Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

UConn's Auriemma reunited with one of his coaching idols

I can't even begin the place a number on the number of press conferences or media availability sessions involving Geno Auriemma that I have been involved with in the last decade and a half. I can, however, say with absolute certainty that I can't recall a time when the Hall of Fame coach looked more star struck then when he noticed former Virginia men's basketball coach Terry Holland standings at the back of Wednesday's press conference.

Holland, a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year during his impressive run with the Cavaliers, spent nearly a decade as East Carolina's athletic director and is now the emeritus AD. You could tell that it absolutely meant the world to Auriemma, a successful assistant women's basketball coach at Virginia before taking the job at UConn, that Holland not only was in attendance at the game but came in to listen to the press conference as well.

"You know one of the best coaches in the history of the ACC is standing right back there," Auriemma said. "Coach Holland, he was my idol when I was coaching at UVa, I wanted to be like him. He had four dummies as assistants, he didn't listen to any of them and I always thought that was pretty smart. That was a great listen but he had selective hearing which I thought was really good.

"I learned a lot of my stuff from him. I used to go and watch practices all the time, even some of the drills we do know we used to watch them do. Those four years I probably  learned more about basketball than all of other years combined."

Perhaps the only thing more stunning that UConn's 15 first-half turnovers might have been the Huskies going 19 of 23 from the free-throw line in the win over East Carolina.

UConn missed a least 1/3 of its foul shots seven times in the first 11 games and misfired on 16 free throws in the last two games. Yet, the Huskies calmly connected on 19 of 23 foul shots in the win over the Pirates.

"I don't have any idea anymore," Auriemma said. "I am beginning to think after all of these years of coaching, the less that you work at something the better you are at it. We spend all this time shooting free throws, we get into the game and don't make them. Then you go a week and you don't practice any of them and you make them. It is like our press against Duke, we didn't want to work on it because when we work on it in practice, it all kind of falls apart in practice and you lose confidence in it
Breanna Stewart led the way going 8 of 8 from the line making it the 23rd game that Stewart was perfect from the line while attempting multiple foul shots. Morgan Tuck was 4 of 4 on foul shots.

Stewart, UConn close out 2014 with dominating win

Geno Auriemma had a sense that Breanna Stewart, coming off back to back so-so games (by her lofty standards) was going to be significantly more involved in Wednesday's East Carolina game. Just in case, Auriemma's invaluable associate head coach Chris Dailey made just to remind Stewart what she needed to get done in the final game of 2014.

"Coming into the game we knew that East Carolina was really aggressive and CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey)kept saying to me to keep moving."

Stewart certainly finishing with a season-high 26 points to go with six rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocked shots.

"The way they were playing how much pressure they wanted to (apply), the last thing you want to do against teams that pressure is come down and jack up 3s," Auriemma said. "A big part of our offense today was to let them extend their defense and get inside of it, get the ball in the lane, trying to get to free throw line as much as possible and try to control the tempo."

As impressive as Stewart's numbers were, they could have been so much better. She was 8 of 15 from the floor and her seven misses were came on some of her best looks at the basket.
"I was missing some of the easy ones, I think I was either expecting it and I didn't get hit or not putting it in the basket," Stewart said.
Courtney Ekmark, who missed the last eight games with a stress reaction in her right foot, saw her first action since the season opener against UC Davis. She checked in with 15:02 left in the first half and her first regular-season points as a Husky came on a layup with 13:30 left in the half. Ekmark had two points and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
UConn went into halftime up 43-22 but if Auriemma had his way, they would have canceled the second half after the teams combined for 33 turnovers, 15 being committed by UConn. He felt it was as poor of a display of basketball as he has been a part of in his 30 years at UConn.

"I think there was a lot we could have done better," Stewart said. "The score, I was tying to say the team in the locker room (at halftime), the score doesn't matter. We were up by 20 (23 at halftime) but we could feel that there was another level that we needed to play at."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis came into game needing four 3-pointers to break Diana Taurasi's career record at UConn. However, she didn't attempt a shot in the first half. Her first field-goal attempt came with 17:24 left in the game when she missed a 3-pointer as a trailer on the fast break. She finished with a season-low six points.

UConn ready for first game at East Carolina

UConn has faced Charlotte, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest but today will make the first time UConn and East Carolina will be squaring off. It will also be the Huskies' 2014-15 American Athletic Conference road opener.

"New faces, new team," UConn sophomore forward . I haev never been to East Carolina and none of us really have, it is a new place and we are excited to get another conference game in."

East Carolina is off to a 9-3 start, dropping its AAC opener to South Florida.
"It is kind of similar to last year playing opponents we never played before, going to places we have never been before, it is going to be a new experience for both teams," UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart said.

Courtney Ekmark is in uniform and is available to play today.

Ekmark played 19 minutes in the season-opening win over UC Davis, she didn't score (missing both of her shots), had three rebounds and two assists. She was available to play against Stanford but never got into the game. She was diagnosed with a stress reaction in her right foot before the Nov. 23 Creighton game and the tentative date for her return was Jan. 1 so she is right on schedule.

Solid rating numbers for UConn/Duke game

Monday night's UConn/Duke game drew a 7.3 rating in the Hartford/New Haven market. By comparison, the next highest market rating was a 1.5 in Greensboro-High Point.

UConn won 83-52 as Moriah Jefferson's 18 points lead five Huskies in double figures.

Offensive mindset serving UConn's Jefferson well

Plenty of things are near the top of the basketball priority list for UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson. However, being the Huskies' leading scorer in not among them.

With a second-half scoring explosion against Duke, Jefferson finished with 18 points and was the leading scorer in Monday's 83-52 win. That followed up Jefferson scoring a game-high and career-high 24 points in a win over DePaul. It marked the first time in her time at UConn that she was the Huskies' top scorer in back to back games. Jefferson greeted that accomplishment with an indifferent yawn.

"It is not about me scoring as much, it is just being aggressive is really important," Jefferson said. "I have to keep that up. anytime I can do that, I am definitely going to do that."

Jefferson did not do that in the first half, attempting one field goal which she made (actually she attempted two shots but was fouled by Kendall Cooper on the other one so it did not go down as an official shot). The offense in the first half was provided mostly by the trio of Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck as they had 24 of the Huskies' 33 points and 23 of the 30 field-goal attempts. With Jefferson and Kia Nurse combining to go 7 of 11 from the floor including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, UConn's offense was so much more effective.
"Our ball movement was good. In the first half our ball movement was good but we just didn't knock down as many 3s," Jefferson said. "I happened to be open on a couple of them so I just shot it and they went in."

Jefferson had a pair of 3-pointers in the first 61 seconds of the second half. The second one gave the Huskies a double-digit lead and Duke would not get closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said giving Jefferson uncontested 3-pointers (as some teams have been known to do) was not a part of the game plan.

"Her first made 3 was so wide open my grandmother could have made it," McCallie said after the game. "Lack of intensity on defense on our part but I don't want to take anything away (from Jefferson), she played an excellent second half and she came on strong. We certainly had her tagged as a shooter, she was not supposed to be open."

McCallie's response left me little choice but to inquire about the shooting range of McCallie's grandmother. So was she a good shooter?

"Yes, yes she was."

So is Jefferson. During her sophomore and junior seasons Jefferson is 48 of 114 from 3-point range. The 3-point shooting percentage of 42.1 would be fourth on the Huskies' career list trailing only Sue Bird, Wendy Davis and current Husky Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

"She is being aggressive all the time on the court and not just thinking pass but thinking 'score, shoot the ball.' I tell her all the time 'shoot the ball, if I was open I would just shoot it,'" Stewart said. "She did that and now teams are going to have to respect her."

With the UConn men's basketball team playing Temple today at 1, the women's game will be on WTIC 96.5 FM rather than the normal radio home of WTIC-1080. The game will also be televised by SNY.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Espinoza-Hunter's commitment completes impressive night for UConn

In the last couple of weeks sweet-shooting Blair Academy sophomore Andra Espinoza-Hunter was having more and more conversations with her mom about pulling the trigger on her college decision even through she isn't even midway through her sophomore season.

With Duke and UConn being her two top choices, it only made sense that she would make her way to the XL Center for last night's game. She wasn't planning to make her college decision as she sat in the first row behind the Huskies bench. However, shortly after UConn's impressive win over Duke she let the cat out of the bag.

"I saw Geno and he gave me a hug," Espinoza-Hunter said on Tuesday. "I said "I have some good news for you.' He said 'what's that?' I said 'I am ready to commit.' He said 'are you serious' and he gave me a big hug."

When she was playing on the same Ossining team as current UConn guard Saniya Chong she would join Chong on her trips to UConn games and even after making the decision to leave Ossining and play at Blair Academy she continued to see the UConn team in action so many times that she said "I lost track" of the actual number.

The affable Espinoza-Hunter, who ended our interview by wishing me a Happy New Year, almost used her most recent trip to Connecticut as a class project. It wasn't so much taking in the screens, the rotation on defense or way the Huskies boxed out a bigger Duke team (although she did pick up on those things) but she was looking at the body language of the players after both good plays and bad and also the interactions between coaches and players especially on plays that didn't go as planned.

What she does remember is the strong bond she saw between the players and coaches.

"They gel so well, are so supportive and so positive of each other," Espinoza-Hunter said.

Espinoza-Hunter opened eyes with her offensive ability at Ossining while she was still in junior high school. In her second season at Blair Academy she moved from playing on the wing to being a combination of point guard/shooting guard especially with Cal commit Bre Cavanaugh sidelined with a concussion. So where has she made the most strides in the last year or two?

"Probably rebounding," Espinoza-Hunter said. "When I was a 7th, 8th or 9th grader I was kind of a frail guard but I've been doing a better job rebounding."

She is not the first sophomore to commit to UConn. Courtney Ekmark was the most recent player to do so but UConn tends to tread carefully in taking commitments from players this young. However. Espinoza-Hunter said in the next 2 1/2 season "I am going to put in a lot of work."

UConn gets defensive in blowing out No. 10 Duke

If Sue Bird wasn't among those sitting in the stands at the XL Center or Shea Ralph wasn't on the bench serving as one of the Huskies' assistant coaches, you could have convinced me that the UConn women's basketball team turned the page back to the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons when roster full of future WNBA stars relied on an aggressive defense to win one national title and narrowly missed out on another.

The Huskies took advantage of an inexperienced Duke backcourt by forcing 22 turnovers but it felt more like Duke threw the ball away 222 times.

"It was a pathetic display," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "The bottom line is they play harder than everybody else, they played harder than us. They got every hustle play."
Duke came into the game leading the nation in rebound margin, posting a mark of 21 per game that would shatter the NCAA Division I women's basketball record set by Louisiana Tech during the 1989-90 season. By game's end UConn won the rebounding battle by six en route to a seventh straight dominating victory in the one-sided series against the Blue Devils.
"That is something we have been focusing on a lot," UConn sophomore forward Morgan Tuck said. "We knew we had to play good defense, rebound and not give up offensive rebounds and we did that pretty well.
"I think we just boxed out and were more physical. I think that is one thing that Coach (Geno Auriemma) has really harped on is that we boxed out and made sure we rebounded."
UConn had one stretch with three steals in a span of 2:12. Guards Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse had five steals each as the Huskies once again ran the Blue Devils off the court.
"The intensity is going up and it becomes a competition between everybody on the court so I think that is really good for our team," Jefferson said.
Back when Sue Bird was running the show at UConn the Huskies used pressure defense to take their game to new heights. Relying on smaller player rotations in recent years, Auriemma has been somewhat reluctant to expose his team to foul trouble by extending the defensive pressure as much as he did against Duke.
"I don't think we can do it all the time against everybody," Auriemma said. "I think in certain situations, we trying to find in our practice when that is and against who, not necessarily against every team but there are times when that makes sense to do it and others that it doesn't. I was really happy with the effort today, it was pretty taxing on our guys. I don't think the effort was ever less than I wanted it to be."
A few things of note from the game. First, McCallie didn't rule out playing UConn again during the regular season but there is no game scheduled for next season after the teams have played in each of the last six seasons. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hit four 3-pointers to move into sole possession of second place on UConn's career list. She is three behind Diana Taurasi's program record of 318. Breanna Stewart recorded her 200th career blocked shot. Finally. highly-touted Blair (N.J.) Academy sophomore wing Andra Espinoza-Hunter, who was sitting in the second row behind the UConn bench, committed to UConn according to her Philadelphia Belles AAU coaches.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Passing Maya is next up for UConn sharpshooter Mosqueda-Lewis

Every now and then Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis will take a peek up at the No. 23 hanging in the Huskies of Honor and be reminded of the incredible responsibility she undertook when asking the great Maya Moore if she could wear No. 23 during her four seasons at UConn.

Well, if she makes one 3-pointer against Duke tonight (and Mosqueda-Lewis failed to hit at least one 3-pointer just eight times in 113 career games) she will move by Moore and into sole possession of second place on UConn's career charts.

"Being able to have Maya's number and all the things that have come with it, it is kind of an honor knowing that people speak about Maya with such high regard and then you are the next person to wear that number," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I definitely do want to do that number justice and make Maya proud with the way I wear it."

Moore and Mosqueda-Lewis both have 311 career treys. Diana Taurasi set the program record by hitting 318 during her time as a Husky.

Speaking of milestones, Breanna Stewart needs one blocked shot to become the seventh UConn player with 200 career blocks. Kiah Stokes already has 215 blocked shots meaning that this would be just the second time in program history that two players with at least 200 blocks will be on the court together. Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters, who rank No. 1 and 2 all-time at UConn with 396 and 370 blocks respectively are the only other pair of Huskies to accomplish the feat. Tina Charles and Maya Moore as also members of the 200-block club but Moore did not reach that milestone until after Charles had graduated.

One last thing on Mosqueda-Lewis, she is current second among active Division I in 3-pointers made . The aptly-named Morgan Eye of Missouri has 318 career 3s. Mosqueda-Lewis is fifth among active Division I scorers with 1,758 points. Duke's Elizabeth Williams is No. 9 on that list with 1,617 points. She is the active leader with 362 blocked shots. Most people who handle such things had Mosqueda-Lewis and Williams as the top two players in their high school class. Mosqueda-Lewis and Williams were teammates on the U.S. team which won the 2010 FIBA U-17 Championship for Women. Williams was the team's leading scorer and rebounder, beating out current UConn star Breanna Stewart for the team lead in both categories. Mosqueda-Lewis was one of the four double-figure scorers and team leader with 19 3-pointers for the U.S. UConn's Morgan Tuck, who could get the first shot at guarding Williams tonight.

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End of the line for Duke/UConn series?

Changing conferences was not the only alteration in the UConn schedule making process.

It wasn't long that Stanford, Duke, Hartford and Holy Cross would face the Huskies on an annual basis. However, when the 2015-16 schedule is finalized Stanford is likely the only one of the four to have a scheduled showdown with the Huskies.

Hartford, coached by former UConn All-American Jen Rizzotti, played the Huskies in December for six straight seasons but this is the third time in the last five seasons that the teams won't play in the regular season.  Holy Cross and UConn played 20 times from the time UConn coach Geno Auriemma arrived n the scene including one game for 15 straight seasons but haven't met since 2011.

Now it is Duke's turn to pass on annual games against the nine-time national champions.

The writing was on the wall when Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie had some cryptic remarks at a dinner promoting the 2013 Jimmy V Classic about exploring different non-conference rivalries. The hope that somebody in the Duke administration would step in and push for the series to be continued, that doesn't appear to be happening.

Looking at UConn's current seven-game winning streak against Duke when the closest game was a 16-point Huskies win in 2012, the emotions surrounding the ending of the series can't compare to the sentiments when rivals UConn and Notre Dame didn't meet in the regular season last year or when the Tennessee series was abruptly canceled. Still,. UConn coach Geno Auriemma made it clear he would gladly continue to play Duke on a regular basis.

"I have always enjoyed it," Auriemma said. "We have had some great games against them, some that we won, some that we lost. It has always been a great trip for us to go down there and play down in Cameron. The place, from what I remember, when Diana (Taurasi) was playing especially the crowds were great, the intensity level that game has always had, I know it has been kind of one sided lately but there have been a lot of great moments that I remember playing them. It has always been a game that I know we look forward to and it is a shame they don't want to play anymore."

Another title for UConn signee Collier

The championship game of the Visitation Christmas Tournament wasn't too much different from the other three games played by Incarnate Word Academy as it became a showcase for future Husky Napheesa Collier.

Collier had 32 points in the 59-33 win over Kirkwood in Sunday's title contest. Collier was named the tournament MVP. Collier had 145 points in the four games as Incarnate Word won the tournament for the seventh year in a row with Collier being a part of the final three.

Kia Nurse was named the American Athletic Conference's Freshman of the Week for the second time after scoring 13 points and adding seven assists and four steals in Saturday's win over SMU.

It is the third freshman honor for a UConn player as Gabby Williams was last week's winner. Tulane's Kolby Morgan leads the way winning the award three times.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Time with family just what UConn's Jefferson needed

Chances are when Moriah Jefferson is back home in Texas you can find her wherever there are basketball games to be played.

However, when she headed to the Dallas area for Christmas basketball was not on her itinerary.

Coming off a forgettable three-game stretch, UConn's starting point guard discovered that some quality time with family was just what she needed to getting back to playing aggressively and without fear.

"The break going home and seeing my family kind of relieved a lot of unnecessary, I wouldn't say stress, but tension," Jefferson said after scoring a career-high 24 points in Saturday's win over SMU. "I was able to go home and come back to feeling good about everything.

"I kind of just got away from it, played with the nieces all day. It was really good for me. I am really big on family so sometimes getting that break and seeing them it is really good for me."

She was still chuckling a couple days later when she recalls the reaction of her 1 and 2 year old nieces when she bought them a copy of "Frozen."

"I got them Frozen and they were going around the house going crazy," Jefferson said.

Speaking of playing with no worries, Jefferson downplayed the protective sleeve she has been wearing on her right leg.

"Making sure it doesn't get any worse," Jefferson said. "If I didn't wear it, I wouldn't die."

One thing that was a big deal to Jefferson was an aggressive mindset. In the last three games leading into the SMU contest she was 5 of 24 from the field and when she took a shot there was never a sense that it was going in. There was a much different vibe surrounding Jefferson on Saturday.

"For me it is about coming out with the mindset of playing hard and giving 100 percent effort," Jefferson said. "Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) was saying something to me before the game about steals and how she was ahead of me, I wanted to make sure I came out this game and I was ahead of her.

"I was being more aggressive taking open shots. I really didn't change much, I really tried to come out and be aggressive. Once you get into a funk you can't let yourself stay in it and that is kind of what happened. I just happened to hit my first couple of shots and after that it felt like I was back in the game."

In the take it for what it is worth department, after 10 games as a freshman Bria Hartley had 137 points. Yesterday was Kia Nurse's 10th game at UConn and she also has 137 points.

Obviously they are playing with different teammates and against different teams but it is interesting to compare stats and see how the points are being accounted for.

First of all, Hartley played five more minutes per game than Nurse and attempted 15 more shots. Nurse has the edge is FG percentage (57.1 to 49.5) and assist/turnover ratio (38/15 for Nurse, 29/19 for Hartley). Hartley attempted 12 more 3-pointers and made four more. The biggest difference is at the free-throw line as Nurse has attempted nearly twice as many foul shots but she is shooting just 64 percent from the line while Hartley was at a sizzling 86.4 percent at this point in her career.

I did some research on best scoring starts through 10 games but forget to include Jen Rizzotti on the list. Although I know Rizzotti had 96 points in her first eight games thanks to some previous research I did, I don't have her 10-game numbers. But here are the numbers of some prominent UConn stars both then and now.

Breanna Stewart (12-13)                169Maya Moore (07-08)                      165
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (11-12) 158Rebecca Lobo (91-92)                    143
Bria Hartley (10-11)                       137
Kia Nurse (14-15)                          137Nykesha Sales (94-95)                   134
Svet Abrosimova (97-98)               131
Shea Ralph (96-97)                         130

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Another huge game for UConn signee Collier

Napheesa Collier's impressive play continues at the 40th annual Visitation Christmas Tournament.

After scoring 80 points in Incarnate Word Academy's first two games in the tournament, Collier had 33 points, 12 rebounds, six steals and five blocked shots in a 70-43 win over St. Joseph's Academy. The win set up a championship showdown with Kirkwood, a 59-47 winner over Parkway North in the other semifinal.

Incarnate Word is looking for its seventh Visitation tournament in a row.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

UConn's Auriemma at the head of the class

Much like when he closed in on coaching his 1,000th career game, UConn's Geno Auriemma was blissfully unaware of the major milestone he attained on Saturday afternoon until he was recently informed that a win over SMU would move him by former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore and into the No. 1 spot on NCAA Division I women's basketball career winning percentage.

"These are the kinds of things that unless somebody brings to my attention, I don't even know they exist," Auriemma said .

"I had somebody (from ESPN) ask me what it is like to be compared to (former UCLA head coach) John Wooden because we had the most wins, the most national championships in women's basketball and they had the most anywhere and what qualities that we share. It made me laugh when I finished reading (former New Haven Register reporter) Seth Davis' book (on John Wooden) that he was so gracious to send me. The more I read about it, how he lived his life and how I lived mine, the only thing we have in common - he and in - if that we both coached the most iconic college basketball players to ever play. Anything is possible but if we lose Monday night (to Duke) I am right back to No. 2 and I am king for a day."

Despite gaudy numbers, UConn's offense still a work in progress

One look at the latest NCAA statistical database might indicate that all is well with the UConn offense.

The Huskies led all Division I women's teams in field-goal percentage and scoring margin while San Jose State is the only team to average more points than the 89.9 put up by UConn in the first nine games of the season.

However, Geno Auriemma didn't coach the Huskies to nine national titles by being easily pleased.

Auriemma saw the Huskies attempt 20 3-pointers in the first half in a recent game against DePaul and was not amused. Then he looked on as his team's first four shots against UCLA were 3-pointers and none of them were taken by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who is closing in on the program mark for career treys.

"I told the team during one timeout, we got five 3s  in five or six possessions and Kaleena hadn't touched the ball yet," Auriemma said. "I looked at them and said 'I don't know who would think that is a good idea.' If we shot six 3s in the first seven possessions and she shot three of them ... but if she hasn't touched the ball yet, that is not the winning edge. Sometimes it comes easy and you wan to make it easy. I have heard that we don't have enough of a post presence and when we do have that balance, when Stewie is scoring in the lane, Tuck is scoring in the lane and we have that balance ... The first half against somebody we took 20 3s, that is in the first half. Normally you get 60 shots in a game so we wan to take a third of our shots as 3s, we already accomplished that by halftime. That means we are taking too many of them, it means we aren't getting the ball inside enough, we aren't scoring in different ways other than 'let's just jack up a 3.' That is always what we work on. The majority of our time is doing that because it is easy to shoot a 3, that is the easiest bail out there is, make two passes and somebody shoot that. I don't think that teams that do that can win championships."

UConn was able to work on the offense in the time between the end of the final exams and when the players headed home for Christmas.

"I don't know if we are at the peak of what our offensive efficiency is, I don't know that we are there," Auriemma said. "I think we've got some work to do in that regard. I liked the way we have played offensive. The one game we lost (against Stanford) we didn't lose because of our offense. Other than that (Stanford) game, our defense has been pretty good and our offense has gotten better, better and better. There is still a long way from where we are now and where I hope we are. When you score the number of points that we score, we are averaging about 90 or close to it, I think people think it is OK to turn the ball over a lot because we score 90 points. I have never understood that. Last year was one of the best offensive teams we have ever had and I think our turnovers were about 13 a game. If we can manage to stay in that ball park for the rest of the year and still manage to score 90 a game that would be saying something  given who our two (graduation) losses were."

No hiding UConn's Williams passion

Looking back Gabby Williams finds it somewhat comical.

Just 15 years old, Williams decided to join her older sister in getting a tattoo. Her mom has a few of them on her body so she wasn't nearly as worried about what she would think but her dad was a different story. So what better time to ask him about getting inked up than when he was a little loopy preparing for surgery, right?

"I was pretty young," Williams said. "I knew my sister was going to get one and my dad was going to get surgery so it was the perfect time to ask him while he was all drugged up (eye surgery). "

So did he understand what they were asking him?

"I don't think so but the next day (he saw it)," Williams said.

Those who want to see the tattoo when Williams plays will be out of luck. UConn has a long-standing rule of covering up visible tattoos during games. Kennitra Johnson used to wear a Band-Aid for that purpose but that wasn't going to do the trick for Williams so he wears Kinesio tape on her left shoulder.

The tattoo has special meaning for Williams as it says "nothing will break our bond in French, my mom is French, and the rose, she has roses tattooed on her body. With her (sister Kayla) being pregnant, we have gotten even closer and even in the future I can look at it and know nothing can break our bond."

Speaking of strong sisterly bonds, Williams spent Christmas with teammate Morgan Tuck in Illinois. The two did some sightseeing in Chicago but also took in the Illinois/Murray State women's basketball game so Tuck could see her older sister Taylor in action. The older Tuck had two assists and two steals in Illinois' 64-44 victory.

"It was fun," Tuck said. "We went downtown, we saw the sights. It was kind of later at night. It was on Michigan Avenue and I was kind of pointing at some things, just kind of the typical touristy Chicago stuff.

"We actually went down to her game on the 22nd so we got to catch a game so it was nice to kind of see her. She played pretty good. She definitely got better since the last time."

It was the first time Tuck saw her sister play live since she was in high school.

"It has been a while since I have been able to go to one of her games," Tuck said. "It was nice. We are used to seeing each other every day and now we see each other a couple of times a year."

After his most recent radio show UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that January 1 has been the tentative date for injured freshman Courtney Ekmark to return to the court without restriction. Well, Ekmark, out with a stress reaction in her right foot, was doing some shooting drills at Friday's practice.

She is out of the walking boot and with each practice she is closer to getting back. It seems unlikely that she would get into any of the three remaining December games but an early January return seems more realistic.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Winning percentage, scheduling Tennessee low on UConn Auriemma's priority list

Perhaps the only thing UConn coach Geno Auriemma cares less about that being on the verge of passing former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore to become the NCAA Division I career leader in winning percentage is a report by the Hartford Courant that ESPN is trying to schedule a game between rivals UConn and Tennessee.

"I haven't gotten any phone calls from anybody," Auriemma said about the prospects of revisiting the rivalry with Tennessee. "I don't go to bed every night wondering when we are going to play Tennessee. I really could give two (rips) if we ever play them again to be honest with you. That game doesn't mean anything to me. It might meana lot to them, it might mean a lot to a lot of people and those people are getting less and less each year. We've moved on and our rivalry with Notre Dame is just as good as any rivalry we've had with anybody. If somebody is out there actually trying to put that game together, I wish them all the luck in the world. Me personally, if it never happens, I could care less. I am not going to bend over backwards to make it happen."

UConn and Tennessee used to meet every season during the regular season and for a time played two regular games per season. However, former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt put an end to that series due to reports of her questioning Auriemma's recruiting tactics. Anybody who thought Holly Warlick being at the helm was going to suddenly result in the teams playing again were sadly mistaken."

Auriemma also hasn't given any thought to the prospects of moving by Barmore on the all-time winning percentage list with a win over SMU tomorrow, which was researched by Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal Inquirer.

"I wasn't even away of it until somebody (Adamec) brought it up last week. I really stopped following that stuff about 25 years ago, about 20 years ago," Auriemma said. "I was acutely aware to what my record was relative to our conference where I wanted us to be relative to people in our conference relative to the old Big East. Ever since then I haven't really kept track off all the things that are out there. I know it would be unfair to Leon because he wouldn't have a chance to play Sunday and keep his standing at No. 1 if he ever gets passed by.

"When you win as many games as we have won, I guess you are going to end up getting into areas that very few people have gotten to. When I am not coaching anymore, whenever that is, I will probably look back and think about that kind of stuff. I usually don't do that.

Auriemma has a record of 887-134, good for a winning percentage of .868756. Barmore had a record of 576-87 which is a winning percentage of .868778.

Auriemma actually began his career with seven straight wins so you could say he was the NCAA Division I leader at that point but Auriemma wasn't putting too much into winning the first seven games of the 1985-86 season.

"Those seven games, that wouldn't do much for my RPI today," Auriemma said. "If we went back and counted the winning percentage of those seven teams, I don't know if that was going to get me a free dinner at my restaurant."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Former UConn guard Edwards may be headed to USC

Sadie Edwards, who left UConn after appearing in six games, is receiving congratulations via social media from people for deciding to transfer to the University of Southern California including some current members of the USC program.

I placed a phone call to Edwards and it went straight to voice mail and then shortly after that she blocked me from viewing from her Twitter account so I will take that as a sign that I won't be hearing back from her. I've spoken to a couple of her coaches before she got to UConn and neither of them have heard anything definitive except that she was going out to USC for a campus visit.

Edwards could enroll at USC for the spring semester and be eligible beginning in the spring of 2016 or she could wait until the start of the 2016-17 season and have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

What's interesting is that USC will be playing in a game at Mohegan Sun Arena next season as part of the eight-team exempt event being run by the Basketball Hall of Fame but she wouldn't be eligible yet to play for the Trojans.

UConn's Nurse not only athlete in family

When UConn freshman sensation Kia Nurse heads home to Hamilton, Ontario for Christmas her home will be unusually quiet.

Normally there would be some time to reconnect with her older brother Darnell but he's going to be kind of busy preparing to play for Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Nurse, a first-round pick of the NHL's Edmonton Oilers in 2013, is expected to be one of the top defensemen for host Canada which opens up against Slovakia on Dec. 26 at Toronto's Bell Centre. One of the highlights of any World Junior event is the U.S./Canada showdown and that will occur on Dec. 31 in pool play.

"I called him and said 'OK, I won't see you at Christmas' but I am beyond excited for him he works his butt off," Kia Nurse said.

Darnell was not a part of the Canadian team which finished a disappointing fourth in the 2013 event and according to his sister, he learned from that experience.

"You try to push it aside but it is motivation just pushing to get better every day," Kia Nurse said. "I think now it is showing that he did that. We went and worked as hard as he could and now he is where he wants to be."

Nurse played two games for the Oilers before going back to Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League. He had six goals and 13 assists in 19 games in the OHL before heading to Canada's training camp.

UConn's Auriemma checks out Greenwich's Wolf

My colleague Henry Chisholm was at yesterday's Greenwich/Ludlowe girls' basketball game and he reported that UConn coach Geno Auriemma was in attendance to check out Greenwich junior forward/center Abbie Wolf.

Assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley have already been at a Greenwich game and the next step in the recruiting process is to have Auriemma see Wolf play before deciding how seriously they are going to pursue her.

Wolf had a strong game with 23 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 61-48 victory.

Wolf certainly has the family athletic background. Her dad August finished fourth in the shot put at the 1984 Olympics and she has brothers on the Duke football and Dartmouth men's basketball teams.

UConn signee Samuelson shines at Nike TOC

There have been some impressive performances in the history of the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions and certainly the shooting display of UConn signee Katie Lou Samuelson will go down among the best.

In Monday's title game Samuelson had 36 points and 10 rebounds to lead Mater Dei High of Santa Ana, California to a 53-44 win over Blackman HS of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the championship game of the Joe Smith Division.

In the four games Samuelson scored at least 36 points three times and she ended up averaging 33.5 points with 21 3-pointers.

UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield had 14 points for Blackman to earn a spot on the all-tournament team. Predictably, Samuelson was named the tournament MVP.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Freshmen Nurse, Williams lighting it up at UConn

Being a freshman at UConn isn't always as easy as it appears on the outside.

As much as the highly-touted recruits might think they are ready for the demanding coaching style of Geno Auriemma and his staff, it can be an eye-opening experience. Some of the best UConn players including those who went onto play in the WNBA struggled as freshmen. That is what makes the performances of current freshmen Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams so impressive. Nurse has scored in double figures in each of the last seven games which coincides for when she was inserted into the starting lineup while Williams has hit double digits in three of the last four games.

Dating back to the 1996-97 season, the 192 points scored by Nurse and Williams is the fourth most for a freshman duo through eight games.

211 Swin Cash/Tamika Williams (1998-99)
206 Breanna Stewart/Morgan Tuck (2012-13)
200 Stefanie Dolson/Bria Hartley (2010-11)
200 Swin Cash/Asjha Jones (1998-99)
192 Kia Nurse/Gabby Williams (2014-15)

"It is because we get along really well off the court," Nurse said. "I can definitely see that and it is going to be a great four years with her."

Williams, who opened more than few eyes when she finished fifth in the 2012 Olympic trials in the high jump, could be the best pure athlete to suit up for the Huskies in recent memory. Her ability to score at will over taller players and soar off the ground to snare rebounds has impressed teammates and coaches alike.

"I am starting to like playing forward, I never thought I'd hear myself say that," Williams said. "I am trying to focus on the things I know I can do."

Report: Former UConn star Faris cut by WNBL team

The Herald Sun in Melbourne, Australia is reporting that the WNBL's Adelaide Lightning have cut former UConn star Kelly Faris.

Faris played in 13 games and averaged 3.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Faris failed to crack double digits in minutes played in three of her final five games. Her season highs were nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Days of playing inside casino no longer an issue for UConn

I remember when word came down that there were some unnamed Big East schools raising their objection to the prospect of the conference's women's basketball tournament being held at Mohegan Sun Arena just a couple years back that I wondered how many years would have to pass before UConn would play a game there.

The walls came down a season ago when some of the objectors went out on their own and the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament was held at Mohegan Sun Arena. However, today it was a completely different animal as UConn played its first regular-season game at Mohegan. Perhaps even more noteworthy than the game being held here was that it barely caused a ripple around the region or the nation. I guess you can chalk it up to the "how quickly things change" department.

"It is pretty fun," said UConn senior center Kiah Stokes, who had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots for her first double-double since a Jan. 7 game against Houston. "The arena is really nice. The fans come to support us wherever we play. It is a little far from campus, not as far as Bridgeport (where the Huskies played DePaul on Friday) but it is great to be in this environment, play on a different court because at Gampel we wouldn't have as many fans here because our
student section is at home (during the break between semesters) so getting the chance for other fans to see us play is the best part. It is definitely an adventure, it is a challenge because we are not home and we have been in hotels in two of the last three nights. We came to play, obviously the first half of this game we were kind of iffy but I think coming out in the second half it shows we want to be good. We have stuff to work on but we are going to try to get better every day."

There used to be a provision in the contract that if UConn wanted to play a home game at a site other than the on-campus Gampel Pavilion, it had to be at the XL Center. However, that changed in recent years leading to the Huskies playing regular-season games at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena in each of the last two seasons and now comes the Huskies' first regular-season contest at Mohegan Sun, the home of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.

"I think it was just a matter of time because when you start having the CIAC (basketball) championships here, you can't really say you can't have a college game in here," said Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko. "The University of Hartford has played here a long time ago, Central (Connecticut) has played here before and I think it is good.
"It is really exciting. You have to give credit to UConn, (UConn director of athletics) Warde Manuel and for them to say they want to spread the UConn visibility beyond Hartford, beyond Gampel, for them to come to Bridgeport and come here I think it is great. It is really not my doing, it is people on the property's doing, there are a lot of other people that you have to thank including the Basketball Hall of Fame (for scheduling Sunday's Hall of Fame Women's Challenge). It is a
great venue for basketball, a great showcase. It is great that UConn is here and they can play here in front of their home fans."

The contract has already been signed for UConn and Florida State to play at Mohegan Sun Arena next season while Yale and West Virginia are among eight teams playing in an exempt event next season that will conclude with four games at Mohegan.

"I never understood why we couldn't play here in the past, I never understood why we couldn't have the tournament in the past," Auriemma said. "From the University of Connecticut standpoint it makes sense for us to play a game here just like it does in Bridgeport. As long as the fans keep appreciating it and keep turning out, I am sure we will keep doing it."

West Virginia, Yale coming to Mohegan Sun next season

There will be a local flavor at next year's exempt event ending with a day's worth of games at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Basketball Hall of Fame's eight team tournament will follow the same format as the event UConn played in during the 2013-14 season and Notre Dame as well as Quinnipiac were a part of this season with two teams playing host to three other schools and the tournament ending with four predetermined matchups.

Next year's event will feature West Virginia, led by former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes, Yale, North Carolina, Gonzaga, USC, Iona, Fairleigh Dickinson and Grand Canyon. North Carolina and Gonzaga will host the host sites for the first three days of the tournament.

UConn will also play a game next season against Florida State but it is sounding more like a one-game deal rather than being part of a tournament.

Huge game for UConn commit

While most of the attention regarding UConn commitments has been focused on Katie Lou Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield leading their teams into a Monday showdown for the Joe Smith Division title at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona, Napheesa Collier isn't about to let her future college teammates have all the fun.

The UConn signee had 41 points, aided by a 9 for 9 performance from the free-throw line, to lead her Incarnate Word Academy team to an 86-18 win over Parkway South yesterday. It is the second time in three days that a member of UConn' incoming freshman class had 41 points in a game as Samuelson accomplished the feat in the TOC opener on Thursday.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Future UConn teammates to square off in Nike TOC title game

In a few years Katie Lou Samuelson will be scoring passes off assists from Crystal Dangerfield at UConn but on Monday the two future Huskies will be on opposing sides in the Joe Smith Division title game at the Nike Tournament of Champions.

Dangerfield, a junior guard, had 14 points and 15 assists to lead Blackman High School of Murfreesboro, Tennessee to a 79-70 win over St. Mary's out of Stockton, California in the first semifinal. She has averaged 17.7 points in the three tournament wins.

Samuelson, a senior wing at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, had 21 points in a 60-53 win over Parkview High in Lilburn, Georgia. Samuelson has scored 98 points in the three games in Arizona.

The championship game will be Monday at 7 p.m. at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona.

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UConn's Nurse in select company

The more Kia Nurse played with the Canadian national team this summer the more it was clear that she was going to have a major impact as a freshman at UConn. However, I'm not sure I expected her to be this good this quickly.

Nurse had 19 points in UConn's win over No. 25 DePaul last night giving her 113 points in her first eight games as a Husky. Big deal, right?

Well, going back to the start of the 1996-97 season the only UConn freshmen with more points through the first eight games is career scoring leader Maya Moore and Nurse's current teammates Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart.

As if having one star in the family isn't good enough, word came down that her brother Darnell (a first-round pick of the NHL's Edmonton Oilers) was named to the Canadian team playing in the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Here's a breakdown of the top scoring UConn freshmen dating back to the 1996-97 (which is as far back as the binder I have with UConn box scores goes)

Maya Moore (07-08)         172    57-91      5-16         13-21     132    48    25    15    17   (13)
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
                    (11-12)          211     48-100   23-56          9-12     128   43    14    14      5     (9)
Breanna Stewart (12-13)  178     45-77      7-18         24-29      121   52   10      8    12     (11)
Kia Nurse (14-15)            216     41-72    13-31         18-31      113   38   25     10     0     (13)
Svet Abrosimova (97-98) 181    37-69      6-12          31-44      111  42    9      16     0     (28)
Bria Hartley (10-11)         247    38-77     17-41         15-18      108  23   25     11    0      (15)
Swin Cash (98-99)            151   37-67       0-0           27-47      101  44     7     12   10     (16)

For those wondering, here are the scoring totals through eight games for members of the Huskies of Honor not listed above: Sue Bird 45, Tina Charles 85, Stefanie Dolson 68, Renee Montgomery 49, Shea Ralph 94, Diana Taurasi 72.

Also, taking my research one step further, the freshman duo of Nurse and Gabby Williams are among the highest scoring rookie tandems during that span

191 Cash/Tamika Williams (1998-99)
185 Stewart/Tuck (2012-13)
174 Cash/Asjha Jones (1998-99)
172 Dolson/Hartley (2010-11)
169 Nurse/Williams (2014-15)

DePaul coach: National championship still goes through UConn

One of the drawbacks from DePaul and UConn no longer playing in the same conference is that the media rarely gets the chance for the entertaining post-game ping pong between head coaches Doug Bruno and Geno Auriemma.

When both programs played in the Big East Bruno was never shy about proclaiming UConn as the best team in the country much earlier than Auriemma, one of his closest friends, wanted to have to deal with such banter.

Sure enough after last night's emphatic UConn win Bruno's opening statement included the proclamation that "if anyone else is going to win the national championship, they will have to beat them."

Bruno didn't stop there. He was asked about how the Huskies have gone about replacing graduated All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and that really got Bruno going.

"You are not going to replace Dolson, she is a unique player," Bruno said. "Kiah Stokes is the best post player we played this season and we played Notre Dame (although star freshman Brianna Turner was injured and did not play). I don't know if there is a better post player. That sounds crazy to the UConn people but you don't get 18 rebounds against Notre Dame and have that kind of impact on the win without being pretty good. Morgan Tuck is special, we saw it. I know that Coach (Auriemma) knew she was good but I don't know if Coach knew she was going to be as good as she is or appreciate how good she is. I think she is a real special basketball player. They are starting to be able to use Morgan Tuck, (take advantage) of her versatility. They have Stewie's versatility and flexibility. You lose Dolson and gain versatility and flexibility,  you have Stokes so you can play big, when Mosqueda-Lewis starts rounding into fitness ... She is still knocking down shots while she is getting into her best place. She is coming off an injury and when you are injured, it is hard and it takes time, Kia Nurse is a special freshman, she is still a freshman but she is still a special freshman. You put all of those ingredients together and I don't even mention Moriah and the Williams kid is fighting for minutes and you have a nice little nucleus of a basketball team."

Having already played - and thrown major scares - into No. 4 Texas A&M and No. 5 Notre Dame, Bruno does have a pretty good idea of the obstacles standing between the Huskies and a third straight national title.

"Notre Dame was No. 2 or No. 1 at one point and that was a pretty convincing 20-point game. Who else is there? You have the South Carolina game and that is going to be a great test. They are No. 1 and we will find out in February and hopefully find out a second time in March, that is really the way the landscape is looking to me. I don't see anybody else. I haven't studied Texas yet, I have seen just about everybody else so I don't know how good they are. This is a very special and different (team)."

UConn continues the process of bolstering its non-conference schedule for next season.

Auriemma recently mentioned that the Huskies will be playing Chattanooga, which just knocked off Stanford.  UConn Senior Women's Administrator Deb Corum said the paperwork on that is yet to be finalized but she did say that the contracts have been signed on games against LSU (at home) and Florida State (at Mohegan Sun Arena) for next year.

You can add that to return games with South Carolina, Notre Dame, DePaul among others. Details are being worked out to play Louisville and Nebraska in the coming season or seasons as well.

Friday, December 19, 2014

UConn's Stewart ready to kick it into overdrive

The challenging set of final exams were not the only tests that Breanna Stewart was looking to ace during UConn's recent 12-day break between games.

The reigning national player of the year is not one to dwell on individual statistics so she wasn't as upset about her string of four straight games being held under 20 points heading into Friday's game against DePaul as she was somewhat perturbed at the way she was playing.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma saw an immediate difference in Stewart when the Huskies began to practice after the final exam period had come to an end. Stewart was more actively involved in pretty much every possession she was on the court and that translated into a special performance on Friday night.

Stewart had 21 of her season high tying 25 points in the first half and also had eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 30 minutes in the Huskies' 98-64 win over a DePaul team which threw major scares into top five teams Texas A&M and Notre Dame.

"I could feel the difference whether it was the focus or something (else)," Stewart said. "I could tell I was more in tune with everything that is gong on. I wanted to be consistently better than I was before
It was a weird feeling."

Nobody has been impacted more by the graduation of All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley than Stewart. With two fewer scorers on the court it has been easier to throw more bodies at Stewart and she hasn't always dealt with the additional attention and increased physical play.

"It wasn't the same as it was last year," Stewart said. "I felt like I wasn't doing as much as I could have done. Just to have my teammates rely on me and that kind of thing, step up in that position is important. Getting back to how I want to play, like I played tonight, that made me feel good because in the past games that we had I've always found things I could do better, a lot of things. Tonight there are still a lot of things I could do better but the vibe was different."

Speaking of people driven to succeed, UConn senior center Kiah Stokes has been so close to attaining a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in her time at UConn. However, an A-minus here or B-plus there kept her from perfection. Until now.

UConn announced earlier today that Stokes had a perfect 4.0 for the fall semester, the first Husky women's basketball player to accomplish the feat since Kelly Faris

"It was definitely a goal and I knew if I put more time into studying," Stokes said. "I could get an A-minus but I really put the effort into getting an A."

Auriemma reacted to the news as only he could.

"I am not surprised , Kiah is a great student," Auriemma said. "We have so many of them on our team. Gabby (Williams) got a 3.6, Kiah Stokes, Kia Nurse, I think they all  - I think there were nine out of the 12 (with GPAs) over 3.0. I am not surprised but she has one of those individualized majors that people take so she just makes (stuff) up. I was talking to her the other day and said 'what kind of major is this?' She is an unbelievable student. She thinks too much on the court but it helps her (in school)."

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Connecticut post on UConn's radar

In the last couple of weeks assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley have ventured down to Fairfield County to check out Greenwich High junior center Abbie Wolf in action. A recruiting source said that UConn coach Geno Auriemma is hoping to make it to a Greenwich game to see her in action as well.

UConn already has commitments from point guard Crystal Dangerfield and wing Kyla Irwin and would love to land a big kid in the class as well.

During the nearly two-week break between games Auriemma was in Texas to check in on Lauren Cox, considered to be the best player in the Class of 2016, as well as Joyner Holmes, who opened more than a few eyes with her relentless style of play at the U.S. junior national trials earlier this year. Illinois post Tori McCoy is another player on the radar but she just recently tore her ACL and is out for the rest of the season.

Wolf is an intriguing prospect. She is good enough of a student to draw interest from Ivy League schools and to say she comes from an athletic family is an understatement. She has one brother who is a member of the Duke football team, another one who is a freshman on the Dartmouth men's basketball team and another Andrew was a standout swimmer at Greenwich High School who is now a freshman at UConn and her father August was the U.S. indoor and outdoor shot put champion in 1984 who finished fourth in the 1984 Olympics.

The 6-foot-4 Wolf began her junior season by scoring 21 points in a 71-61 win over Stamford. She is averaging 13.7 points per game heading into tonight's game against Wilton.

UConn commits Katie Lou Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield led their teams to hard-earned wins on the second day of the Nike Tournament of Champions event. Now if they can lead their teams to semifinal wins, they will square off in the Joe Smith Division title game on Monday.

Samuelson had 36 points (giving her 77 in the first two games) as Mater Dei defeated Fremont 59-44 despite 22 points from Nebraska signee Jessica Shepard.

Dangerfield had 17 points in Blackman High School's 58-48 win over Desert Vista (featuring Cal commit and U.S. U-17 national team member Kristine Anigwe).

Mater Dei plays Parkview in one semifinal while Stockton's St. Mary's meets Blackman in the other semifinal.

Stokes a winner on and off the court at UConn

The story of Kiah Stokes four years at UConn have been well documented. Despite rumors that she would be jumping ship due to a lack of playing time earlier in her career, Stokes has fully embraced the UConn experience.

Among those Huskies with at least 100 blocked shots, Stokes has the highest blocked shot/40 minute mark and just in case anybody wondered about her efforts in the classroom, she earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average during the fall semester.

Here's the breakdown on blocked shots per 40 minutes

Kiah Stokes (2011-present)       1693   203    4.80
Kara Wolters (1993-97)             3144   370    4.71
Rebecca Lobo (1991-95)           3572   396    4.43
Kelly Schumacher (1997-00)    1832   181    3.95
Breanna Stewart (2012-present) 2291  191    3.33
Tina Charles (2006-10)              3869   304    3.14
(Peggy Walsh blocked 162 shots from 1982-86 but minutes played are not available for those seasons)

Quirky schedule continues for UConn

UConn's schedule in November and December certainly doesn't lack in originality.

It wasn't too long ago when the Huskies became well acquainted to playing in the comfort of their on-campus haunts. It was just five seasons ago that UConn played six games at Gampel Pavilion in the final two months of 2010.

Yet, with tonight's game in Bridgeport and the Huskies finishing out 2010 with a game at Mohegan Sun Arena, two games in Hartford and one in Greenville, N.C., the Huskies will end the year having played just one regular-season game in Storrs.

However, it is another part of the way the schedule shook out that has not pleased UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Tonight's game will end a 12-day hiatus, It isn't the first time it has happened as UConn also had 12 days off between the Penn State and Oakland games in 2012 and went 13 games between games in 2004 before losing at Arizona State. It will be the ninth time since 1990 that UConn will play after not having a game for at least 12 days.

"That doesn't make me feel good at all," Auriemma said. "It is scheduling, I guess it is the only time we could fit the games in or whatever but everybody else has played all week long. They (DePaul) will have played twice since our last game so any play you game after exams is not ideal but I've always said that you either want to play somebody good enough to beat you or somebody you are going to beat just because the bus shows up on time."

DePaul certainly falls in the former category in Auriemma's eyes.

"They had Texas A&M beat, they had Northwestern beat, they had Notre Dame beat so in all three of their losses, those are games that they could look back and say with one thing or another those are games that they had a chance to win or could have won maybe," Auriemma said. "We are playing a team, I told him when the schedule came out that I don't like the fact we have 12 days off. He thinks it is a positive. He said you have 12 days to get ready for us like we are playing the Bulls or something like we have to find a way to guard Jordan and Pippen."
Since the start of the 1993-94 season UConn has lost nine games in the months of November and December and three of the defeats have come after breaks due to final exams. It began in 1993 when the Huskies lost at Stanford after not playing for 14 straight days. In 2004 UConn lost at Arizona State after not playing for 13 days and most recently, an eight-day break was followed by a loss at Baylor. On the other side of things, UConn has scored at least 100 points four times after a break of at least 12 days during that span and the largest margin of victory in program history came in 1998 after a 13-day break in a game against Quinnipiac.

Here's the breakdown
14: at Seton Hall 88-45 on 12-8-99/UCLA 106-64 on 12-23-99
14: at Boston College 80-62 on 12-13-93/at Stanford 75-94 on 12-28-93
13: St. John's 91-51 on 12-13-98/Quinnipiac 117-20 on 12-27-98
13: Hartford 55-32 on 12-7-94/at Arizona State 50-61 on 12-21-94
12: Penn State 67-52 on 12-6-12/Oakland 96-25 on 12-19-12
12: Southern California 68-44 on 12-7-02/Pepperdine 109-48 on 12-20-02
12: Louisiana Tech 74-50 on 12-9-01/Oklahoma 86-72 on 12-22-01
12: at North Carolina State 98-75 on 12-10-94/Iona 101-45 on 12-23-94
12: at Fairfield 60-58 on 12-10-91/Hartford 57-43 on 12-23-91

Thursday, December 18, 2014

UConn commits shine on first day of TOC

The first step towards a showdown between UConn commits Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson went according to plan today at the NIKE Tournament of Champions.

Samuelson, a senior wing, tied a Mater Dei single-game record with 41 points (UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and UCLA's Nirra Fields share the mark) and broke the program record (held by Mosqueda-Lewis and her sister Karlie) with 10 3-pointers as Mater Dei defeated Skyline out of Dallas 67-34.

Dangerfield had 21 points as Blackman High defeated Hamilton High, one of the host schools, 57-44 in the first round in the Joe Smith Division.

Next up for California powerhouse Mater Dei is Fremont (Nebraska) High tomorrow in a showcase of a pair of top five national recruits as Fremont's Jessica Shepard, a Nebraska signee, is sure to cross paths with Samuelson more than once.

Blackman, the defending high school national champion out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, will play Desert Vista in tomorrow's quarterfinals. Desert Vista features Cal commit Kristine Anigwe, who played on the U-17 national team along with Samuelson and fellow UConn signee De'Janae Boykin.

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Ticket sales going well for UConn's next two "home" games

It certainly has the makings of an interesting weekend of basketball.

For years when UConn played a game in Connecticut the choices were either on campus in Storrs or in Hartford. We knew that was going to change this season and it will all going occur over the next four days.

Tomorrow night the Huskies will play No. 25 DePaul at Webster Bank Arena and then on Sunday comes a game against UCLA at Mohegan Sun Arena.

I reached out to Charlie Dowd at Webster Bank Arena and the people at Mohegan Sun Arena and the Basketball Hall of Fame to get an update on tickets sold for the Huskies home away from home games.

Dowd said ticket sales for tomorrow's game are in the high 7,000s and headed to a sellout while Greg Procino of the Hall of Fame said about 7,000 tickets have been sold for the UCLA game.

I know there was a day when more than 10,000 would show up for a game regardless of the opponent, day of the week and time of year but those days have come and gone. Getting crowds in the 7,000-8,000 range is pretty solid with UConn on break between semesters and playing games away from campus.

UConn eyeing Jan. 1 as return date for Ekmark

After UConn's open practice yesterday Geno Auriemma headed over to his Geno's Grille restaurant at Storrs Center for the taping of his weekly radio show with WTIC's Bob Joyce.

There were a couple of things I wanted to check in with Auriemma about so I headed over there for the final 10-15 minutes of the show which featured an entertaining back and forth with DePaul coach Doug Bruno.

After he wrapped up Auriemma said that Jan. 1 is the tentative date when injured freshman guard Courtney Ekmark could be cleared to return to the court. Ekmark has been sidelined with a stress reaction in her right foot. The good news is that Ekmark didn't have the protective boot on the foot at UConn's practice.

"I think every day she is getting a little bit better," Auriemma said after practice. "She was probably anxious to getting back to doing something so she got out of the boot and was doing some other stuff other than being in the pool, I think it is a huge win for her."
It will be interesting to see how much time she needs in practice before she returns to the court but it wouldn't be surprise to see her get a few minutes once she is cleared just to get her back into the flow.

Also, when I mentioned to Auriemma was Chattanooga on the verge of beating Stanford, the only team to beat the Huskies this season, he mentioned that they are playing Chattanooga next season. The news was reported on the radio show a couple weeks ago and Carl Adamec had more on the subject in his SNY blog

In an email seeking confirmation Corum, UConn's Senior Women's Administrator, replied saying the contract has not been signed yet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reaction to departure of Sadie Edwards at UConn

After Wednesday's practice UConn coach Geno Auriemma and some of her teammates reacted to the sudden departure of Meriden native and freshman guard Sadie Edwards.

After the team returned from Notre Dame Edwards met with Auriemma and said she wanted to play more and made the decision to leave. So what was Auriemma's thoughts during that conversation?

"I appreciate that and hopefully you learned something when you were here, hopefully you land at the right place for us,"Auriemma said.

"It looks great from the outside. What do you see from the outside? The crowd, the adulation, the Final Fours, the parades, all the all-americans but what you don't see is how that all comes about. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it is a kid from Connecticut you might look at it a little bit differently. "

Sources have indicated that Edwards is still currently weighing her options and may not make a decision on which school she will land at until after Christmas and perhaps even after New Year's.

"I am not necessarily surprised that she left, I am surprised it happened as quickly as it did," UConn senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "She just wasn't happy, she wasn't happy that she wasn't playing and her demeanor changed over the last couple of months and you could tell it was deteriorating more and more, the more she wasn't playing.

"She went to boarding school to play basketball, to go away from home and somebody who makes a decision like that, obviously they want to play if they make a decision like that at that next level. When that doesn't happen when you are in college, it is hard to handle that. It is hard to be content with sitting on the bench. If you know you can go somewhere else and play right away, I am happy that she made the decision that is best for her and I am happy she made it earlier rather than later. It sucks to have stayed here, not played here and been miserable. Now she can go somewhere and play the minutes that she wants, hopefully turn into the player she wants to be and be happy.

"It takes a lot for people to stay here for four years and it also takes a lot for somebody to know when enough is enough and how much you can handle. I think she did the right thing when figuring out what she can handle and do what is best for herself."

Nobody was more surprised to see Edwards leave than her roommate and fellow freshman Gabby Williams.

"She didn't really tell anybody she was going to transfer," Williams said. "It was very quick and all of a sudden and now she is gone. It happened so fast that we couldn't take it in. Now, she is down the street so I am sure we will still see her around and everything. We are all just happy that she did what is best for her. We'd like her to stay but it is best for her that she went.

"That was kind of a wake-up call to everybody that you think you could  just get through it but it is just not for everybody. It is not that she is a bad player or anything, it is just that UConn is not the school for her."

Big game for UConn signee Boykin

UConn incoming freshman De'Janae Boykin had a season-high 30 points to lead Flowers High School to a 71-32 win over Laurel on Tuesday.

Boykin has scored at least 20 points in each of the first five games of her senior season and is averaging 24.8 points per game.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

3 UConn commits on Naismith watch list

UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson and 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield are among 20 players on the Naismith Girls' High School Player of the Year watch list.

Also on the watch list are Class of 2016 UConn recruiting targets Lauren Cox, Joyner Holmes and Sabrina Ionescu.

Collier, a 6-foot-1 forward at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, is averaging 20.3 points, 9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., has five 30-point games in the first eight games of the season as she is averaging 31.1 points per game. Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 guard at Blackman HS in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is averaging 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 3.6 steals per game.

Samuelson and Dangerfield will be among the showcase players at the upcoming Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. Blackman will open up against Hamilton HS in Chandler, Arizona on Thursday. Mater Dei joins Blackman in the Joe Smith Division and will open against Skyline High out of Dallas. Mater Dei and Blackman are on opposite sides of the bracket and could meet in the Joe Smith championship game on Monday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

MIlestone for UConn commit

Earlier in the season Class of 2016 UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield scored her 1,000th career point. On Friday the other early pledge in that class reached that milestone.

Kyla Irwin scored 21 points as she became the fifth player in State College (Pa.) High School program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

Speaking of Dangerfield, she had 14 points and 10 rebounds as her Blackman (Tenn.) team, ranked eighth in the USA Today national poll, defeated No. 2 Oakland 40-26. Oakland owns a win over the Potter House squad which defeated Blackman earlier this season.

UConn signee Napheesa Collier made certain her Incarnate Word squad would not open the season with back to back losses. She had 36 points and 13 rebounds in a 60-28 win over Ozark (Arkansas) in the consolation semifinals at the Deepsnap Tournament of Champions. Play in the event concludes tofay with a game against North Little Rock.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

UConn products showcased on WNBA air waves

The WNBA released its national television schedule (i.e. the games on ESPN2) and while the Connecticut Sun will be shut out (along with Seattle and San Antonio), 10 of the 11 games feature teams with former UConn stars. The lone exception is the first game between Chicago and Indiana on June 14.

Maya Moore's Minnesota Lynx will be on three times, Diana Taurasi and the defending champion Phoenix Mercury will be featured six times, Tina Charles and the New York Liberty, Tiffany Hayes' Atlanta Dream and the Washington Mystics with Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will each have one ESPN2 game. The list of games on NBA TV will be announced at a later date.

Here's the list of games

Day Date Visitor Home Eastern Time Network
Sun. June 14, 2015 Chicago Indiana 1 PM ESPN2
Sun. June 14, 2015 Minnesota Phoenix 3 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 23, 2015 Los Angeles Washington 8 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 30, 2015 New York Chicago 8 PM ESPN2
Tues. July 7, 2015 Tulsa Atlanta 8 PM ESPN2
Tues. July 21, 2015 Phoenix Los Angeles 10 PM ESPN2
Tues. July 28, 2015 Chicago Phoenix 10 PM ESPN2
Tues. Aug. 4, 2015 Minnesota Los Angeles 10 PM ESPN2
Sun. Aug. 9, 2015 Phoenix Chicago  1 PM ESPN2
Sun. Aug. 16, 2015 Indiana Phoenix 7  PM ESPN2
Sun. Aug. 30, 2015 Phoenix Minnesota 7 PM ESPN2

Speaking of the Connecticut Sun, the season opener is June 5 when Dolson, Hartley and the Mystics come to Mohegan Sun Arena. The road opener comes two days later against Atlanta.

Here is the complete schedule for the Sun

JUNE Fri.  5 Washington 7 P.M.
Sun.  7 At Atlanta 3 P.M.
Thu. 11 Chicago 7 P.M.
Sun. 14 Atlanta 3 P.M.
Tue. 16 At Seattle 7 P.M.
Fri. 19 At Phoenix 7 P.M.
Sun. 21 At Los Angeles 2 P.M.
Fri. 26 Los Angeles 7 P.M.
Tue. 30 Indiana 7 P.M.
JULYThu.  2 Chicago 7 P.M.
Sun. 12 At Chicago 5 P.M.
Tue. 14 Minnesota 7 P.M.
Thu. 16 At New York 7 P.M.
Sat. 18 Indiana 7 P.M.
Sun. 19 At Washington 7 P.M.
Wed. 22 At Minnesota noon
Fri. 31 Seattle  7 P.M.
Sun.  2 At Indiana 6 P.M.
Tue.  4 San Antonio 7 P.M.
Fri.  7 Washington 7 P.M.
Sun.  9 At Washington 4 P.M.
Wed. 12 Tulsa 7 P.M.
Fri. 14 New York 7 P.M.
Sun. 16 At Atlanta 3 P.M.
Fri. 21 At Tulsa 7 P.M.
Sun. 23 Atlanta 6 P.M.
Tue. 25 At Atlanta noon
Thu. 27 Phoenix 7 P.M.
Sat. 29 New York 7 P.M.
Sun. 30 At Chicago 6 P.M.
SEPTEMBERTue.  1 At Indiana 7 P.M.
Fri.  4 At San Antonio 7 P.M.
Wed.  9 At New York 7 P.M.
Sun. 13 Chicago 1 P.M.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

3 UConn players on Naismith watch list

The UConn trio of Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart are among 50 players on the Naismith Trophy watch list.

New Haven native Bria Holmes, a junior guard at West Virginia, is also among the candidates for the prestigious national player of the year award.

Mosqueda-Lewis is UConn's leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game and is 16 3-pointers away from setting the Huskies' career mark.

Stewart, last year's winner, is averaging 16.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and is one of four UConn players with at least 20 assists.

Jefferson is averaging 9.6 points and has a team-leading 33 assists.

Holmes is averaging 24.1 points per game, which ranks sixth nationally. Holmes and Washington's Kelsey Plum are the only one of the nation's top 10 scorers on the watch list.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Impressive start for UConn signee Boykin

UConn signee De'Janae Boykin began her senior season by scoring 25 points aided by hitting a pair of 3-pointers and going 9 of 10 from the free-throw line to lead Flowers High School to a 70-37 win over Bowie.

Also, fellow UConn incoming freshman Katie Lou Samuelson continues her outstanding play.

Samuelson had games of 39 and 37 in consecutive games, hitting a total of 10 3-pointers in the wins over Foothill and El Dorado on Thursday and Saturday. In eight games this season Samuelson has scored at least 23 points in every game and had five 30-point efforts.

The final member of the incoming freshman class, Napheesa Collier's Incarnate Word Academy team will open the season on Thursday playing in the Tournament of Champions in Fort Smith, Arkansas. IWA will open against Fayetteville (Ark.) High.

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Edwards leaves UConn

I doubt there is a Connecticut high school point guard who doesn't dream of running the show at UConn.

However, living a dream isn't always as easy as it might seem.

Meriden native Sadie Edwards could barely believe her good fortune when she was offered a scholarship by UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma during a visit to campus. The reality is she should have gone home and gave it a little more thought and there were those in her camp who were suggesting she do just that. But how can you pass on a chance to play at UConn? So Edwards said yes.

Well, after six games and 29 minutes, Edwards is now looking for a new school as UConn announced that she is transferring at the end of the fall semester.

Here is the official release from UConn

Freshman guard Sadie Edwards has decided to transfer from the University of Connecticut women's basketball program, as announced by head coach Geno Auriemma on Tuesday.

“Sadie is a great kid who will be missed by the coaching staff and her teammates,” Auriemma said.  “Getting to know Sadie and her family has been a pleasure but she has voiced her desire to play more and we have come to the mutual agreement that this can best be accomplished at a different school.  I wish Sadie nothing but the best in the future.”

Edwards will complete her final exams this week prior to finalizing her transfer.

The Meriden, Conn. native played in six games, averaging 4.8 minutes per contest.

The reality is that Edwards was receiving walk-on minutes (her last appearance came on Saturday when she checked into the Notre Dame game with 38 seconds left to play along with walk-ons Tierney Lawlor and Briana Pulido) and that was not expected to change. Kia Nurse was already starting, Gabby Williams carving out a niche coming off the bench and Courtney Ekmark expected to do that same when she recovers from the stress reaction in her right foot. With UConn bringing in another highly-rated class dominated by perimeter players and top Class of 2016 point guard Crystal Dangerfield already having committed, Edwards was going to have a hard time earning quality minutes at UConn.

The last time I spoke to Edwards came in between UConn's two preseason games after she was the lone available scholarship player to play fewer than 10 minutes in the exhibition opener against West Chester.

"I don't look at it as getting more minutes, I look at it as getting better and that will come," Edwards said.

"It is challenging but there is a lot to learn, my teammates help me out a lot. There is a lot to learn but my teammates have helped me to be the best I can be."

Edwards has had a tough go of it with a member of her immediate family dealing with some serious health issues and then after leaving Mercy to play in New York's Nazareth High School, Nazareth coach Apache Paschall died in January of 2012 at the age of 38. Edwards finished out her high school career in New Jersey playing for Blair Academy.


Monday, December 08, 2014

UConn goes big to post impressive win

At the time it seemed like just another game on the schedule, an opportunity to move forward from a disappointing performance.

However, the game against Creighton last month allowed the UConn coaching staff to do a little tinkering.

In the first two games of the season the trio of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Kiah Stokes were not on the court at the same time. In the overtime loss to Stanford there were 11 occasions when Tuck was subbed in for Stokes or vice versa. However, with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis out with the flu the decision was made to start Tuck alongside Stewart and Stokes with rather impressive results. When Mosqueda-Lewis returned, she was obviously going back into the starting five so it was Stokes who was removed from the starting lineup.

Stewart, Stokes and Tuck played together for 12:33 against Creighton with solid but not spectacular results as UConn outscored Creighton 32-22 when they were out on the court together.

With Notre Dame playing without an injured Brianna Turner and UConn struggling defensive, Auriemma decided to go big. Stewart, Stokes and Tuck were put on the court together with 10:08 left in the first half and the Huskies were trailing 28-18. Over the next 5:54 UConn outscored Notre Dame 16-0 and outrebounded the Fighting Irish 12-6. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Auriemma went back to the post-dominated lineup. He had Stewart, Stokes and Tuck out there with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis moving to the shooting guard position. Over the next 13:12 the only subs Auriemma made was at point guard as he alternated using Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse.

During the 19:06 that UConn had the three posts playing together the Huskies outscored ND 39-18 and held a 28-16 rebounding edge. I think it is safe to say that lineup will be seen again this season.

Speaking of Tuck, I noticed that she was the UConn player who was sent out to meet with the officials and Notre Dame captains before the game. In the post-game press conference Auriemma was asked who was emerging as the team leader and after playfully mentioning his coaching staff, Tuck was the first player he mentioned.

When I asked her about being a leader, Tuck made it clear that it is something that is important to her.

"When I came in as a freshmen, there were people who did that," Tuck said. "I may only be a redshirt sophomore but I have three years here so if I can start doing it now, next year and the year after I can help the freshmen out the way I was helped out as a freshmen."

Tuck was honored for her big game by being named the American Athletic Conference's player of the week.

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Unforgettable day in South Bend for Stokes family

Greg Stokes knew it was going to be a special day inside Purcell Pavilion once he found out that both his son and daughter would be playing games against Notre Dame on the same early December day.

However, not even he could have imagined what was about to transpire.

His daughter Kiah was up first and although she lost her starting job after a loss to Stanford last month, she showed that she has an ability to dominate whether she is in the starting lineup of not for two-time defending national champion UConn.

Stokes certainly dominated in the 76-58 win over Notre Dame as she tied her career high 18 rebounds in just 24 minutes. She also had four blocked shots to become the sixth UConn player with 200 career blocks.

"It is a big moment, she is playing well," Greg Stokes said. "My thing is I don't want her to relax, I want her to keep it going, help her team win. Whatever she needs to do to help her team win that is what she needs to do.

"It is great because my son is playing in the game next so it has been a great trip so far, we have to close the deal. 2 for 1, I love it, it has been fun. It makes for a long day for us but it is worth it."

Darius Stokes' Fairleigh Dickinson team just happened to be the opponent in the back end of a women's/men's doubleheader. He started but was limited to 17 minutes due to foul trouble. He made his only field goal attempt with a nice finish in the lane in the second half while being fouled. He finished with three points, two rebounds and an assist in 75-57 loss to the Fighting Irish.

"You just don't hear that, it is crazy," Darius Stokes said of playing at the same arena as his sister.

"On my visit to Fairleigh Dickinson, I visited some other schools and my coach was talking about playing the same day at Notre Dame so it was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Fairleigh Dickinson, When the schedules came out and I saw we were playing the same day, I couldn't believe it because my family got to see both of us play so it was something special."

Darius Stokes was able to watch the first half of the women's game before getting ready to play. He saw Kiah rip down 12 of those 18 rebounds.

"She played spectacular today, she was active," Darius Stokes said. "Geno's been on her but he expects the best of his players and I think this year  we are starting to see what she can do."

While her teammates went home after the Notre Dame, Stokes was given permission to stay behind to watch her brother's game.

"It was awesome," Kiah Stokes said, "I know he was looking forward to it. It is always nice to see him again, to see my brother and my parents."

The son of a former NBA player, it was only natural that Darius and Kiah gravitated towards the basketball court. They had some memorable showdowns in the driveway of their Marion, Iowa home,
"The past couple of years might not have been as even because he is taller but it is a good battle," Kiah said.

So what does Darius like about Kiah's game?

"She probably has one of the best bodies in women's basketball, she is 6-3, long arms, really strong, she can rebound, block shots and her offense is starting to come around to," he said. "I think she is going to be a good player in the WNBA.

"She always wanted to stay at Connecticut. I don't know where all these rumors came that she wanted to transfer, she always wanted to go to UConn and she knows that is where you go if you want to be the best. Not many people can say that so it is petty special that she is going for a third this year, I hope they get it done."

Darius originally enrolled at Iowa, the school where his father is one of the program's all-time greats. Darius played in 38 games over three seasons but never played more than nine minutes in a game. After graduating from Iowa the desire to have a larger on-court resulted in him looking for another school.

"At Iowa I didn't really get any minutes," Darius Stokes said. "I was a walk-on and this was my first real meaningful minutes in college basketball so it is taking a little bit to get used to. The last few games I have been in foul trouble so I haven't really been able to get into a rhtyhm so once I figure that out, I will be fine."

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Tuck proving to be impact player at UConn

The majority of the attention heading into Saturday's highly-anticipated showdown between rivals UConn and Notre Dame was focused on national player of the year candidates Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd.

However, it wasn't long before Morgan Tuck made the ascension from reliable role player to unstoppable offensive dynamo.

Tuck scored 15 of her game-high 25 points in the second half . She had UConn's first four points of the second half and reminded a nationally-televised audience just how incredibly gifted she is.

"It is like Coach (Geno Auriemma) said that this is why we came to Connecticut, we came to Connecticut to (play in) a sold-out game on the road against a really good team so I think everybody who comes to Connecticut to play is looking for that, looking for the big games, the sold-out crowd in a tough environment," Tuck said.

Just in case people forgot what Tuck is capable of, it should be noted that on a team including Stewart, fellow UConn starter Moriah Jefferson, Notre Dame's Michaela Mabrey, Maryland's second-leading scorer Lexie Brown, Penn State's Candice Agee, Baylor's Alexis Prince and other Division I impact players, it was Tuck who was the leading scorer on the U.S. team which won the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women.

Tuck was not happy with her performance in a loss at Stanford last month and since UConn got back from California, UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been raving about Tuck's play in practice. He took it a step further in Saturday's post-game press conference saying that Tuck, just a redshirt sophomore, is the team's unquestioned leader.

"Stanford, it bad all over the place, in practice I have been trying to focus on reading the defense, going hard all the time and working on being in game shape," Tuck said. "I have been working on it the last couple of weeks and it is something we have to do all the time. We did it today in a big game and it shows that we can do this. Just having that confidence that we did it against a great team and we can do it against other teams. It is great not having to worry about how my body feels, that is something else I put out of my mind."

That has not been easy to do as Tuck has been dealing with knee issues since arriving at UConn. She saw her sophomore season end after playing just eight games as she underwent two knee procedures.

She is certainly playing at a high level now.

"She got the ball, we guarded her and she went by us," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "If she got the ball on the block, she went by us. We never planned on leaving her, we planned on guarding her the whole time but we just kind of crumbled when she drove the ball. she was the aggressor and we didn't match that."