Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

High praise for UConn's Moriah Jefferson

Ex UConn star Kalana Greene raves about  Moriah Jefferson
Watching Moriah Jefferson make the jump from timid freshman to dynamic sophomore led to debates of whether she improved more from her first to second season than any other UConn player in recent memory.

The only player I could even think about being in this discussion was Kalana Greene.

However, when I sat down the Greene at yesterday's Connecticut Sun media day, she was having none of that comparison.

"I wouldn't even put me at that level," Greene said. "Mo, she is pesky, she is a pest. The energy she brings, everything she does I would have to work 15 times harder just to get her results. She is the leader, she doesn't back down from anything or any challenge and she is fun to watch. She is probably one of the most exciting players I have ever seen play college basketball."

Greene is amazed at what Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have accomplished since their arrival at UConn.

"The thing that is so crazy for me is that a lot of those guys are just sophomores," Greene said. "I remember me and the people I came in with, we didn't have it then and we lost, quite often. To do what they have done in freshman year and again as sophomores, for those guys, they get it that early and it is impressive."

Greene opted not to play overseas which gave her a chance to spend a couple of weeks in Connecticut where she got to see the team practice. She was also at the Final Four when the Huskies finished off a 40-0 season with impressive wins over Stanford and Notre Dame.

"Nashville was amazing, it was my third one (Final Four) since I came back," Greene said. "Last year I don't think anybody expected them to win and now it is even harder because the target is on your back and you are expected to win. I had an opportunity to watch them practice for a couple of weeks, see the lulls because in practice you get to see everything."

While Greene missed out on making some money by not playing overseas, she felt like she needed a break after a difficult season.

"It was a fun offseason," Greene said. "There was a bit of normalcy, I've never really had that, I was able to do things that normal people do. I think it was good for me to bring back a lot of energy, a lot of hunger and to miss the game. I miss it now, before it was like I am going over here, I am going overseas and then back here. Now I had a real chance to miss the game and I missed it.

"I did a bit of traveling. I stayed in South Carolina, went to places for a couple of weeks, I came to Connecticut for a couple of weeks, I was in Philadelphia with Tonya (Cardoza) and Temple for a couple of weeks. I wen t to Oklahoma, Charlotte, just spent time with people I don't get to see and I just enjoyed my time off.

"I did a lot of individual stuff, a lot of 1 on 1 stuff. Not as much 5 of 5 stuff as I would like. I could play more but you don't want to play too much 5 on 5 with the guys because you start showing them what you can do and they get a little offended. I got to work on my game and I think the big thing was rest, mental and physical rest, and I was able to take some time to shut down before I started back up."

Finally, I asked Greene what advice she would give to incoming freshmen Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams.

"I think there is only a certain type of person, not a caliber of player, but type of person that can come and play there," Greene said. "I think they have a great group of upperclassmen especially that junior class and just work hard, know that your time will come. They are going to depend on their freshmen initially. There won't be any breaking in period. Coach (Geno Auriemma) knows what he is doing, take the message he is giving you and don't take the tone because of a lot of time you can be shell shocked by that. They have more than enough people to help them get acquainted and comfortable. I think having good upperclassmen is essential to having a good freshman class."

Labels: ,

A look at Connecticut Sun roster

The 2014 version of the Connecticut Sun will bear little resemblance  to the squad which finished with a WNBA worst 10-24 record during the 2013 campaign but just what will the team end up looking like?

It was hard to read too much of what I saw during drills yesterday as Kelsey Bone, Allison Hightower, Yelena Leuchanka, Danielle McCray and Renee Montgomery have yet to report as they finished up their overseas commitments.

When all the players are in camp, which could happen  by Monday, the Sun will need to make at least two cuts so obviously these next few days are incredibly important for players like Keisha Hampton, Shenneika Smith, Kelley Cain and DeNesha Stallworth. UPDATED AT 5:15 P.M.: Hampton and Smith have been cut by the Sun which is a sign that all the players are close to reporting to camp.

With the WNBA moving to a 12-player roster the question is whether the Sun will opt to keep seven perimeter players and five posts or go with six guards and six forwards.

If Connecticut chooses to go with seven perimeter players, it is going to take some pretty special from the under the radar players to make the team as Alex Bentley, Katie Douglas, Kelly Faris, Kalana Greene, Hightower, McCray and Montgomery will be tough to beat out. Moving to the inside players,  you would have to think that Bone, Kelsey Griffin and first-round picks Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas are locks to make the team. That would leave Cain, Leuchanka, Kayla Pedersen and Stallworth perhaps vying for one roster spot.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Former record holder offers congrats to UConn's Dolson

Kayla Pedersen was aware that when she graduated from Stanford that she held the NCAA Division I women's basketball record for most career starts even if she admitted "I had no clue that they even kept track of that."

During the NCAA tournament she became aware that UConn's Stefanie Dolson broke her mark as she set the standard with 152 career starts.

At Connecticut Sun media day I asked Pedersen, who is in her first full season with the WNBA team, for her reaction to Dolson setting the mark.

"More power to her, that is cool," Pedersen said.

Pedersen's situation as a freshman at Stanford was similar to Dolson's at UConn as graduation losses opened up a chance to start immediately.

"I am extremely blessed to get that opportunity," Pedersen said. "They needed somebody to battle in there and help Jayne (Appel) out. I think a came into a class that (graduated) of a lot of folks and I made the most of that opportunity and I am forever grateful for that."

The initial list of invitees to the U.S. U-17 national team trials came out earlier in the month. Today USA Basketball released the list of 162 players who will try out for the team. That list includes three Connecticut natives as Capital Prep teammates Kiah Gillespie and Desiree Elmore are joined by Avon High's Abigail Laszewski.

The trials will run from May 22-26 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. with the 12-member squad playing in the FIBA U-17 World Championships being announced on May 26.


Sun players, coaches weigh in on LA Clippers situation

On perhaps any other day the sole focus would have been on a new-look roster of the Connecticut Sun as the WNBA team held its media day before an early evening practice at Mohegan Sun Arena.

However, the racially-charged comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and today's decision to NBA commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the NBA for life is such a far-reaching story that it obviously was a subject raised in interviews taking place in Connecticut on Tuesday.

The Sun players were rather reluctant to weigh in on the subject as they likely we encouraged to do so from the Sun's hierarchy. However, there was no such hesitation from either Sun head coach Anne Donovan or from assistant coach Jen Gillom, a former head coach of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

"It is a wake-up call for everybody that this (racism) still exists," Donovan said. "A lot of times we want to think that the United States has moved past that but the big thing is this is at highest level of the professional sports system then it speaks a lot to our culture and how much room for growth that we have."

Gillom had a similar take on the situation.  

"This is 2014 and it is so shameful to hear something like that," Gillom said. "It is hard for me to get involved with that find of stuff because I hate listening  to that type of stuff. I really haven't been following it like I should because it is mind boggling to me and I don't have any tolerance for it anymore so I try not to listen to it.

"If I were in that position it would be hard for me to play for an organization like that, it would be hard for me to lace up my shoes up and play for a guy who didn't think I am worthy. I feel for those guys and I know it is hard for them and especially at this time of the season when you want to win a championship for your city and your organization, I feel for them."

Donovan is aware of Sterling's past comments that certainly raised eyebrows but did not bring any official action from the NBA.

"He's been caught on record but there is no way that you can play for somebody like that and have the sense of who he was," Donovan said. "If that is his character, if that is his nature, if that is his true beliefs it is going to come off. I give (Clippers head coach) Doc Rivers a whole lot of credit for being able to focus his team and really send good positive messages, yet still compete and play games."

Donovan and Gillom had Hall of Fame playing careers but Donovan said she could not imagine if she found herself in the situation that current Clippers' stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan find themselves in.

"You talk about Chris Paul, one of most genuinely nice human beings I have ever met so for that type of thing to touch his life at this point in his career ..."

Multiple players politely declined comment on the subject matter although veteran Sun guard Kalana Greene, a former UConn star, was the player who offered the strongest opinions during Tuesday's media day festivities.

"I feel sorry for the players because that it not what they came there to do," Greene said. "They came to play ball and it is distracting them from doing that. He said what he said and now he has to live with it, now he has to deal with the brunt of it. That is the thing about freedom of speech, you say what you want but then you have to deal with the consequences. Society is not tolerant of it and I am happy to see that. In the direct sense players play for each other and they play for the team, a lot of players don't have a choice of where they are playing. That is a tough situation, I could tell you what I would do but if I was in that situation it would be different. The team has to come together, what they want (to accomplish), what are their goals and what they figure out, you can't blame them for playing the next game because they are playing for themselves and at the end of the day that is what matters."  

Another title for former UConn stars

Dating back to their days as UConn teammates, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have known nothing but success when they take the court together.

Whether it was helping UConn win the 2002 national title, the Olympic and World Championship titles as well as EuroLeague titles, Bird and Taurasi have enjoyed an absurd amount of team success.

Well, they are at it again as they were key members of the UMMC Ekaterinburg team which won the Russian league title.

Bird had 10 points and three assists and Taurasi had four points, four rebounds and four assists as Ekaterinburg defeated Nadezhda Orenburg 63-58 on Tuesday  to complete a sweep of the best of five game series.

Bird averaged 9 points and 3 assists in the championship series while Taurasi averaged 3.7 points and 3.7 assists in the three games

Former Connecticut Sun forward Sandrine Gruda led Ekaterinburg with 24 points in the clincher and Candace Parker had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The third-place series also ended with a sweep as Dynamo Kursk defeated Dynamo Moscow 84-69 despite 13 points and five rebounds from former UConn star Tina Charles who averaged 14 points and 13.7 rebounds in the three games.

UConn announced that deposits for season tickets for the men's and women's basketball teams are now being taken.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Final UConn overseas report of season

WNBA training camps are upon us so it is a perfect time to wrap up how former UConn stars fared overseas.

First, it should be noted that Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are a win away from yet another title as their UMMC Ekaterinburg team has taken a 2-0 lead in the best of five Russian league championship series while Tina Charles' Dynamo Moscow team is down 0-2 to Dynamo Kursk in the third-place series. Game three in both series will be Tuesday.

Here's the breakdown of how the ex Huskies did
Player      Team (Country)                                 Pts   Reb Ast Stl  Blk
Sue Bird UMMC Ekaterinburg (Russia) 11.1-2.2-5.7-1.3-0.0
Tina Charles Dynamo Moscow (Russia)         15.9-9.4-2.3-0.8-0.6
Lorin Dixon Energa Torun (Poland)         12.0-4.0-3.9-1.9-0.1
Kelly Faris UE Sopron (Hungary) 6.8-4.0-1.6-1.8-0.3
Megan Gardler T71 Dudelange (Luxemborg)   19.0-8.4-2.4-1.7-0.4
Tiffany Hayes Sport Recife (Brazil)        12.4-5.2-1.5-1.6-0.4
Charde Houston Bichumi (South Korea)        22.2-9.0-1.9-2.2-1.8
Charde Houston Uni Gironi (Spain)        19.6-7.1-1.5-2.2-1.5
Asjha Jones Spartak Vidnoje (Russia) 9.7-5.9-1.6-1.1-0.5
Kaili McLaren Hap. Petah Tikva (Israel)        13.5-7.8-3.0-1.7-1.8
Renee Montgomery Tarsus (Turkey)         10.1-2.3-3.1-1.1-0.2
Renee Montgomery Chevakata (Russia)        15.9-2.8-2.9-1.3-0.0
Maya Moore Shanxi (China)        39.3-11.8-4.8-4.3-1.3
Kelly Schumacher Rivas Ecopolis (Spain)          4.1-2.3-0.1-0.1-0.3
Ketia Swanier Wilki Morskie  (Poland)        12.1-4.5-3.9-2.8-0.0
Barbara Turner Botas (Turkey)        16.4-4.0-2.6-0.6-0.2
Diana Taurasi UMMC Ekaterinburg (Russia)   12.9-3.3-4.5-0.9-0.1

Speaking of training camp, the Connecticut Sun will hold its media day on Tuesday. The last update I received was that Renee Montgomery, Danielle McCray, Kelsey Bone and Allison Hightower are not expected to be in camp by then but the rest of the players should be there.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Live streams available from Boo Williams tournament

For those who want to check out one of the top AAU tournaments in the country, there will be live streams available 

The first game involved UConn recruiting target De'Janae Boykin's Boo Williams team holding on for a win over the Philly Belles.

There is a magazine produced featuring the Register's coverage of the men's and women's basketball teams runs to national titles. It is currently on sale.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Haley Gorecki commits to Duke

Haley Gorecki, a guard from Palantine, Ill., announced via her Twitter account that she has committed to Duke

Haley gorecki @HaleyGorecki
Finally decided and I could not be happier to call myself a Duke blue devil! Can't wait to play basketball at Duke

Gorecki was one of four highly-touted high school juniors to make an official visit to UConn earlier this month. Napheesa Collier committed to UConn while Katie Lou Samuelson and De'Janae Boykin are still weighing their options.

Special homecoming for UConn's Stewart

While Stefanie Dolson's appearance on The Tonight Show is garnering the majority of the attention, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another trip to New York for a star of UConn's national championship team.

National player of the year Breanna Stewart will be returning to her alma mater Cicero-North Syracuse High School next month when the Special Olympics have an event at the school.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

UConn's Dolson to appear on The Tonight Show

Well that didn't take long.

When UConn won its ninth national title earlier this month, UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson had shoutouts to President Barack Obama and The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon.

There's no word on when Dolson and her teammates will return to the White House but Dolson will get to appear on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon tomorrow night which begins at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.

stefanie Dolson @bigmamastef
Yes I'll be on @FallonTonight tomorrow night! I cannot wait.. It'll be short but amazing! #jimmyaintready

UConn recruiting targets Boykin, Durr, Samuelson invited to U-17 tryouts

USA Basketball released the names of the 39 players who will be trying out for the U-17 national team and UConn Class of 2015 recruiting targets De'Janae Boykin, Asia Durr and Katie Lou Samuelson are among those headed to the trials as is Class of 2016 target Erin Boley.

The lone Connecticut native headed to the trials is Meriden's Kiah Gillespie of Capital Prep.

Kalani Brown, Sabrina Ionescu, Lauren Cox and Arike Ogunbowale are among the other players who have received some interest from UConn who are headed to the tryouts.

The names of more players taking part in next month's trials will be announced later.

The list of players trying out for the U-18 team will be announced soon. The AAU program of UConn commit Napheesa Collier has reported that she is among those headed to the U-18 trials.

UConn recruiting target Boykin names her top five

De'Janae Boykin has narrowed her list of schools to five.

Boykin, a 6-foot-2 forward from Springdale, Md., has already taken visits to Penn State and UConn while North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia are the other finalists for Boykin who was among the four highly-touted high school juniors visiting UConn over the weekend.

Boykin averaged 21.1 points and 16.7 rebounds as a junior at Flowers High School while shooting 64 percent from field and posting six games with more than one 3-pointer. Boykin had four games with 20 points and 20 rebounds including three in a four-game span.

Today was supposed to be the day when the UConn men's and women's basketball team was going to be honored before the Boston Red Sox game. However, UConn sent out a release expressing regretting that the women's basketball team would not be able to make the trip.

Due to an unforeseen conflict, the UConn women’s basketball team will not be participating in the first pitch ceremony at Fenway tonight.  The team feels awful as it would have been a great moment for UConn and we have apologized to the Red Sox.  The men are still scheduled to head up there and hopefully the Red Sox will consider having us at a later date.  


Monday, April 21, 2014

Versatility and unselfishness hallmarks of newest UConn commit

Everything I have been hearing was that Napheesa Collier was the top of UConn's recruiting wish list in the star-studded Class of 2015.

Now that the 6-foot-1 forward out of Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis is committed to UConn, I figured I would try to get a scouting report on her game. I spoke to Incarnate Word head coach Dan Rolfes a little while ago and here's what he had to say about his star player.

"She's 6-1, long, lanky athlete, smooth offensively. She could play on the perimeter, post you up, take you off the dribble and a great offensive rebounder. Defensively we can have her guard anyboy from a point guard down to a post. I think her versatility and her ability to play different spots makes her so intriguing.

"She can fit into just about anybody's system because she can play so many different spots. If they recruit somebody else next year, she can slide over to a 3 (small forward) or play a 4 (power forward) spot and I think that is what one of her biggest attributes is, she can pretty much play anywhere."

Rolfes loves to recall the story of when Collier passed up shots she normally takes and makes with ease and when he asked her why, it was so one of her teammates to reach the 1,000-point mark in the game.

"She is a great kid," Rolfes said. "She came to us after her freshman year, her family moved (from Jefferson City), her mom got transferred. We were already going to be pretty good but she came in and was definitely the best player but was so humble and such a team player. She fit in extremely well even though she was getting 25 points a game. In every game it seemed like she has a quiet 25. A couple of offensive rebounds here, a couple steals and (baskets) in transition, she is a great teammate."

He was not stunned to see Collier's commitment come so early.

"In October they had narrowed it down to five and they had visited all of the schools and did a lot of homework so to be honest with you, I was not surprised. I think before she even started doing visits that she was ready to commit somewhere and I know when she went up to UConn she told me it just felt right. She was extremely excited to play for a national contender every year."

Collier averaged 17.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.6 steals and 1.9 blocked shots as a freshman at Jefferson City (the same town UConn great Maya Moore lived in before moving to Georgia). In her two seasons at Incarnate Word Academy she shot 70.7 and 70 percent from the field. As a junior she averaged 23.7 points, 10 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.3 blocked shots per game while playing on a team with three seniors who signed with Division I teams. During her sophomore and junior seasons she had 160 assists and 101 turnovers. She heads into her senior season with 1,986 points, 942 rebounds, 282 assists, 342 steals and 200 blocks in 89 career games.

Rolfes said that there are a couple of openings remaining on Incarnate Word Academy's 2014-15 schedule and he would love to be a part of the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. which normally includes a girls' game featuring a Connecticut commit or recruiting target if at all possible.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Napheesa Collier commits to UConn

Napheesa Collier, one of the top prospects in the high school Class of 2015, committed to UConn following an official visit to campus this weekend her father confirmed in a text message to the Register.

Collier is a 6-foot-2 forward at Iincarnate Word Academy in St. Louis who visited Storrs along with fellow top high school juniors De'Janae Boykin, Haley Gorecki and Katie Lou Samuelson.

Collier averaged 23.7 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3.8 steals and 2.3 blocked shots per game as a junior. She was named the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 4 Player of the Year. She had 33 points as Incarnate Word won the Class 4 state title. She had 57 points in the final two games in the state tournament while missing only two shots from the field in the process.

Her father was surprised to see it happen this quickly.

"Once she came up to Storrs, she said it felt like home to her," Gamal Collier said. "This morning she told us she wanted (to commit) and we wanted to make sure she was serious and she considered to it. We felt it would be unfair (to the other schools) since she felt so strongly about it."

Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Notre Dame were the other finalists for Collier.

I'll have more on the commitment tomorrow but in the meantime, here is a story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch when she was named the paper's Metro Player of the Year of her passing up open shots so she could help a teammate hit the 1,000-point mark.


Friday, April 18, 2014

UConn incoming freshman earns MaxPreps All-American honors

UConn signee Sadie Edwards was a fifth-team selection on the MaxPreps All-American team.

Edwards, a Meriden native, averaged 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior at Blair Academy.

The team was well represented with underclassmen on UConn's recruiting radar.

Napheesa Collier, a 6-foot-2 forward at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, and Katie Lou Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing from Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., were named to the first team. As luck would have it, they are among the talented high school juniors currently at UConn on official visits.

Kalani Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior from Salmen High in Slidell, La., and Asia Durr, a 5-foot-9 junior out of St. Pius X Catholic in Atlanta, were thord-team selections.

Labels: , , , ,

U.S. national team to train at Naval Academy

USA Basketball released details of its Hoops for Troops initiative and it includes the fact that the U.S. Senior Women's National Team will train from Sept. 7-10 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. before embarking for the FIBA World Championships for Women.

There will also be a Leadership Development meeting at the Pentagon on May 7 featuring U.S. women's national team coach Geno Auriemma and men's national team assistant coach Jim Boeheim.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2015 American Athletic Conference tournament will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena

Pretty much from the time the larger than expected crowds turned out for the early rounds of the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament it was expected that Mohegan Sun Arena would serve as the host for the tournament for the second year in a row.

That expectation became a reality when Mohegan was officially named the site of the 2015 event.

Here is the release from the conference

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The American Athletic Conference has awarded the 2015 American Women's Basketball Championship to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., Commissioner Mike Aresco announced today.

"The American Athletic Conference and its member institutions are excited to return to a venue that demonstrated tremendous support for our women’s basketball tournament," Aresco said. "Attendance was outstanding, the facility is first-rate, and the Mohegan Sun staff provided a great experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans, who we know will enjoy a return visit next year.”

Mohegan Sun Arena will serve as the host of The American’s women’s basketball championship for the second straight year. Home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, the 10,000-seat arena has hosted championship boxing, college and professional men’s and women’s basketball, Davis Cup tennis, professional bull riding and professional bowling. The WNBA All-Star Game has been hosted by Mohegan Sun Arena four times.

“We are thrilled that we will be bringing the American Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament back to Mohegan Sun Arena,” said Mitchell Etess, President and CEO of Mohegan Sun. “Our first year was a huge success. We are delighted to continue the relationship, and grow this great event moving forward.”

All 11 American Athletic Conference schools will participate in the 2015 championship. The format calls for three first-round games on the first day, followed by four quarterfinal games, two semifinals and the championship game. The ESPN Networks will provide television and digital coverage of the tournament.

The 2014-15 season will be the second straight year in which the American Athletic Conference has the defending men’s and women’s NCAA champions in its ranks. The American was the only conference to place a team in the semifinals of the Men’s Final Four, the Women’s Final Four, the NIT and the WNIT last season.

The American’s membership in 2014-15 will include UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, USF, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Top recruit A'ja Wilson picks South Carolina

The UConn women’s basketball team will have to wait until next year’s recruiting class to add some size to its lineup as highly-touted A’ja Wilson signed with South Carolina today.

The 6-foot-4 Wilson, considered by many as the top player in the high school Class of 2014, made her announcement live on ESPNU.

UConn was one of the four finalists for Wilson but in recent weeks and months North Carolina and South Carolina emerged as the leaders for Wilson who averaged 34.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3 steals and 5 rebounds as a senior at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina is set to return its top nine scorers from a team which went 29-5 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks already had one of the top recruiting classes coming in and with the addition of Wilson could be a team that poses one of the greatest threats to UConn's bid to win a third national title in a row.

With Wilson’s announcement UConn’s recruiting for the year is now completed. The Huskies signed wings Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams and guards Sadie Edwards and Kia Nurse. UConn is in the mix with some of the top-rated forwards in the Class of 2015 including De’Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

UConn's Stewart named Honda Award winner

Add the Honda Award for women's basketball to the growing collection of national player of the year accolades won by UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart. She is now a finalist for the Honda Cup as the women's basketball winner of the Honda Award.

Here is the press release with the details

University of Connecticut sophomore Breanna Stewart was named the Honda Sports Award winner for Basketball as announced by Chris Voelz, Executive Director of THE Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) on Tuesday.

The Honda Sports Award is presented annually by the CWSA to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA- sanctioned sports and signifies “the best of the best in collegiate athletics”.  With this honor, Stewart becomes a finalist for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year and the prestigious 2014 Honda Cup. Stewart was chosen by a vote of administrators from over 1,000 NCAA member schools. Finalists included Kayla McBride (Notre Dame), Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford), Odyssey Sims (Baylor) and Alyssa Thomas (Maryland).

“It is such an honor to be selected as the winner of the Honda Award for women’s basketball,” said Stewart. “ I would like to thank the administrators for selecting me over a group of outstanding players and my coaches and teammates for helping me get to this point where I can be considered for such prestigious honors.”

Named the 2014 Associated Press, Naismith, USBWA, espnW and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Stewart led Connecticut to an unprecedented ninth national championship and a 40-0 perfect season. The sophomore forward does some of her best work in the postseason after also collecting The American Tournament Most Outstanding Player (MOP) honor along with the NCAA Championship MOP award.  

Stewart averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the Huskies. She has scored over 1,000 career points in the third-fewest amount of career games (63) in UConn history. In 40 wins, she scored in double-figures in 37 games and scored 20+ points on 21 different occasions.

“I am very happy for Breanna,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She worked extremely hard during the offseason, and during the season, to improve on a great freshman year. It is truly rewarding to see hard work pay off for someone and no one is more deserving of this tremendous honor than Breanna Stewart.”

This is Connecticut's second Honda Sport Award winner this year as Marie Elena Bolles captured the honor in Field Hockey after leading UConn to its first National title this year and a school-record third so far in the academic year.

The CWSA presents the Honda Sports Award annually to top women student-athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports.  Honda Sports award winners will be presented with the honor during on-campus presentations throughout the year and all Honda Sports award winners become a finalist for the prestigious 2014 Honda Cup award presented in June.

Basketball has produced the most Honda Cup award winners with 15 student-athletes in the sport winning the prestigious honor. Most recently Brittney Griner of Baylor earned the honor in 2012 preceded by Connecticut's Maya Moore who had back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011.

THE Collegiate Women Sports Awards has honored the nation’s top NCAA women athletes for 37 years, recognizing superior athletic skills, leadership, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service.   Since commencing its sponsorship in 1986, Honda has provided more than $2.7 million in institutional grants to the universities of the award winners and nominees to support women’s athletics programs at the institutions. 


Tina Charles addresses her departure from Connecticut

While the hierarchy of the jilted Connecticut Sun did not hesitate in describing the events leading to departure of Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP Tina Charles, the former UConn star chose her words significantly more carefully.

Speaking on a conference call with New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, Charles said all the right things during her opening statement. She expressed gratitude to the Connecticut Sun organization, coaching staff, administration, her former teammates and the fans. But it wasn't long until she was pressed for details on the divorce between her and the Sun.

She declined to go into details regarding her conversations with Sun general manager Chris Sienko when he flew out to Russia to soothe over any bad vibes left over from a frustrating 2013 season. He returned believing all was good only to be informed by Charles' agent in late March that she wanted to play in New York and would not play for the Sun during the 2014 season if they held onto her.

All Charles would say on that subject was "I absolutely did consider sitting out."

Here's more from Charles on her decision to force a trade from Connecticut.

"You are going to have ups and downs with a team, every day is not going to be perfect. I faced that my rookie year and I faced it my previous year. Connecticut has great parts but I looked at the bigger picture and the bigger picture was Coach Laimbeer, Cappie (Pondexter), the New York Liberty and the opportunity that they presented.

"My decision to leave the Sun is based on winning and being in New York. Coach Laimbeer and the Liberty organization is headed in the right direction and I very much want to be a part of that."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dolson, Hartley remaining teammates; Charles headed home

It was a pretty uneventful day at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Oh, other than the fact that Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will remain teammates at the pro level and Tina Charles' run with the Connecticut Sun ended after four seasons.

Dolson's day was probably the only one that was anything close to normal. She was picked by Washington with the sixth overall pick and then Hartley went a few minutes later to Seattle with the seventh pick. However, Hartley wasn't staying with the guard-heavy Storm for very long and she was shipped along with Tianna Hawkins to Washington for perennial All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne.

“I think we are really excited to be able to go through this process with her and now we are going to go in and be rookies together,” Hartley said shortly after finding out she was part of a trade that send All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne to Seattle. “It is a dream come true moment.”

Dolson wasn't in the room when Hartley was drafted but the crowd's reaction made it obvious who went with the seventh pick.

“I was in the hallway and I heard the uproar and I said 'it had to be Bria.'” Dolson said.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma believes Dolson will be a good fit with Washington.“They certainly have had their experiences of working with post players,” Auriemma said. “Mike did a great job with Tina and I think Stefanie brings a lot to any organization. He has a certainly style of play that I think taps into Stefanie’s skills and she is going to be phenomenal pro.”

There were rumblings of some transactions taking place on draft day. With all due respect to Langhorne, word of the block buster came before the first pick was announced with Charles being shipped to New York in exchange for the fourth overall pick, used to select Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, a No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and Kelsey Bone, taken in the first round in 2013 by New York.

The Sun hierarchy did not hold back in making it clear that this trade was Charles' doing.

“It is so disappointing but we have to move on as an organization,” Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko.

“Two weeks ago was when we heard that she was not going to play. She said through her agent, if (she was) not traded she would sit out. We were expecting her to be here, she knew we were selecting Chiney and they would be a lethal duo but we moved on, that is our job as an organization. We are not going to be held hostage by anyone or anybody and we are going to do what is best for our organization. New York stepped up to be able to get her.”

Then there is this from Sun head coach Anne Donovan.

“We had hoped Tina would want to be a part of our future with KT (Katie Douglas) and we were so looking forward hoping that Tina would be a part of that,” Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “As time went on, we had no indication until late March that this was going to go down and Tina would not play here. As it stands I think we got really good value out of the trade. We were not the driver of that trade. Tina and New York were the ones who were in the drivers’ seat for that trade.

“I am disappointed but truthfully you just have to have people who are committed to winning and want to be here. Tina did not want to be in Connecticut, she made it clear so moving forward we will have played here who want to be here, will put it out on the line night in and night out. I think all of that is going to translate into a really good team.”

Chiney Ogwumike, taken by the Sun with the No. 1 overall pick, couldn't contain her excitement at being part of the new-look Connecticut Sun.

“I am excited to come in play hard and play,” Ogwumike said. “I just want to play, that is one thing that losing in the Final Four has made me realize I want to get back out there as fast as possible, redemption I guess you can say. I lost to Connecticut and I am going to be in Connecticut.”

When the Sun began the 2013 season, they were coming off a trip to the playoffs with the team built around the all-star duo of Charles and Kara Lawson. Lawson was part of a three-team trade with her landing in Washington and former first-round pick Alex Bentley coming to the Sun. Asjha Jones will miss the season with a torn Achilles which led to the drafting of Ogwumike to play that position. The Sun also signed perennial All-Star wing Katie Douglas, a star on some of the Sun’s great teams, away from Indiana. The Sun also engineered a trade with Los Angeles to get the 11th overall pick for Sandrine Gruda, another player with little desire to play in Connecticut. With that pick the Sun took Duke’s Chelsea Gray, who is expected to miss the upcoming season due to a knee injury she suffered as a senior.

Sienko said that Spanish star Alba Torrens, whose rights are owned by the Sun, is focused on the FIBA World Championships but he is hopeful that she will come over to the WNBA in 2015.

Obviously the games against New York and Washington at Mohegan Sun could have a little extra juice to them this year. Connecticut hosts the Liberty in the preseason and regular-season openers on May 4 and 16 while the first Connecticut/Washington game is June 5 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Labels: , ,

Draft prospects benefited from national team experience

The WNBA is one of the few professional leagues where there is no chance for the top prospects to work out for pro scouts. There has been something resembling a combine at previous Final Fours but it typically is for players who are borderline prospects at best.

Well, this year the WNBA teams should have a better sense about the top players since four of them got to compete with and against current WNBA stars during the U.S. national team training camp back in September.

UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Notre Dame's Kayla McBride, Baylor's Odyssey Sims and Maryland's Alyssa Thomas joined UConn underclassmen Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart as the active college players able to go through drills with Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and other current WNBA stars.

On a recent pre-draft conference call, I asked Dolson and McBride about the impact of taking part in the national team training camp.

"For me it was definitely an eye-opening experience being able to play with all those women at the USA trials," Dolson said.  "I realized that I need to get stronger obviously down in the post, get more physical. That way I'm better at rebounding the ball because obviously being in the league it will be older women who are stronger than most girls in college. 

"I definitely have to work on my strength, work on my quickness.  At the trials, there were a lot of players that could drive right by me.  Doesn't happen a lot in college. 

"There's definitely some things I need to work on."

Here are McBride's thoughts.
"I think it was just humbling. You look at all those great players, that's what you strive to be. It was a great experience. 

"It's a whole different level of play.  Tamika (Catchings), watching how hard she plays the entire game, that's how it is every single game. It's bringing that intensity to a whole other level." 

The draft begins tonight shortly after 8 p.m. with the first round airing on ESPN2. The second and third rounds will be shown on ESPNU. The Connecticut Sun will pick first and the feeling is that Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike will be the first player of the board.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 13, 2014

UConn championship parade draws a crowd

It was one of the largest turnouts for a championship parade in Hartford as the men's and women's national title winning teams were greeted by about 200,000 of their closest friends.

Here's a link to a photo slideshow courtesy of Register photo journalist Arnold Gold

Here are some videos from the special day

Football team thrilled to have front row seat to celebration

There were plenty of images from Wednesday's on-campus celebration that were pretty hard to forget. None will stick with me longer than the emotional speeches from seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. Then there was the surprising sight of the football team, in full uniforms, walking to area outside the Student Union and taking a knee when UConn coach Geno Auriemma began to speak just as they would have if it were their own coach Bob Diaco behind the microphone.

The football team headed back to practice once the event was over so I didn't get a chance to get their reaction to the heartfelt messages given by Dolson and Hartley. However, it was a subject I brought up with Diaco and a few players after yesterday's spring football game.

"I’ve heard some of that. Coach A (Auriemma) hit me up and ‘thanks for bringing the team,’" Diaco said. "The reality of it is that we got more than we gave. We are listening to those two young ladies at the end talk, sobbing and just pouring out their hearts about how much they love the game, how much they love their school, how much they love their teammates and how much they love their coach. It was priceless for our guys to hear, for me to hear, it was well worth the missed practice time 10 times more important."

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer believes it was a special team bonding experience for the team.

"It was awesome," Whitmer said. "Just seeing the dynasty that Coach Auriemma and those girls have and the school spirit with the boys’ basketball team was there and it kind of fired us up and made up realize we want to be a part of that winning tradition, make that statement and head in the right direction. We are close with those girls. We see them every day, they live in the same building as us so obviously the emotion that they showed was powerful and it was a great way for them to go out. Just to be a part of that, to be around that was good for us."

Last year had coach Paul Pasqualoni and assistant coach Kermit Buggs were at the ceremony but I don't ever recall the entire team coming to an event like that and especially not as a unit like they did on Wednesday.

"They were a great team, those girls and those guys were so dominant and it was great to have that time with them," cornerback Byron Jones said. "We’ve never partaken in any of that so it was great to see how passionate the fans were and to see all their achievements was great.."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Paperwork for UConn's Morgan Tuck's redshirt request to be filed Monday

I ran into UConn's Senior Women's Administrator Deb Corum in the press box before today's Blue-White spring football game and she said that the request to reclaim Morgan Tuck's season of eligibility is scheduled to be filed with the NCAA on Monday.

Tuck played just eight games before undergoing the second of two knee surgeries and she is right on the threshold of being eligible to get this season back giving her three more years to play but the NCAA still has to give the OK before she is granted the extra year of eligibility.

Where will UConn stars land in Monday's draft?

UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley shouldn't have to wait long to
hear their names called during Monday night's WNBA Draft
It's a foregone conclusion that Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will become the 14th and 15th UConn players taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

The biggest question is where they will land.

Connecticut and Tulsa have the top two picks and on a pre-draft conference call on Thursday, the team's respective head coaches Anne Donovan and Fred Williams said that Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Baylor's Odyssey Sims will be the first two players off the board.

"Sims is quite the player.  Everybody who thinks that it's a foregone conclusion that Chiney Ogwumike is going to be here with us," Donovan said. "We'd love to have Chiney Ogwumike, we'd love to have Odyssey.  It just depends on guard or post truthfully.

"I don't know that Odyssey is not the most prepared player skill-wise to be in the WNBA. She's shown she can pass the ball really well when she played three years with Griner. A lot of people are knocking her now she takes too many shots. That's what her team needs her to do. She's focused defensively as she is offensively. I think Sims is a great get for Connecticut or Tulsa."

As for what Tulsa is thinking:

"Well, we're going to do the opposite of what you do," Williams said. "You got the first call on that one there. But either player on that end is a good find and good pick. You can't count the other players that's in there with Thomas and some of the others. But, yeah, either player is a good fit."

If things go according to the plan with the top two picks that could mean the rest of the draft could be determined by what San Antonio does with the third pick. There have been plenty of rumors of the Silver Stars looking to move out of the pick so that certainly bears watching. If San Antonio holds onto the pick the feeling is it is looking for rebounding help. San Antonio took Syracuse center Kayla Alexander in the first round last year and also have Jayne Appel on the roster.

From the first time I saw Dolson play when she was at Minisink Valley High School, Appel was the player whose game Dolson's reminds me of. That hasn't changed over the last four years. Apparently, I am not alone.

"Similar but Stefanie been fairly healthy and I think she could contribute more significantly early than Jayne did her rookie year," ESPN's Rebecca Lobo said.

San Antonio has tended to draft the "best player available" as much as any other team in recent years. In my opinion, that would be McBride although Thomas could provide some help in the rebounding department.

New York picks at No. 4 and obviously Dolson and Hartley, both New York natives, would be delighted to land with the Liberty. However, if McBride is sitting there I would be stunned if Bill Laimbeer didn't scoop her up in a heartbeat. With New York taking Kelsey Bone and Toni Young a season ago, it would seem as if guard help would be more of a pressing need (although the serious knee injury suffered by former Plenette Pierson could alter some of the thinking).

Indiana made the trip to Connecticut to watch the Huskies practice and Indiana coach Lin Dunn said on the same call that Hartley and Dolson are very much on the Fever's radar.

"I think when we get to the fifth pick there, we've got McBride, Hartley, (Florida State's Natasha) Howard, Dolson, Thomas," Dunn said.  We're looking closely at all five of those players."

Washington and Seattle are set to pick at No. 6 and 7. Nobody knows more about drafting UConn players than Washington coach Mike Thibault and Seattle coach Brian Agler was in attendance at the regular season finale against Louisville and he could take a look at either Dolson or Hartley if both are available (which would be a stunning turn of events if both are still on the board).

"Stefanie's success will be determined more by where she goes and what system they run but I think she could be a really good center at the pro game, she is smart and she gets everybody better," Lobo said. "She doesn't need to take a lot of shots to really affect a game in a really positive way. I think Bria will be really good, she is tough, she is smart, she works really hard and I think both of those players have really great pro careers ahead of them.

"I think Bria it doesn't matter too much (which team drafts her) because of speed, she can do whatever but if Stefanie goes to Atlanta, that is probably not the best fit, a team that just goes up and down, doesn't necessarily run as much of having the post where they can make decisions. There are some places where she could be really, really successful."

Stay tuned as the first round starts a few minutes at 8 p.m. on Monday and will air on ESPN2.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

UConn's Dolson and Hartley headed to WNBA Draft

The WNBA announced that UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley are among the 12 players who will be in attendance at Monday's draft.

Here is the release from the WNBA
Odyssey Sims of Baylor, winner of the 2014 Wade Trophy as the NCAA Division I Player of the Year, and Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, a four-time First Team All-American and two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, headline a list of 12 prospects who will attend the WNBA Draft 2014 presented by State Farm, which will be held on Monday, April 14, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.  Live coverage of the first round will begin on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET. Coverage of the second and third rounds will be televised on ESPNU from 9-10:30 p.m.
Center Stefanie Dolson and guard Bria Hartley will represent the 2014 NCAA Champion Connecticut Huskies, while center Natalie Achonwa and guard Kayla McBride will be on hand for the runner-up Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

 Rounding out the list players are guards Chelsea Gray (Duke), Shoni Schimmel (Louisville), and Meighan Simmons (Tennessee); forwards Natasha Howard (Florida State) and Alyssa Thomas (Maryland); and center Markeisha Gatling (North Carolina State).
The Connecticut Sun holds the top pick in the draft for the second time in franchise history after garnering the top selection in this year’s WNBA Draft Lottery presented by State Farm, which aired on ESPN’s SportsCenter in December.  Rounding out this year’s top five picks are the Tulsa Shock (second), San Antonio Stars (third), New York Liberty (fourth), and Indiana Fever (fifth).

The left-handed shooting Sims was a consensus All-American and finalist for all major National Player of the Year awards the last two seasons.  A four-time All-Big 12 First Team and three-time All-Defensive Team honoree, Sims’ 1,054 points as a senior were the second highest single-season total in Division I history (Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles,1,062), while her career total of 2,533 points surpassed former Baylor teammate Brittney Griner’s Big 12 record.
Ogwumike, whose resume also includes three Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, is the younger sister of Nneka Ogwumike, whom the Los Angeles Sparks made the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 Draft.  Chiney entered the recent Final Four as the only Division I player to rank among the top 10 in the nation in scoring (third), field goal percentage (fourth), double-doubles (fourth), and rebounding (ninth), and leaves Stanford as the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.

 Dolson and Hartley, a pair of AP All-American Second Team picks – as well as roommates for the past three years at Connecticut – helped the Huskies to four straight Final Four appearances and were key contributors during each of the past two seasons as UConn won consecutive national titles, raising the school’s total to a record nine championships.  In 2014, both were finalists for multiple National Player of the Year awards and members of the All-American Athletic Conference First Team.  Dolson also was named the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Achonwa and McBride helped the Irish to a berth in the NCAA Championship Game in each of the past three seasons.  As seniors, the duo led Notre Dame to the first undefeated regular season in program history and to a third straight regular-season conference title (BIG EAST crowns in 2012 and 2013, and an Atlantic Coast Conference title this season).  Achonwa, an AP All-America Second Team pick, ranked third in Division I in field goal percentage as a senior, while McBride earned a spot on the AP’s All-American First Team and was voted by ACC coaches as the league’s 2014 ACC Player of the Year.

Gatling led all Division I players in field goal percentage (.663) and was an All-America Honorable Mention pick (AP) and All-ACC First Team selection.  She leaves NC State as the school’s all-time career leader in field goal percentage (.628).  Gray, despite having the past two seasons cut short by knee injuries, earned Co-ACC Player of the Year honors as a junior and All-America Honorable Mention (AP) as a senior.  At the time of her injury in January, she was sixth in Division I in assists and was just 35 shy of Duke’s career record.  Howard ranks as the Seminoles’ all-time leader in rebounds (1,047), is No. 2 in both points (1,811) and double-doubles (41), and No. 3 in blocks.  She capped her senior season as a finalist for the Wade Trophy and was selected to both the All-ACC First Team and All-Defensive Team.

Schimmel finished her Louisville career with 387 made three-point shots, five shy of the Division I mark of 392 held by Kansas State’s Laurie Koehn.  The first player in Cardinals’ history with 2,000 points and 500 rebounds, Schimmel was an All-America Second Team pick and an All-American Athletic Conference First Team honoree as a senior.  Simmons was voted by AP as the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year as a senior (AP), one year after being named Co-Player of the Year by the conference’s coaches along with A’dia Mathies.  She finished her Tennessee career as the fifth Lady Vol in history with 2,000+ points, joining such luminaries as Chamique Holdsclaw, Candace Parker, and Tamika Catchings.  Thomas, a four-time All-American, three-time ACC Player of the Year, and a candidate for multiple national Player of the Year awards, joined former Duke star Alana Beard as the only players to follow up ACC Rookie of the Year accolades with three straight ACC Player of the Year honors (2012-14). As a senior, Thomas led Division I with four triple-doubles, bringing her career total to seven.

The players invited to attend WNBA Draft 2014 are:
Name                                College/University             Position                Height  
Natalie Achonwa               Notre Dame                         Forward                 6’3”
Stefanie Dolson                Connecticut                          Center                   6’5”
Markeisha Gatling             North Carolina State            Center                   6’5”
Chelsea Gray                    Duke                                    Guard                    5’11”
Bria Hartley                       Connecticut                          Guard                    5’8”
Natasha Howard               Florida State                         Forward                 6’3”
Kayla McBride                  Notre Dame                         Guard                    5’11”
Chiney Ogwumike            Stanford                               Forward                 6’4”
Shoni Schimmel               Louisville                              Guard                    5’9”
Meighan Simmons            Tennessee                           Guard                    5’9”
Odyssey Sims                  Baylor                                   Guard                    5’8”
Alyssa Thomas                 Maryland                              Forward                 6’2”

The Tonight Show featuring Stefanie Dolson?

Stefanie Dolson is no stranger to makes a splash with the media but when The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon mentioned her by name and said he would be up to a 1-on-1 showdown with the All-American center, Dolson was nearly speechless.

During a WNBA pre-draft conference call, she was asked about being featured in the monologue and she was still stunned by it all.

"It was definitely surprising especially since last year Ellen never contacted me so I was a little upset about that one," Dolson said with a laugh. "Jimmy Fallon, the fact that he said something about our team and kind of called me out personally, it was pretty cool. I was really excited last night and I am trying to see if I can get there. I am hoping to bring the whole team that way the whole team can  be there so it was pretty special."

There's been some rumblings that the showdown would not be on a basketball court but with an Xbox.

"Basketball, yeah but video games I am terrible at Xbox," Dolson said. "Terrible."

This all started after the national championship game when during a live TV interview when she said to President Obama "we're baaaack" and challenged him to a dance off and then she said "Jimmy Fallon, hit me up."

Fallon congratulated UConn on last night's show and then played video of the aforementioned interview. THen he said 'hit me up? I hear you Stefanie that is why I invite you here to play a 1 on 1 basketball game." Then Fallon covered his mouth and said "on the Xbox."

Geno: Pat Summitt still No. 1 in sport's Mount Rushmore

The questions were phrased in a variety of ways all with the hope that Geno Auriemma would throw some wood onto the fire that is the UConn/Tennessee women's basketball rivalry.

Auriemma's Huskies had the Hall of Fame coach on the verge of women's basketball history. If UConn could successfully defend its national title, that would be championship No. 9 for Auriemma breaking the mark of eight he shared for a year with legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Adding to the magnitude of it all, the milestone accomplishment would take place in the state of Tennessee. Yes, the irony of it all could make for a great story line.

Auriemma has been known to be flippant with his comments over the years but when it came to Summitt, he said all the right things. He spoke about how it doesn't mean the same because he was not competing with a Summitt-coached team. There is a reason for that as despite the well-documented issues between the two at the height of the UConn/Tennessee rivalry, he has tremendous respect for the foundation that Summitt created. Summitt's pursuit of greatness not only benefited her team but the sport of women's basketball.

With Auriemma back in the state of Connecticut, his stance on the subject of whether he is the greatest coach in women's college basketball history has not changed. It was the task of rising up to challenge the Lady Volunteers and try to match the standard of greatness that Summitt created that led him to build his program the way he did.

Following yesterday's championship celebration, Auriemma said that if they were to create a Mount Rushmore of women's basketball that it would start with Summitt being the first icon to have her likeness carved into the mountain.

At the Final Four, he spoke more about the process of winning titles rather than counting how many he may end up with by the end of his career.

"Anytime you win a national championship, it's pretty special," Auriemma said the day before the national title game. "When Pat won No. 8, there may have been a perception out there nobody's ever going to catch Pat.
So, if Connecticut or anybody else were to win eight or nine, somebody's going to come around someday and win 10. I'm really not a numbers guy. I don't really get caught up in that stuff. I've said this 100,000 times. Wednesday morning, when I wake up, win or lose, my life doesn't change one iota.

"Now, Stewie (national player of the year Breanna Stewart) said she came to Connecticut to win four national championships. So that's what I think is more significant for Bria and Stefanie
Dolson, to win a National Championship their senior year. That's pretty significant, because they only get 'x' amount of chances to do it. God willing, I'll get more chances down the road. So, that's kind of been my focus. Ever since maybe like the second or third one, you know, after a while it's just like, yeah, it's great, but it's not, not because it's going to change my life."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Appeal denied in case against UConn's Auriemma

On the same day that UConn coach Geno Auriemma was winning a record ninth national title, the appeal of the employee discrimination suit filed against him by security officer Kelley Hardiwck was dismissed.

The court ruled that "their motions were granted on the basis that the discriminatory acts alleged took place outside of New York by nonresidents and the conduct alleged had no impact in New York."

The case was originally dismissed in April of 2013 but attorneys representing Hardwick immediately filed an appeal.

Hardwick accused Auriemma of making unwanted advances to her in a hotel in Russia where Auriemma was coaching the U.S. Senior National team and Hardwick was part of the security detail. When Hardwick was not placed on security detail for the women's basketball competition at the 2012 Olympics, Hardwick accused Auriemma, USA Basketball and the NBA for not assigning her to that detail as retribution for refusing Auriemma's advances.

Auriemma has denied the accusations and now he can put this behind him with the dismissal of the case.

UConn seniors get emotional at championship celebration

Considering Stefanie Dolson's well-earned reputation for being a ham, my first reaction was she was just putting on another show as her voice cracked when she addressed the crowd at the championship celebration outside the Student Union earlier today.

However, the longer Dolson's speech went, the more clear it became that the emotions were getting the best of her. She was followed by fellow senior Bria Hartley, who was a blubbering mess as she turned to thank UConn coach Geno Auriemma for all he did for her over the last four years.

I've been to so many events when UConn stars address the crowd after winning a national title but for pure emotion, nothing topped what I saw from Dolson and Hartley today.

"When you come back here and you have all these people here supporting you, the football team, the men's team," Hartley said. "It is pretty awesome going out this way ans finished out the season the way we did all year but at the same time, I can't believe it is over."

Dolson knew that she was going to have a hard time holding it together when she grabbed the microphone after UConn coach Geno Auriemma spoke to the gathered crowd.

"These whole last few days have been really emotional and even Coach got emotional so it is a feeling I will never forget," Dolson said. "I knew going up there when I was going to talk to the fans and all the students, it was just something special. Winning yesterday was amazing and then coming back and seeing everyone knowing that this can't happen again, knowing that this is the last one... I'll be back but I won't be playing anymore."

So did Dolson think that her emotional speech would result in Hartley also shedding tears during her speech?

"I wasn't sure," Dolson said. "I think she would have been fine if she wasn't addressing Coach. I think she is not as emotional person as I am or she doesn't show it as much but I think her crying was a shock to me and everyone but I know how she feels at this moment as well."

The tears actually started flowing when Dolson and Hartley were subbed out late in the national championship game. Dolson and then Hartley had emotion-filled embraces with Auriemma when they come off the court for the final time as Huskies.

"I have no idea other than I am getting old," Auriemma said.." I don't get mad and crazy on the sidelines anymore. People will say what is the difference between an undefeated season and a perfect season? Well, '94-95 was a perfect season, 2002 was a perfect season and I think 2014 was a perfect season because  99.9 percent of the time, every day that I went to work with these kids it was perfect. There were bumps in the road like any other time but maybe it couldn't have been orchestrated any better than it was. It is like going back to Pam Webber and Rebecca Lobo (during the 1994-95 season). Do you want to make a comparison? Pam Webber and Rebecca Lobo; Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley that to me, the same emotion that I felt that night with those guys that you don't see because TV wasn't as big of a factor back then. Remember Rebecca Lobo kind of breaking down a little bit on the podium and saying I did exactly what I wanted to do and I did it with people I love. These two are in the same category. I don;t know where it came from, it certainly wasn't planned that is for sure.

"I didn't want it to be like that. Let me say this, if those two kids hadn't come off the court the way they did, it might not have affected me. Bria Hartley is dribbling the ball out there, she knows I am going to sub her out and she already can't see straight. She is already blabbering so that kind of makes you (realize) 'wow, this is big.' In the end, the fact that this is the end of something really special. Right now if you told me you were going to get three Bria Hartleys and two Stefanie Dolsons next year, the following year you are going to get two Stefanies and three Brias, I will tell you that I will coach until I am 90. The problem is those kids come along few and far between where you know it is going to be emotional. With whole group with Asjha (Jones), Swin (Cash) and those guys, you know that it is going to be hard to relive that. Renee (Montgomery) and Tina (Charles) ... Sue (Bird) did when she came off the court and Diana (Taurasi)  did, it was different back then, it was a different era."

As for the speeches to the crowd, here are the highlights starting with Auriemma..

"When you come to school here, you are a champion and live with champions anytime you walk down the street.

"When you guys won Monday night, it almost made it feel like it was destiny, we were supposed to do this."

Then it was Dolson's turn.

"Being able to play in front of you guys for four years has been an honor. I am going to miss this a lot. You guys have been the best fans and I couldn't have asked for anything more." 

Then came the most emotional part of the festivities courtesy of Hartley.

"Coach, you mean so much to me and I love you so much. I wouldn't be the person I am today without you and you fans are amazing." 

UConn/Notre Dame game a ratings hit

According to ESPN, last night's national championship game drew a 3.1 rating which is the highest for a women's basketball game since the 2004 national title game (also won by UConn).

The Hartford/New Haven market led the way with a 23.9 rating making it the highest overnight rsating in that market on cabe in 2014.

Predictably, UConn received all 32 first-place votes in the USA Today Sports coaches poll to finish as the wire to wire No. 1 team. UConn already earned all the No. 1 votes in the Associated Press poll which is conducted before the start of the NCAA tournament.

UConn greats turn out to celebrate national title

If ever somebody on the outside needed a glimpse of what makes the UConn program so special, all they needed to do was look at the exuberance that the former Husky stars were exhibiting in the post-game celebration.

Olympic gold medalists, professional stars and standouts on multiple national championship teams Tina Charles and Asjha Jones were bouncing up and down like school girls as the current UConn team was in the midst of celebrating the program’s record ninth national title and second in a row.

“I think it is awesome for them to come back and really support us,” UConn senior guard Bria Hartley said. “I am sure their experience here was just as good as mine was. I knew I am going to want to come back and watch all of these kids and how they develop so you just support your alma mater and enjoy the moment that they have.”

Jones, a member of the 2000 and 2002 national title winning teams, took a few moments to discuss what was so special about this year’s squad.

“They come out and play hard every night and tonight was no exception, going in they knew it was going to be a big game,” Jones said.

The 2001-02 team Jones was a part of is considered by many as the greatest in the history of the women’s college game. Jones sees similarities in both teams and especially with the on court camaraderie.

“That is what we do at UConn, top to bottom everybody knows their role,” Jones said. “They don't do anything extra and just play to win.”

Hartley still recalls the feeling of emptiness she and her teammates felt back in 2011.

Guard Ryan Boatright watches the women's national championship game
A day before the Huskies’ men’s basketball team, UConn lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals depriving UConn of matching the feat of sweeping the men’s and women’s national titles which the Huskies accomplished in 2004.

“We always wanted to be a part of something like that, especially when the men won in 2011,” Hartley said. “We really felt like we were going to win that year but it is all right, just a couple years later we were able to do it. It just says how dominant our program is for men's and women's basketball. It is amazing what Coach Kevin Ollie has been able to do with those guys in one year, it is awesome. I admire the way he coaches and the guys with how hard they work. Coach Auriemma is the same way, he instills a lot of confidence in us and make sure we work hard the entire game.”

Nobody had a better vantage point for the double national championships than UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel, who flew back and forth so he could be there during the glorious runs of both teams.

“Just seeing the level of performance that we have on our men's and women's teams, I couldn't be prouder of what they achieved,” Manuel said. “We are the college basketball center of the world. It's been that way for a while. We are so proud of the team. We have two coaches, one is a Hall of Fame and Kevin if he keeps at this pace, he will soon be a Hall of Famer. I am proud to work with those gentlemen.”

There will be a parade on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. in Hartford where both championship teams will be honored.

The frosty relationship between Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw certainly got a lot of play in the days leading up to the national championship game.

However, both in the pre-game handshake and in the meeting after the game, the body language between the two was reminiscent of the days when they two were considered to be close friends even as they were vying for Big East and national supremacy.

“It is never like it appears to be,” Auriemma said after the game. “She understands how hard it is to win at this level. She understands how hard it is to win a national championship. I have an awful lot of respect for the job that they did. They lost their starting center (Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final win over Baylor) and they don't miss a beat. They come down here and they were just unbelievable and I told her 'I know you won Coach of the Year but you probably didn't get all the success you deserve for the job that you did.' I think when you strip away all the nonsense that it out there, it is not like that. When you compete, things happen and it gets emotional.”

McGraw had some classy things to say about the UConn team following the game including the exchange with Auriemma as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I said something like I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while; you guys are just that good,” McGraw said.  “What a great season; things like that. I thought they were just missing LeBron (James).

Video look at UConn winning its ninth national title

Here's a look back at the videos I posted with interviews and celebration from UConn's win ove Notre Dame in the national championship game.

UConn wins title No. 9

Breanna Stewart shrugged off the question with the same ease that she brushed off opposing defenders during one of the most dominant individual season in UConn history.

Stewart said winning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors for the second year in a row meant very little to her. Her No. 1 objective  was allowing seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley to leave with back to back national titles.

Mission accomplished as UConn took advantage of a Notre Dame playing without the injured Natalie Achonwa to win a record ninth national title with a relentless attack on the basket.

If Stewart (21 points, nine rebounds) was the No. 1 star, Stefanie Dolson (17 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists) was 1A as the Huskies gave Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma a record ninth national title.

“I think one is really special for him (Auriemma),” Dolson said. “We knew it was going to happen, we had confidence in each other and confidence in our team and to be honest, we all knew we were going to win. 
“That is something that is incredible, nobody can say that they have (the record) and for him to have it is pretty special and to get it with this team is even more special.

"It felt great. I wanted to be pretty loose and not thinking about this is my last game and that is exactly how the team felt, we knocked down our shots with confidence."

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points and seven rebounds as UConn became the second team to go 40-0 and now stands alone with nine national titles.

“I thought either they (Notre Dame) were going to win because we couldn’t stop them or we were going to score a lot because when we get it going it is hard to stop us,” Auriemma said.

UConn is expected to lane at Bradley Airport at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday and when they arrive at campus, around 4 p.m. there will be a Victory Lap through campus at around 4 p.m. followed by a ceremony outside the Student Union.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Keys to UConn/Notre Dame national title game

Time is ticking away as the much-anticipated game between UConn and Notre Dame is nearly upon us.

Here are some keys to the game

Crying foul? UConn has the best starting lineup in the country and one of the best in the history of the women's game. However, the Hiuskies have gotten by with only using Kiah Stokes off the bench. There's no team in the country who does a better job of selling calls than Notre Dame. Four Maryland starters had two fouls before halftime in Sunday's national semifinal. If that happens tonight, it could spell trouble for the Huskies.

Containing the phenom: The last time these teams met Notre Dame had no answer for Breanna Stewart as she lit up the Fighting Irish for 29 points in the 2013 national semifnals. Coaches and players from Notre Dame know they won't be shutting down Stewart but they can't let her erupt like she did a year ago.

Two is not enough: Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd are as good a 1-2 scoring punch as there is in the women's game but Notre Dame is going to need other players to be scoring threats since no two players are going to take down the Huskies.

Cleaning the glass: The most stunning aspect of Sunday's national semifinals was the absolute dominance Notre Dame displayed in the rebounding department. The Fighting Irish had four offensive rebounds on the first two possessions and held a 19-4 advantage in offensive rebounding over a bigger Maryland team as the Terrapins were unable to take advantage of the absence of All-American forward/center Natalie Achonwa.

Get off and running: UConn's last three opponents weren't good enough to make the Huskies pay for their slow starts. However, Notre Dame has the capabilities of making UConn pay if the Huskies don't get going on offense in the early stages.

UConn/Notre Dame rivalry has become can't miss TV

It is somewhat ironic that right in the Volunteer State comes the latest showdown in the rivalry which has filled the void since the abrupt end to the always entertaining UConn/Tennessee series.

Although this is the first meeting between UConn and Notre Dame this season, for the seniors it will be the 13th time that the teams have met since they arrived on the scene.

"That is great for our fans, great for our program, great for our kids that we are up there and people want to see us," said Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, who was a star guard on the 2001 Notre Dame national championship team which beat UConn in the national semifinals. "Regardless of who it is, it is great to have that support and for that game to be THE game for women's basketball."

Notre Dame has had the edge in these last four seasons, winning seven of the last nine meetings and going 8-4 against the Huskies since the start of the 2010-11 season.

"I wanted it to be this game," Notre Dame's Michaela Mabrey said. "I think it is two teams who have had this (rivalry) for so long."

A year ago Notre Dame beat UConn twice during the regular season and again in the Big East title game but UConn got the last laugh with an 83-65 win over Notre Dame in the Final Four en route to winning the program's eighth national title.

Now they square off again, not in the semifinals as they have done four times but in the title game. Adding to the magnitude of the game is the fact that it is the undefeated Huskies meeting the undefeated Fighting Irish.

"It's always been a great rivalry, great thing for women's basketball," UConn senior guard Bria Hartley said. "I think the fans enjoy  watching games like that. I  think it's just great that we're able to play them in a national championship in my senior year, because it's been such a competitive game throughout all the years, and I know we've all enjoyed it."

There has been a different vibe to things this year. The teams played each other four times during the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons but with Notre Dame joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, there were no regular-season meetings this season.

"In the national championship game you wouldn't want to play anybody else but another undefeated team," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. "It is going to test us, see how good we are this season and how much better we have gotten this season. We have worked really hard to get to where we are right now and we want to go out and play really well."

"I think just because you have played them so many times and like Bria said she has played them 12 times in the last three years and it is going to come with that, each game UConn has won,Notre Dame has won and when we play each other we know that we've lost to Notre Dame some times and Notre Dame has lost to us sometimes. When a team has been able to have as much success over the other one, it is frustrating and that is such a huge rivalry."

Video look back at Final Four Monday

Here's a look at videos from the press conferences yesterday since practices were closed to the media.

Senior guards going after same prize

As last night's men's championship game proved, there's no substitute for having a veteran guard who wants the ball in crunch time.

Well, both UConn and Notre Dame have one of those.

Over the last three years both UConn's Bria Hartley and Kayla McBride of Notre Dame have delivered time after time. Tonight they will both play their final college game and one to them will leave the court as a leader for an undefeated national championship team.

“I have always been a fan of her game,” McBride said. “She plays with the same East Coast swag so I appreciate that. She is a competitor, she wants to win and I want to win so it will be a good matchup.”

There’s a high probability that the two players, who first met playing in a high school all-star game after their senior year of high school will both be taken in the first round of the upcoming WNBA draft but that is pretty far down on the list for of the two of them right now.

“I first met Kayla at the McDonald’s All-American game,” Hartley said. “We rode over on the shuttle together. She is probably one of the first people that I’ve met and talked to. I remember that first year of playing USA Basketball with her, I loved playing with her. I am fan of her game as well. I watched her games. She’s a really good player. She can affect the game in so many ways.

“She has really become a great player. She’s developed a lot of different things in her game. There’s time where is out there on the court I watch her, this girl makes every shot. I think just kind of admire really good players that work really hard.”

Both Hartley and McBride thrive on being willing to take and make shots when the game is on the line.

“You want to make plays for your team and you want to step up,” Hartley said. “We’ve been able to do that for our team. I know we both kind of enjoy playing. We played each other through the years. I talk to her every one and a while. I know she’s enjoying her time there and I’m enjoying my time at UConn.”

Notre Dame is no stranger to play games in the state of Connecticut, facing UConn 22 times either in Storrs or Hartford from 1996-2013 and also being regular visitors to the XL Center for the Big East tournament.
However, Notre Dame’s next trip to Connecticut will not be against UConn or any conference rivals.

The Fighting Irish will be headling the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge in November.

Notre Dame will host Holy Cross on Nov. 23, Harvard on Nov. 24 and Quinnipiac on Nov. 25 before playing Kansas at Mohegan Sun Arena on Nov. 30.

It will give Notre Dame a chance to play at Mohegan for the first time.

“I've played there in the WNBA but it is going to be good for them to travel and go to different places as a team,” Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey said.

Under different circumstances Notre Dame junior Whitney Holloway would be getting ready to square off with her former high school teammate Michala Johnson.

However, after seeing limited time in her first two seasons at UConn, Johnson opted to transfer to Wisconsin. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Johnson wasted little time in making an impact as she earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Badgers in scoring, averaging 16.6 points per game while adding 7.3 rebounds per game.

“It is great, she is a great player and I am not surprised with what she is going now because she is doing that in high school so I was really happy for her,” said Holloway, who played with Johnson at Montini High School in Lombard, Ill. “She likes Wisconsin so I am really happy for her. It is never easy to transfer but she is having a great time and she loves Wisconsin.”

The final live blog of the season is set for tonight when UConn and Notre Dame square off for the national title.