is slated for Saturday at 4 p.m. local time (6 p.m. here in Connecticut).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When stakes are high Geno keeps it simple for UConn

There was no lack of information to the UConn players heading into last night's game against Duke.

One of the advantages of playing a team once in the regular season and occasionally running into them during the NCAA tournament is that it is easier to pick up on the tendencies of the other team.

However, UConn's Geno Auriemma has coached in enough big games to know that too much information can sometimes be a bad thing. So he had his coaching staff ease back a little in inundating the players with every little bit of info on the Duke players.

"You know what helps me a lot is we have three coaches, Marisa (Moseley) not so much but we have two coaches on our staff, Chris Dailey and Shea Ralph that I don't know what the plans look like for D-Day, I don't know what General Eisenhower had planned and what they looked like but they weren't as thorough as some of the stuff these guys bring to practice," Auriemma said after the 22-point win over the Blue Devils. "I just look at it and said 'you guys have to be kidding me.' They'll come in and tell you what Tricia Liston did for breakfast yesterday and you can get so overloaded with information on what the other team is going to do, what do we have to do, how are we going to guard this, how are we going to guard that? What are we going to do in this situation and if you are not careful, your players go into a game more overloaded with information of what we need to do to stop them as opposed of what do we have to do to win the game, what do we have to do to be really good and that is what I mean by over coaching, don't get so caught up in what the game plan is as opposed to getting our minds right and tr to simplify it as much as possible."

What UConn did was get to the ball early and often to Breanna Stewart at the start of the game and in the second half the Huskies set up Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for five 3-pointers.

Despite some rough stretches, UConn was able to return home with an impressive win.

"There are the reasons why we come to Connecticut to play in these games," Stewart said, "Obviously they don't happen all the time but we know we have a huge target on our back and teams are always looking to give us the best they have."

While Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis were the stars and Stefanie Dolson had her typical rock-solid effort, it would be a shame if Moriah Jefferson's game flew under the radar.

Jefferson played 34 minutes and finished with nine points, three rebounds, seven assists, three steals and just one turnover.

"I thought it was one of the best games she has played at Connecticut," Auriemma said. "The way she kind of controlled our offense and how her composure kind of fed off of everybody else's. For Moriah, she just wants to get better every day and I thought today was one of her best days."

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mosqueda-Lewis wastes little time making an impact for UConn

The first time Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis checked into the game, she looked very much like a player who had missed the last eight games.

She took one shot, which she missed, in a span of 5:34. But once her first 3-pointer dropped through the net, it was game on.

Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 21, coming on seven 3-pointers. She made five of those in a stretch of 11 1/2 minutes in the second half to help the Huskies stave off a spirited comeback attempt by Duke.

"I set my expectation low so anything above that would be great for me," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "The only thing I have been doing is shooting basically so I was hoping I was going to make a couple tonight."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma didn't even know how much she would play and with the way she practiced over the week, he certainly was not anticipating her being out there for 27 minutes.

"Doctor (Michael) Joyce said if she doesn't respond in practice there is a pretty good chance she is not making progress so Friday at practice she was not very good, physically she didn't handle it well," Auriemma said, "Saturday we had a day off and Sunday when we came back, it didn't feel very good. She didn't improve so she didn't progress so yesterday. I said to Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer), if  I play this kid one minute or 31 minutes it doesn't matter to me and she said it doesn't matter to me either. None of us had an idea, it could be one minute, it could be 31 minutes but if you asked me going into the game, I would have bet closer to one minute than 31."

Her teammates fully expected Mosqueda-Lewis to make a major impact.

"I knew she'd come out and play great, that is just the type of person and player she is," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "Like she said, she has been practicing her shot a lot in practice and on the sidelines and I don't think we expected anything less from her."

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Breaking down UConn/Duke game

Dynamic shooters Tricia Liston and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis could
play significant roles in tonight's UConn/Duke showdown
It's the game many people have been waiting for as the top two teams, at least according to those who vote in the polls, will square off tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The results of the recent games, including last year's second-half blitz by the Huskies resulting in a 30-point victory, will mean nothing as long as the Duke players don't allow any sense of doubt to creep into their minds.

Here are my keys to the game
Are Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck ready? Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, two of more skilled offensive players on the UConn team, returned to practice last week and both are expected to play. It will be interesting to see how much time the two of them get. Just judging by the short sample I have to go by (the last 15-20 minutes of Sunday's practice) Tuck was out there moving around without restriction while Mosqueda-Lewis watched from the sidelines so perhaps Tuck is a little further along but I guess we will find out tonight. I am not expecting either of them to play monster minutes as they've been out for a while but they both change the way opponents have to play the Huskies.

Can Duke turn over the Huskies: When Duke is at its best the Blue Devils are trapping and wreaking havoc as Chelsea Gray has 32 steals and Alexis Jones 27 in 10 games this season. However, three of the Huskies' primary ball handlers have more than twice as many assists as turnovers including Bria Hartley's impressive 56 assists to 19 turnovers. Duke gets nearly 30 points a game off opponent's turnovers but UConn foes have managed a total of 54 points off turnovers through the first 10 games.

Who controls the paint? Duke gets 45 points in the paint per game, UConn has outscored its opponents 464-160 in the paint including a 48-10 advantage in the only other game this season against an ACC opponent (Maryland). If Duke can hold its own in this department, things could get interesting. It should be noted that UConn is only a plus nine in the offensive rebounding department so perhaps the Blue Devils can extend possessions with some aggressiveness on the offensive glass.

Who guards Breanna Stewart? You'd have to think that Duke All-American candidate Elizabeth Williams has a chance to play UConn's Stefanie Dolson pretty even if she can stay on the court as Williams has had a serious issue with foul trouble this season. However, what will the Blue Devils do against Stewart. Although Duke is likely to play zone, its probable starting lineup does leave a pair of 6-footers Haley Peters and Tricia Liston. Top reserve Richa Jackson is also four inches shorter than Stewart but might be the best option among the veteran Duke players. It will be interesting to see if freshmen Oderah Chidom and Kendall Cooper get extended minutes to try to disrupt Stewart.

Defending the 3: I would have to think pretty high up on UConn's defensive plan of action would be to limit Tricia Liston's open looks from the perimeter. The senior is in the midst of a spectacular season and her 3-point numbers are simply staggering as she is shooting 53 percent (31 for 56) from long distance and Duke is shooting nearly 44 percent from 3-point range. Liston played 24 minutes in last year's game, attempted one shot and no 3-pointers. I'm pretty certain those numbers will go up substantially tonight. UConn has done an exceptional job defending the 3 this season as opponents are shooting just 25 percent from there this season but the Huskies will be tested as Chelsea Gray is an outstanding floor leader who finds ways to get her teammates good looks at the basket.

Former UConn star Asjha Jones tears her Achilles

Former UConn star Asjha Jones' status with the Connecticut Sun for the 2014 WNBA was up in the air when she headed overseas to play in Russia.

Well, the situation is suddenly cleared up but with the worst possible outcome as the team confirmed that Jones tore her left Achilles' tendon and is headed back to the U.S. to have surgery. She will not be able to play during the 2014 season as she rehabilitates the injury.

News of Jones' injury while playing for Spartak was first reported by the FIBA Europe site.

Jones is quoted in the report saying "unfortunately because of this setback I will now not be able to be here for the rest of the season.

"However, I feel I have become a member of the Spartak tradition and I wish everybody and especially my teammates all the best."

Jones averaged 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2 steals and 0.8 blocked shots in five games with Spartak.

Jones ranks second all-time in Connecticut Sun history in the following categories
Games Played 271
Points 3,336
Made Field Goals 1,398
Field Goal Attempts 3,063
Rebounds 1,447
Offensive Rebounds 506
Defensive Rebounds 941


Monday, December 16, 2013

Senior guards go way back in UConn/Duke rivalry

It's not uncommon to see parents vigorously cheering on the UConn women's basketball team. It's rare to look up in the stands and not see at least one of Kiah Stokes parents as well as family members of current Huskies Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart, among others taking in the action.

However, in UConn's trip to Pacific back during 2010-11 season, Hartley had a couple of familiar faces who made the trip to see her play. Yes, they were family members just not her own. It was the parents of Duke point guard Chelsea Gray who came out to show support to one of their daughter's best friends.

"It is cool to have friends like that on different teams," Hartley said. "They are a really good people."

So just how did Hartley, a New York native, and a California kid like Gray get to become such wonderful friends?

"Was it the McDonald's game in AAU, it's hard to remember," Hartley said. "I remember the  Nike skills (camp) when we were sophomores in high school and we have kind of become friends from there, me and her bonded the most and at the WBCA game too.

"You can't always talk to her all the time during the season because we are busy but we have managed to keep in touch throughout our four years so that  is really nice."

Duke could sell out Cameron Indoor Stadium for the 16th time for a women's basketball game but due to the break between academic semesters, don't expect to see the stands filled with exuberant Duke students bringing the Cameron Crazies aspect of a Duke home game to the women's contest tomorrow night.

"We are not going to have any students, this place has cleared out," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said on a Saturday conference call. "You go from youthful to older for sure but I don't think that is significant. Both teams have played in a lot of hostile environments so I don't think that is a factor."

UConn's veteran players have great memories of a previous trip to face Duke on the road.

"Playing in that arena is tough especially being the away team, you have the student section and it is right next to the court, they are always yelling things are you, the benches are right on the court as well," UConn junior guard/forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "The Duke fans are relentless, they are always going to be yelling at you, chanting things and it is a great atmosphere for basketball."

Here's the take of senior center Stefanie Dolson.

"The gym is small. I remember we started off really well so it got us momentum. We have to make sure we are ready for anything this year and playing at Duke it is going to be hard so Bria and I have to make sure the girls are ready."

Dolson took a visit to the Duke campus during the recruiting process and has fond memories of that journey.

"I loved the campus, it was beautiful. I visited with the coach, she was great, nice but for me it was just too far and that is why I chose not to go."


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mosqueda-Lewis, Tuck excited to be back for UConn

Last Sunday could not have come quickly enough for the UConn duo of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck.

After missing the last eight games, Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck returned to practice a week ago today and are listed as probable to play against No. 2 Duke on Tuesday night.

"You hate sitting out and me and Kaleena we out for about a month so it was nice to be able to be out thee and be out there with the team," Tuck said.

So how does Tuck thinks she will play in her first game in more than a month?

"I think it will kind of like normal," Tuck said. "I can't guarantee anything but I feel like I can play and I don't feel like he is going to try to limit me if I don't (feel right)."

Tuck was out there for the final portion of Sunday's practice, which was open to the media. Mosqueda-Lewis was not taking part in drills during that time but UConn coach Geno Auriemma said both of them have been able to practice during the week.

"Not all week," Auriemma said. "You don't want to throw them in there all at once when you haven't done anything for four weeks, five weeks. You know you aren't going to throw them in there for two hours every single day right of the bat so we try to work them back in  to the best of their ability without compromising everything that they have done. Some (days) it has been 45 minutes, some it has been (less).

Mosqueda-Lewis, who has been out since injuring her right elbow early in the second half of a Nov. 11 win against Stanford, admits to needing to shake some of the rust off.

"I'm just getting used to my elbow but other than I feel fine," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I anticipate playing. I have been practicing, I have been fine so I don't see any reason why I shouldn't play.

"It feels good, I am making shots and it feels good to be out there with the team again. I am assuming I will be a little limited but not too much, it is all going to depending on how I feel and how the game goes."

While UConn was not going to rush either player back just to have them ready for Duke, both of them were targeting a return for the nationally-televised showdown.

"It was nice to have a goal to reach and Rosie (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) definitely tried get me as back as quickly as possible while at the same time making sure I was going to be strong," Mosqueda-Lewis said.

Their teammates are thrilled to have the two of them back.

"They wanted to be back on the court and I think this week of practice really helped them get back into the rhythm of things and I am excited to have them back in the rhythm of the game," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. "It is two more people that other teams have to worry about..They are two versatile players to be able to have them back."

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Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck "probable" for Duke game

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he considers All-American wing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and reserve forward Morgan Tuck are probable for Tuesday's game at No. 2 Duke.

Auriemma said he probably won't know the full extent of their availability until on game day.

Tuck was out there for the portion of practice we were allowed to watch but Mosqueda-Lewis stood on the sideline with a white long-sleeved shirt over her uniform.

Auriemma was asked if they have practiced all week.

"Not all week," Auriemma said. "You don't want to throw them in there all at once when you haven't done anything for four weeks, five weeks. You know you aren't going to throw them in there for two hours every single day right of the bat so we try to work them back in  to the best of their ability without compromising everything that they have done."

Mosqueda-Lewis hurt her right elbow on a hard fall early in the second half in a Nov. 11 win over Stanford and has missed the last eight games. Tuck had surgery on her right knee the day after the Stanford game and was also out of action for the last eight games.

UConn went undefeated during that span even though the Huskies were down to seven healthy full scholarship players and had to play ranked teams Maryland and Penn State on the road. When Kiah Stokes turned her ankle in practice and had to miss the UC-Davis game, the Huskies were down to six scholarship players.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A'ja Wilson's Final Four

According to a report by ESPN, UConn Class of 2014 recruiting target A'ja Wilson is expected to make official visits to Tennessee from Jan. 2-4 and South Carolina Jan. 9-11. That will wrap up her official visits but Wilson is holding firm with her timeline of not announcing her college choice until after her senior season at Heathwood Hall Episcopal is over.

She had previously visited UConn and North Carolina and Wilson told ESPN those are her four finalists.

The 6-foot-5 Wilson has double-doubles in Heathwood Hall's first two games. She had 30 points (on 11 of 17 shooting), 11 rebounds, two assists, four steals and five blocked shots in 93-18 win over Orangesburg Prep and 29 points (on 14 of 20 shooting) to go with 15 rebounds, an assists, five steals and two blocked shots in a 71-26 win over First Baptist School.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2015 regional sites announced

The NCAA announced that Albany (N.Y.), Greensboro (N.C.), Oklahoma City (OK) and Sacramento (CA) have been awarded regionals in 2015.

The regionals will be held either on Mar. 28 and 30 or Mar. 29 and 31

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Connecticut Sun to pick first in WNBA draft

The Connecticut Sun will pick first in the WNBA Draft.

The Sun, which had a WNBA worst 10-24 record, had a 44-percent chance to earn the No. 1 overall pick in Tuesday's draft lottery.

The Sun limped to the worst record in franchise history as only Kelsey Griffin and Kalana Greene were able to play in every game. Perennial All-Star Asjha Jones opted to sit out the season to allow her body to heal and Danielle McCray tore her Achilles while playing overseas. Once the season began, Connecticut's core players Tina Charles, Allison Hightower, Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery and Tan White combined to miss 66 games.

Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, Baylor's Odyssey Sims, the Notre Dame duo of Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride, Duke's Chelsea Gray and UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley are among the top prospects available in the draft.

“The beautiful thing about this is that we can go in a number of different directions,” Sun head coach Anne Donovan said. “We’re still in the process of looking at last year’s roster, and looking at the health issues that we’ve had, and just trying to determine what direction we’ll go in. That’s the beauty. We are in the driver’s seat to pick who we need. We could possibly go with a small forward to complement Tina (Charles). There are great point guards in the draft as well, so there’s evaluation still to be done to see what direction we go.”

UConn signee Sadie Edwards delivers for Blair

UConn signee Sadie Edwards had 27 points as Blair Academy defeated Life Center Academy 76-66 on Monday to improve to 2-0 on the season.

Next up for Edwards and Blair Academy is the prestigious Beast of the East Showcase in Baltimore with games against Victoria NITP on Saturday and Sunday against St. Mary's Ryken.

Friday, December 06, 2013

UConn taking positives from blowout wins

Some of the scores have been downright frightening
UConn 114, Oregon
UConn 96, Boston University 38
UConn 100, Monmouth 46
UConn 88, St. Bonaventure 39
and most recently UConn 97, UC Davis 37

So other the boosting the confidence of its players and getting some playing time for walk-ons, what exactly does UConn get out of these types of games. Plenty, according to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

"It doesn't matter what the score of the game is, there is stuff that happens in a game whether it is a close game or a game like tonight, stuff that happens there you go 'that is really good,'" Auriemma said. "Then there is stuff that you shake your head and you just can't believe it. You can't let the score of the game dictate how the coaching staff is going to evaluate players. Sometimes in a game like this, it can get sloppy. You can let your concentration wander and start doing dumb stuff but I thought today we did some really good things, we probably tipped more passes today than we did the whole year combined and that is a good sign."

With so many games in rapid succession there hasn't been a ton of practice time recently. When UConn does hit the practice court, Auriemma has been cutting the sessions short since the Huskies only had six or seven healthy full scholarship players.

With no games until the Huskies play at No. 2 on Dec. 17, there will be ample time for Auriemma to get his team into the gym and work on some stuff.

"We really look forward to that," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. "Obviously you have time to really focus and have a lot of time to focus on little things go into practice and it also helps to really take some time to focus on finals and finish the semester strong and looking forward to (playing) Duke."

With UConn going on two 14-0 runs and another 22-0 burst, it got me to wondering how many times the Huskies have ripped off 10 or 20 straight points in a game this season. So I spent some time going through the box scores of the 10 games and the answer is a staggering 18 double-digit runs.

31-0 St. Bonaventure
23-0 Monmouth
22-0 Boston University/UC Davis
21-0 Boston University
19-0 Oregon
18-0 Hartford
16-0 Monmouth
14-0 UC Davis (2)
13-0 Oregon
12-0 Penn State/Monmouth
11-0 Oregon/Boston University/St. Bonaventure/Ohio State
10-0 Oregon

It was rather interesting that former UConn players Michala Johnson and Lauren Engeln got to square off with their new teams last night.

Johnson had 21 points (on 10 of 16 shooting), seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocked shot as Wisconsin defeated Engeln's Boston College team 74-59.

Engeln had six points, five rebounds and two assists.

Johnson played 39 minutes while Engeln played 35 minutes in the game. As a point of reference, Engeln played 32 minutes in her final nine games at UConn as a sophomore while Johnson played 36 minutes in the final 10 games she played in as a sophomore.

Johnson is the second-leading scorer (15 points per game) and rebounder (7.9) while starting every game for the 5-2 Badgers.

Engeln has started all eight games for BC. She is fifth on the team averaging 7.6 points per game and has a team-high 29 assists. 

Although Engeln and Johnson came to UConn in the same class as seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, they have an additional year of eligibility after sitting out last season due to NCAA rules on transfers.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Donations hit close to home for UConn's Geno Auriemma

The biggest news in terms of philanthropic endeavors at UConn was the $3 million donation by the Stamford's Denis and Britta Nayden including $1 million towards the UConn Basketball Champions Center. However, earlier in the week an updated accounting of the funds raised Sandy Hook Memorial Scholarship Fund. Considering that the fund started after Geno Auriemma and his wife Kathy wanted to do something tangible to help the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

With the UConn Foundation announcing that $1.1 million has been raised for that fund which will pay for a UConn education for families of the tragedy in Newtown and the one-year anniversary of shooting a week from Saturday, I got Auriemma's take on the incredible response to the fund.

"It is actually my wife's birthday on Dec. 14 and it is a hell of thing to be remembering on your birthday and for whatever reason that thing was so unbelievably tragic because of the people involved in it," Auriemma said. "I was talking to a reporter yesterday, if somebody walks into a mall (and starts shooting) that is tragic, somebody goes into a shopping center or in a building, those are all tragedies. If somebody goes into a grade school and does what that guy did, it scares the hell out of you so you are sitting there and you are numb, what are you going to do? Let's go have a benefit basketball game? Let's have a practice up there, let's have a charity (event), all those things are great but that doesn't do anything for anybody long term and the fact that we got up over $1 million so quickly means that there are a lot of people out there who say 'what can I do? Well, Coach Auriemma gave me $80,000' and that is how much it costs to go to UConn for four years - an in-state kid - so let's get the ball rolling and see what happens. Let's see how many kids we can put through UConn, each and every year it is going to be more and more.

"I know they don't want to publicize it and I don't know who they are but the names aren't that important but there was a kid who was the daughter of one of the teachers that was killed and she had applied to UConn, it didn't mean she wanted to come here but her father was diagnosed with cancer. So she had her mother who was killed, a father with cancer and we are like 'we have the money right now to pay for this kid.' Those are the kinds of things, they have a lasting effect, that is what you want to do you want to have a lasting effect and not just a one-time effect "

Back to the donation by the Nayden's one part of the $3 million donation is $1 milllion being donated if former UConn basketball players - men's and women's - donate $1 million. So Auriemma was asked about his former players giving back financially to UConn.

"I think it is a personal choice that the players have," Auriemma said. "I don't think it is necessarily up to us to say whether they should or they shouldn't, whether the obligated or not obligated to do it. There are two schools of thought here, one is they have a great opportunity that was presented to them by the university, afford them by the university and made it possible for them to accomplish a lot of their goals and that is all true. The other part is they also put Connecticut on the map and they made Connecticut a lot of money and at one point do they have to feel like 'I have to do more.' Each individual has to make that decision. Some people are naturally inclined to do that, others you could ask them 100 times and you could say no. Others, they would do it right away. I think each individual has to make that decision. You look around the country and for whatever reason, it doesn't happen that often. You look around America and you what some of these guys are making in the NBA, the NFL and you pick up the paper and read that they gave $10 million to the school that they went to, it just doesn't happen. The fact that Denis threw it out there is good, it shouldn't just be our athletes either.

"We have 160,000 alums who live in the state of Connecticut and something like 20 percent of them give back to the university so who gets to enjoy what those people do? Those people. So if they want to keep enjoying, they need to step up a little bit. Denis' feeling is it doesn't have to be what he is giving. It doesn't have to be a million, he is giving up $3 million, it doesn't have to be $3 million it could be $30, it could be $3, it could be $50, it could be whatever you want to but at least you are in the game and at least you are a part of the team. I don't think we've ever approached it that way. We are constantly looking at the guy who is going to give us $10/15/20 million. that is the nature of things because one person can do that but there is also another component that not just the men's basketball players and women's basketball players, I think it is a great thing."

Six is more than enough for UConn

Things were a little off kilter for the nation's top-ranked team on Wednesday.

When the Huskies arrived at the XL Center in the afternoon for its normal routine of a shootaround UConn Geno Auriemma looked at his six healthy scholarship players and wondered if it was an exercise in futility. A few hours later the simple task of a layup drill resembled a comedy of errors.

"We almost couldn't have shootaround today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We came out and spent a little bit of time over here and I am glad those other two guys are coming back and I am glad it is only going to be a couple days (away for Kiah Stokes). It wasn't ideal, let's put put that way."

Despite the promising news that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, who have been out for nearly a month due to elbow and knee injuries respectively, the Huskies knew neither would be able to play against UC Davis on Thursday. Then Kiah Stokes turned her left ankle towards the end of Wednesday's practice and she was held out of the game as a precaution.

"When you face that much adversity going down two players and then going down another player, it really tests how strong you are as a team," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. "When you think about it we only had six people today not counting the walk-ons and that could be tough if we got into foul trouble or something and we have to be smart and focused."

UConn won't practice again until Sunday and after practicing on Monday and Tuesday, will get another day off. With exams approaching, Auriemma will see how the team is holding up physically and emotionally before deciding how to proceed with practice.

Hartley takes in night to remember at UConn

Bria Hartley's original intention was to stay inside the UConn locker room to take care of some academic responsibilities but as the roars continued to grow in intensity Hartley knew she had to witness the final minutes of the classic men's game between UConn and Florida.

"I was in the locker room working on presentation and then the last seven minutes I came out because I had a ticket," Hartley said. "The last seven minutes I said 'I have to go out and watch this.' It was crazy. Usually you have this side of the student section filled (pointing to the far end of Gampel Pavilion) but it was all up there (in the upper deck on the opposite end of the arena). We were sitting up there, usually  in the men's game if there aren't a lot of people we had to go sit up there. I think it was really cool and when Shabazz (Napier) made the shot, it was really awesome."

Napier had given UConn the lead with a four-point play with 34 seconds to play before Florida's Michael Frazier hit a layup with 18 seconds to play to give the Gators the 64-63 lead. Predictably, UConn put the ball in the hands of Napier. However, he nearly turned the ball over and threw up an air ball. DeAndre Daniel got enough of the ball to tip it back towards the foul line. Napier grabbed the ball and hit the game-winning jump just before time expired to give the Huskies the 65-64 victory.

Hartley and Napier are both four-year starters and floor leaders for their respective teams so she probably has a fairly deep insight into what makes Napier such an outstanding player for the Huskies.

"When he plays, he is smooth, slow/fast, he has a good judgment of when he should speed up," Hartley said. "He is really shifty and I like how he does that. Sometimes he I think his shot selection is a little crazy but when he hits, there's nothing you can say."

Hartley is not surprised that Napier put off his professional basketball aspirations to remain at UConn.

"I think Shabazz really values this program and playing in college because I think playing in college is one of the greatest things," Hartley said. "You see a lot of men's players and they just want to go to the NBA but he loves playing here, he really enjoyed his freshman year and he stuck it out here.I really admire that about him, he has always been one of my good friends. I always see him out here, he is fun to be around. When he is here he is having fun so I imagine he didn't really want to leave this place."

While Hartley and many of her teammates were inside Gampel and took in a tension-filled environment which resembled some of the recent contests against Syracuse, UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma was in Louisiana doing some recruiting.

"I wish I was here to have seen it. I was in Louisiana unfortunately," Auriemma said. "I was in an establishment in Louisiana and for some reason they were preferring to watch the Saints and Seahawks and I couldn't get them to put the UConn/Florida game on, I was outnumbered so I had to follow it on my hand-held device. My son was here, he was at the same and he said it was an amazing experience. He said it was like back in the old days which he is 26 so I don't know what 'back in the old days' means to him, I think he probably meant Kemba (Walker), those are the old days for him."

Kiah Stokes sprains ankle

UConn junior forward/center Kiah Stokes won't play tonight after turning her left ankle late during yesterday's practice according to a UConn spokesman who confirmed the news which was first reported by SNY's Kerith Burke..

The injury is not considered to be serious and the report said that she could practice as early as Sunday.

UConn will have six full scholarship players available for tonight's game.

Naydens donate to UConn Basketball Champions Center

Denis and Britta Nayden have donated $3 million towards the UConn Basketball Champions Center which is expected to the completed by spring.

Here is the release from UConn

Denis and Britta Nayden, alumni and long-standing donors to the University of Connecticut, have donated $3 million towards the new UConn Basketball Champions Center and for scholarships for student athletes.  A key feature of the gift is a challenge match to all former UConn Husky basketball players who contribute to the new center.

The Nayden gift has three parts — $1 million for the new UConn Basketball Champions Center currently under construction on the Storrs campus, $1 million in scholarships for student athletes and trainers enrolled in the School of Business or the physical therapy or kinesiology programs of the Neag School of Education, and a challenge match of up to $1 million for gifts from former UConn Husky basketball players.  UConn has 58 Huskies — 34 men and 24 women— who went on to play in the NBA and the WNBA, among the highest of any program nationally.

“We are proud UConn grads and this is our way to share and give back, which we both believe in,” says Denis Nayden.  “Our donation to the basketball center is an investment in a great program. Our challenge grant is meant to encourage participation by former players who fully understand the spirit of competition, and our scholarship gift is designed to support student athletes who share our interest in business, physical therapy or kinesiology. It’s support for a great program and for giving young people a shot at a great education, wrapped up in a big UConn bow.”  

The Naydens graduated from UConn in 1976, Denis with a BA from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Britta with a BS from the School of Allied Health, now part of the Neag School of Education.  Denis received his MBA from the School of Business in 1977 and went on to a successful career with GE and Oak Hill Capital Management where he currently serves as managing partner. He has been serving on UConn’s Board of Trustees since 2001.

“We are incredibly grateful to alumni and friends like Denis and Britta Nayden for their support,” says UConn President Susan Herbst. “With their help, we are providing a great new home for basketball and student athletes. It helps celebrate the excitement our student athletes bring to the University and ensures they have the support they need to be successful on the court and in the classroom.”

The new 78,000 square foot UConn Basketball Champions Center is under construction and scheduled to be completed this spring.  It will feature practice gyms for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with locker rooms, coaches’ offices and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine and strength training.

“Success doesn’t happen by accident, and, with this gift, the Naydens are helping us ensure UConn will continue to enjoy athletic and academic excellence for years to come,” say Director of Athletics Warde Manuel. “Talent, dedication and investment are needed for this type of achievement— not only from student-athletes and coaches but also from passionate and caring donors like the Denis and Britta.”

“Friends and donors like the Naydens understand what it takes to be successful,” says Coach Geno Auriemma. “Their gift to the basketball facility helps us provide a setting for student athletes’ practice, training, and studying that promotes excellence.”

The $35 million construction costs of the facility are being funded entirely through private donations. With the Nayden gift, pledges and donations for the project total $27 million. 

 “Our basketball family, which includes wonderful people like Denis and Britta Nayden, are a large part of our success,” says Coach Kevin Ollie. “The new facility will help provide our student athletes with the support they need to be successful academically and athletically and keep our programs among the national elite.”

The Naydens and their gift supporting UConn basketball will be celebrated  at the UConn women’s game tonight and the UConn men’s game on Friday, both at the XL Center. 

UConn's Tuck hopes knee issues are in rear-view mirror

The whole subject of knee injuries is no laughing matter but in the midst of discussing her previous medical issues, UConn sophomore forward found that she was cracking herself up.

I was curious if Tuck had been given any reason why her right knee, and not the left one which she had to undergo surgery a few years back to repair of torn ACL, has troubled her enough to have surgery last month.

In the midst of declaring that the knee that she tore her ACL is the one she considers to be her healthy one caused Tuck was let her guard down and chuckle just a little bit.

"I have no idea," Tuck said of the recent right knee issues. "I know after my ACL I didn't think I would have another knee injury. I don't think anybody who has knee injuries, like Caroline (Doty) who had a bunch of surgeries, I don't you think 'oh, I am going to have a surgery.' The mindset after is I just need to get back on the court and once you get past the mental part of you know your knee is strong and it is going to last ... You never know what happens. My ACL knee feels great, I consider that my good knee. Do I ever think I am going to hurt my left knee, again, no I don't but you never know what is in store.

"It was a while between the two injuries so it must have been something. The right one is definitely not as bad as an ACL, maybe I kind of have bad knees but it is all right."

Obviously Tuck is happy that she could be back on the court practicing about a month after surgery when it could have been 1 1/2 months just as easily.

"Four weeks they said was the minimum so to come back in four weeks (is exciting)," Tuck said.  "I am not expecting to be out there doing some crazy stuff and being all in shape but I am excited that all the hard work, missing games and missing practice that I will finally be able to get back into it."


UConn signee stars in all-star game

Figured I would pass on this story on UConn signee Kia Nurse's outstanding performance in the Hamilton Spectator All-Star Classic.

Nurse finished with 24 points to lead the Steeltown Catholic All-Stars to an 85-73 win over Halton last night.