Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Former UConn star Maya Moore leads U.S. past Angola

Former UConn star Maya Moore is second leading scorer in FIBA
World Championships through pool play averaging 16 per game
Former UConn star Maya Moore had 16 points and three rebounds as the United States wrapped up a perfect run through pool play at the FIBA World Championship for Women with a 119-44 win over Angola as the U.S. posted its largest margin of victory in the world championships and the 119 points matched the highest total for the U.S. in the event's history.

Nneka Ogwumike led the U.S. with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Seimone Augustus and Brittney Griner had 15 points each for the U.S., which is off until Friday's quarterfinals.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart finished with 9 points (going 7 of 7 from free-throw line) and six rebounds, Tina Charles had seven points and four rebounds, Diana Taurasi had five points and five assists and Sue Bird added two points and three assists.

The U.S. had already secured a spot in Friday's quarterfinals before playing Angola and will play either France or Brazil with a potential semifinal date with rival Australia looming.

Geno Auriemma
What does it mean to have won by 75 points?
I don’t think it means anything. We have a lot more talent than Angola. We have more experienced players. I don’t think there’s anything they could have done to prevent what happened. When we take our starting five out and we put another five in that’s just as experienced, even though some of them are young. So, I think the score is not a reflection that Angola doesn’t play hard or they didn’t play well. We just have that many good players, that’s all that is. It doesn’t mean anything.

If we had won by this much and we had played really poorly, and we had won by this much, it’s because we have more talent than Angola, I’d be a little disappointed. But, I thought we played really, really well. I thought our offensive chemistry was really good. The ball moved really well. We got the ball in the lane a lot. I like the old format where we had six games before the medal round. It gave us more of an opportunity to be together and play games. This new format I don’t think helps us as much as the other format, but it is what it is. We have to get good real quick, and I think we’re going to be OK.

What were you focusing on tonight?
We want to concentrate on a few things that we think we’ve got to get better at, and we did. We were a little worried that we weren’t getting the ball in the lane enough, and tonight in that first quarter, that ball got into the lane a lot and often, and early in the possession. And the other thing was that we wanted to defensively stay out of the bonus, because that’s been hurting us a little bit, keep the ball out of the lane, because that was hurting us a little bit. And I thought we did a great job on both counts.

Thoughts on the quarterfinals, where the USA will play the winner of tomorrow’s France-Brazil game:

We know France; we just played them recently. I really haven’t seen Brazil much. Our coaches have gone out

to see them. Either way, when you get to this point, into the quarterfinals, you get to the medal rounds, it’s not

like you can afford to lose a game, you can’t afford to play poorly. You’re looking at one bad night and you go

home. So, our players understand that and whoever we play, whether it’s France or Brazil, we’ll be ready.

On everyone contributing:

We have a really good team. We have a really good group of kids. They communicate well with each other,

they play hard, they’re very respectful of each other’s abilities. We don’t have anybody out there trying to prove

that they’re better than anybody else. It’s been a great group to coach so far, and I’m looking forward to a great

weekend.

Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx)

What were you working on tonight?

Just being efficient and consistent and being the aggressor. Coach talked about coming out, being the one who

punched first. It started with the starting five. They brought great energy, and it trickled down to the second

five. We just wanted to come out and maintain what the starting five established on the floor.

Is it hard to stay focused in a game like this?

It’s not hard at all because you’re focusing on yourself. We know we have big games coming up that really

count, so you can’t lose focus on what the bigger picture is, which is trying to get the gold medal here at the

World Championship.

Do you feel the team has improved over these three games?

Yes. Now that everybody’s here, we have our 12 women, it’s kind of coming together. You can see the

cohesion of the starting five. And then the second five that comes in, the things that we do are starting to show

out on the court now.

Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

What do you work on as a team in a game like this?

Obviously we knew there was a chance the game would be a little lopsided, but we weren’t really focused on

that. We were focused on ourselves and trying to get better. That’s always how it is with the national team,

really. We never have a lot of time to practice. We never have a chance to really develop a chemistry, so we

can’t take any night off, and that includes a game like this with a score as lopsided as it was.

What kind of things were you working on?

There actually were some things we were specifically working on: getting off to better starts and then

basketball-wise, working on a zone, working on certain plays and things like that. But, really it was all about us.

Coach talked about respecting your opponent and going out there playing well, but also playing up to our ability

as opposed to playing to another team’s level.

Have you seen the chemistry start to grow over these past three games?

Definitely. When I think back to some of the scrimmages and practices in Annapolis, the Red-White game, the

games against Canada, since then we’ve added people, but it’s just gotten better and better. I think everyone is

starting to get comfortable. And that’s huge. Comfort is a big part of basketball when you’re playing with new

teammates. So, the more steps you’re taking in that direction, the better.

Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury)

How difficult is it to play a game like this?

You have to stay as focused as possible. You have to prepare for the next three games. So, we tried to use it to

do some different stuff. Coach was trying to get us into some zone a little bit, pressuring the ball, one-on-one,

man-to-man defense. It’s not always easy, but we were able to get it done.

What did you think about Angola’s team?

They played extremely hard for 40 minutes. When you see that you have the United States in your group, it’s

not always easy because we have so much depth. But, they kept fighting for 40 minutes, and they never let

down.

How do you stay focused during a game like that?

What I’m focused on personally is working hard to make that team two years from now. So, I can’t go out there

and slack off. But, as a team, as a unit, the biggest thing is preparing defensively for what we have ahead, and

that was the big thing that coach told us before the game in order to earn our off day.

Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)

Is it tough to stay focused with a big lead like against Angola?

No. You always want to work forward, towards teams that we might meet. You don’t want to play down.

You don’t want to play to the score. You don’t want to go on cruise control. When you have a game like

this, you start working on other things to get you ready for your next opponent, and I think we did that

today. I think we came out, we played and we never let off. No matter what the score was, we wanted to

play hard and play to the best of our ability.

We saw how excited Angola was after the game to take pictures with you guys. That’s kind of rare, isn’t it?

It was a little strange, but they were real cool, and on the court they were cool, too. Blocking shots, one

of them with the pink hair came up to me and (wags finger) and was like, ‘No more, no more.’ I was

like, ‘Sorry, I have to,’ But they were cool. We’ve taken some more photos actually.

She gave you the finger wag?

She did the finger wag. She was like, ‘No more, no more, no more.’ I was like, ‘I think I’m supposed to do

the finger wag.’

On all 12 players getting a lot of playing time:

It was really good to get O (Odyssey Sims) out there, get Stew (Breanna Stewart) out there as well. You

know, it’s just going to help with their careers, and you never know when somebody is going to have to

step up, so to get them out there, get them some minutes, more experience, it was good.

This is your first FIBA World Championship, too:

First Worlds ... First Worlds, but not my first time with Geno, you know, with Coach Auriemma, but first

Worlds. It’s been good. I’m kind of happy that we opened up with China, some familiar faces, and then

yesterday we played Serbia and then Angola today. So, I’m feeling good, feeling really good with my

performance.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)

On the game:

I thought it was good. We came in focusing on ourselves. Coach has been saying, no matter who we are

playing, we have to focus on ourselves the whole time to get better, and I thought we did a good job of

maintaining that all four quarters.

We saw how excited Angola was after the game to take pictures with you guys. Can you talk about that?

Everyone here has been really friendly. We’ve had teams wish us luck, and we’ve had teams like that,

who were friendly with us before and after the game. It’s a great atmosphere, and I think we support each

other, just being basketball players. It’s a global culture, so for us to be able to experience that with them

and them experience that with us is special.

How much as playing in FIBA competitions helped you?

Drastically. Playing USA ball is a lot different than playing in college in the WNBA, and it’s a lot like

playing overseas, obviously, because we have international play. But, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been

able to play with a lot of great players, and against the world’s best players, so to get that experience is

something that you really can’t get anywhere else, obviously, unless you play overseas.

Odyssey Sims

On the game:

We did play well, but we can always get better, every practice, every shoot around, even during the game.

Everybody is still learning, so there is a teaching point always, and we learn from our mistakes and try to

build on them.

On her playing time:

It was fun. We were winning by a lot, so I had a great experience, and I’m still learning.

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UConn's Nurse, Canada fall to France

UConn incoming freshman Kia Nurse had four points and three steals in Canada's 63-59 loss to France on the final day of pool play in the FIBA World Championship for Women.

The defeat resulted in Canada finishing third in Group B and will play the Czech Republic in a game Canada needs to win to advance to Friday's quarterfinals.

Tamara Tatham had 11 points and Michelle Plouffe added 10 to lead Canada while former Connecticut Sun forward Sandrine Gruda had 13 points to lead three France players scoring in double figures.

Monday, September 29, 2014

ESPN to televise UConn's First Night festivities

ESPN announced that UConn will be one of the six sites it will be sending crews to as part of its Midnight Madness coverage on Oct. 17.

Part of the event will air on ESPNU with the festivities being shown on ESPN3 as former UConn star Rebecca Lobo will be among the announcing team.

Speaking of Lobo, she has the call alongside Pam Warde as ESPN2 will televise the championship game of the FIBA World Championship for Women on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The rest of the games for the U.S. will be shown on ESPN3 and NBA TV. The good news is if the U.S. is in the title game, at least Ward and Lobo know how to pronounce Nneka Ogwumike's last name because whoever did the game against Serbia was struggling mightily with her name.

Also, to the surprise of nobody, UConn is picked first in Lindy's preseason poll while UConn opponents South Carolina, Notre Dame and Stanford are ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th while Duke and DePaul come in at No. 11 and 17 respectively.

Breanna Stewart headlines Lindy's preseason All-American team as she is joined on the first team by West Virginia guard and former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes, Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell and Tennessee's Isabelle Harrison. UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is a second-team selection.


UConn's Auriemma to appear at "Evening of Champions" in Wallingford


UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie will appear at the UConn Alumni Association's “An Evening With Champions” on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford.

The event will be hosted by former women’s basketball All-American and National Player of the Year Rebecca Lobo, who is now a broadcaster for ESPN and a member of the UConn Board of Trustees.

Tickets are $85 per person and table sponsorships are available.

For more information, call the Alumni Association at 860.486.2240, or email Debra Crary at debra.crary@uconn.edu. You can also RSVP at UConnAlumni.com/EveningWithChampions.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Former UConn stars help U.S. outlast Serbia

The final score won't paint an accurate portrayal of how hard the United States team had to work to beat Serbia in the FIBA World Championship for Women on Sunday.

The U.S. used its superior depth to pull away late and post an 94-74 victory to improve to 2-0 in  Group D play.

Former UConn stars Diana Taurasi (20 points, 5 3-pointers), Maya Moore (17 points, 12 rebounds, six assists) and Tina Charles (10 points, 7 rebounds) played starring roles in the U,S. win. Brittney Griner was the other double-digit scorer for the U.S. finishing with 10 points and 7 rebounds. Former Husky Sue Bird finished with seven points and two assists.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart played the final 40.7 seconds but did not score for the U.S. which wraps up pool play against Angola on Tuesday.

Geno Auriemma

On tonight’s game being so close through three quarters:
I think sometimes on the outside, people think you just show up, roll the ball out and we have 25 points right away. It doesn’t work that way. These are national teams. They have players that are good. They know how to make shots, they know how to play. They’re experienced. They play well together. So, it takes us time because this is our training camp. These games are kind of like our training camp. These last five or six games we played in Paris and here.

That’s a really, really good team that plays with a lot of heart, that plays with a lot of passion. I’m not surprised that the game was difficult. But, we have some amazing players on our team that when the game is to be won, they make winning plays.

What were some of the things that you might change up for future games?

I don’t know that there’s anything that we would change. I think every game we’re trying to figure out defensively what works and what doesn’t. That’s the hardest part to teach when you’re not together for a long time, because defense takes five players playing as one, talking and communicating. So, we have to keep getting better defensively. Our offense is going to be there. We’re going to score points every night, we have too many good players. So, every day it’s about how we can get better on defense.

What was the difference in the fourth quarter?
We didn’t foul them, so we didn’t put them on the free throw line. It seemed like every quarter they were in the bonus right away. Then in the fourth quarter we didn’t put them on the free throw line and they had to earn shots. The effect of having to play that fast and that hard for 30 minutes, 35 minutes, I think that fourth quarter caught up with them. They didn’t have the same legs to make the plays to get to the basket. So, I just think that our depth, we have 10 players out there and that had a lot to do with it.

Are these two games enough to judge how well the team play is right now?
A little bit. I think it’s been pretty indicative of what we expect. The old format of the World Championship where you had to play nine games, that was good for us, because you had six games to get ready for the medal round. So, we were able to, little by little by little (get better). We just got Brittney Griner two days ago. We just got Candice (Dupree) and Dee (Taurasi) a week ago. We used to use those six games to (get better). So, right now we’re just trying to get ready for the weekend, for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, I’m not surprised by the games that they’re close, close, close and then we take off. I don’t expect us to be up 25 points at halftime. It’s just not normal. Not for us, not right now. If maybe we practice for two months, every one of us, maybe, but we have so much respect for all the other teams in the tournament. I think we play that way. We have a lot of respect for all the teams we play. We don’t expect to come out here and just win because we’re the United States. We know we have to play. I think that’s good for us. The first two games, we had to play. And that’s good, because were we able to come in and win 90-50, I don’t know that that would help us next weekend. So, I think that these two games are going to help us moving forward.

On Serbia’s fast pace:
They want to play fast. They want to push the tempo, and that’s how we want to play. What we were trying to do is make sure that if they wanted to play fast, then we would play fast and we would just keep bringing in new players and just keep pushing the tempo, and pushing the tempo. We got 58 rebounds tonight. That’s a lot of rebounds. And we made more 3s than them, which didn’t look like it, because it looked like they made a bunch. But, it’s good for us to face some adversity. I thought the officiating was very interesting there for a while. So, these are the kinds of things that you have to overcome, especially when you’re the United States.

We know there are a lot of obstacles, and this team was one of them. This team is going to win a lot of games. They’re well coached, and they’re a very good team.

Tina Charles 

On tonight’s game:
It was extremely tough. They’re a great team, spreading the court, going one-on-one. Ana Dobovic played great. I played with her in Moscow this past season. She was just making shots and being an offensive threat for her team.

How were you able to slow her down in the second half?
Just playing tough defense. Just following the defensive scheme on what we were doing out there on the defensive screens for Ana. I think Maya (Moore) did a great job, and our post players were trying to get in the lane and corralled her.

How frustrating is it to have so many quick fouls?
It’s extremely frustrating. We play in the WNBA, and it’s the same thing - five fouls and you’re in the bonus. The other team’s shooting. It gives them a great advantage. It puts us into the position where we only get five fouls here, so we have great players on the bench (in foul trouble). It also gives the other team confidence. So, it’s extremely hard.

How were you able to pull away in the fourth quarter?
Just playing with poise. We have some great players who make big time plays -- Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi -- they did great. They’re our leaders offensively right now. Seimone Augustus did a great job coming off the bench and so did Nneka (Ogwumike), just getting rebounds.

Maya Moore
On the game:

The game was very fast. Serbia did a great job of trying to speed the game up and make it a little chaotic with their defensive aggression. But, I thought after we continued to be aggressive, just as aggressive, and being smarter and aggressive, it really paid off for us, and we were really able to push the lead out. And just coming up and hitting big shots we needed to, and our defense was excellent in the second half.

On the fourth quarter defense:
We just had to keep doing what we were doing. Our leaders stepped up, and whether it was getting a key bucket, getting a defensive stop that we needed to and everybody continuing to get on the same page.

We haven’t been together as long as some of these other teams, so we are just continuing to work out the kinks, believing in each other, staying positive and bringing a lot of energy if it was your turn to come in.

How important is the USA depth?
It’s very important. That’s what is going to eventually give us the edge is our depth and being able to know at any point, if that is what you are here to do, you do it. For a couple of us scoring is definitely at the top of the list, and I know whenever I have the chance to score, I’m going to take it, and try to vary it up, whether it’s getting a offensive rebound, hitting a three, out in transition and then trying to find my teammates when I’m starting to get hot. So, we had a nice balance that way, and I was really pleased with people, in the second half especially, stepping up and doing what they do.

On facing adversity:
The adversity is good for us at this point, just because we need to be able to have these tests. Because of our lack of time together, having these tests is really crucial in building our identity and having an opportunity to work out what we say we want to be. So, it’s just really good to see the way we responded, and stayed with it and stayed together.

Diana Taurasi
You hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, were you rolling or was that focus? What would you say?

I don’t think any of us were rolling. Maya kept us in it in the first half with a couple of big plays. We got a little lead going into the second half, but we really couldn’t pull away in that third. Every time we would make a mini-run, they would come back (and) score. Serbia’s a good team. In the fourth we got some more stops, and luckily we pulled away at the end.

It was a 20-point win, but do you think the game was harder than the score indicated?
It was a tough game. Every possession was a battle. They made us work on defense. There are some things we probably got to clean up. These games are good for us. This team hasn’t been together very long. In the two weeks that we’ve been together, we’ve been battle-tested a couple of times, which in the long run will only help us.

UConn's Nurse, Canada fall to Turkey at FIBA Worlds

UConn incoming freshman Kia Nurse picked up two early fouls and never made an impact as Canada lost to host Turkey to fall to 1-1 in the pool plat portion of the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Nurse missed both of her field-goal attempts, did not score and had one rebound in 20 minutes as Canada lost 55-44.

Canadian national team coach Lisa Thomaidis said that while her team is obviously disappointed with the result, getting to play the host team in what proved to be an electric atmosphere was invaluable.

"What a tremendous night for women's basketball," Thomaidis said. "The place was packed and crowd was into it. They are educated and know the rules. It was really loud in there. As much as it hurts right now it is a really solid performance and one we can build on

"You might get one chance in your lifetime, for our young players to be able to play in that so early in their careers is going to pay off down the road.

"There's not too much we wanted to change/ Nirra (Fields) was a great spark for us and did some good things. There was a stretch when we couldn't get a stop."

With Mozambique losing to France earlier today, Canada is guaranteed to finish in the top three in Pool B and will advance to the next stage. After a day off Canada will play France on Tuesday which is likely a showdown for second or third place in the pool.

"We have a full day to get ready to play France," Thomaidis said. "We are a 100 times better (than after the first game). We will need that same focus and intensity

"We are playing to win but knowing that we are through to next round is tremendous for this team to know."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

U.S. wins opener in FIBA World Championships

Former UConn star Maya Moore had 15 points and eight rebounds and Tina Charles added 15 rebounds as the United States defeated China 87-56 in the opening game in the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Diana Taurasi had eight points, three rebounds and three assists, Sue Bird had four points, three rebounds and three assists while UConn junior Breanna Stewart had two points and three rebounds.

Here are quotes from Geno Auriemma, Moore, Stewart and Brittney Griner courtesy of USA Basketball.


USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut)

On tonight’s game:
It’s the kind of game that you would hope to have as the first game of the tournament, where you have to play really well against China defensively because they do a lot of good stuff on the offensive end. And we didn’t make any shots in the first half at all. I think in one possession we had six shots at the basket and five of them were inside a foot-and-a-half, two feet. So, when we went in at halftime we talked about it, and then stuff started going in. So, it was good that we started the game in the first half under a little bit of duress and we finished the game on a high, so that’s great going into tomorrow against another really good team in Serbia.

What was it like coaching Brittney Griner for the first time on the world stage?
I agree with Brittney. It’s difficult joining the team with only two practices and then we’re playing after we’ve been together, not a long time, but we’ve been together since Sept. 8 here and there. So, it’s not easy. Then, coming off the injury that she had with her eye. But, she picks things up very quickly. She’s very alert, very aware. She’s really a smart basketball player. She really knows what’s going on, and she asked me today, ‘Coach, if I make a mistake on offense, what do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘Well, what do you normally do back home?’ She said, ‘screen for Dee and then go post up.’ I said, ‘That sounds like a winner to me. How about we stay with that?’

What do you know about Serbia, your next opponent?
We haven’t seen much of them. We didn’t see them in the Czech Republic or London. But, I had seen them when we were scouting the European Championship. They’re really tough. They’re really aggressive. They put a lot of pressure on you with their defense. They play an aggressive kind of offense, where they’re attacking you all the time. It’s a country that has a tremendous culture of basketball. Since I’ve been a part of the national team program, I’ve never played them. So, I’m really anxious for the game tomorrow. At this point, you just have to make sure that you’re ready for anything and that you just play as well as you’re capable of playing.

Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
On tonight’s game:
I was happy that we got the win. I was happy that I remembered the plays, just getting with the team. I think we did well. There’s always room to grow, to get better. I think we can rebound a little bit better, myself going to get some more boards.

How did it feel to get into your first FIBA World Championship game?
It felt good. It was an easy transition. Coach made it easy for me, worked with me in practice. It’s like having four other coaches out there on the court. Everyone is out there helping me out and making sure that it’s a smooth first game and experience for me. So, it’s been really easy for me, honestly, for this first game on the world stage.

Was it tough out there at all getting into a rhythm?
I was a little winded the first quarter. But, other than that, as far as the plays, picking up the plays, it was like having four other coaches out there. They were talking me through it, jump-starting my memory. I just needed to know where I needed to go. I remembered, but I just needed a jump-start here and there. They do a great job with helping me. But, when we get a rebound and get out there and run, honestly we don’t need too many plays. In transition it’s pretty easy, just run with it. Run with the numbers.

You played five games for coach Auriemma on the USA National Team’s 2011 European Tour. Did that help you get acclimated a little easier?
Yeah, definitely. Those five games I played back when I was in college had me familiar with coach and with some of the girls as well. It definitely helped me out with this and knowing what to expect in these games.

Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)

On the USA’s shooting struggles in the first half:
Sometimes you get open shots and for whatever reason, they’re just a little off. We just kept taking those same open looks, and they were falling. It’s the first game of the tournament, shake off a little rust or whatever, don’t think about it too much and keep playing.

On the play of Brittney Griner:
I thought B.G. was really solid for us. She put herself in great positions to score. She was really poised when she got the ball, above her head, closer to the rim. She was very solid for us, and I’m very pleased with how she started off, considering the eye issues. It was really great to see that from her coming in with not a lot of practice.

On her pass that fed Griner for the dunk:
Going to the hole, her man helped off and I tried to give it to her so she could finish. And she did.

The pass of the tournament might be overshadowed by that dunk:
(laughs) I’m just happy we made a good play.

Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut)

What was it like playing in your first FIBA World Championship game?
It was cool. I think that it’s something we were really looking forward to as we’ve gone through practices each week.

We’ve gotten closer and closer to this, and now this is just the first game of six and we’re going to look towards tomorrow’s game.

You’ve played up on most of your USA Basketball teams. How different is it this time as opposed to playing up on some of the junior teams?

I think it’s like starting over again. I started out, and I was the youngest. Then I got to where I was the oldest on the team. Now I’m back to being young and learning from these players, and at the same time I’m realizing how much stronger everyone is at this level.

How fun is it to play with this talented group of athletes?
It’s awesome. It’s an amazing experience. These players are obviously some of the best players in the country, some of the best players in the world. To be able to be here and learn as much as I can from them, and then take it back to my team when it’s all said and done is just amazing.

Who have you learned from the most?
I don’t know. Just bits and pieces from everyone, how they handle themselves, how they prepare for practice, the way they go through practice. Then, how it correlates onto the court during the games.

Solid start at FIBA Worlds for UConn's Nurse

UConn freshman Kia Nurse finished with nine points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal to help Canada win its opener at the FIBA World Championship for Women with a 69-54 win over Mozambique in Ankara, Turkey.

Nurse, the youngest player on the Canadian national team, got the start and had a pair of baskets in the second quarter when Canada began to take over the game after an inspired early effort by Mozambique.

Miah-Marie Langlois, Kim Gaucher and Tamara Tatham had 11 points each to lead Canada.

The U.S., featuring former UConn stars Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and current Husky star Breanna Stewart, opens up against China at 2:30 p.m. The game will air live on NBA TV and ESPN3.com.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Special times for the Nurse family

This has to be such an exciting time for the Nurse family.

Not only is UConn freshman Kia Nurse preparing to play for Canada in the FIBA World Championship for Women which starts on Saturday, but her older brother Darnell is making a serious push at making the opening-night roster for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.

Nurse, the Oilers' top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, had an assist in a split-squad exhibition against Calgary on Sunday and he played 23:10 (6 seconds behind fellow defenseman Justin Schultz's team-leading total) in a 3-2 preseason victory over Winnipeg.

"We ate lunch together probably three or four days ago in Edmonton so I am really grateful to have him around," Kia Nurse said when she took part in a scrimmage and then international friendly between the U.S. and Canada last week. "He is such a great brother and he has such great advice. Although he is only a year older than me, he seems way more experienced that I am. It is obviously extremely helpful to have somebody in the same situation. Anything you need is just a phone call away."

It's been a hectic summer for Kia Nurse as she took part in three training camps and a series of exhibition games against teams competing in the World Championships. The preparation will end when Canada kicks off the World Championship schedule on Saturday against Mozambique.

"To wear Canada across your chest is pretty special," Kia Nurse said.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Five current or former UConn players named to U.S. national team

With the news that Brittney Griner's eye injury has healed sufficiently for her to take part in the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women, the U.S. announced the 12-player squad seeking to defend its world title.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart is the only current collegiate player on the U.S. squad while former UConn star Sue Bird becomes the first U.S. player to named to four world championship teams. Bird is joined on the team by fellow former Huskies Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

Candice Dupree, Angel McCoughtry, Lindsay Whalen (who joined Bird, Charles, Moore and Taurasi on the 2010 world championship team) are joined by Stewart, Seimone Augustus, Griner, Nneka Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims.

Jantel Lavender was cut once Griner was cleared to compete for the U.S.

"When you get down to the final 12-member team, you appreciate everything that all of the pool players have contributed to where we are today," said U.S. Women's National Team Director Carol Callan in a statement. "They all have worked hard and pushed the team during training camp to be at their very best. So, for that we are grateful, and we know that we have a great future as well. It is now exciting to have the team selected, and the committee feels that this team will compete to the standard set by previous USA Basketball World Championship Teams."

Here's a statement with the thoughts of U.S. and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.

"I think anytime a team is selected, you are always excited about who was picked and disappointed for those who weren't picked. We knew it was going to be difficult. We are missing so many veterans from previous World Championships and the Olympics, so it was a great opportunity for some younger players for some new faces to be added. I think they've done a great job. I think from what I can see, we've got a little bit of everything. We still have, obviously, some things that we have to work on. Brittney (Griner) is going to get here, and this will be her first time through this. Odyssey's (Sims) first time. Breanna's (Stewart) first time. Nneka's (Ogwumike) first time. That's a lot of new faces. I know our coaching staff has our work cut out for us, and we are excited to finally get the team together and get started.

"I think it's a testament to Sue," he added on Bird's longevity with the USA National Team. "That's a period of 12 years. She played right after graduating college. It is amazing that her level of play has been that consistent for that many years at a position that is not easy to play. That's kind of who she is. She is very steady, very even keeled, unbelievable talented and wins. The players trust her, and they have confidence in her. And the coaches I think feel the same way. She's like having a coach on the floor. We throw it out there like, 'Wow, you're a four-time USA World Championship Team member.' If it were that easy, it would have been done lots of times before this. She's accomplished something that's very rare, and she should be very proud of herself."

Geno Auriemma reacts to passing of former UConn AD John Toner

If John Toner hadn't taken a chance on a charismatic young assistant coach at Virginia, UConn sports history would have a much different story to tell.

Toner, who passed away earlier today at the age of 91, put his faith in Geno Auriemma to turn around a struggling women's basketball program. Now the Huskies have nine national titles, a brand new practice facility and a claim as one of the top women's collegiate programs of all time.

"Obviously this is a really sad day for the college community, the University of Connecticut and me personally," Auriemma said in a statement. "I owe a debt of gratitude to John that can never be repaid. We become friends. I looked up to him and admired him and he'll always have a special place in my heart and in my family's heart. Everyone in the University of Connecticut, in the state of Connecticut and every single person in amateur sports owes him a debt of gratitude.

“Even more so, the growth of women's sports in this country can be directly related to the work that John Toner did to help push forward the Title IX bill. So, I just can't put into words … words at some point lose their factor, their meaning when you're describing someone who was a giant in the world of amateur sports. My thoughts and prayers are with Claire and the rest of the family."





Former UConn star Tina Charles leads U.S. past Czech Republic

Former UConn star Tina Charles had 16 points, seven rebounds and four steals and Nneka Ogwumike added 12 points and 10 rebounds as the U.S. defeated the Czech Republic 75-41 in the final tune-up before the start of the FIBA World Championship for Women.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart had eight points, four rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots while former Huskies Diana Taurasi (8 points), Sue Bird (7 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Maya Moore (6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) helped the U.S. rebound after a loss to France in its previous international friendly.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

UConn's Dolson among latest U.S. cuts

Former UConn star Stefanie Dolson was among three players let go as USA Basketball cut its roster from 16 to 13 players.

Former Notre Dame stars Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride were also let go. The U.S. needs to cut one more player before the start of the FIBA World Championship for Women and the decision will be determined by the availability of Brittney Griner, who has yet to be fully cleared after suffered an eye injury in the WNBA championship series.

These cuts likely means that UConn junior Breanna Stewart has made the team along with former UConn stars Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

“This was a very difficult decision,” said USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan in a statement. “Given the quality and depth of our USA National Team pool, the final decisions will always be tough. But, our future is bright knowing that these players have a hunger and desire to continue to get better and be a part of our pool. We look forward to seeing them at future camps. We certainly appreciate all that they have given and will continue to give to USA Basketball.”

U.S. falls to France in World Championship tune-up

Former Connecticut Sun forward Sandrine Gruda had 26 points and 15 rebounds as France rallied to beat the United States 76-72 in one of the final international friendlies before the start of the FIBA World Championships.

Other than Tina Charles, who had 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting, the other UConn products struggled mightily on offense in the game as Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart combined to go 8 of 35 from the field.

Moore missed her first eight field-goal attempts before draining a late 3-pointer. She was 8 of 8 from the free throw line to finish with 11 points and  join Charles, Taurasi (10 points, 4 steals) and Angel McCoughtry (10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals) as the only double-digit scorers for the U.S.

Stewart played just six minutes and finished with two points and one rebound. Former UConn star Stefanie Dolson did not play.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

U.S. rolls past China

Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender continued their push to make the U.S. squad for the upcoming FIBA World Championships with 16 and 14 points respectively as the U.S. defeated China 99-75 in an international friendly

Tina Charles topped the UConn contingent with 10 points while Diana Taurasi had nine points, Maya Moore eight points and Breanna Stewart six points.


GENO AURIEMMA
I thought we played better than we did yesterday. Our offense, we got into some transition stuff. We made shots, which we didn’t do yesterday at the beginning of the game. We had a really good flow. We got contributions from a lot of people. I thought that first half was about as well as we’ve played.

And then the second half, we are trying to get as many people in as we can, which I think disrupted a little bit of the flow. And China made every shot in the second half – God bless them. All the shots they missed in the first half, they made every one in the second. So, it was good for us to be in that situation where it forced us to score every time down the court, because we couldn’t stop them.

I think it was a good experience for us to go through some things we probably are going to face when we get to Turkey. Every time we are in a situation that we haven’t seen before and one that forces us to react, I think it’s good preparation.

China had more points in the third quarter than they had in the entire first half. Does that worry you defensively?

Yeah. We’ve got some work to do. Defensively, we have to spend a lot more time, and we haven’t had a chance to do that. We were really good at what we practiced, and we practiced scoring points, so we were really good at that. The other part, we have to spend more time on it, for sure.

On France tomorrow:

They are younger than they were at the Olympics. They are trying to make that transition, but they still have a couple of experienced players. And they are home. They are going to have a great crowd helping them. They are very well organized. They run their stuff, and they try to get you to play defense for the whole shot clock. Hopefully, we can speed them up a little bit, like we did in London two years ago.

At this point in our preparations, we’re not so much concerned with what they do as opposed to what are we going to do that is going to help us down the road.

TINA CHARLES
On the game:

We just focused on executing plays and running in transition. I think the second group that came off the bench did a great job just bringing energy and attacking them. Jantel (Lavender) did a great job down low, and Nneka (Ogwumike) finishing around the basket. So, everybody is just coming into their own and learning to play with each other, coming together.

How difficult is it to have chemistry knowing there are still decisions that have to be made?

You just have to play your game. You can’t focus on that. You have to play your game and control what you can, which is our style of play, what coach wants from us, what he asks from us. So, you have to do that, and just let the committee decide.

On France, which the USA met in the 2012 Olympic gold medal game:

I know they have good players. Sadrine Gruda and Celine Dumerc. I know they are just going to come out and try to play their game.

Friday, September 19, 2014

UConn's Stewart leads U.S. past Australia

In one of the most anticipated pre-FIBA World Championship for Women showdowns, UConn's Breanna Stewart had nine points, five rebounds, one assist and two blocked shots as the United Sttaes defeated Australia 72-66 in an international friendly in Paris.

Four former UConn stars were in the starting lineup as Maya Moore had seven points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot, Tina Charles and Sue Bird six points each and Diana Taurasi two points and a team-high six assists. Former UConn standout Stefanie Dolson added two points and two assists for the U.S.

The U.S. will play exhibitions in Paris against China on Saturday and France on Sunday before heading to play the host Czech Republic in the final showdown before the World Championships kick off in Turkey.

Also, Canada lost to Cuba 69-66 in overtime in an exhibition today played in Spain with UConn freshman Kia Nurse finishing with three points for Canada. There will be another tune-up tomorrow against Spain for Canada.

Here are quotes from U.S. and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, Moore, Taurasi and Stewart courtesy of USA Basketball.

GENO AURIEMMA
On getting everyone involved (all 15 had checked in by the 15-minute mark):

We’re kind of in a little bit of a quandary. We obviously want to win the game, which is priority No. 1. But it’s a little unusual that priority No. 1-A is trying to get 15 players somewhat significant playing time as opposed to garbage time. So there’s no offensive flow, it’s tough on defense and we looked like it at times. But we’re trying to put our team together. We’re trying to find the right combination for everybody, and it’s important that we do that. I don’t want to sacrifice the game to do that, I’m glad we won, but I think you could see some things that we were doing that looked really, really good and some things that obviously we have to work on. Overall, we’re just going to get better all the time. I’ve been doing this long enough with USA Basketball that we don’t expect to look your best early on. As long as we keep improving, then I’m happy.

Who stood out for you today?
The veterans always do well. Dee (Taurasi) and Candice (Dupree), I told them that they looked like they were playing underwater. They just got here yesterday, so that was to be expected. I thought Sue gave us some great minutes. The veterans were good. I thought Seimone (Augustus) coming off the bench gave us some huge stuff. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) gave us a big spark, Nneka (Ogwumike) gave us some great minutes. Everybody else was good. Angel (McCoughtry) struggled a little bit in the first half with fouls, and she’s somebody we’re going to need. But, there were a lot of moments in there that I really liked.

Australia’s Liz Cambage left the game after falling down in the first half. Would you have liked to have seen her in longer?
I would have like to have seen her out there, because we need to be challenged in that area. Our big guys need to be challenged. That’s an area where we’re obviously concerned. There are a lot of really good post players that aren’t here, size-wise anyway. The ones that are here are so young, they really don’t have the kind experience that they need, playing against these kinds of players. So, yes it’s unfortunate. I hope she’s okay. There’s nobody like her. Brittney Griner’s big. Brittney Griner’s tall. This girl is tall (with emphasis), and she’s big (with emphasis) and that’s a deadly combination.

You talked to the team about the need to get better defensively. Is that something you want to work on before tomorrow’s game against China?

I think when the younger guys came in and we extended our defense a little bit, that helped. I told them, I said, ‘You guys are going to really have to take this to heart. Make this part of who you are, because some of these older guys … when I say press, they’re not jumping up and down about it.’ So, we’ve got great young legs and great energy coming off the bench, and those guys really made a big difference in that third quarter.

MAYA MOORE
On tonight’s game:

Every time we face each other, both teams understand and respect each other. We understand the weight of the game; we respect the talent and the experience that’s on both sides. So, both teams are in an interesting place where they’ve got a few veteran players, but a lot of young players, too. It was good to see some of our young guys come in and experience Australia at this level for the first time.

On the fact that everyone checked into the game within the first 15 minutes and the coaching staff getting a look at different rotations:

We’re figuring it out; who works well, who works the best with each other. To start off the second half, the first five, we found a better rhythm with each other. And then there was a group there, Seimone (Augustus), Nneka (Ogwumike) and I think Lindsay (Whalen), that really got on a run for us and pushed the lead. Everyone was doing what they’re really good at. Angel (McCoughtry) was in there also. I was really, really excited for that group.

On her block that went into the Australian staff on the bench:

It was just one of those moments where they were running some action underneath and I was a little bit late, so I was trying to recover really quickly. I was able to get the elevation to block the shot. It was just a hustle play that I was trying to make up for a little bit of missed coverage. Hopefully it helped build the momentum for us.

On any insight she’s given Breanna Stewart, having been in this position four years ago as a college player:

I just try to drop little nuggets here and there. Mainly it’s just the physicality of the game for her. She’s getting used to that. She’s just so talented and has so many abilities. It’s just her getting a feel for the physicality at this level. She’s being strong, so she can finish through players instead of around players at this level. She’s doing a great job. She knows how to play the game. She’s never going to give up or hang her head. She’s always going to compete and end up making a play. She’ll definitely continue to grow. I’m excited to watch her grow as a USA Basketball player.

BREANNA STEWART
On going up against the Australia National Team:

It was very competitive. Obviously coming in we knew they were a really good team and they were going to give us a good fight. I think that after we went through our subs and picked the tempo up, we kind of got away from them a little bit.

You’ve had a lot of games against them at the junior level, are they all just as tough in this rivalry?

Yeah, they play the same on all levels, obviously. The talent just gets better. There are some familiar faces that I could see. I remember (Rebecca) Allen (from the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship), and China has a bunch of them. It’s just fun to be here and play against them.

On being the youngest member of this team:

Having been with the team for about two weeks now, it really helps me get a great comfort level with the players and stuff like that, and just get acclimated to their style of play and what they’re trying to do. I think this is a great tournament to help get you ready for the next one.

On the praise heaped on her by coach Geno Auriemma following the USA-Canada game:

It’s a great honor (for me) for him to say that. Obviously, he’s a great coach. He’s coached a lot of great players. The fact that I still want to become successful at higher things, I have higher goals, I just want to keep getting better and not let any of it get to my head.

DIANA TAURASI
On the game:
They are a tough team. They always play physical, and they have some of the best players in the world, so it was a tough game. But today for this group being together for the first time, I think we did a pretty good job.

On her six assists:
Sometimes you just have to slow everything down a little bit. I’m just trying to get used to playing with Sue again and some of the other players, so I think today was a pretty good game for us.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Delle Donne won't play and Griner iffy to be part of U.S. World Championship team

USA Basketball announced that Elena Delle Donne won'y  be playing for the U.S. during the upcoming FIBA World Championships due to injury while Brittney Griner's status is up in the air.

The U.S. team currently has 15 players in contention for the 12 spots including UConn junior Breanna Stewart and former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. The team will need to cut three players before the start of the tournament (four if Griner gets added)..

With Sylvia Fowles both opting to skip the tournament to get healthy and if Griner's eye injury keeps her out, it will be interesting to see how the USA Basketball selection committee opts to fill the center spot behind Charles. Dolson and Jantel Lavender could be kept if the U.S. wants to have more of a true center presence although the duo played sparingly in the final tune-up on American soil.

With the addition of Candice Dupree, impressive play of Nneka Ogwumike during training camp and potential of Stewart, it remains to be seen if the U.S. thinks they add enough in the post to make up for the lack of a true center to bring off the bench,

I only saw the team live on Sunday and Monday in a practice and then a scrimmage against Canada and neither Dolson nor Lavender were especially productive. However, Lavender does have the added bonus of having been the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder during the EuroLeague season meaning she does have a track record against many of the players the U.S. will meet up with in the World Championships.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Filling in the blanks on UConn's schedule

When UConn recently announced the breakdown of home games for the upcoming season there were only a handful of games without announced times. Well, I can now provide you with that information as the game times for the Dec. 31 East Carolina, home game with South Carolina on Feb. 9 as well as games on the road against Memphis, Tulsa and Tulane are now known.

Here is the schedule with the update

PRESEASON11/02 vs. West Chester  (Gampel Pavilion) 1 p.m.
11/09 vs. Post University  (XL Center) 4:30 p.m.
REGULAR SEASON11/14 at UC Davis  10 p.m.
11/17 at Stanford 9 p.m.
11/23 vs. Creighton (Gampel Pavilion) 1 p.m.
 Gulf Coast Showcase 
11/28 vs. College of Charleston Estero, Fla. 8:30 p.m. 
11/29 Minnesota/Vanderbilt Estero, Fla. 2:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. 
11/30 TBD Estero, Fla. TBA 
Jimmy V Classic 
12/06 at Notre Dame TV South Bend, Ind. 3:15 p.m. 
12/19 vs. DePaul (Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport) 7:30 p.m.
12/21 vs. UCLA (Mohegan Sun Arena) 5 p.m.
12/27 vs. SMU  (XL Center) 1 p.m.
12/29 vs. Duke (XL Center) 9 p.m.
12/31 at East Carolina 3:30 p.m.
 Maggie Dixon Classic 
01/04 vs. St. John's Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. 1:00 p.m. 
01/07 vs. Tulsa  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
01/11 at SMU  3 p.m.
01/14 vs. Temple  (Gampel Pavilion) 7 p.m.
01/18 vs. USF  (Gampel Pavilion) noon.
01/21 at UCF, 7 p.m.
01/25 at Cincinnati 3 p.m.
01/28 vs. East Carolina  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/01 at Temple  2 p.m.
02/03 vs. Cincinnati  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/07 at Memphis 3:30 p.m.
02/09 vs. South Carolina (Gampel Pavilion) 8 p.m.
02 vs. Tulane  (Gampel Pavilion) 4 p.m.
02/17 vs. Houston  (XL Center) 7 p.m.
02/21 at Tulsa  3 p.m.
02/23 at Tulane 4 p.m.
02/28 vs. Memphis (Gampel Pavilion) 2 p.m.
03/02 at USF 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UCLA's Fields, UConn's Nurse to meet again

As the two youngest players on the Canadian national team, this has been a summer to remember for UCLA junior Nirra Fields and UConn freshman Kia Nurse.

After competing in the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women, the two will go their separate ways before meeting up again on Dec. 21 at Mohegan Sun Arena when the Bruins and Huskies meet in the Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.

I caught up with Fields (who unfortunately injured her shoulder and was unable to play in Monday's exhibition game between the U.S. and Canada) after Sunday's scrimmage between the two teams and she made it clear that the UCLA players are fired up about getting to square off with the two-time defending national champions.

"I am so excited for that game," said Fields, who was UCLA"s second-leading scorer last season. "It is probably one of the games that we are all circling on our calendar. It is really going to battle test us, we are a really young team and we are rebuilding. I am very excited.

"Our coach was really battling for us. She knew we were going to have a very talented team and wanted us to play the best teams in the country. She was like 'you guys better be prepared and work hard this season because we are really going to have a tough game this year.' I kind of anticipated UConn because that is the best team right now in the entire college women's game so I was really excited about that and wanted to let everyone else know that we need to work hard because everything we do now is going to affect us when we play that game."

As for Nurse, Fields loves the fiery competitiveness she brings to the floor.

"I like her energy," Fields said. "She is an energy giver and her young spirit always brings everyone up and having her in the mix just makes everyone energetic."

Fields believes her experience with the Canadian squad will help her in so many ways when she returns to college.

"It is just like seeing the game at another perspective," Fields said. "Just playing with more older players, they read the game and getting that perspective is going to help my game so much more when  I go back to UCLA."

CALLAN THRILLED TO HAVE RIZZOTTI ON BOARD
While time will tell how many UConn products will be part of the U.S. team playing in the World Championships, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma knows he will have one of his former players along for the ride as Jen Rizzotti.

Rizzotti, the point guard on Auriemma's first national championship team at UCLA, will serve as an advance scout for the U.S. team.

Carol Callan, the U.S. women's national team director, is excited to have Rizzotti, who is no stranger to the folks at USA Basketball, be a part of the national team staff.

"Jen is, feisty isn't even the right word, she is energetic, passionate and the way she was as a player translates to the way she is as a coach," Callan said. "It is nice for Geno to have somebody who understands what he does. Even though Jen is at Hartford she played for him, she understands and she is somebody that the players can go to 'what do we do here?' and  she is not shy about going onto the floor and doing those things as well."




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Monday, September 15, 2014

Special night for future UConn teammates

As if the UConn flavor in the international friendly between the United States and Canada wasn't hard to miss, seeing four former Huskies, head coach Geno Auriemma, former star point guard Jen Rizzotti as well as resident superstar Breanna Stewart and incoming freshman Kia Nurse pose for a photo before the game serves as a reminder of just what Auriemma has built in Storrs.

With all due respect to Maya Moore (8 points, 4 assists, 6 steals). Tina Charles (7 points, 3 rebounds), Sue Bird (3 assists, 2 steals) and Stefanie Dolson (2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), the night belonged to the youngest players on both the U.S. and Canadian teams.

Stewart finished with seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter in the United States' 76-51 victory while Nurse had six points (hitting a pair of 3-pointers) for Team Canada.

Who better than highly-respected USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan to capture what Stewart and Nurse were able to accomplish.


"She (Stewart) is very comfortable with what she she is doing," Callan said. "I think she absolutely belongs with this group."

As for Nurse?

"Canada has done such a nice job with their women's program," Callan said. "They have spent a lot of time with their young players and her to play that well on the national team and this is not even her first year at UConn is amazing."

Nurse, true to her modest nature off the court, blushed she her veteran teammate Kim Goucher was asked to describe the impact Nurse had in the game and on the national team program.

"Kia has been great," Goucher said. "She is impressive, the way she can put pressure on the ball defensively is a game changer and I think she just has been getting smarter and learning a lot over the last few years. She has been a great addition to the team and will only continue to grow as a player. She will get smarter and her future is incredibly bright."

While a little shy away from the court, she is anything but when she starts playing.

Dolson mentioned that more than one player on the U.S. bench raved about what they saw from the 18-year-old Nurse.

"She is definitely a big guard, she brings a lot and is skilled player," U.S. guard Lindsay Whalen said. "She has a very big future, it will be fun to see her grow and continue to get better. She is going to have a chance her with the national team to keep getting better and play against some great competition."

Nurse was quick to credit her teammates for helping her hit the two shots from long distance.

"I started to read the defense a little more," Nurse said. "My teammates screened and they passed me the ball, that is pretty much what got me open.

"It is tremendously important to play the best players in the world. They are gifted individually and to gain experience to see what do against me and what I need to work on is (important) because they put the pressure on me and they push me to be better."

That is the same thing that Stewart is getting from her older U.S. teammates. While she played with Dolson for two seasons, getting a chance to share the court with some past UConn greats is something Stewart relished.

"Being with them and creating a bond with them is something that makes you realize that they set the standard at UConn," Stewart said. "They were the ones that were there years before I was there. They started the UConn tradition and now we are continuing it.

She also loved the environment from the fans in Bridgeport.

"Being here in Bridgeport, we get a lot of UConn fans and UConn players get a nice applause and just to see how many people have played at UConn and are currently playing at UConn or are going to be playing at UConn be so successful in basketball is really great to see."

Stewart was thrilled to see Nurse play well.

"It was good to see Kia play,' Stewart said. "She is obviously going to mature a lot playing with a national team, playing against so many great teams and great players. I think it is a learning experience for her as well. It just shows that this is the level that if you want to become really successful in basketball. this is the level that you have to play at. She will take it back to UConn, really work hard and be ready for the season.

"She is so intense, She is a strong, tall guard and she can really disrupt people on defense and when she needs to create for herself on offense, she can do that as well."

The 13 players who suited up for the U.S. will head to Paris for some more tune-ups. There could be as many as six others joining them including former UConn star Diana Taurasi as the players who took part in the Phoenix/Chicago series for the WNBA title have yet to join the team. Sylvia Fowles' foot injuries will keep her out of the FIBA World Championships and Callan said it was yet to be determined if the other five players will all be joining the squad in Europe. The roster has to be cut to 12 before the start of the World Championships.

"Up in the air still," Callan said. "There are still a couple that have to get cleared by doctors and working travel arrangements for others. Unknown yet (how many will be part of the player pool)."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Taurasi's late-game brilliance no shocker to UConn's Auriemma

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma sat with a group of friends and family and were checking out the third game of the WNBA Championship Series.

Phoenix, needing a win to clinch the franchise's third title, predictably put the ball in the hands of former UConn star Diana Taurasi with the game tied and less than 30 seconds to play. Taurasi was fouled while hitting a 16-foot jumper and completed the three-point play.

Taurasi had 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter, going 5 of 6 from the field, converting two three-point plays and draining a pair of 3-pointers as the Mercury finished off the Chicago Sky despite playing without an injured first team All-WNBA center Brittney Griner.

"I think UConn players have won a lot of WNBA championships in the last 10 years and it was something to be proud of and I can't say I am surprised," Auriemma said after Sunday's U.S./Canada scrimmage in Bridgeport. "When I found out Britney wasn't playing my first thought was she was going to pull a Magic Johnson against the Sixers (when Johnson scored 42 points filling in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to close out the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA final). Nothing Diana does surprises me. If anybody was surprised that she took that last shot and if anybody was surprised if she made it then they just haven't been watching long enough. We were all in the house with a bunch of guys on the team and we were all watching and everybody's reaction was 'huh' and we turn around to grab something to eat. Everybody knew exactly what was going to happen, they knew exactly what the outcome was going to be and it was 'that was about it.' She just does what she does and nobody does it better.

"I would venture to say that other than the one she gets reminded of all the time, the Final Four game in St. Louis when she was a freshman, I would venture to say that there is a big game in the NCAA tournament or in the WNBA playoffs where she hasn't played great. Some people are just able to play their best in those big moments and I have never seen anybody who is more ready, more focused and more able to rise to the occasion more than Diana. Diana sets her mind to do something it usually gets done."

CHARLES IMPRESSED BY YOUNGER HUSKIES
Four years ago Tina Charles was one of the younger members of the U.S. national team preparing to head to the FIBA World Championship for Women.

This year current UConn star Breanna Stewart and former Husky Stefanie Dolson are in similar roles as they are trying to play their way onto the U.S. team seeking to win a second straight world title.

"She (Stewart) is doing great, she is taking the shots," Charles said. "I think it is easier for her and Stefanie Dolson coming from Coach (Aurienna's) system, just knowing how and what is expected and they definitely have asserted themselves well.

"They are both really confident in what they do. Stef, she is in the pros now and Stewie she definitely has arrived at UConn and doing things that everybody knows she is capable of doing."

The Connecticut Sun's Chiney Ogwumike, one of four players cut by USA Basketball today, also had incredible praise for Stewart.,

"For Stewie, the sky is the limit for her and she is halfway done with college and competing for a spot on the national team," Ogwumike said. "I think we are soaking it all in. I think it is normal for her because UConn has a lot of players there so she is well versed with Maya, well versed with Stef, she played with all of these players so she already has good confidence and a good flow."

LINES OF THE DAY
There was no lack of material coming out of the interviews after today's scrimmage. Here are some of the highlights.

"I was just hoping she (Breanna Stewart) wouldn't block me. I knew I wasn't going to have to guard her and I am OK with that. It is definitely fun to be playing with some of the old UConn players." Kia Nurse

"There is a fine line of you want to be aggressive when you are out there but at the same time you don't want to force too much because there are so many great players and just playing basketball." Breanna Stewart

"She (UConn freshman Kia Nurse) is not normal. Probably the best thing about her is her toughness both mentally and physically. Mentally, you don't see her break down. She is the toughest competitor you are going to see out there. She is going to be a cornerstone of our program for a long time." Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis

"I am still trying to find my way. I don't take anything for granted, I don't get complacent and I don't think I have arrived and I am as hungry as I was in my first go-round in 2010." Tina Charles

"I am so excited for that game. It is probably one of the games that we are all circling on our calendar. It is really going to battle test us, we are a really young team and we are rebuilding. I am very exciting." Canada guard Nirra Fields, a member of UCLA team which will play UConn on Dec. 21

"I probably trust Lindsay (Whalen) as much as I trust anybody on that team." Geno Auriemma

"I got to play with my sister for the first time in forever so that was really neat and it was a really cool experience." Chiney Ogwumike

UConn's Stewart, four former Huskies make first of U.S. national team cuts


Former UConn star Bria Hartley and Chiney Ogwumike of the Connecticut Sun were among four players cut as USA Basketball works towards picking the 12-member team playing in FIBA World Championships.

Briann January and Danielle Robinson were also let go leaving the U.S. with 13 players available for tomorrow's exhibition game at Webster Bank Arena.

 Seven players, including former UConn star Diana Taurasi, are also in the player pool but not currently with the team since they were members of the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky, which just recently completed playing in the WNBA championship series. There's no guarantee that all seven will be invited to join the team when the squad leaves for Europe later this week.

UConn junior Breanna Stewart and former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson and Maya Moore are among the 13 players currently with the team.

One of the biggest issues facing the team is the health of the Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner and the Chicago Sky duo of Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles.

Based on what I saw today Robinson's release was the most surprising while Nneka Ogwumike is the non-Olympian making the best push to make the team.

Here is the official release

– The roster for the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s National Team, which tipped-off training camp on Sept. 8 in Annapolis, Maryland, with 17 of the nation’s top athletes, has been pared down to 13 for its Sept. 15 exhibition contest against 2013 FIBA Americas silver medalist Canada. Selections were made by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee, chaired by USA Basketball women’s national team director Carol Callan. 
Tickets for the USA-Canada contest are still available and can be purchased through the box office at Webster Bank Arena, by calling 1-800-745-3000 or online via www.websterbankarena.com. Played at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the game tips-off at 7 p.m. (EDT) and will air nationally on ESPN2. 
Traveling on to Europe to compete in the Sept. 19-21 France International Tournament in Paris as finalists for the 2014 USA World Championship Team are: Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock), Stefanie Dolson (Washington Mystics), Jantel Lavender (Los Angeles Sparks), Kayla McBride (San Antonio Stars), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks), Odyssey Sims (Tulsa Shock), Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut) and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx). 
2014-16 USA Basketball Women’s National Team members DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix Mercury), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky), Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) were competing in the recently concluded WNBA Finals and unable to attend the USA’s domestic training camp. USA Basketball will announce at a later date which of these athletes will join the finalists in Europe. 
“All the players knew that today was going to be the day that we were going to try to get to 12,” said USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut. “As it turns out, the committee kind of got stuck between number 13 and number 12 so we decided to stay at 13 for tomorrow’s game and take 13 over to Europe with us. Then we’ll add those that are coming, that played in the championship series.
“The process itself is not an easy one because we don’t have a lot of time, so it is not ideal. But at the same time it gave us an opportunity to see what the players’ strengths are and how they fit into the puzzle. For the players who are not moving forward, it’s as much about timing in terms of who’s in their position, the number and experience of players in their position. They were great, they worked hard, they are devoted to USA Basketball and they did everything we have asked them to do. They all have a future in the game, in USA Basketball and we made sure they know that. But the 13 that we have represent the best that we have right now and we’re only going to get better when we add those guys that are coming later this week.”

Nurse has business to take care of before heading to UConn

Kia Nurse found it downright hilarious that she will take the court twice as an opponent of Geno Auriemma's before she suits up for the UConn Hall of Fame coach.

Nurse had two points as her Canada squad fell to the Auriemma-coached United States team on Sunday at Webster Bank Arena. Tomorrow night she will be back on the court again when the U.S. and Canada meet in an international friendly at 7 p.m.

"Playing against Coach (Auriemma) before playing for him always makes me laugh but it is just a great experience," Nurse said. "We are really lucky to be here and I am glad it is in Connecticut."

Being in Connecticut and seeing six current or former Huskies among the 17 U.S. players taking part in the scrimmage and exhibition game only increases Nurse's excitement for her future. So what is awaiting her in Storrs. Well, former UConn point guard Sue Bird has a pretty good idea.

"Everything is probably your fault even if it is not so just be ready for that, the advice I would give her," Bird said.

"It is extremely valuable. It wasn't until I played overseas that I understood what that was like (to play overseas) so to start at a young age I think it is cool for her."


Auriemma has seemingly experienced just about everything in his time calling the shots at UConn but he does not recall coaching against one of his players before they suited up for the Huskies for the first time.

"Very unique," Auriemma said, "I don't remember it ever happening. We haven't had a lot of international players to begin with so she is going to be in a very unique situation.

"Kia, she is trying to assimilate herself into that team and she is going to have to come back and assimilate herself to our team, it is a lot for a young player."

Another aspect of her hectic schedule this summer training with the Canadian national team in preparation for the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women is the amount of time she is going to spend away from school.

She was able to spend a few days on campus during the summer session and recently was at UConn for about a week in between her national-team commitments. Still, she feels pretty good about keeping up academically.

"I am actually doing pretty well with it," Nurse said. "I keep up with my agenda each and every day and I knew exactly what class I am doing and which readings I am doing that day so I have been really good at that and basing it on my schedule and my online classes so I have been keeping up pretty well. My academic advisors are in touch with me all the time and that is really helpful."

Even though her time on campus has been brief, she already has the feeling that it is the perfect place for her.

"I went to UConn because my best interests were in mind there and I wanted to be the best player I could be," Nurse said. "I am really striving for that. I am blessed for the opportunity to work for Coach Auriemma and the staff. I think I am going to try to bring my competitive fire and love for the game."

She has had some time to get to know fellow freshmen Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams while on campus.

"We are right beside each other, neighbors in our dorms and they are all really dedicated basketball players," Nurse said. "They want to be great, they decided to go to UConn for a reason and our dedication is definitely something that is similar for all of us.

"When I went there for the week, I loved it and I didn't want to leave. I can't wait to get back with the girls and practicing with them it is going to be exciting."

Nurse didn't have to guard her future UConn teammate Breanna Stewart, which is vying for a spot on the U.S. team looking to win its second straight world title but the did cross paths every once in a while.

"I was just hoping she wouldn't block me," Nurse said. "I knew I wasn't going to have to guard her and I am OK with that. It is definitely fun to be playing with some of the old UConn players."

She immediately found herself guarding reigning WNBA scoring champion Maya Moore, UConn's all-time leading scorer after checking into the scrimmage midway through the first quarter.

"I started out on her," Nurse said. "I have point guard (defensive assignments) and I was really confused. That was really fun, that was a really good experience. I got to play against her and she is an insane player so that was pretty cool."

Trying to guard one of the world's most gifted offensive players before playing a single college game might be frightening for some people but the fact that Nurse viewed it as "cool" provides a glimpse into the competitive fire burning inside of her.

"I like her energy," said UCLA junior guard Nirra Fields, also a member of the Canadian national team. "She is an energy giver. Her young spirit always brings everyone up and having her in the mix just makes everyone energetic."

Canada national team coach Lisa Thomaidis is no stranger to the Nurse family as she was a former teammate of Nurse's mother.

"She is a great athlete but she is still very inexperienced at the international level," Thomaidis said.

So what does Thomaidis like about Nurse's game?

"Her flat out speed and she has good length as a point guard, she is almost 6-feet, she is very fast," Thomaidis said. "Over the past year she can put on some muscle so she is not just this lanky kid, she is more like a mature athlete.

"She definitely wants to score which is great so we are working on the other side which is that vision,"

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UConn's Stewart making a run at U.S. roster spot

The United States and Canada engaged in an entertaining scrimmage on Sunday morning at Webster Bank Arena before returning to the court tomorrow night for an international friendly being televised live on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.

It was the first time I was able to see UConn freshman Kia Nurse, a member of the Canadian national team, play live so that was the focus of the story I filed for tomorrow's paper but I did catch up with UConn junior Breanna Stewart who is hoping to secure one of the 12 roster spots for the defending champion U.S. squad for the upcoming FIBA World Championship for Women.

Stewart hit a couple of early jumpers and finished with four points in the United States' 75-52 victory.

"I always want to play as best as I can but as it has gone on, I am getting more and more comfortable and today my shot started falling," Stewart said.

The selection committee will have some tough decisions as the roster needs to be cut from its current 24-player list (including seven players who competed in the WNBA championship series).

UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma is not on the selection committee but his opinion will certainly be known. He said nothing Stewart has done over the last week has surprised him.

"She's done what she has done," Auriemma said. "She has played well, she has done all the things that she does when she plays in college. I don't know is she has stood out more than anybody else."

Three-time Olympic gold medalist and former UConn star Sue Bird said Stewart's immense talent is pretty hard to miss.

"On paper as a player she has some skills," Bird said. "I think she can really establish herself and each day she has done a good job of that. It is all the things you might see in another player but she is 6-4. It is very difficult to guard her.

"This week has been really good for her to get her feet well, get established a little bit with all of us and get comfortable. We also go the hang out off the court and that kind of chemistry can help you off the court."



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Friday, September 12, 2014

Another WNBA title for former UConn star

Diana Taurasi can add another title to her growing collection.

The former UConn star had 24 points and five assists as the Phoenix Mercury, playing without star center Brittney Griner, defeated the Chicago Sky 87-82 to sweep the best of five series.

It is the third WNBA title for Diana Taurasi matching the record for a former Husky set by Swin Cash. It is also the 11th time in the last 16 years that a former UConn player has been a member of the WNBA title-winning team.

2014: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi) def. Chicago
2013: Minnesota (Maya Moore) def, Atlanta (Tiffany Hayes)
2012: Indiana def. Minnesota (Maya Moore)
2011: Minnesota (Maya Moore, Charde Houston) def. Atlanta
2010: Seattle (Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Svetlana Abrosimova) def. Atlanta
2009: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi, Ketia Swanier) def. Indiana (Jessica Moore)
2008: Detroit (Kelly Schumacher) def. SA
2007: Phoenix (Diana Taurasi, Kelly Schumacher) def. Detroit (Swin Cash)
2006: Detroit (Swin Cash) def. Sacramento
2005: Sacramento def. Connecticut (Nykesha Sales, Asjha Jones)
2004: Seattle (Bird) def. Connecticut (Nykesha Sales, Asjha Jones)
2003: Detroit (Swin Cash) def. LA
2000: Houston (Jen Rizzotti) def. NY
1999: Houston (Jen Rizzotti, Kara Wolters) def. New York (Rebecca Lobo-injured and did not play)
1997: Houston def. New York (Rebecca Lobo)