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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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."

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."

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


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