Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Last season's UConn/Texas A&M viewed as ancient history

It was less than a year and a half ago when Elite Eight opponents UConn and Texas A&M squared off with the Huskies running away with an 81-50 victory on A&M's home court.

However, both sides downplayed the importance that result has on tonight's game.

"When we played them there last year, it was really early in the season," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.. "They were playing a lot of young guys and a lot of those young guys have grown up a little bit. They are a year older this year. You can see the maturity in their team. I’ve always admired Courtney Walker. I think she’s one of the best guards in America today that a lot of people don’t even talk about. I liked her in high school and I like her even more now. They had Kelsey Bone and I think that their offense was maybe more geared to players in the post and I think their guards are more in charge now and I think it’s made them an even more dangerous team. The fact that we won by a lot down there last year, I don’t know that it has any significance this time of year. I think they are playing really, really well. Really good players have short memories. I bet if you ask them what the score was last year, they probably don’t even remember."

As for the details in that game, Stefanie Dolson led the Huskies with 24 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 16 while Courtney Walker led the Aggies with 20.

"The last two times I’ve played Geno. I got beat by 30 and 31," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "We’ve got a new year. Remember Baylor beat me three times in a row – we won the fourth time (in 2011). If I’m not mistaken, everyone forgets this story – Connecticut beat Notre Dame that same year three times and won the last one. All they want to do is talk about our Baylor game. It’s hard to beat somebody the fourth time. I’m more interested in the third time. But what we are going to try to do is play within ourselves and expand our limits. Think out of the box. Think what we can be. It’s just like growing up on the driveway as a little kid. 10, 9, 8, 7 and making that shot. You’ve got visualize it. You’ve got to believe in yourself for what you’ve’ done to get yourself here. If you sit back and say, ‘oh, there’s Geno. There’s Breanna (Stewart). There’s Stefanie (Dolson)’ you’ll get your butt handed to you. You’ve got to go out there and first believe in yourself and I’ve got to instill that into my team."

UConn trio earns USBWA All-American honors

UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart were named to the United States Basketball Writers Association All-America team.

They are now among the 10 finalists for the USBWA Player of the Year that will be announced on Sunday.

Dolson is averaging 12.4 points, 9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. The senior ranks 12th on UConn's all-time scoring list with 1,747 career points and became only the fifth Husky all-time, along with Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo, and Jamelle Elliott, to register at least 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.

Hartley  ranks second on the team with16.5 points per game and now sits in ninth place in UConn scoring history with 1,942 points, including 20 points in the Huskies' second round win over Saint Joseph's on Tuesday. The guard became just the third Husky, joining Moore and Diana Taurasi, to register 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists.

Stewart is averaging a team-high 19.7 points per game and has reached double digits in 27 straight games. Stewart was recently chosen as one of four finalists for the 2014 Naismith Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's top collegiate basketball player.

They are joined on the team by Notre Dame's Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd, Alyssa Thomas of Maryland, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims of Baylor, Penn State's Maggie Lucas and Shoni Schimmel of Louisville.

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Memories of mentor still drives elite point guards

When they take to the court tonight looking to lead their teams to the Final Four, they will do so as the closest of friends.

However, this was most certainly not always the case for UConn's Moriah Jefferson and Jordan Jones of Texas A&M.

"I went after a loose ball and dove for the ball," .Jones said. "She dove on top of me and I was on my knees and she kind of stepped over me. After that we kind of had this little beef between us. After that I joined the team that she was playing on. She said 'why is this girl I was playing against playing with me now.' Right after that we just connected and stayed at each other's house all the time, it was great."

So just how close are the former teammates with the DFW Elite AAU powerhouse program?

"Me and Mo, it is not even a friendship anymore, she is like my sister. I have a key to her house, she has a key to my house." 

They are also both still inspired by the memory of the DFW Elite's Marques Jackson, who passed away in April of 2010 at the age of 46 after suffering a heart attack.

So does Jefferson think of Jackson often?

"Every day, especially before every game I think about him," Jefferson said..

She is not alone.

"His spirit definitely lives in side of all of us," Jones said. "In the summer when we won Nike Nationals for him, he still resides in all of us. Moriah thinks about him, I think about him, Chelsea she thinks about him because he was a great guy and he helped develop all of us, we just think of him all the time.

"I just love the fact that the court will be filled with DFW players, DFW alumni and no matter what team advances, Coach Jackson will advance with them and it is great feeling.

That helps me a lot. Those players are just warriors, they don't care if it is practice, if it is a pick-up game, they want to win. I think it was that determination and that heart and they are all great point guards. They all are from the same (program) but they all from the same area and we all worked together and became a great unit.

Moriah, we always talked about the recruiting process and how we wanted to go to the same school but once UConn offeed her, she knew she wanted to get out of Texas. She had been in Texas all of her life and she wanted to go to program that would test her and make her greater and UConn was perfect for her.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aggies assistant no stranger to UConn

There aren't too many coaches around who can lay claim to authoring an NCAA tournament win against UConn and even fewer that engineered a 23-point throttling of the Huskies.

Texas A&M assistant coach Bob Starkey is just one of those people.

He was the interim coach at LSU when the Lady Tigers crushed UConn 73-50 in the 2007 Elite Eight.

Starkey, who came up with a brilliant game plan in helping LSU stun UConn 73-50 in the 2007 Fresno regional final in what was the second fewest points and second most lopsided loss in the NCAA tournament in UConn’s proud history. However, he was quick to deflect the credit for that memorable performance for the Lady Tigers.

“As (UConn coach) Geno (Auriemma) was quick to say, I had Sylvia (Fowles),” Starkey said. “It certainly ranks up there (as memorable wins) because of what we were going through at the time. I have a lot of admiration for those kids. People used to say you took that team to the Final Four and I am always quick to say that they took me and that was a special group.”

Starkey is in his first season as an assistant coach at Texas A&M and he was handed the keys to the Aggies’ defense. So will that experience seven years ago come into play on Monday night when Texas A&M takes on the defending national champion UConn, a team with five starters who A&M coach Gary Blair predicted would all be first-round WNBA picks.

“Sometimes, working with Gary we do differently here,” Starkey said. “Geno, although he has a wonderful system that works for him, what makes Geno so special is he tweaks it based on his personnel. Last year he had a really deep team and this year now (UConn) is not quite as deep. The way he plugs those people in is what makes him special.”

So what is the point of emphasis for Starkey and the Aggies in slowing down the top-ranked Huskies?

“The first thing is you have to get by defensively and give yourself a chance,” Starkey said. “They are a really good transition team. We've had a pretty good progression of opponents. James Madison was an outstanding transition team that helped us get ready for DePaul. DePaul is an outstanding transition team to get us ready for Connecticut. I think the thing is, Dolson is doing such a good job shooting the ball from the perimeter. She is dangerous from the high post shot down so they can really stretch you in transition. We have to get back and get in front of them to get a chance (for the win).”

UConn eyeing 15th Final Four appearance

A look at UConn's past trips to the Elite Eight

1991 UConn 60, Clemson 57 Lost in national semifinals
1994 North Carolina 81, UConn 69
1995 UConn 67, Virginia 63 Won national title
1996 UConn 67, Vanderbilt 57 Lost in national semifinals
1997 Tennessee 91, UConn 81
1998 North Carolina State 60, UConn 52
2000 UConn 86, LSU 71 Won national title
2001 UConn 67, Louisiana Tech 48 Lost in national semifinals
2002 UConn 85, Old Dominion 64 Won national title
2003 UConn 73, Purdue 64 Won national title
2004 UConn 66, Penn State 49 Won national title
2006 Duke 63, UConn 61 (ot)
2007 LSU 73, UConn 50
2008 UConn 66, Rutgers 56 Lost in national semifinals
2009 UConn 83, Arizona State 64 Won national title
2010 UConn 90, Florida State 50 Won national title
2011 UConn 75, Duke 40 Lost in national semifinals
2012 UConn 80, Kentucky 65 Lost in national semifinals
2013 UConn 83, Kentucky 53 Won national title

Bentley's national title special for UConn's Stewart

In her early years playing at Cicero-North Syracuse, there were few teammates who current UConn star Breanna Stewart enjoyed playing and practicing with more than Kelsey Mattice so Stewart couldn't help but keep tabs on how Mattice's Bentley squad was faring in the Division II tournament.

Stewart chatted with her former high school teammate when she was at the Final Four and was absolutely delighted when she saw that Bentley capped a 35-0 season by beating West Texas A&M in the national title game on Friday.

"I thought that was awesome," Stewart said. "I talked to her when they were playing their Final Four game and they won the national championship. It is great to have a former high school teammates win a national championship. I am really happy for her."

When she called Mattice, she didn't think it was her place to offer any advice of how to deal with the pressure of playing for a national title.

"I didn't," Stewart said. "They obviously knew what they were doing, their team was a good team, they had things rolling. I said 'good luck, have fun.' I guess it worked. She was great. I remember in high school playing with her, she was a year older than me but we would work out after practice and get shots up after practice and it was nice to have somebody who had the same mentality and wanted to get better."

Mattice played eight minutes in the title game and had one rebound and one assist.

UConn's Hartley rebounds after quiet first half

As she gave the question a bit of thought Bria Hartley determined that as frustrating as it was not to have scored a point in the first half of Saturday's regional semifinal against Brigham Young, it bothered her more than she only got two shot attempts.

Hartley has been the picture of consistency on the offensive end during a senior season that is likely to end with her becoming a WBCA All-American for the second time. But she was practically invisible in the first half as UConn found itself lucky to be up by one at halftime.

It took all of 2:37 for her to match her field-goal attempt output in the second half. Although she missed both of those shots, at least she was beginning to return to the aggressive offensive mentality she has displayed all season long.

She broke through with a 3-pointer with 17:01 left to play beginning a stretch of 4:36 where she scored 11 of her 12 points to enable the Huskies to finally shrug off the pesky Cougars.

"I was a little frustrated but I only took two shots in the game (at halftime) so I was 0-fer but it was only two shots and you miss two shots all the time in the game," Hartley said. "I wanted to come out there and be really aggressive. I always say transition is where I am really able to excel. I wanted to get out there and get out on the wing. I thought Moriah did a good job of finding me and just wanted to do something to help my team.

"If you look at the two shots, I don't think I was aggressive as I needed to be. Coach (Geno Auriemma) kind of said that to me during the timeout to attack off the ball screens because even if I am not able to get a shot, it helps me create for other people. I am always playing the best when I am aggressive and kind of chill a little bit sometimes and that is when I am not at my best."


Saturday, March 29, 2014

A&M's Gary Blair on facing UConn: "It might happen."

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair is no stranger to shocking the women's college basketball world with improbable March Madness upsets.

Back in 2011 very few people expected the Aggies to win the national title. However, the Danielle Adams-led Aggies were the ones cutting down the nets.

Now A&M has the arduous task of trying to dethrone defending national champion UConn in Monday night's regional final.

"Hopefully we will be able to keep Karla (Gilbert) out of foul trouble and if not you will see a big dose of Rachel (Mitchell) in there so she will have to grow up to play against the best tandem post players in the country (Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart), nobody can compare to what those two can do inside and out. Dolson is going to go out there an shoot the 3 ball at the top of the key.

Tomorrow is Sunday so we will probably hit church first.

"They counted us out in 2011 in 2011 too, they counted us out in the Final Four, Nobody except (ESPN's) Carolyn Peck at the end who said A&M is going to win the last game, everybody counted us out. Don't count Aggies out, we might be undermanned. I have a nice team, they have a great team but the difference is it is a 40-minute game and it is not a season series. If it was a series, best out of seven, I wouldn't like my chances. It is one game, 40 minutes, it might happen."

Here's more from the always quotable Blair.

"(Moriah) Jefferson might be their most valuable player. All the others are all-americans but Jefferson from what she is doing for their team, how she controls it and keeps an even temperament, she is very good. I have grown up recruiting her very hard.

"It is going to be fun, it is going to be a great matchup in Nebraska. Our  kids are going to have a good time. Our kids are going to give a show. We are not going to back up, we are going to give everything we have. That is what the country deserves. You had four games today that were all won by double figures or more, hopefully that doesn't happen tomorrow. You need closer games to keep the people watching television and keep the people back home interested

"They went inside and got the baskets inside (after struggling in the first half). Connecticut did a great job in the second half. They still started hitting them (3-pointers) late, (Kaleena Mosqueda)Lewis is unbelievable. She hasn't met a shot she couldn't make or didn't like, she is very good. Stewart got by playing an average game for them herself, that is how good the best player in the country is."

Aggie guard Jordan Jones also discussed the challenge of facing UConn.

"If we follow out game plan, play hard and not worry about the fact that it says UConn on their jersey as so many teams get caught up with it being UConn and it is just that mental aspect of it."

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Mosqueda-Lewis delivers again for UConn

If the second-round game against Saint Joseph's was Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' best game at UConn, today's game versus Brigham Young might have been her most impactful.

On a rare day when the dynamic scoring duo of Breanna Stewart and Bria Hartley couldn't buy a basket for long stretches, it was Mosqueda-Lewis who stepped to the forefont. She scored five straight UConn points in the first half after BYU had built a six-point lead and then in the second half she had a key 3-pointer, two rebounds, two assists and a steal in a span of 105 seconds to key a game-changing 10-0 run.

She pulled down eight offensive rebounds which UConn coach Geno Auriemma thought helped change the Huskies' fortunes.

"I was trying to get in there as much as possible and get second shots because I knew we weren't knocking down the shots that we usually did," said Mosqueda-:Lewis, who finished with game high totals of 19 points and 13 rebounds. "I tried to be as physical as I could."

It hasn't been the easiest of seasons for Mosqueda-Lewis. She injured each of her elbows on hard falls to the floor and had a bout with mononucleosis which forced her to miss 12 games and play below her normal level in many others.

"She has had a terrible year as far as luck goes and she is trying to make up for a lot of lost time," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

'It just seemed like K was in middle of every play. She made a really tough 3 in second half  that I thought was a big shot for us. I thought the key was the offensive rebounds that she got. You don't expect that of her but in the last couple of games, she has just been unbelievable. We talked about in the huddle and in the locker room that when it is time to win, it is time to make  plays. You can't talk about it anymore, you can't draw it up anymore, your best players making great plays."

Her teammates are thrilled to see Mosqueda-Lewis playing her best at the perfect time. 

"I am excited for her," UConn sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson said. "She had a triple-double, came down with 13 rebounds in this game and I think she is playing great and she is getting back to that rhythm when we need it.".

Date of DePaul/UConn game not finalized yet; Rutgers will be on schedule

Although DePaul coach Doug Bruno said that the Bue Demons would be playing at UConn on Dec. 21 as the front end of a home and home series, a source said no date has been finalized and there's a chance the game could be played in November.

Also, an agreement has been reached the play Rutgers as part of the non-conference schedule but no date has been set for that game yet.

Blocked shots could be plentiful in UConn/BYU game

There are eight Division I women's basketball teams who blocked more than 200 shots this season and two of them will be squaring off in the Lincoln regional semifinal at 4:30.

UConn has 293 blocked shots, the second highest single-season total in NCAA Division I women's basketball history while BYU has blocked 214 shots.

The teams have done it in different ways.

UConn is led by the trio of Breanna Stewart, Kiah Stokes and Stefanie Dolson who have the No. 4, 9 and 11 best single-season blocked shots marks in UConn history. They have combined for 263 of the Huskies blocks this season.

BYU senior Jennifer Hamson has 141 of the Cougars' 214 blocks this season and at 6-foot-7, she will pose an intriguing challenge for the Huskies.

"I watched them play Nebraska, she definitely has long arms," Stokes said. "She takes up a lot of space which is very hard but we haven't seen enough film to see what she does."

Rutgers' Rachel Hollivay and Elizabeth Williams of Duke rank eighth and 13th on this season's blocked shot list and the Huskies have fared pretty well in the four combined games against the teams shooting 51.4 percent from the field and owning a plus 48 mark in points in the paint and is a plus 29 in second chance points.

"I do think you have to play to your strengths and you can't allow hat the defense is doing to take you away from what you are good," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "If you are good at driving the ball to the basket then you keep driving the ball to the basket within reason. If you are good at throwing the ball in the low post and score in the low post, you keep trying to do that and you just make a couple of adjustments to compensate for the fact that it is not a 6-2 post player, it is a 6-7 post player. We are not going to change our game plan that much because they have a really good post player."

Hamson knows the the 6-foot-5 Dolson, 6-foot-4 Stewart and 6-foot-3 Stokes could pose a challenge she hasn't faced this season.
"They might do a couple of things," Hamson said. "Things a lot of teams try to do is push me out and get me far away from the block. Other teams will double team; they will front me and have someone play behind as well. People have played me that way before so I'm just excited to see what they're going to do and just be ready for it."

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Close friends Harry, Mosqueda-Lewis to meet in Sweet 16

Some of the specifics are bit fuzzy.

As BYU junior Xojian Harry took a trip down memory lane and recounted her life-long friendship with UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis she vividly remembers flying from Utah to California form Mosqueda-Lewis' surprise birthday but which birthday it was "I don't even remember, it was years ago." She has so many wonderful memories of teaming up with her close friend in pickup games but as far as the first time the two stepping onto a basketball court together "probably when we were in high school."

However, when it comes time to pinpoint what she likes the most about her good friend, she does not hesitate.

"She's fun, she is absolutely hilarious," Harry said.

Mosqueda-Lewis' father and mother are extremely close with members of Harry's family so even though they grew up in different states, they have always been close.

Now they get to square off on the basketball court in an official game for the first time when their teammates meet in the Lincoln regional semifinal at 4:30 p.m.

"It is coll how it ended up this way," Harry said.

It was a foregone conclusion that Mosqueda-Lewis' team would be in Lincoln for the Sweet 16 game but it was a tougher road for BYU.

After losing to Gonzaga in the WCC final, the Cougars weren't even guaranteed to be in the NCAA tournament.. As a 12 seed, BYU was one of the lowest seeded at-large squads and needed to upset fifty-seeded North Carolina State and No. 4 seed Nebraska just to get this far.

Now comes a chance for the good friends to hit the court.

"It is kind of cool when you guys grow up together and you get to play against each other in the Sweet 16, that is cool to see how far you have come," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It is really cool to play against a friend, somebody you have known for a long time.

"She is just a genuine person, somebody is good hearted, fun and silly to be around. It is awesome for her. I know how hard she has worked since she has gotten to BYU and she is really making an impact for the team this year."

A live blog will be running during the BYU/UConn game today. The game tips a few minutes after 4:30 p.m.


Friday, March 28, 2014

DePaul's Bruno thrilled to get UConn back on the schedule

Teams aren't exactly lining up to play non-conference games against UConn since Breanna Stewart arrived at UConn. However, DePaul coach Doug Bruno has always looked at things a little different than most of his peers so when the time came to get the Huskies on the schedule, he jumped at the opportunity.

UConn and DePaul played 11 times from 2006-13 as fellow Big East teams which UConn winning all the games. When the teams went their separate ways due to conference realignment, Bruno and UConn coach Geno Auriemma discussed the possibility of starting a non-conference series.

In a press conference featuring mostly members of the Connecticut media, Bruno confirmed what has been rumored for a while - a game against UConn in the 2014-15 season. Bruno said it would be on Dec. 21 at UConn.

"We are playing Notre Dame, we will have Notre Dame on the schedule, UConn on the schedule, Texas A&M on the schedule so it is going to be a good, strong non-conference schedule," Bruno said. "It is one of the games that I like to play because you are basically testing yourself against the best. When you really think about it, it makes sense because I like the competition and at the same time, you are reducing the opportunity to get a W because they are that good. We are scheduling them back to back and I don't think it will go anywhere so we want to keep doing it."

UConn all business in first trip to Nebraska

When the UConn/Brigham Young game tips off tomorrow afternoon, you can cross Nebraska off the list of states the Huskies' women's basketball team have not played in.

By my count, Nebraska will be the 40th state UConn has played in. The only ones that UConn has not played in are Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

"We are in a new place for us, we have been to a lot of places but we have never been here in this arena," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I am anxious to see what it looks like, tomorrow afternoon, we have heard so many great things about the fans here and the support Nebraska women's team gets. It is an interesting bracket, not what everybody expected it to be. Sometimes that is good, we are anxious to get started."

Video look at UConn's practice at Pinnacle Bank Arena

UConn hit the court for practice today in preparation for the Sweet 16 game against Brigham Young.

Here's a look at the early portion of practice as well as some interviews on the prospects of matching up with BYU's 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

3 UConn players are Wade Trophy finalists

The WBCA announced the 12 finalists for the prestigious Wade Trophy and a trio of UConn players were on the list as Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart are in the running for the national player of the year award.

Notre Dame is the only other school with more than one candidate as Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride join Nebraska's Jordan Hooper, Florida State's Natasha Howard, Penn State's Maggie Lucas, South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims of Baylor and Maryland's Alyssa Thomas as finalists.

Dolson is averaging 12.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and she is 12th on UConn’s all-time scoring list with 1,747 career points and is fourth on the career rebounding list.

Hartley is UConn's second-leading scorer with an average of 16.5 points while Stewart is averaging a team-high 19.7 points per game and has reached double digits in 27 straight games. She joined Rebecca Lobo as the only UConn players with 100 assists and 100 blocked shots in the same season.

The winner will be announced during the Final Four.

EuroCup title for former UConn star

Former UConn star Tina Charles helped Dynamo Moscow to the EuroCup championship.

It was a bizarre fashion to win a title, however. With Dynamo Moscow winning the opening game against Dynamo Kursk 97-65 on Mar. 20 meaning it needed to not to lose by more than 32 points to win the title.

Dynamo Kursk outscored Dynamo Moscow 49-21 in the second half to win the game 85-61 but Dynamo Moscow won the title by outscoring Kursk 158-15- to win the title.

Charles averaged 25 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two games.

A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country, announced via her official Twitter account that she will announce her college decision on Apr. 16.

A'ja Wilson ∞ @_ajawilson22
In memory of my grandfathers birthday today, I will be making my college decision on APRIL 16 ! 😌🙏🏀🎀

Wilson's final four schools are UConn, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

There's still some work yet to be done on UConn's 2014-15 schedule but UConn has agreed to play Division II Post University out of Waterbury in one of its two preseason games. I'm hearing the game is going to be somewhere close to Nov. 8 but don't have a concrete date yet. The other preseason opponent is yet to be determined.

Douglas eager to make impact on second stint with Connecitcut Sun

When the news hit that Katie Douglas would be returning to play for the Connecticut Sun there were a couple of issues that came to mind.

First, is did Douglas leave the Sun because she wanted to be close to home so that's why she landed with the Indiana Fever and second, how is she physically after missing all but four games last season.

Well, Douglas spoke with the media on a conference call on Tuesday and she addressed both of those questions.

Let's start with her choice to sign with the Sun, a team she played for from 2003-2007 and averaging 16.4 and 17.0 points per game in her final two seasons before expressing to the Sun hierarchy of her desire to play for her home state Indiana squad.

"It was surprising for many but maybe not for my inner circle and myself. I have always maintained a great relationship with Chris (Sienko, the Connecticut Sun general manager), Mitchell (Etess, CEO of the Sun) and the guys back in Connecticut," Douglas said. I felt like this is my first opportunity in a long time to be a free agent. I just had to compare the situations and felt like Connecticut at this time in my career is a better fit and a better situation.

"I left because I wanted to go back home. At that time in my career I was playing overseas, WNBA, overseas, WNBA and unfortunately I got hurt in the conference finals . I wasn't able o go overseas that year and I wasn't overseas at all (this year). It was a combination of things, They wanted me to re-sign and I was on the fence of whether I wanted to go home. We were in kind of a rebuilding mode. At that point in my career I was at the peak of my career and I didn't want to try to rebuild, I wanted to try to win. It was that, it was the constant grind of being overseas and in the WNBA and never feeling like I had a 'break' so I felt like at least if I got to be at home in the summers to play and compete with an equal Eastern Conference team that I would be a little more at peace and feel a little bit more at ease with the lifestyle that I was living. I made this decision based on my career and for basketball reasons. I have been here for six summers, I have been here for almost two offseasons and I am comfortable. My family is very supportive. Of course my family and my friends would have loved if I stayed and finished my career (in Indiana) but they totally understand the decision I made and they were supportive of it."

As Douglas said, she did not play overseas in either of the last two years and she said she is ready to go full speed ahead with the Sun.

"I feel great," Douglas said. "I definitely have taken this time  in this offseason and totally dedicated it to my health and my body back, not just my back but everything making sure everything is firing and everything feels good s I can be successful this summer and for years (to come)."

Since Douglas left town, the Sun have struggled to find a small forward who can hit consistently from the perimeter. If Douglas is healthy, she certainly brings that to the table. With the Sun having the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, suddenly former WNBA MVP could have the sweet-shooting Douglas on one side of her and Chiney Ogwumike playing the other forward position.

"I have had many conversations with Anne (Donovan) and Chris as far as the needs that they (are looking to) fill and I feel like I am a played and person who can help them fill that void that they were looking for," Douglas said. "If you need me to take some 3s and make some 3s, I feel like I am capable of doing that. I feel like it is a good fit. I really look forward to playing with Tina and whoever they acquire with the No. 1 pick and just having a dominant inside presence, it is going to make my life and everybody else's life out there that much more easy, that much more fluid and fun to play with.

"They bring an enormous amount of upside, they are young players with a lot of bounce and a lot of energy. Connecticut has always remained one of our top rivals and gave us an enormous amount of trouble at times and enormous amount of competition so to be teaming up with the likes of (Allison) Hightower, Tina Charles, the No. 1 pick, Kelsey Griffin it is just exciting for me to be a part of their team and to have them as teammates now. It is definitely nice not to have to come up with a game plan of how to guard Tina Charles and have Tina Charles on my team. Just the amount of attention she creates, I just know what that means for a guard and it is nice to know that is the type of player that you are going to be playing alongside of."

The Sun will have a different look as Kara Lawson was traded for Alex Bentley, Mistie Bass was signed by Phoenix and Asjha Jones will not play this season due to a torn Achilles. The Sun recently re-signed Hightower and Kalana Greene and signed former first-round pick Kelley Cain to a training camp roster. It is going to be interesting to see if any other changes are in order for the Sun and also the dynamics with so many of the veterans gone from the last couple of Connecticut Sun squads.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

UConn's Auriemma a finalist for WBCA national coach of year

UConn's Geno Auriemma was named the WBCA's District 1 Coach of the Year making him one of eight finalists for the national coach of the year award he has won five times.

The only finalists are Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, South Carolina's Dawn Staley, Jennifer Roos of Bowling Green, Baylor's Kim Mulkey, Curt Miller of Indiana,Colorado State's Ryun Williams and Scott Rueck of Oregon State.

Auriemma guided the Huskies to their sixth undefeated regular season. UConn is 36-0 heading into Saturday's regional semifinal against BYU.

Fitting sendoff for UConn's two seniors

The finality of it all was a little tough for Bria Hartley to deal with so the day before her final game at Gampel Pavilion, she brushed off any inquiries about the magnitude of it all.

It wasn't until after Tuesday's win over Saint Joseph's that she attempted to put it all into the proper context.

"I think a lot of times when people ask me the question about how it was to play here I kind of deflect the question and just focus on playing basketball," Hartley said. "But now that the game is over it’s a really special moment. The four years I’ve had here have been awesome and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone other than Stef, my teammates and the coaching staff. I think it was just an awesome experience. I’m just glad we’re able to continue."

Hartley finished with 20 points, nine coming in a span of 3:13 early in the second half while Dolson added 17 points as they finished 41-2 in regular season or postseason games at Gampel Pavilion.

“It was pretty special. Bria and I knew coming into it that we weren’t going to think about that, obviously," Dolson said. "It’s the second round of the tournament; it was more business. But at the end of the game, walking off and waving to all the fans that were here was just a special moment. It’s been an honor for me to play here for four years and looking back I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The journey I’ve had has been perfect for me."

With it being the home swan song for Dolson and Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis playing as well as she ever has at UConn, Breanna Stewart flew a little more under the radar than she normally does.

If there is such a thing as a quiet 21-point, 11-rebound, 3-steal, 5-block game, that is what Stewart managed to pull off. However, if there was one "did you see that?" moment from the 91-52 win, it was predictably provided by Stewart.

With 8:17 left in the game, freshman Saniya Chong's 3-pointer from the right corner was a little too strong. Stewart swooped in, grabbed the rebound and finished all in one motion.

"I thought that was cool," Stewart said. "I was trying to crash the boards and it is always nice when it takes a nice bounce and the timing is all right."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mosqueda-Lewis' triple-double leads UConn into Sweet 16

There have been countless times when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis takes a shot from long distance and the net doesn't even move and while that can be something to behold, I'm not sure she ever had a better game in a Connecticut uniform than she had today.

Sure, she had her fourth career 20-point game in the NCAA tournament but seeing Mosqueda-Lewis pull down 10 rebounds (six on the offensive end) and dish out a career high 10 assists (joining Sue Bird as the only Huskies to accomplish that feat in the NCAA tournament) was even more impressive.

“I feel like when things like that are going (well), I feel like I am getting into a rhythm, my teammates did a great job of finding me and do a great job of getting open,” said Mosqueda-Lewis, who joined teammate Stefanie Dolson and Laura Lishness as the only UConn players to record a triple-double. “I think when we have everybody on this team that can finish with the ball; it makes it easier to do things like this.

“Coaches have been telling me you have to be a complete player. You are contributing in different ways and I am doing everything possible whether it is rebounding, being involved with my teammates, shooting the ball or just playing good defense.”

Her teammates picked up on Mosqueda-Lewis' positive body language early on in the game.

“I think it was her rebounding starting off and she was really aggressive rebounding, shots were going in and it was really great,” UConn guard Moriah Jefferson said. “That is a confidence builder and I think she will carry over her confidence to the next (game). She was everywhere. If she was missing her shots, she was getting the rebound.”

It has not been the easiest of seasons for Mosqueda-Lewis. She was the Huskies’ leading scorer both as a freshman and sophomore but two separate elbow injuries and a bout with mononucleosis forced her to miss 12 games and play below her All-American level in many others.

“I would venture to say that the only person who doesn't know what the expectation level is for K is her,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Everything that she does, I don't think it surprises any of us so when we see her play like she played tonight. We already know that she is somebody who can make shots because we see her do it a lot. I was probably as happy since I have been in any NCAA tournament game to see K play the way she played today because I think deep down in her heart I think today is who she is.”

Mosqueda-Lewis' triple-double is the 14th in Division I tournament history.

Breanna Stewart had 21 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks and Bria Hartley had 20 points as UConn (36-0) advanced to face 12th-seeded Brigham Young in Saturday’s regional semifinal (4:30 p.m., ESPN). It will be the first time the Huskies will play a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 since facing No. 12 San Francisco in 1996 in Rosemont, Ill.

Stefanie Dolson finished with 17 points and Moriah Jefferson 11 as all five starters scored in double figures for the second game in a row. The only time that happened in back to back NCAA tournament games in program history came against Penn State and Iowa back in 2002 when Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Williams accomplished the feat.

Dolson, who matched Renee Montgomery’s program record by starting her 148th career game, moved by Jamelle Elliott and into fourth place on the Huskies’ career rebounding list. She also became the seventh Huskies to appear in 150 games

Stewart became third UConn player with 100 blocked shots in a season. Rebecca Lobo did it twice including blocking a team record 131 shots during the 1993-94 season


UConn's Dolson setting the standard

When Stefanie Dolson signed her national letter of intent her goal was to help UConn add to it national championship haul. She didn't give any thoughts to starting more games than any other player in program history.

Yet, when the ball tips off tonight, she will match Renee Montgomery's program record by starting her 148th career game. That also is tied for second on the NCAA career list with Montgomery and former Baylor star Brittney Griner. Stanford's Kayla Pedersen started a record 150 games.

"I think coming here I just wanted to win a national championship," Dolson said. "I didn't think about awards because I didn't know what I could do. I didn't know the potential that I had until I came here and I saw what I could do and Coach (Geno Auriemma) saw it too, he helped me reach that potential.

"It is something I was proud of that they were able to trust me and it is a pretty special thing. I don't think everybody notices it but I am proud of that because coming in as a freshman, I didn't know I would be starting so it pretty special."

We will have a live blog up and running for tonight's game against Saint Joseph's.

UConn's Dolson, Hartley, Stewart named to WBCA All-District 1 team

UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson, senior guard Bria Hartley and sophomore forward Breanna Stewart were among 12 players named to the WBCA District 1 team making them eligible for WBCA All-American honors.

Stewart leads UConn with an average of 19.7 points per game and with 96 blocked shots. Her 688 points is the sixth highest single-season total in program history, tied for fifth in blocked shots, 11th in free throws made and needs four blocks to join Rebecca Lobo as the only Huskies with 100 assists and blocked shots in the same season.

Dolson, who will tie Renee Montgomery's program record when she makes her 148th career start tonight, is UConn's leader with 319 rebounds (the 11th best total in UConn history). She is averaging 12.3 points and 91. rebounds a game.

Hartley, 78 points shy of becoming the eighth Husky with 2,000 career points, is averaging 16.4 points per game this season and has scored in double digits 100 times in 148 career games.

Chaos rules in Lincoln bracket

No. 12 seed BYU celebrates after stunning fourth-seeded Nebraska
Quick, a show of hands of everybody who predicted DePaul and Brigham Young would be among the teams headed to the Lincoln regional.

I didn't think so.

While things went pretty much according to plan in the other three regions last night, upsets wreaked havoc in the portion of the bracket UConn is in.

I actually remember saying when I saw the brackets on Selection Monday that I wouldn't be surprised if DePaul could take out second-seeded Duke since the Blue Demons could expose a Duke team ravaged by injuries at the guard position. But Brigham Young beating Nebraska was truly a stunner.

With two spots yet to be determined, this will become just the second regional with two teams seeded seventh or lower. The last time it happened was just three years ago when seventh seeded Louisville and No. 11 Gonzaga advanced in the Spokane bracket which was won by No. 1 seed Stanford.

This is the fifth season in a row a double-digit seed advances to the Sweet 16 and the third time in five years that a West Coast Conference squad accomplished the feat as Gonzaga made it out of the subregionals as a No. 11 seed  in 2011 and 2012.

If 11th-seeded James Madison upsets No. 3 Texas A&M tonight, it would mark the first time that two double-digit seeds have made it to the same regional since the NCAA went to its current 64-team format in 1994.

Another bit of trivia - 1999 was the only time the top 16 seeds qualified for the Sweet 16.

BYU's win over Nebraska could be a buzz kill in terms of attendance since the expectation was that Nebraska, which perennially ranks in the top 20 nationally in attendance, would draw at least 5,000 fans to the regional in Lincoln. If the higher seeds hold serve tonight, by my math the four teams would be an average of more than 900 miles from Lincoln so it will be interesting to see what the turnout is going to be for the games.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Shields family no strangers to UConn's Auriemma

Walking through the hallways of Gampel Pavilion a couple days ago, UConn coach Geno Auriemma began to see plenty of familiar faces courtesy of the athletic department traveling staff of the Saint Joseph's squad.

His eyes lit up when he saw associate athletic director Renie Shields, who he coached when he was an assistant coach with the Hawks back in the early 1980s.

He got reacquainted with Shields' family when he recruited her daughter Kerri, who landed at Boston College. With daughter, Erin, the leading scorer on the current Hawks' team, he had a little fun at Renie's expense when they ran into each other.

"It is like never ending," Auriemma said. "When I saw Renie the other day I said 'please, I hope you don't have any other kids because I don't want to go through that anymore.' I am not at all surprised at anything those kids at Saint Joe's do and I am certainly not surprised at anything that Erin Shields does knowing her family background. They have a really good team, they are smart, they are talented, they take care of their business, they make free throws, they make shots when they have to and they are a fun team to watch."

Renie has nothing but great memories of her freshman year at Saint Joe's when the head coach was Jim Foster and Auriemma was an assistant coach.

"The one thing I remember about Geno is how much he challenged us every day and I don't think that has changed," Shields said. "He has challenged every player who has come through his program to be the best that they can be. It may not be the way that they like it but in the end that is the way it has to be done.

"As a freshman you come in and you have Jim Foster and Geno Auriemma as your two coaches and you think they know more than they do and they quickly tell you that you don't. They end up being in the all of Fame so I knew nothing.

"I see Geno a lot and we will run into each other by chance. It always neat to see Geno. He is a great guy ad you have to admire him and everything he has accomplished. Heck, who else has done it like him."

Although Erin never got recruited by UConn, she was thrilled to accompany Kerri on her recruiting trip to UConn.

"I think it was an awesome experience for both of us," she said. "I \was so young and I was just kind of following around. I didn't know much but it was a high-quality basketball."

Things went pretty well when Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin came into Connecticut to secure a commitment from Ansonia's Ashley Prim. After a year with no Nutmeg State players, she will have another Connecticut product on the team as RHAM star Sarah Veilleux has signed with the Hawks.

"We were under the impression that she was down to a couple of schools and we were not one of those schools so we kind of backed off," Griffin said. "Then we got a phone call from the mother. She said Sarah is interested in coming down for a visit. It was a great game and they loved the atmosphere at Saint Joe's, they love the family feeling and we play in a great little arena and it has a lot of character."

Griffin has high hopes for Veilleux, who has scored more than 2,000 points, when she comes to Philadelphia.

"It is wonderful, I am sure she has gotten double teamed, triple teamed and score that many times with that much pressure, she is only going to get better in college like (Elena) Delle Donne at Delaware and once she got to the pros she is an all-star because they are playing one on one because of the players around her.

"I think for Sarah, I think she is one of the best shooters in the country, I think she can flat out shoot  the ball but she can score the all. She has the knack to be able to get her own shot  and use her versatility, she can play a lot of different positions, she can post up a little bit so taking advantage of that versatility is going to be the priority,"

Katie Douglas returning to Connecticut Sun

Well, the Connecticut Sun certainly have addressed the small forward position in a major way with the signing of Katie Douglas, who will return to the franchise where she started her WNBA career after signing a two-year contract with a three-year option.

Here is the release from the Sun
“I am definitely excited to be rejoining the Connecticut Sun,” said Douglas, a 6-0 guard who has played the last six seasons with the Indiana Fever after beginning her career with the Connecticut Sun franchise. “I had a great five years there playing in front of some of the best fans in the WNBA. I look forward to reconnecting with the community and to helping Connecticut become a championship contender.”

Originally drafted by the Orlando Miracle in 2001, Douglas relocated to Connecticut with the rest of the franchise when it was purchased by the Mohegan Tribe in 2003. During five seasons in Connecticut, she helped the Sun reach two WNBA Finals and four Eastern Conference Finals while compiling a regular-season record of 104-64 (.615).

“We are very excited to have Katie return to Connecticut, bringing with her the experience and veteran leadership this team needs,” Connecticut Sun Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko said. “Katie was on our radar throughout the offseason. I believe our fans will embrace her return.”

 A 13-year WNBA veteran, Douglas ranks fifth all-time in league history in made threes (663), ninth all time in scoring (5,142 points) and 17th in assists (1,006). In Sun history, Douglas still ranks in the top five of 11 career statistical categories, including second in made threes (319), third in steals (342), and fourth  in points (2,578), assists (536), games played (214) and minutes (6,366).

“Katie's championship experience, her extreme competitiveness and her superior skill set will be a tremendous boost to our team,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “We are all really excited to welcome her back to Connecticut.”

Douglas averaged 15.4 points per game during six seasons in Indiana, starting in all 166 games she appeared. She had a career-high 80 made three-pointers during the 2012 season, and made a career-best 119 free throws during the 2008 season.
The Indiana native has appeared in 56 playoff games with Connecticut and the Fever, averaging 13 points per game in the postseason. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Playful side of UConn emerges

It's certainly never boring when Geno Auriremma is accompanied at post-game press conferences by seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley.

While it was enjoyable dealing with many of the recent seniors, players like Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes, Kelly Faris and even the great Maya Moore didn't let their guard down in their dealings with the media as much as the engaging duo of Dolson and Hartley.

It fit with the easy-going personalities of the two seniors that they were serenade Auriemma with a chorus or three of Happy Birthday as Auriemma was being interviewed by ESPN after the 87-44 win over Prairie View in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"I didn't even know it is birthday," Dolson deadpanned at the post-game press conference. "It is always special to win on Coach's birthday. We've sung to him a few times so he should be a lucky man for that one. Thankfully we didn't make him skip around the arena tonight."

You would probably have to go back to when Diana Taurasi and Maria Conlon were seniors in 2004 to find a senior duo willing to have as much fun with their Hall of Fame coach publicly as Dolson and Hartley do on a regular season.

"It is just the experience that we have, playing for four years and we have played a lot so the experience of learning as we go, it is (important) to really lighten the mood when Coach is really getting on us," Hartley said. "I think it has worked out really well for us and we want to continue to keep doing that.

"Stef's more open with it, I am more (like that), if we are together. We enjoy playing the game and having fun. We just want to make sure everybody else is having fun too."

When UConn plays Saint Joseph's in the second round on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN2), it will be the final home game for the two seniors.

Auriemma will certainly miss the contributions of Dolson and Hartley on the court as well as off of it.

"That is a big thing about having a good team, there might not be things that are more important," Auriemma said of how the seniors ease some of the pressure because of their personalities. "I can gauge in November or early December if we have a mature team or not by how it takes for us to take the team picture. When you are dealing with 12 year olds, it takes an hour to take the team photo because the guys won't shut up, they don't know when it is time to be serious and when it is time to screw around and other times it takes exactly 35 seconds for the team picture. For this particular group, since the beginning I have not seen them go overboard on anything or get down in the dumps about anything which is not easy to do for five months to stay on the same plane. A lot of that has to do with our seniors, they are like that. Stefanie Dolson has not had a bad day of practice in four years. There is not one day that she has come to practice and coaches say 'what is your problem?' Not once and I don't know if you know how hard that is."

When Moriah Jefferson flipped the ball behind her back to teammate Breanna Stewart before crashing into the scorers' table, she was hoping that Stewart would finish off the magical play with a dunk.

Instead, Stewart was a recipient of a flagrant foul and only got a pair of free throws off Jefferson's alert hustle play.

"I was trying to get a steal and saw Stewie there, I just just threw it behind my back," Jefferson said. "I wished she would dunk it but she was being a baby and got fouled."

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UConn's Stewart closing in on rare feat

There are times when I wonder if it would make sense for somebody to be hired just to track Breanna Stewart's accomplishments this season.

Since that doesn't appear to be happening, I will try to pick up the slack in that department.

When UConn plays Prairie View A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 8 p.m. tonight, she has a chance to move up a couple of UConn single-season lists.

With 121 free throws made, she is three behind Tina Charles for the No. 10 spot and four from Kerry Bascom. Her 669 points is currently ninth on the Huskies' single-season chart. Next up is teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 670 points last season and she needs just 31 points to join Maya Moore and Tina Charles as the only UConn players to score 700 points in a season.

But I haven't even gotten to the best part.

Stewart needs six blocked shots to join Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters as the only Huskies with 100 blocks in a season. Already with 107 assists, she will join Lobo as the only UConn players to hit triple figures in assists and blocked shots in the same season.

How rare is that accomplishment? Well, I went back through the statistical archives on the NCAA site and the stats are available dating back to the 2000-01 season and if Stewart reaches that plateau, that would bring the grand total of players who have more than 100 assists and blocks in the same season to one.. The closest player I saw was Western Illinois' Zane Teilane, who had 125 blocks and 95 assists during the 2005-06 season.

Here's what Stewart had to say about potentially hitting the 100 mark in both categories.

"I think they both mean a lot," Stewart said. "Assists show that you are looking for your teammates and trying to be unselfish. With blocks, you are trying to be a force in the paint or when people try to shoot."

Stewart has improved in so many areas from her outstanding freshman season but no numbers jump out at me more than in the assist to turnover department.

As a freshman she had 35 assists and 54 turnovers which is pretty typical for a post player. This season she has 107 assists and 60 turnovers which is just shows the tremendous growth she has made in a short amount of time.

Here teammates and coaches are not surprised by these gaudy numbers.

"She has always been a good passer but she understands the offense now and she can find the other guy and deliver the ball," UConn senor center Stefanie Dolson said. "She has a really high basketball IQ so I am not surprised that her numbers have gone up."

Here's what assistant coach Marisa Moseley, who works with the post players, thinks about Stewart's improvement as a passer and on-court decision maker.

"I actually told her about three weeks ago that any awards and accolades she is recognized for, one thing I am most proud of her is her mental development in her game. She understands where people are supposed to be, what  they are supposed to be doing out there. That helps you when you become a better passer because you know the timing of where it needs to be delivered, where it needs to go, what pass needs to be thrown. It is not not a surprise that she has improved that much because I think she is actually thinking the game more, she has really developed that part of the game.

"She is kind of a rare breed with everything she can do on the court. You can't find a lot of people who can do that and that is what makes her so unique and so special for us because her versatility whether it is passing or on the defensive end, she can be such a force and such a rim protector so for her to able to step out there and do that is awesome."

Speaking of Dolson, she currently ranks third in the Senior CLASS Award fan voting which ends tomorrow. Nebraska'a Jordan Hooper has received 34.3 percent of the vote, Iowa State's Hallie Christofferson is next with 16.5 percent followed by Dolson at 15.5 percent.

There will be a live blog running during tonight's UConn/Prairie View game.

The same is set to tip at 8:03 p.m. and that is the earliest the game will begin even if the first game between Saint Joseph's and Georgia ends quickly.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Prairie View draws inspiration from 2012 UConn game

When Prairie View A&M was sent to Bridgeport to play UConn in the 2012 NCAA tournament, few people were expecting a competitive game.

However, the Lady Panthers had other ideas. In the final two minutes of the first half Prairie View had the ball and a chance to cut the lead into single digits. Trailing by 14 points at halftime, the SWAC tournament champions would end up losing 83-47. But they were trying to use that game as well as the upsets in the men's tournament as motivation heading into Sunday night's first-round game.

"First off, we wanted to come out and play with confidence," said Prairie View's leading scorer Jeanette Jackson. "We wanted to play hard and show the world what we were all about.

Former assistant coach Dawn Brown, the Lady Panthers' interim head coach, is encouraged by what she has seen in recent days from her squad which is just one of nine teams with losing records to make it into the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.

"We had a great practice yesterday, probably one of the best practices I have seen," Brown said. "We shot the ball really well everybody was pumped up and Jeanette did a great job as far as leading our team and this experience has been something we have been used to coming here.

"We are the 16th seed. it is going to take a collective effort in order to get the win but anything is possible. We have to hit shots and we are going to have to score the ball, that is going to be important. If we are able to score the ball and get our offense going. I am sure Jeannette Jackson is going to have a good game, Laur has been here for four years. We have adjusted some things in our offense as well as our defense and hopefully tomorrow that will work in our favor."

The UConn players are determined to have a better first half than the Huskies did in that 2012 game.

"I remember that we didn't play that well," UConn senior guard Bria Hartley said. "I think it is hard, it is your 
first game back after two weeks and hopefully we have a lot of excitement going into the game and everybody brings the intensity."

Barbee is Ms. Versatility for Georgia

Gampel Pavilion is no stranger to a guard leading a team in all sorts of different categories as Shabazz Napier leads the UConn men's basketball team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.

Well, late tomorrow afternoon, another player who accomplished that same feat will also take to Gampel for the first game in the Storrs subregiional.

When she was asked which of the statistical categories she is most proud of, Georgia sophomore Shacobia Barbee mentioned everything but scoring.

"Steals, rebounds and assists," Barbee said. "It is good getting everybody involved, everybody is sharing the ball and defense is key to winning games so I think that is a big step up for me. Anything that the team needs me to do, I am willing to do, I am willing to sacrifice anything whether it is going out and getting so and so rebounds or defending the other team's best player, I accept that challenge."

"She is special," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "She was the only player in the Southeastern Conference who led her team in four different categories, scoring being one of them. She is an excellent rebounder. She is a terrific off the ball defender, she is a terrific on the ball defender. She understands how the game is going to be played, she anticipates well, she visualizes well, that leads to steals and that leads to assists because she can pretty much anticipate what you are thinking and when you are cutting, she is a rare player, she is a playmaker on defense and she is a playmaker on offense. She excelled last year especially in the second half of the Southeastern Conference season, she just kept getting better and better. She and Tiaria Griffin are two of the main reasons that we got into the Elite Eight last season. They were the only two freshman starters, they had the luxury of playing with three terrific seniors so they didn't have to sweat anything so they were loose and they were free."

Friday, March 21, 2014

NCAA headed back to the future

Few things annoy a coach than having to play a tournament game on the court of a lower seeded team.

It could happen this year if second-seeded Stanford and No. 7 Iowa State win its first-round games and the deal is the same for Louisville and West Virginia, who could face host teams Iowa and LSU in the second round. Adding insult to injury for West Virginia is that a regional semifinal game at Louisville could be waiting if the Mountaineers get that far.

It has been an issue that has been crying for a change for years and apparently, people have been listening as beginning next year the NCAA Division I women's tournament will revert to the old way of doing things with the top 16 seeds serving as subregional hosts.

While UConn will get to play its opening game in the state of Connecticut for the 24th time in 26 NCAA appearances and haven't had much experience playing true road games in the NCAA tournament, Geno Auriemma is still happy about this format.

"You earn the right to be at home and I am pretty sure that every coach is OK with that if you finish in the top four, the teams you are probably going to playing, generally it won't matter where that game was played," Auriemma said.

The NCAA is also moving away from having teams host regionals, something which returned on a one-year basis as No. 1 seed Notre Dame, No. 2 seed Stanford, No. 3 Louisville and No. 4 seed Nebraska could play at home in the regionals.

UConn is no stranger to these types of scenarios as the Huskies played a regional in the state of Connecticut four times since 1995.

"It was pretty commonplace and that was the way they did it," Auriemma said. "We kind of broke through that mold of the same team going to the regionals every year. Going back to '91 the regional was in Philadelphia and there wasn't a home team and we won and we went to the Final Four. When they were going to have them at neutral sites, I was in favor of that. I came out with a statement that it is hard enough to beat us in Bridgeport much less come to Storrs to play us to go to the Final Four. First and second round, I can understand so when the bids went out (for the regionals) I said 'we are not bidding on it.' I don't believe in it, I don't believe it is fair and I told our administration I don't want to do it so we didn't."

Next year Albany, Greensboro, Oklahoma City and Sacramento will serve as regional sites.

"It was just a one-year deal with trying to shake things up a little bit," Auriemma said of returning to teams hosting regionals. "I think we've got to find what works for us and not try to be like the men. When we went to domes and we played in front of 30,000 people in San Antonio and  played in another dome in Georgia and there were 30,000 people. I think we got a little carried away with ourselves. I don't know that we should be playing in those kinds of buildings and we don't necessarily need to be playing here in Storrs but we do have to find four cities that are hotbeds potentially for women's basketball and we have to give them an opportunity to host regionals and give it to them for a few years at a time rather than just one year deal, let them build it, let them work it, let them grow it, they know we are coming and the whole city is behind you. I think we need to do that instead of taking the model from the men, I think we have to take the model from baseball the way they do it and softball the way they do it. I hope we moving in that direction."


UConn's Stewart a finalist for Naismith Trophy

UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart is one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy as the nation's top player.

Stewart is averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while leading the Huskies with 94 blocked shots. She has 19 20-point games and has scored in double digits in the last 25 games.

Baylor's Odyssey Sims, Notre Dame's Kayla McBride and Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike are the other finalists.


Time for UConn to get back to work

Things are back to normal with the UConn women’s basketball team.
The Huskies will hit the practice court tomorrow to put the final touches on preparations for their first game in next two weeks.

Since UConn vanquished Louisville for the third time this season, the amount of basketball-related activities has been intentionally sporadic. UConn coach Geno Auriemma have his team plenty of time off.  That was the smart choice as Moriah Jefferson said her tender foot is feeling much better as if Brianna Banks’ ankle. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has also been able to get stronger after a bout with the energy-sapping mononucleosis. Stefanie Dolson was dealing with a head cold but said she is feeling much better as well.

When the team hit the practice court, Auriemma has liked what he has seen.

“It's been OK,” Auriemma said. “We gave them a bunch of time off. We can't be out there real long, we can't be out there every day. Stefanie (Dolson) has been bothered by a cold but other than that, there is not much else that you can do. All you can do, you are just waiting around. It is just an abnormal amount of time to be off so I think everybody will be happy because at least we will have some focus on what we need to do, what we are doing and where we are going, who are we playing.”

After winning the American Athletic Conference tournament, Auriemma said he was hoping to get reserve guards Banks and Saniya Chong going after they have struggled to contribute in recent games.
“They have both made some progress since last Monday and I hope it carries over,” Auriemma said. “Having said that, they have practiced pretty well for a while now but they don't function well in games for large stretches.”

Both Banks and Chong believe they are in a better frame of mind heading into the NCAA tournament than they were going into the conference tournament.

“Me and Saniya feel like we have been practicing pretty hard and getting our stuff together,” Banks said. “Our team needs our help and I think it's been going pretty well.”

Auriemma pointed out to Chong that she had more fouls (five) than points (four) in the AAC tournament and the talented freshman is eager to make a bigger impact beginning on Sunday when UConn plays Prairie View A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I just have to work hard. In the last tournament I haven’t been doing anything,” Chong said. “Coming out here and practicing, I have been working extra hard so I can at least be a part of a team. I just have to come in and do something like Mo (Jefferson) and all of them are doing and play the same game and be a part of it.”

One benefit of the time off is that it gave Chong and Breanna Stewart to head back to New York to watch their former high school teams play in the state tournament. As luck would have it, Chong’s alma mater (Ossining) faced the Cicero-North Syracuse program where Stewart earned national player of the year recognition so Chong, Stewart and Morgan Tuck made the ride to watch Ossining emerge victorious.

“We weren't able to see our teams play for a year so for us to be there and watching for the states and seeing how much my team has improved from last year and especially the younger girls did amazing,” Chong said.

So what was she most impressed with?

“I would say how much they improved and being there, Jalay (Knowles) getting twice as many rebounds, Shadeen (Samuels) making so many 3s in transition, Stefanie (Svoboda) coming up from JV and being the point guard was amazing.

Chong did not engage in any trash talking to Stewart after her team got the win and although disappointed, Stewart took the loss in stride.

“They were a good team and fought really hard but Ossining played really well,” Stewart said. “I wasn't losing my mind; you wish you could see them doing better. There were times when they were struggling,
“I think everybody appreciated it. There were a few people who were on the team who I played with when I was there and just to see them as they have obviously gotten older, I think they appreciated me coming back because even they see what I am doing now, CNS is still where I came from.”

Another beneficial aspect of giving his team some time off is that Auriemma was able to hit the recruiting trail. By all accounts, he liked what he saw as he continues to set the table for the next couple of recruiting classes.
When he spoke at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast earlier this week that May will be a time when he will be hosting some of the top prospects in the Class of 2015. In a perfect world, UConn would love to bring in all the top players during the same weekend but it is uncertain if that is going to happen because of issues with SATs, AAU responsibilities, potential conflicts with USA Basketball and travel since most of them would need to board to plane to get to UConn.

“There are four or five kids that if we can sign or get commitments from we will probably have gotten four of the top five players in America,” Auriemma said.

Guards Asia Durr, Katie Lou Samuelson and Haley Gorecki and forwards Napheesa Collier and De’Janae Boykin are at the top of UConn’s recruiting wish list for the next recruiting class.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Connecticut well represented in tournament

While most eyes will be on defending national champion UConn during the upcoming NCAA tournament, there is also a chance for some former state high school stars to leave their mark during March Madness.

Leading the way is former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes, the leading scorer for Big 12 co-regular champion West Virginia.

West Virginia is the No. 2 seed in the Louisville regional which is the bracket with the most Connecticut natives taking part i the tournament as Torrington's Sarah Royals is a member of the Albany team that will face West Virginia in the first round,Milford's Casey Dulin and Marist will play meet up with Iowa in the first round while St. John's (featuring former Lauralton Hall star Keylantra Langley and Norwalk native Briana Brown) play Southern California in the first round with the winner getting to play Tennessee (barring a major upset) on the Lady Vols' home court in the second round.

Former Hopkins star Lauren Okafor had a strong game off the bench (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks in 15 minutes) as James Madison rolled to a 70-45 victory over Delaware to win the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament title. JMU gets to play Gonzaga on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the first round.

Player, School                Yr. Pos. Hometown   Stats                       First-round opponent
Briana Brown, St. John’s Sr., G Norwalk 9.6 PPG, 40 3s            USC, Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Abigail Corning, Fordham Sr., G Wethersfield 12.6 PPG,142 assists  California Saturday 4 p.m.
Casey Dulin, Marist Sr., G Milford 10.9 PPG, 118 assists  Iowa Sunday 8 p.m.
Kastine Evans, Kentucky Sr., G Salem 8.4 PPG, 38 3s    Wright State Saturday 11 a.m.
Bria Holmes, West Virginia So., G New Haven 15.1 PPG, 68 3s           Albany Sunday 3 p.m.
Keylantra Langley, St. John’s Sr., G Bridgeport 6.6 PPG               USC Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Tierney Lawlor, UConn Fr., G Ansonia 1.3 PPG               Prairie View Sunday 8 p.m.
Lauren Okafor, James Madison Jr., F Hamden 5.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 38 blocks Gonzaga Sunday 5:30 p.m.
Sarah Royals, Albany Jr., G Torrington 11.7 PPG, 157 assists    W. Virginia Sunday 3 p.m.

Tough time of the year for UConn's Morgan Tuck

Even as she sat side by side with her teammates and took in the excitement of the NCAA tournament bracket being announced, Morgan Tuck was dealing with a flood of varying emotions.

As excited as she was for her teammates earning the No. 1 overall seed after a perfect regular season and dominant run to the American Athletic Conference tournament title, the reality that she will not be an active participant during the Huskies quest for a second straight national title weighs heavily on her mind.

"It is kind of bittersweet," Tuck said after the bracket was announced on Monday night. "This is the time of the year that everybody has been waiting for so I am really excited for my team that we get a chance to get (pursue) our goal that we've had. It does (stink) that I can't play but I knew I wasn't going to be able to play at this time of the season so it is not like it was a surprise.

"I guess I am trying to make the most of sitting out and see it from a different perspective. I just try to watch and learn as much as I can so next year I will have a different perspective while playing."

Tuck, who underwent season-ending knee surgery on Jan. 31, is eyeing a return to basketball work in the summer.

"I got off crutches last week," Tuck said. "I started doing more normal rehab like squats and things like that. I usually do a bike workout for my cardio so that is pretty much where it is now. I am pretty much trying to build up my quad and hamstring because I lost a lot being on crutches for a long time. I am just trying to get a quad muscle back, that is the bigger thing right now and just make sure it heals properly."

Tuck said she does somewhere between 25-45 minutes on the bike depending on the difficulty level and the next step in the process is to go longer and harder on the bike.

"I think now I trying to not gain weight and heal right because I don't want to do something, push it to hard and it messes something up so I am regretting it down the road," Tuck said. "I am just taking my time. There is no reason to rush, I will be back in the summer and I am just want to take my time and make sure I heal right. They said they were talking about it being six months and I am hoping for it to be six months and not any longer."

UConn will submit the medical hardship paperwork at the end of the season with the hope that she is granted a fifth year of eligibility. She fits the criteria to be eligible for the additional year of eligibility but her case still needs to be looked at and approved by the NCAA.


UConn's Jefferson a finalist for Lieberman Award

UConn sophomore point guard Moriah Jefferson is one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, presented annually to the nation's top point guard.

Jefferson started every game as a sophomore and leads the team with 170 assists and 88 steals while shooting 58 percent from the field

Baylor's Odyssey Sims, Florida International's Jerica Coley, California's Brittany Boyd and Heather Martin of Tennessee-Martin are the other finalists.

Also, Breanna Stewart was named one of three finalists for the Dawn Staley Award along with Sims and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell. The award description said it goes to a guard who exemplifies the skills that Dawn possessed during her career. OK, so Stewart is not actually a guard but congrats for being a finalist for the award.

UConn's Geno Auriemma a Naismith coach of year finalist

UConn's Geno Auriemma, who guided the Huskies to an undefeated regular season for the seventh time, is one of four finalists for the Naismith national coach of the year.

Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, Wes Moore of North Carolina State and South Carolina's Dawn Staley are the other finalists.

The winner will be announced during the Final Four.

Auriemma is a six-time winner of the Naismith Coach of the Year award.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Geno thrilled to see former UConn players thrive as coaches

Geno Auriemma was a bit weary as the interviews wore down on Monday. He didn't get home until about 1 a.m. that morning after returning to see talented sophomore Erin Boley play in the Kentucky state playoffs. Later that morning he was in Cromwell for a speaking engagement at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce. Now, mercifully, the inquiries from the assembled media was winding down after the NCAA Division I bracket was announced last night.

Then, just the mere mention of the name "Carla Berube" brought an energetic laugh of joy from the Hall of Fame coach.

Berube has found a home as the head coach at Tufts and on Friday night she will lead her team against FDU-Florham in the first Division III national semifinal.

Berube was a member of two Final Four teams including the 1994-95 squad which won the first of UConn's eight national titles. Now she is in her first Final Four as a coach and Auriemma could not be more pleased.

"God bless her," Auriemma said with a laugh. "I would never ever, ever, ever imagined that she would get into coaching but just like when she was playing, she is a quiet, determined kid and I am sure she has brought that same attitude to her team. I couldn't be happier for her. I am absolutely thrilled for her."

Auriemma is also excited that former UConn guard Mel Thomas is back in the NCAA tournament with her Florida Gulf Coast squad. Thomas is the director of women's basketball operations for a team making its second NCAA appearance in the last three seasons. Florida Gulf Coast is the No. 12 seed in the Notre Dame region and will play Oklahoma State on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the first round.

"They seen like they are always there," Auriemma said. "I saw Mel when we were down in South Florida, she loved what she is doing, having a great time and obviously she brings a lot of experience to that situation so the more UConn people in the tournament the better. I think Mel is a little more demonstrative and Carla is much older obviously but they both had that quiet confidence about them that allowed them to play well in big games and in big situations."

Auriemma also gave his thoughts on the U.S. senior national team he is coaching being drawn into Group D along with Angola, China and Serbia in the FIBA World Championships.

"Everybody's got to play somebody pretty good so when you get to that level you can't overlook anybody, you can't say that group is harder than that group," Auriemma said. "You have to win three games (in pool play) and then you are going to have to win three games. You are going to have to play the really good teams it doesn't matter where they are seeded right now."

Auriemma said he hasn't heard any updates on when his national team coaching staff is going to be announced.

"They haven't done anything," Auriemma said. "I got from Carol (Callan), the national team director) that it was going to be a while, it was going to be a long process. They had the whole collective bargaining thing to do in the WNBA and that took up a lot of time so I would think at some point soon that they are going to announce something, they are going to come up with something but what their timetable is, I have no idea."


Monday, March 17, 2014

A few surprises in NCAA bracket

UConn earned the No. 1 overall seed, I know that was a stunning revelation.

Notre Dame, the only other undefeated team in Division I women's basketball, also earned a No. 1 seed. Again, this was not an astonishing turn of events. However, after that things got kind of interesting when the Division I bracket was unveiled on Monday night.

The biggest surprise might have been Stanford being bumped to a No. 2 seed as South Carolina earned the top seed in the Stanford regional.

Next up in the curveballs thrown by the committee was Louisville being dropped to a No. 3 seed.

Duke, despite losing star guards Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones to season-ending knee injuries, earned the No. 2 seed in UConn's bracket.

One thing the committee did not do was place the Huskies as the top seed in the Louisville regional which could have resulted in a fourth meeting between the conference rivals in the Elite Eight.

"That is probably the right choice if you are going to make the picks that you made and put them when you put them," Auriemma said of Duke. "I thought the committee did a pretty good job. Everybody was talking about we were going to go to Louisville, I don't know where everybody got that. That seemed to be a popular theory but I never thought that

"You don't' even assume anything when you going into these things. It doesn't really matter if you are the No. 1 (overall seed), I don't know that those things are that important."

With American Athletic Conference teams Rutgers and South Florida among the bubble teams left on the outside looking in, the AAC had just two teams make the field of 64.

"There is really nothing you can do about that," Auriemma said. "You have Notre Dame, DePaul, West Virginia, Syracuse, St. John's, we got a bunch of teams in (who used to play in the Big East with UConn) so I will hold onto that for a little while. It reminds me of 1995, we only got two teams in the NCAA tournament and we did pretty well that year. I was really disappointed. I thought  South Florida played great down the stretch and I was disappointed for them. The rest, everybody's going to have to figure out how to schedule the right games, beat the right teams and we are going to have to do in our conference what we did in the late '90s in the Big East."

UConn headed to Lincoln regional

 If there is going to be a fourth meeting between UConn and conference rival Louisville this season, it would have to occur in the Final Four.

After weeks of speculation that the Huskies may be shipped to play in the Louisville regional, the NCAA committee made the defending national champions the No. 1 seed in the regional in Lincoln, Neb.

It is the eighth straight year and 17th time in the last 21 years that the Huskies earned a No. 1 seed and it will be the sixth time UConn will enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. The Huskies won the national titles with perfect records during the 1994-95, 2001-02, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons but lost to Tennessee in the regional final during the 1996-97 campaign.

UConn, eyeing a record seventh consecutive trip to the Final Four, will host SWAC tournament champion Prairie View A&M on Sunday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.  With a win UConn would meet either Georgia or Saint Joseph’s. Duke is the second seed, Texas A&M the No. 3 seed and Nebraska, the host of the regional, is seeded fourth.

“At this time of the year what are you going to do?” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “You worry about yourself. You worry about what you are going to do instead of the opponent. This is my favorite time of the year because you don't get to focus on an opponent because even though you might know tonight who you are going to play in the first round, you have no idea who you are going to play if you win that game or if you win the next one or you win the next one but you really do get to focus on the inner game, you do get focus on what your players are feeling, what they are thinking and how they are and those are the things that I like the most. Getting ready to play an opponent, that is fun and all of that but really getting your team into a state of mind of being ready to win is what I enjoy the most. Getting into who they are as individuals and who we are as a team.”

It is the second year in a row Saint Joseph has been sent to subregional in Storrs. Last year the Hawks fell to Vanderbilt in the first round. Georgia last played UConn in the 2006 NCAA tournament while this is the second time in the last three years that Prairie View will face the Huskies in the first round.

Prairie View opened the season losing its first 11 games, failing to score 50 points in five of the games. However, playing a tough non-conference schedule aided the Lady Panthers during the SWAC tournament. Junior guard Jeanette Jackson averaged 21.3 points per game in the three games in the SWAC tournament.

UConn will be opening NCAA tournament play in the state for the 24th time in the last 26 seasons. The only times UConn didn’t play in Storrs, Hartford or Bridgeport in the first round came in 2010 and that is the only time UConn didn’t have at least one game in Connecticut since the Huskies made their first tournament appearance in 1989.

UConn has a 32-2 career record in the NCAA tournament at Gampel Pavilion and have won the last 30 NCAA tourney games at its on-campus arena.