Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Youth to be served in UConn/Temple game

Usually whenever there is any conversation about year two of the American Athletic Conference the talk focused on the lack of competition UConn has faced this season.

The criticisms are well deserved as six of UConn's first AAC games have been decided by more than 50 points and the smallest margin of victory was the 34-point Huskies' win the last time they played Temple.

With all of that being said, if there is a silver lining it is the strong play of the freshmen in the AAC this season. A total of seven freshmen are averaging more than 10 points per game this season and two of the conference's most productive group of newcomers square off in tomorrow's UConn/Temple game.

The Owls are the only team with two freshmen averaging more than 10 points per game and below is the breakdown of top totals by the freshman classes (not including Saturday's games).

Temple    533
SMU        456
UConn     422
UCF         379
Cincinnati 374

SMU        350
Temple    245
UConn     208
UCF         193

UConn      100
Temple       85
Memphis    84
Cincinnati  75

Temple     81
UConn      69
Tulane      47
Tulsa        39
UCF          34

SMU       58
UCF        24
USF        17
Memphis 12

SMU          1679
Temple      1409
Cincinnati 1230
UCF           1145
UConn         976
USF             935

Big night for UConn commits

There's been plenty of news about UConn's incoming freshmen De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Samuelson in recent days thanks to all three being named as candidates for the Naismith national player of the year and being selected to play in the McDoinald's All-American Game. However, UConn has three other commitments who have a longer wait before suiting up for the Huskies.

It wasn't a bad couple of days for that trio.

On Thursday, with UConn coach Geno Auriemma in the stands, sophomore Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 18 points and hit three 3-pointers as Blair Academy defeated Life Center Academy 63-57.

Fast forwarding to yesterday, junior Crystal Dangerfield had 21 points and eight assists as Blackman High defeated rival Riverdale 64-53 to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Tennessee District 7-AAA tournament.

Kyla Irwin had 24 points as her State College (Pa.) HS team defeated Carlisle 61-15. It was the best scoring output for Irwin in more than a month as she had games of 31, 26 and 26 in three consecutive games from Dec. 16-23.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Basketball put on hold at UConn due to Mother Nature

Normally the day before a game the UConn women's basketball team would be working up quite to sweat running through a practice. However, with an estimated 20 inches of snow falling to the ground on Monday night and Tuesday, there would be no basketball drills for the Huskies to go through.

"The only time we went outside was to shovel our cars out and that wasn't fun but we kind of hung out as a team, we were able to hang out in the apartments, watching movies," sophomore forward Morgan Tuck said. "There is only so much that you can do so we tried to do a little bit of (home)work."

Big snow storms are nothing new to people like Tuck and teammate Breanna Stewart but for Moriah Jefferson, it was a big deal.

"It is a new thing for me because I am from Texas," Jefferson said. "It was crazy, I walked outside one time to go across campus, the wind is blowing and it was too much for me."

With the 24 girls players taking part in the McDonald's All-American Game being announced on Wednesday night, I asked Jefferson and Stewart about how invaluable taking part in the McDonald's game was in developing chemistry with their soon to be collegiate teammates.

"I think it is the bonding experience," Jefferson said. "I think it is more than the game, you get to travel to different places, they are taking you to these restaurants and things you don't get to do on a regular basis. It is getting to know each other before you get here and it helps you a lot."

Stewart, who created quite the buzz with a couple of dunks in the practices leading up to the 2012 game, was thrilled to take part in the prestigious event.

"I think the McDonald's All-American Game was one of the best experiences I had in high school and you are able to come together with the top players in the country both men and women and kind of create a relationship," Stewart said. "A lot of them I know prior through USA Basketball and AAU type of thing. It is a fun experience."

All three UConn signees played in the 2012 game and fast forward three years and once again all three UConn incoming freshmen (De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson) were selected to play in the game, set for April 1 at the United Center in Chicago.

Speaking of the UConn recruits, the news on the injury front sounds promising for Boykin and Samuelson. Boykin missed the last five games for Flowers High School due to a hand injury but her father said De'Janae is doing fine so she could return soon for Flowers, which is 2-3 since Boykin has been sidelined. Samuelson missed her second straight game as a result of a knee injury which has been reported as being minor so she has a chance to return to action in the near future. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

UConn's Nurse up for Golden Horseshoe Award

UConn freshman guard Kia Nurse is a finalist for the Golden Horseshoe Award, given to the top amateur or professional athlete from the towns of Hamilton or Burlington, Ontario.

Nurse was a starter on the Canadian national team which posted a surprising fifth-place finish at the FIBA World Championship for Women. Nurse, the youngest player on the Canadian team, finished as the team's fourth-leading scorer with an average of 6.9 points per game and was tied for second with seven steals in seven games. She has started the last 18 games as a freshman at UConn, is fourth on the team averaging 11.9 points per game and is third on the team with 64 assists and 37 steals.

Lacrosse standout Joey Cupido. Laura Fortino, who is a star on the Canadian women's hockey national team and Eleanor Harvey, the top-ranked junior fencer in the world, are the other candidates for the award which will be announced on Feb. 26.

Nurse was also a finalist a year ago but golfer MacKenzie Hughes won the award.

UConn's Jefferson downplays back issues

It is not unusual to see Moriah Jefferson tumble to the court after an aggressive drive to the basket as she did midway through the first half in last night's win over East Carolina.

It was, however, a bit out of the ordinary to see the junior point guard remain on the floor resting up against the padded basketball support while the opposing team raced up the court.

When East Carolina took advantage of Jefferson's absence to score one of its eight first-half baskets. When the fans realized that Jefferson hadn't moved even after the Pirates' fast-break layup, Gampel Pavilion got rather quiet.

Teammate Breanna Stewart made her way down to check on her teammate and when something Jefferson said made Stewart chuckle, there was a sense of this being a false alarm. Jefferson slowly made her way off the court, received some treatment and then took a seat next to associate head coach Chris Dailey which signaled that she was ready to go back into the game. However, before that happened, she headed past the bench and did some stretches with a student trainer to loosen up her back a little bit. Following the game Jefferson downplayed the incident.

"I've had a little bit of a back issue and I just kind of ran into (the basketball support) and irritated it but I am fine," Jefferson said. "I don't even remember what we were talking about (when Stewart started to laugh) but I will be all right."

Obviously an injury to a player like Jefferson would change the fortunes of this UConn team so UConn coach Geno Auriemma must have been a little antsy when he first saw Jefferson staying on the court but not long after he felt confident that it was little more than a false alarm.

"Moriah falls down all the time so I didn't put a lot into that." Auriemma said. "There was no sense of urgency because there was nothing that came from her that indicated that there was going to be a major problem. When she said she got a cramp I wasn't surprised and when she said that she wanted to go back in, I wasn't surprised so fortunately it wasn't anything serious."

Jefferson played 19 minutes, the fewest among the starters, and finished with 11 points, four assists and three steals.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Stokes has three times the fun in UConn blowout win

Somehow it seemed rather fitting that the only thing standing between Kiah Stokes and becoming the fourth UConn women's player to record a triple-double was a couple of points.

Ripping rebounds and swatting away shots has been something that the senior from Marion, Iowa has been able to do with some amount of regularity since arriving in Storrs. However, she came into Wednesday's game against East Carolina with just 12 double-digit scoring games in 125 appearances as a Husky.

Stokes hit the double-digit mark in blocked shots and rebounds in the same sequence as she deflected a layup attempt by I'Tiana Taylor with 1:47 left to play and two seconds later was credited with her 10th rebound. With 1:05 left to play Stokes missed a layup and then with 33 seconds remaining she scored in the lane off an assist from Briana Pulido. Stokes added a rebound in the closing seconds to finish with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in the 87-32 victory.

Stokes has never been one driven by individual accolades but she was being reminded first by Kevin DeMille, UConn's Assistant Director of Women's Basketball Administration, and then by assistant coach Marisa Moseley that she was closing in on history.

First, it was DeMille  who informed that the senior forward/center had seven blocks for the sixth time this season and maybe it was time to swat away a few additional shots. Then late in the game Moseley, who works with the post players, implored Stokes to get the additional basket, rebound and blocked shot to record her first collegiate triple-double while setting a single-game program record with the 10 blocked shots.
"There was like two minutes left and 'Ris (assistant coach Marisa Moseley) was like 'one more block, one more rebound,'" Stokes said. "I was like 'what?' She said 'get a rebound and a block and you have a triple-double.' That was what I tried to do.
"I don't think about it but noticing I get a few (blocks), I said maybe I could get a few more and that is the way I approach it. I know I can block shots, it is one thing I know I can do and to get a triple-double with blocks, I think that is pretty awesome. Words can't really describe it but it is a great feeling and knowing that my teammates had my back and were encouraging me, that is something that is special to me where a lot of teammates might be 'oh, now she is going to get all of the attention' but my teammates were real important and that is the best part about it."
Stokes was there when teammates Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis joined Laura Lishness as the only Huskies with triple-doubles. Dolson's triple-double particularly inspired her since she worked alongside of Dolson in so many drills in practice and so many game situations in their three seasons at teammates.
"Stef got it with assists and I remember talking to her after and said 'I am going to get mine but with blocks instead,'" Stokes said. "I was just fooling around but now that is really happened, I think it is really awesome. I am excited and I am glad this is happening in January and now we are going to get the ball rolling for February and into March."
The 10 blocked shots moved Stokes into a tie for eighth on UConn's single-season charts and leaves her 39 shy of setting a single-season UConn record which has stood since 1994.
"Kiah is just is in a defensive mindset right now that I think very few players can get to that comfort level," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They know they can impact any shot they want to impact. I have seen people do that in the past, I don't know if I have seen anybody do that as often as Kiah has done it."

There was a scary moment as UConn junior point guard Moriah Jefferson stayed down under the basket with 11:25 left in the first half. Jefferson received some treatment but was able to return to the game with 9:03 left in the opening half. Jefferson didn't hold back when she was back into the game. Jefferson finished with 11 points for UConn.

Jefferson admitted that her back has bothered her from time to time this season but it is not anything she is too concerned about. She received some treatment and after stretching out her back, she was ready to get back out there.


3 UConn signees to play in McDonald's All-Americans

You can add the names of De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson to the list of McDonald's All-Americans with ties to UConn.

The three UConn signees were selected to play in the April 1 game at the United Center in Chicago.

Boykin is averaging 21.5 points as a senior at Flowers High School in Springdale, Maryland although she has missed the last seven games with a hand injury.
Collier is averaging 28.9 points (shooting 68 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line), 13.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 4.3 blocks per game as Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis has won 13 games in a row after a 1-2 start.
Samuelson is averaging 28.9 points per game with 10 30-point efforts in 20 games for Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, California, the No. 1 team in ESPN's national high school poll and No. 2 in the USA Today national poll. Samuelson had a season-low seven points in Mater Dei's win over Orange Lutheran on Monday and missed last night's game due to a knee injury although the injury is not supposed to be serious and the hope is she can return to the court later this week.

Also, Meriden native Kiah Gillespie, who plays for Capital Prep, was also selected to play in the game. Gillespie, who signed with Maryland, is averaging 29.2 points, 15.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.7 blocks per game for 11-1 Capital Prep.

Boykin and Gillespie will be members of the East team while Collier and Samuelson will be teammates on the West squad.

Former UConn guard Montgomery headed to Seattle

The overhauling of the Connecticut Sun roster continued in a major way with former UConn guard Renee Montgomery was sent to Seattle along with the No. 3 and 15 picks in the upcoming draft to the Seattle Storm for veteran forward Camille Little and guard Shekinna Stricklen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

"This is a significant move for both teams,” Connecticut Sun General Manager Chris Sienko said in a statement. “Based on our immediate needs, Camille and Shekinna help fill specific roles now and in the future. Of course, to get value, you have to trade value. We wish Renee much success in the future."

Little, a 6-foot-2 former North Carolina standout, averaged a career-high 12.9 points per game last season. Little has been a double-digit scorer in five of the last six seasons and will add experience to a frontcourt hurt by the loss of reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Chiney Ogwumike for much if not all of the upcoming season after she underwent knee surgery earlier this month.

"Camille is a player we’ve had eyes on for quite a while,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said in the release announcing the trade. “She has championship experience that will be extremely valuable as we continue to develop our young talent. She is a premier small forward in the WNBA and a stretch four we are excited to acquire.”

Stricklen is a 6-foot-2 guard/forward out of Tennessee who has averaged 8.4 points in three seasons with the Storm, and scored a career-high 10 points per game in 2013. She has 138 career threes, and has shot 34.8 percent from behind the arc in the WNBA.

“We are super excited to get another young talent like Shekinna,” Donovan said. “She has proven to be a consistent threat from the three point line. Her length, athleticism and experience are a needed addition to our perimeter.”

Montgomery, acquired in the trade that sent Lindsay Whalen to Minnesota and gave the Sun the No. 1 pick used to select former UConn star Tina Charles, played five seasons in Connecticut, averaging 11.4 points per game. She stands fifth all-time in team history with 245 made threes, and her 543 assists with the Sun rank third.

With Montgomery's departure, the Sun is left with Kelly Faris as the lone UConn product on its current roster. Coming off a season when she averaged 7.7 minutes and 1.1 points per game, Faris is not guaranteed to make the 2015 roster. If that is the case and no UConn product is taken in the draft, the Sun could be without a former UConn player for the first time in franchise history.

The Sun still has the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

UConn commit Dangerfield's next game is being streamed live

Friday's Blackman/Riverdale game featuring UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield will be streamed live.

Dangerfield is averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game for Blackman, which is 20-2 and winners of 10 games in a row. When the teams played on Jan. 9 Blackman only led by three points heading into the fourth quarter before emerging with a 56-48 victory. Riverdale is led by top sophomore Anastasia Hayes.

The Blackman/Riverdale game is set to start at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. here in Connecticut).

Former UConn star Tina Charles' Hopey's Heart Foundation, which provides funds for defibrillators to be placed in schools and gyms, is not limited to the United States. With Charles spending her winters playing in Europe, it is only natural that the next step in the foundation is to provide defibrillators in Europe as well.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

All 3 UConn signees on Naismith player of year midseason list

UConn incoming freshmen De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were among the 15 players on the Naismith Girls High School National Player of Year midseason list.

The semifinals for the award will be announced on Feb. 3, the finalists will be named on Feb. 17 with the winner being announced on March 6.

More honors could be coming as the 24 players playing in the McDonald's All-American Game will be announced tomorrow at 6 p.m. live on ESPNU.

Boykin is averaging 21.5 points as a senior at Flowers High School in Springdale, Maryland although she has missed the last seven games with a hand injury.

Collier is averaging 28.9 points (shooting 68 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line), 13.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 4.3 blocks per game as Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis has won 13 games in a row after a 1-2 start.

Samuelson is averaging 28.9 points per game with 10 30-point efforts in 20 games for Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, California, the No. 1 team in ESPN's national high school poll and No. 2 in the USA Today national poll. Samuelson had a season-low seven points in Mater Dei's win over Orange Lutheran on Monday. According to a report in the Orange County Register, Samuelson is  expected to miss tonight's game due to a left knee injury suffered in the first quarter of Monday's game. Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan told the OC Register that he believes the injury is a hyperextension instead of a more serious injury and there's a chance she could return to the court later this week.

Six winners of the award would play at UConn - Tamika Williams, Diana Taurasi, Ann Strother, two-time winner Maya Moore, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart.

UConn announced that the Feb. 9 game against No. 1 South Carolina is sold out. The game will be played at Gampel Paviluon (which opened to the public 25 years ago today) at 8 p.m.

Also, around 500 tickets remain for the Feb. 28 game against Memphis which will include a ceremony honoring seniors Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes as part of the Senior Night festivities.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Some thoughts on UConn's strength of schedule

I don't recall a season when UConn's strength of schedule getting as much attention as this year. I've certainly been among those pointing out what life has been like without teams like Notre Dame and Louisville in the same conference.

My curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see how UConn's resume stacks up as most teams approach the 20-game point in the season.

Using the Real Time RPI site, I found that UConn has a many top 25 wins as any other team and among 10 teams with the top RPIs, UConn ranks fourth in wins against the top 50 and top 100 in the RPI. I found it interesting that South Carolina doesn't appear to receive anywhere near the same amount of criticism about its schedule yet UConn leads the Gamecocks 4-1 in top 25 wins, 5-3 in top 50 victories and 10-6 in top 100 wins.

Here's the breakdown with the top 10 teams in the RPI. I included No. 11 Oregon State because the site did not include yesterday's games in its most recent report and I anticipate Oregon State moved into the top 10 after the win over Arizona State.

                               Top 25 Top 50 Top 1001 Notre Dame          4-1       8-1       14-2
2 Baylor                   1-1      4-1        11-1
3 Arizona State        1-2      6-2          9-2
4 Tennessee             2-2       5-3       10-3
5 Maryland              3-1       7-1       11-2
6 UConn                  4-0       5-1       10-17 Kentucky             4-2        4-3         6-4
8 South Carolina     1-0       3-0         6-0
9 Texas                    2-2       3-4         7-4
10 N. Carolina         0-3       1-4         9-4
11. Oregon State     3-1        6-1        7-1

It should be noted that these numbers will change in a negative way for the Huskies who will only play five teams in the top 100 during the remainder of the regular season which is the lowest of the teams listed above. Baylor, Kentucky and Texas will not face a team with an RPI outside the top 100 for the rest of the regular season.

With tomorrow expecting to be a nightmarish day to travel, I reached out to East Carolina women's basketball sports information contact Adam Miller to see what the plans were for the Pirates to get here for Wednesday's game. He said that the team's charter is set to leave later this afternoon so there shouldn't be any issues with the team unable to make it to the XL Center for Wednesday's contest.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

UConn commits shine in Kentucky tournament

With Geno Auriemma among those in attendance, a pair of future Huskies led their teams to victories in the Raatz Fence/O'Shea's B-ball Classic.

Senior forward Napheesa Collier was up first as she led Incarnate Word Academy out of St. Louis to a 66-47 win over Mercy Academy in Louisville. Collier, despite picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, had 29 points as she went 13 of 16 from the field.

Then it was time for junior guard Crystal Dangerfield to lead her Blackman High out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee to a 47-39 win over Rogers High out of Toledo, Ohio. Dangerfield finished with 21 points, her sixth 20-point game of the season.

The Kentucky Sports Broadcasting Network streamed the games so you can take a look at Collier and Dangerfield in action.

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UConn's Stokes swatting away shots at record pace

In her first three seasons at UConn the only time that consistency was used when describing Kiah Stokes usually came in a quote from Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma bemoaning the lack of consistent production from the talented forward/center.

However, in at least one area of her game, Stokes is in the midst of one of the most consistent seasons any UConn player has ever enjoyed.

Over the last five games Stokes' blocked shot totals are 7, 6, 7, 7 and 7. The single-game blocked shot totals in the UConn record book stop at 8 so I did some research to find the last time a Husky had at least six blocks in five straight games and found it has happened exactly once by Kiah Stokes.
So where does Stokes' shot-blocking prowess come from?

"I remember my freshman year Marissa (Moseley, UConn's assistant coach who works with the post players) would make up drills to block shots so maybe that has something to do with it but I played volleyball so that has something to do with it, that is my only answer," Stokes said.

During this recent stretch Stokes has blocked some shots with both hands and that is not a coincidence.

"Marissa said a lot of my fouls, I will block the ball up here but my other hand will be on their body so she keeps reminding me to have both hands up and don't push them with our body because they are going to call fouls if you have one hand on them," Stokes said.

Stokes has 80 blocked shots in the first 18 games of the season, one shy of her career high set a season ago and it is the ninth best total in UConn history. With as many as 21 games remaining, Stokes is on pace to shatter the single-season program record of 131 blocks set by Rebecca Lobo during the 1993-94 season. If she were to keep up her current pace and play the maximum of 39 games (if UConn reaches the American Athletic Conference and Division I title games) she would finish with 173 blocked shots which would be the fourth best title in NCAA Division I history trailing only the 223 and 206 recorded by Baylor's Brittney Griner during her freshman and junior seasons and the 195 blocked by Louella Tomlinson of St' Mary's during the 2009-10 season.

As much as Stokes loves blocking shots, you rarely see exuberant reactions from her after she swats away a shot.

"I may not be the most emotional person on the court but it is something I love to do, I love to get all hyped up," Stokes said. "I was taught as a kid to keep a cool head and not get too emotional so that is the one thing that is hard for me it to show excited emotion so I am good as hiding it if I am mad or frustrated but positive emotions, I don't really express  my feelings but I am excited and it is the one thing I know I can do well and I am excited to do it." 

Ironically, the one person who would like to see the blocked shot numbers go down is Auriemma.

"I think the fact why Kiah has so many blocked shtos is that our guards are just so bad at keeping the ball in front of them and it is providing those guys a lot of opportunities," Auriemma said. "I wish they didn't have as many blocked shots because that means there would be less people in there."

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Friday, January 23, 2015

UConn being put to the test - on the practice court

Some of the UConn women's basketball team's recent games, especially the ones played in the state of Connecticut, have not exactly been of the nail-biting variety.

In the seven games played at Gampel Pavilion, the XL Center, Mohegan Sun Arena or Webster Bank Arena, UConn's average margin of victory has been a shade under 38 points per game.

However, it would not unfair to say the Huskies have not been tested since the November 17 loss to Stanford. Whenever the team met for practice, UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his staff has attempted to put them in positions where failure is an option. In recent weeks that has been easier said than done since most of the male practice players live too far away during the break between the fall and spring semesters. However, with the classes in the spring semester starting on Tuesday, the male practice players were back and put to good use.

There was one spirited portion of practice when the game was tied at 49 and UConn had the final possession. Moriah Jefferson had the ball and was about to run a play - presumably for Breanna Stewart - when practice player Collins Nwafor reached in, poked the ball away from Jefferson and raced down the other end of the court for the go-ahead layup with about 2 seconds left. Kia Nurse's desperation heave from about 30-35 feet actually caught iron before bouncing away harmlessly.

"Coming out and playing against these guys, they are bigger than us, faster than us and it makes you have to play smart basketball," Jefferson said. "As you saw, any mistake you make they are going to steal it and it is going to be a turnover.

"I had a play in my head and it didn't work out so I try to run another play, he came out and stripped the ball right out of my hands. It hurt but you have to keep moving on."

In the next period, the final one in the practice, the UConn team fought back the best way they know how but making shots. It ended with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis draining a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.

"I think we do need those situations," Stewart said. "Those practice players they are the best people we are going to see all season and they make it really competitive for us. You want to play those kinds of games, those are the types of things you want to do in practice. You want to win so when you lose, you want to keep playing. We won that last (period) but we were down by so much that we couldn't come back. A competitive game in practice, it kind of keeps your head level."

Assistant coach Shea Ralph, who spent a good part of practice coaching up the practice players, knows that the lessons learned from a spirited practice like the one on Friday could be invaluable for the team at some point this season.
"I know our staff feels like it is our job to prepare them for what they are going to see not only on a day to day basis but in our conference," Ralph said. "We need to win every game in our conference and that is important to us. We also understand we are going to face some teams that are going to challenge us so it is our job to make sure they are prepared for that."

When the media was able to check out practice UConn had its three freshmen (Kia Nurse, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams) playing alongside sophomore Saniya Chong and Stewart. There were some rough patches as some of the team's most experienced players were on the sidelines and that is the point. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is known for putting his players in the most difficult scenarios during practice and the more lopsided the final margins are in actual games, the more challenging he tries to make practice. That was most certainly the case on Friday.
"They want to compete, they want to challenge themselves so we want to do that as much as we can, we try to put them out there and when they are playing our practice players they can do everything exactly right and still get their butts beat and I think that is good for them," Auriemma said. "It forces them to do things that ordinarily they wouldn't have to do.

"The practice level is obviously much different (with the practice players), we play more 5 on 5 when they get here, more core stuff when they get here and I look forward to this time of the year when the practice players are back," Auriemma said.

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UConn's Stokes a candidate for Senior CLASS Award

UConn senior forward/center Kiah Stokes, who has blocked more shots over the last four games than any other Husky over a span of four games, is a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award.

Stokes, who had a 4.0 grade-point average during the recently-completed fall semester, is one of 30 candidates for the award which honors achievement both on the court and in the classroom.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Connecticut Sun's Ogwumike undergoes knee surgery

Connecticut Sun forward and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Chiney Ogwumike underwent microfracture knee surgery today. She is expected to have a full recovery after an extended rehabilitation period of approximately six months according to a release put out by the Sun today.

"This is new territory for my family and I, but I am not one to shy away from challenges," Ogwumike said in a statement. "I have met every life challenge with an optimistic point of view, therefore this is an obstacle I know I will overcome. I have the best support system, both personally and professionally, so I know I will emerge from this experience a more confident and determined

Ogwumike led the Sun in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (8.5) after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft. The Sun already figured to take a post player with either the third or fourth pick in the upcoming draft and the probability of that happening figures to have increased with Ogwumike being sidelined.

The Sun vowed to place more of a premium of making sure Ogwumike, the cornerstone of the new-look squad, is 100 percent healthy rather than rush her back onto the court.

"At the moment, Chiney’s health is our only concern," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "I know the decision to have this procedure was not an easy one, but it needed to be done. We know with complete certainty that Chiney will work hard to get back into top form."

UConn still keeping tabs on intriguing prospect

Most of the high school players that Geno Auriemma hits the road to see are prolific scorers and players who fill up the score sheet.

However, before he headed down to Orlando with his team for last night's game against Central Florida, he was back in the Philadelphia area where he grew up. However, this was a business trip as he went to check out 6-foot-9 Nigerian native Felicia Aiyeotan up close in person, a player with just two double-digit scoring games during her junior season. Even with a 26-point effort in Neumann-Goretti's win over Hallahan last month, Aiyeotan is averaging less than seven points per game by my count.

When Neumann-Goretti defeated Archbishop Wood 52-43 on Monday with Auriemma in the stands, Aiyeotan finished with five points. Unofficially the junior has 71 points in 16 games although I am missing three box scores. Still, Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw have been in to see Aiyeotan play, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is supposed to take a look at a Neumann-Goretti game next week.

Aiyeotan, who has games with five and six blocked shots this season, sees limited time on a star-studded 16-0 Neumann-Goretti team. During the summer the major programs began to take more of an interest in Aiyeotan as she made remarkable strides playing with the Philadelphia Belles AAU program. She will play for them again this summer, teaming up with UConn commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter.

Aiyeotan is certainly a project but it is hard to find 6-foot-9 players so this is a player I would expect to UConn staff to keep an eye on in the future.

SNY just sent out an email promoting Swin Cash's appearance on the next installment of "Geno's Legacy" which will air on Wednesday at 10 p.m. during a four-hour block of UConn women's basketball coverage.

The programming will begin with the pre-game coverage, then SNY will air the home game against East Carolina followed by a post-game show. The Geno Auriemma Show will follow from 9:30-10 p.m. followed by Geno's Legacy.

Here is how SNY is promoting the appearance by Cash, a key member of the 2000 and 2002 national championship team.

The Hall of Fame coach and the two-time National Champion discuss the highs and lows of her four years at Connecticut, which includes her time playing with what many consider the greatest UConn’s women’s team ever, as well as her experience playing for him in the Olympics’ and the challenge of overcoming a cancer scare a few years back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

UConn's Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart named to Wooden Award midseason watch list

The Wooden Award released the 20 players on its midseason watch list and the UConn duo of Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis as well as New Haven native Bria Holmes made the list.

Stewart, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, leads the second-ranked Huskies in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game and became the third fastest UConn player to reach the 1,500-point mark. Mosqueda-Lewis, a 5-foot-11 senior forward, is the Huskies' all-time leader in 3-pointers and is averaging 13.9 points per game.

Holmes, a junior guard at West Virginia, is averaging a team-leading 21 points per game and also leads the Mountaineers with 34 steals.

Jillian Alleyne 6-3 JR F Oregon
Brittany Boyd 5-9 SR G California
Crystal Bradford 6-0 SR G Central Michigan
Nina Davis 5-11 SO F Baylor
Nneka Enemkpali 6-1 SR F Texas
Alisha Gray 6-0 SO G North Carolina
Reshanda Gray 6-3 SR F California
Dearica Hamby 6-3 SR F Wake Forest
Isabelle Harrison 6-3 SR C Tennessee
Bria Holmes 6-1 JR G West Virginia
Samantha Logic 5-9 SR G Iowa
Jewell Loyd 5-10 JR G Notre Dame
Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 JR G South Carolina
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis 5-11 SR F Connecticut
Amber Orrange 5-7 SR G Stanford
Kelsey Plum 5-8 SO G Washington
Breanna Stewart 6-4 JR F Connecticut
Courtney Walker 5-8 JR G Texas A&M
Elizabeth Williams 6-3 SR C/F Duke
A'ja Wilson 6-5 FR G/F South Carolina

Monday, January 19, 2015

Balance one of keys to UConn's success

Three of the teams picked to finish in the top half of the American Athletic Conference standings have faced UConn in a span of less than three weeks and the results have not been pretty.

East Carolina, picked third in the preseason poll, fell 89-38 at home while Temple, which was tied with Tulane the No. 4 spot, lost 92-58 and yesterday it was preseason No. 2 South Florida which barely made the Huskies break a sweat as UConn rolled to a 42-point win.

The most recent game showed so much of what separates the Huskies from their fellow conference teams. USF's Courtney Williams is a dynamic player, it's not every player  that  will cause UConn coach Geno Auriemma to bellow "she's a shooter" in disgust when she is left open. Williams had a game-high 23 points (although it took 25 shots) but no other player had more than eight points. South Florida had two starters who did not score, the story was the same for Temple and while all five East Carolina starters scored, two starting guards combined for one basket. In those same three games all five UConn averaged at least 11 points per game.

"For us it has always been about how many people we can get involved in the offense as opposed to how do we identify one player," Auriemma said. "But maybe if I one player who was that good maybe I would do the same thing, I don't know. I have always been fortunate, we have been lucky that we have more than one most years, some years we don't, but most years we do and that is what makes it hard to play against us because we have a lot of good players who play well together, who share the ball and aren't worried about how many shots they get."

UConn redshirt sophomore forward Morgan Tuck was named the American Athletic Conference's Player of the Week for the second time this season.

She had 24 points (one shy of her career high) and seven rebounds against Temple and followed that up with 15 points in the win over USF.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

UConn's Jefferson at the top of the game

Perhaps it was the mere sight of point guard extraordinaire Sue Bird sitting on press row as the color commentator on the ESPN2 broadcast or maybe it is simply a sign of how comfortable she is at the current time running the offense but Moriah Jefferson's performance against South Florida was nearly perfect.

Not only did she go 6 of 6 from the field en route to scoring 15 points but she added six rebounds, seven assists, two steals (including the 200th of her career) and if not for what appeared to be a little iffy offensive foul call late in the first half, this would have been the fourth straight game without committing a turnover.

"There were so many good plays that she made," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She just has a really good feel right now. She is not forcing anything, she is not trying to make something out of nothing, she is just kind of playing. You could tell she was on her game and she had a tough job defensively too. She was great and I think everybody who played I thought played pretty well."
Jefferson was at her best when she raced down the court with Morgan Tuck to her left, Saniya Chong on her right and with one back-pedaling South Florida defender. Jefferson acted like she was going right just long enough to draw the defender and fed a perfect pass to Tuck for an uncontested layup.
"If she is looking at my body it is one thing but she was looking at me in my eyes," Jefferson said of looking off the defender. "I dished it off to Tuck and she made the layup. It is the way I played in high school and have always done that kind of stuff, it is always exciting when you get a play like that, get out in the open court and get the crowd oohing and aahing."
Perhaps nobody in attendance could fully appreciate the beauty of that play more than Bird.

"I said on ESPN after the game that Moriah is probably the best point guard we have had her in the last 30 years," Auriemma said in order to rile up Bird just a little bit. "Sue reminded me that she was 4 (30 years ago). The comparisons are always unfair, there were things that were unique to Sue that she did running the team. There has never been a player since I have been coaching who runs a team the way Sue runs a team so I don't know if Moriah is there at that point.

"She (Bird) was playing with so many great players right from sophomore year it was just different, everybody she threw the basketball to was an All-American and there still hasn't been anybody I have seen in 30 years that goes from point A to point B and take mid-range jump shots better than Sue. Just in terms of her understanding of what wee need every single time, I think Moriah is younger, she hasn't been in those situations. This is really the first year that Mo has been in charge, it is going to take a little while."

New challenge, different role as Sue Bird returns to UConn

Sue Bird has stepped foot inside Gampel Pavilion in a variety of different roles from highly-touted recruit, productive All-American player, excited fan. Now, however, there is a new chapter in Bird's basketball odyssey as she is the color commentator for today's UConn/South Florida game for ESPN2.

"I was really lucky," Bird said. "I was with Fran Harris (for the Texas/Kansas game) for the first game and we had a really good vibe, really good chemistry. Everybody tells me 'act like you are sitting at home on your couch talking to your friend about the game.' That is kind of what I try to do."

"I have enjoyed it so far. I got to watch other team's shootarounds and that was pretty cool. Those are the only shootarounds I know, see how coaches prepare their teams it was really interesting and I learned a lot."

Bird is currently living in Greenwich so she has been able to keep up to date with what's been going on with this year's UConn squad so it should help her on today's broadcast.

"I live in Connecticut so I didn't have to scout them, it was really easy for me for this particular game," Bird said. "I see interviews, I read what you guys write so I am fairly in tune with 'they didn't have a leader' or 'Coach would like somebody to step up and count on for 20 points a game.' I do see something that you haven't necessarily seen in terms of depth, the option of depth and he has two freshmen who are probably going to have to provide a lot but I think they have proven that they can do that.

"I really like Morgan Tuck, everybody does, she is just that Steady Eddie presence that can allow Stewie to just be herself and not feel pressure. In some ways it does take a special personality but Morgan has that already so I don't think it is that difficult for her. They really complement each other, not necessarily in an X's and O's (way) although  they do but really in a pressure complement because the way Morgan plays allows Stewie to do her thing and the way Stewie plays she doesn't have to take crazy shots or do crazy things, she can be herself so in a way they complement each other that way."

Bird said when the rules over in Europe changed and her UMMC Ekaterinburg team was only able to keep two American players, she was left without a team to play before. She had other opportunities to play in Europe but most of the offers came after ESPN extended her the offer to do some games.

Bird said she was sad but not angry to see former Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler leave to take the job with the Los Angeles Sparks and in her opinion UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is the best player available in this year's draft.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

UConn adapting just fine without Dolson

Gabby Williams and Kiah Stokes are among
top rebounders for second-ranked UConn
Few duos in UConn women's basketball history were more productive than Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley so it was safe to assume that there would be some rough patches without the two All-Americans.

The feeling was that Hartley's absence would be somewhat easier to deal with especially with the arrival of Canadian national team point guard Kia Nurse but Dolson's graduation was expected to leave a huge hole for the Huskies to deal with.

However, the numbers tell a different story. I looked back at the statistics through 16 games both this season and during the 2013-14 campaign and I found that the Huskies actually have more points in the paint, second-chance points, offensive rebounds and a higher rebound margin than they did a season ago.

"We aren't rebounding differently," UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart said. "We are crashing the boards just as aggressively. People have learned to embrace that even more, myself, Morgan (Tuck), Gabby (Williams), Kiah (Stokes) and even the guards, we want to make sure when the other team shoots it we get the rebound, they get one shot and we get the ball back. Offensively we want to keep it alive as much as we can."

It is on the offensive boards where the Huskies have made the greatest strides.

Last season through 16 games UConn grabbed the offensive rebounds on 39 percent of the missed field goals while this year that number has soared to 44.9 percent. In an attempt to put it into perspective, if the Huskies maintain the current pace it would be the best mark at UConn since the 2008-09 season.

"I think it is a mindset," Stewart said. "We want to be prepared for anything and when we shoot, there are times when I get thinking 'it is going in' if Kaleena, Morgan or somebody shoots it, I am thinking it is going in but to think beyond that and crash the boards even in the ball does go in because they other team is not ready for it."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma isn't quite ready to believe what the numbers might be saying as he continues to push the Huskies to be a more aggressive rebounding team.

"That is one of those cases where I don't know that the numbers tell the whole story," Auriemma said. "It is still something that we always have to work on, I think we are doing a pretty good job on the rebounding end but I don't know it is something we come to practice every day or we get together as coaches and say 'wow, we are a really good rebounding team.' The numbers might say that we are but I don't know. I am still always harping on that."

Stokes leads UConn in both offensive rebounds (36) and total rebounds (128) while Stewart continues to be a regular contributor in the rebounding department but the contributions of a healthy Morgan Tuck and arrival of freshmen Gabby Williams and Nurse have allowed UConn to put up some pretty impressive numbers through the first 16 games.

"We talk about it a lot, people think you can work on rebounding and become a better rebounding team, you can work on boxing out and all that other stuff but the bottom line is one of the best rebounders we have is Gabby," Auriemma said. "It is because the ball goes up, she goes and chases it and you can say all you want about working on it which is fine but once in a while you get a kid that likes to go after the ball. That is probably the easiest way to explain it, she just has that knack for the ball."

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Former UConn star Asjha Jones lands in Israel

It's been relatively quiet on the basketball front for former UConn star Asjha Jones .

She hasn't played in the WNBA since 2012 and I don't get the sense she is any hurry to return but she is still hitting the courts over in Europe.

She began the season playing in Slovakia for Good Angels Kosice. She played in eight games and averaged 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. After playing her final game there on Dec. 10 Jones was signed to play in Israel by Elitzur Ramla. She has played two games and has 13 points in both games to help Elitzur Ramla win both games to remain in second place in the standings behind undefeated Maccabi Ashdod.

Friday, January 16, 2015

UConn freshman Gabby Williams rebounding up a storm

If I were to list the most surprising aspects of the first 16 games of the season, the rebounding prowess of freshman Gabby Williams would have to near the top of the list.

I am fully aware that the 5-foot-11 from Sparks, Nevada is in a different level athletically from your typical freshman. Even before she was being recruited by UConn she was opening eyes by finishing fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials in the high jump as a 15 year old. However, she is pulling down rebounds at a rate higher than any freshman to ever suit up at UConn. In fact she is averaging more than one additional rebound per 40 minutes than her closest competition (UConn's career rebound leader Tina Charles).

Gabby Williams 2014-15    15.54
Tina Charles       2006-07    14.31
Swin Cash          1998-99    13.86
Rebecca Lobo    1991-92    13.51
Kiah Stokes       2011-12     13.50
Kara Wolters     1993-94    12.45
Tamika Williams 1998-99  12.25

In the last two games that number is at a staggering 26.7 with 26 rebounds in 39 minutes.

"I try to use my abilities to my advantage," Williams said before Friday's practice. "It is crazy to hear those names and to think I am averaging more rebounds than some of those players who I grew up looking up to."

Her veteran teammates have been impressed with the relentless manner with which Williams goes after rebounds.

"She has an aggressive mentality," UConn senior forward/center Kiah Stokes said. "She did come in as a guard but she can jump over a lot of people and I think that is why Coach (Auriemma) decided to make her into a post player because we do have a lot of guards and to have her as any undersized post player, I think it helps especially when small people are going to guard her she is going to just jump over them."

There was a play in the game at SMU when Stokes was in perfect position to grab a rebound when Williams came out of nowhere to grab the ball just inches shy of the front of the rim.

"I don't like it," Stokes said with a laugh. "It makes me better and makes her better."

Auriemma loves Williams' desire to chase after rebounds as aggressively as any freshman he has ever had.

"One of the best rebounders we have is Gabby. It is because the ball goes up, she goes and chases it," Auriemma said. "You can say all you want about working on it which is fine but once in a while you get a kid that likes to go after the ball. That is probably the easiest way to explain it, she just has that knack for the ball. The more she plays, the more confidence she gets the more rebounds she gets and everything just gets that much easier for her."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Halftime adjustments serve UConn's Nurse well

For all the impressive accomplishments in the first half of last night's win over Temple, Kia Nurse's opening 20 minutes wasn't anything to write home about.

Nurse missed both of her field-goal attempts, had one assist and two of the Huskies' six first-half turnovers.

When Nurse headed into the locker room at halftime she vowed to return with a more aggressive mindset and also made one change - returning to placing her hair in a bun which is what she normally does with her hair when she takes the court.

"The first half definitely wasn't what I wanted but I just kind of put the half behind me. I think it the second half I just came out with a different mentality and my hair, that might help that too but it definitely worked out."

Nurse played just nine minutes in the second half, went 4 of 5 from the field (4 of 4 from 3-point range) to finish with all 13 of her points in the second half.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Post players spread the wealth in latest UConn victory

It would be easy to look at the final numbers in tonight's win over Temple and focus on the 56-8 advantage in points in the paint or the fact that UConn outrebounded the Owls 58-32. However, I was struck by another aspect of the play of UConn's frontcourt players.

The quintet of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Kiah Stokes and Gabby Williams combined for 16 of the Huskies' 23 assists and 13 of those went to fellow post players (I am counting Mosqueda-Lewis as a post since she seemingly spent as much time there as on the perimeter).

That was certainly by design. In recent practices UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been working with the starting frontcourt of Stewart, Tuck and Mosqueda-Lewis and instructing them not to be one-dimensional.

"I'll point to Stewie and Kaleena, you guys need to take turns don't every possession you be outside and you be inside," Auriemma said. "Let's mix it up a little bit so you can get yourself in a different spot, sometimes it is Tuck and Stewie or Tuck and Gabby but those three (Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart and Tuck) specifically, we are trying to get them to as many spots on the floor as possible in as many games as possible. When we are on that is what makes playing against us very difficult because it is not so predictable that Tuck is going to go there, Stewie is going to go there."

Four of Stewart's assists set up Tuck layups while three of Tuck's assists were on baskets by Stewart.

"I think what happens is Morgan and myself are really aggressive offensive players and we know we can play inside/out," Stewart said. "Whenever she is in the low block or she is in the low block, we look for each other."

Tuck came into the season without a 20-point game but she has four in her last 10 games. With the way her fellow post players were setting her up, it appeared she might make a run at one of the highest scoring games in UConn's program history as she had 20 points by halftime. Tuck, who posts up as aggressively as any player on the team, scored at will in the lane against a small and inexperienced Temple squad.

"They were undersized and we knew that," Tuck said. "I think as posts we want to prove we can produce each game. He (criticizes) the posts sometimes as not being tough enough, not having a presence so I think we tried to do that.

"Stewie and Kaleena, they are great scorers so the fact that they can pass the ball really well I think that speaks a lot to them, it is helpful on the court that everybody can share the ball."

3 UConn commits, 2 Connecticut players nominated for McDonald's game

While this is hardly earth shattering news, UConn signees De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were nominated for the McDonald's High School All-American game.

Boykin, who is currently sidelined with hand injury for Flowers High in Springdale, Md. with the hope of coming back by late next week at the earliest, is averaging 22 points per game.

Collier is averaging 30 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 3.7 steals and 4.3 blocks per game while shooting 70 percent from the floor and 83 percent from the free-throw line for Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis.

Samuelson is averaging 31.5 points per game as a senior at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, Calif.

Meriden native and Maryland commit Kiah Gillespie of Capital Prep and Providence commit Rachel Aho of Marianapolis Prep were the two Connecticut school players also made it to the first step towards being named McDonald's All-Americans.

On the boys' side, UConn commit Steve Enoch is one of five Connecticut high school players nominated although Enoch, currently at St. Thomas More,  is listed as playing for Norwalk High School. Juwan Anderson and Christian Wilkins, both from Suffield Academy, Zach Baines from Greens Farms Academy and Roy Kane out of Norwalk HS were nominated.

A total of 823 players were nominated. It will be cut to a final list of 48, 24 playing in the boys' game and 24 in the girls' game, on Jan. 28. The teams will be announced live on ESPNU beginning at 6 p.m. The game will be played on April 1 at the United Center in Chicago.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Freshmen could steal spotlight in UConn/Temple game

UConn's return to Gampel Pavilion is certainly the top storyline heading into tomorrow's Temple/UConn game as it will be the first game the Huskies have played at their primary home court since Nov. 23.

However, there's an secondary story to keep an eye on as two of the best freshman classes in the American Athletic Conference will be going head to head.

On one side you have Kia Nurse, who has started the last 13 games and Gabby Williams, who currently has the UConn record for highest rebound per 40 minute average for any freshman averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

Temple counters with a freshman class headlined by former Career High star Tanaya Atkinson which leads all AAC freshman classes in minutes played (1,132), points (419) and steals (61). There are seven freshmen averaging at least 10 points per game and three will be in tomorrow's game (Nurse, Atkinson and Temple's Alliya Butts)

First things first, here is the list of rebounds/40 minutes among UConn freshmen
Gabby Williams 2014-15    14.98
Tina Charles       2006-07    14.31
Swin Cash          1998-99    13.86
Rebecca Lobo    1991-92    13.51
Kiah Stokes       2011-12     13.50
Kara Wolters     1993-94    12.45
Tamika Williams 1998-99  12.25

Now here's the breakdown of top AAC freshmen classes
Temple   1132
Cincinnati 987
C. Florida 857
SMU         857
S. Florida  778
UConn      681

Temple    419
SMU       345
UConn     317
Cincinnati 316
C. Florida 291
S. Florida 229
Tulane      196

SMU        266
Temple     195
C. Florida 146
UConn      139
S. Florida  131
Cincinnati 125

UConn        72
Cincinnati   67
Temple       67
SMU          47
C. Florida   45
S. Florida   38
Tulsa          31

Temple       61
UConn       52
Tulane        34
Tulsa          32
C. Florida   26

SMU          36
C. Florida  19
S. Florida   16
Memphis    11

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Freshman Williams continues to impress for UConn

In the days leading up to Sunday's game against Southern Methodist there was something bugging Gabby Williams.

For all the praise she received after scoring a career-high 15 points in last week's win over Tulsa, when she looked at the box score all she could do was fixate on another number in the final box score. Williams finished with nine rebounds falling one shy of recording her first collegiate double-double. While there are more important things in this world than whether she gets credited with a double-double, all Williams could do was think of the opportunities she had to add another one, two or even three boards in the Tulsa game.

Williams vowed that things were going to be a little different when she got into the game against SMU.

"It was kind of the mentality I had," Williams said. "I didn't want to go home and say 'I could have had that rebound.'"

Williams, named the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week, actually started slowly in the rebounding department when she was summoned to replace Kiah Stokes with 10:07 left in the first half. She went 2:22 before pulling down her first board. She promptly ripped down four in a span of less than 2 1/2 minutes. Williams played six minutes in the first half and had six points (on 3 of 3 shooting) and five rebounds. In the second half she was arguably the Huskies' best player with six points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals in 15 minutes. She had that double-double with an impressive 12-point, 16-rebound performance.

"I am try to build off the last game it is important to show I had that consistency," Williams said. "I want to build trust too in the coaches that they can put me in in tougher games."

It seems like an eternity that Williams' inconsistent practice habits resulted in her not getting into the game against Stanford when the Huskies suffered their only loss of the season. However, being limited to six minutes against Duke and playing only two minutes versus St. John's seemed to get the message across to the supremely talented Williams that if she is to reach her potential, she needs to get into the good graces of the UConn coaching staff during practice.

"I hope Wednesday (when UConn hosts Temple) she has another big game and I hope Sunday she has another big game but in the meantime I hope in practice she gets better every day, that is our plan between now and March," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

"There are things that go out in the game that coaching can only do so much for you. You can put players in certain situations, you can put them in this spot and that spot but in the end, they either have the ability to make that play or they don't have the ability to make that play. I don't know as time goes by that there is going to be any play that she can't make and that is exciting to be able to watch when she gets to that point."

Williams came to UConn with an impressive background. She finished fifth in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in the high jump as a 15 year old. Serious knee injuries forced her to miss much of her final two high school seasons and UConn took it cautiously with her during preseason camp. However, she is now being unleashed on opponents as she is using her incredible jumping ability to haul in rebounds and score over taller players in the lane.

"When Gabby comes in, she has been a spark off the bench and I think she is understanding what is being asked of her and kind of having that motor of not stopping," UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart said. "When she drives she can jump over the player most times and just shoot it. Her athleticism  makes her it lot easier to get to the basket."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Special homecoming for UConn's Jefferson

Moriah Jefferson's return to the Dallas area did not start according to plan as she missed badly on a drive to the basket. For a player who shot more than 75 percent in her last five games, one had to wonder if the desire to impress the 100 or so family members and friends in attendance at Moody Coliseum was going to get the best of her.

Jefferson, the first Texas native to suit up for the Huskies, would not be the first talented Husky to become overwhelmed by the pressure of performing in her return home. Undeterred, Jefferson got back to what she does best - set up her teammates.

Jefferson had assists on five of UConn's first seven baskets and finished with 10 assists and no turnovers. As much as she enjoyed averaging 19.2 points over her last five games, this was more of the way she wanted to play.

"I didn't know I had that many assists until I came out and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) was talking to me about it," Jefferson said. "Anytime I play in front of friends and family I want to play well.

"When I came out today I wanted to make sure I got my teammates the ball. Stewie was on fire, Gabby (Williams) was snatching rebounds so I could get the ball to other people."

Jefferson finished with 11 points for her first career double-double.

"She is playing the point guard position probably as best as it can be played," Stewart said. "She is looking for her teammates but at the same time being aggressive for herself. I was telling her she was one point and two assists away from a double-double so I was happy she got it and she was glad she got it as well."

Jefferson didn't have a complete count of the number of people in attendance to see her but thought it might have broken triple digits.

"At least 100, there were teams that I played well and they were up (in the second level of the arena) anywhere so they couldn't come down so I got all the text messages so I knew they were there."

A couple of records were set in the game. Mosqueda-Lewis hit a pair of 3-pointers to finally set the UConn career mark for 3-pointers. Diana Taurasi had 318 in her brilliant career while Mosqueda-Lewis now has 320. There will be more on that in the coming days.

SMU set a program low by scoring 28 points, breaking a mark that has stood since 1978.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another trip to Texas for UConn's Moriah Jefferson

One positive aspect of UConn landing in the American Athletic Conference in the wake of the breakup of the old Big East is that it has given Moriah Jefferson, the first Texas native to suit up for Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma at UConn, a chance to play more games in Texas than figured to be the case when she signed with the Huskies.

Although the only game against Houston this season will come in Hartford next month, tomorrow's game at SMU will be the Huskies' fourth game in the state of Texas in the last 52 weeks.

"It means a lot when I get to go back home, it is fun for me," Jefferson said. "Obviously I am halfway across the world and my family and friends can come to the game to offer their support not just in spirit but in person."

Jefferson is playing the best basketball of her life. She is averaging 19.2 points in her last five games and shooting 75 percent from the field while going 13 of 16 from 3-point range over the last five games. For those who saw Jefferson play with the DFW Elite AAU program or with the THESA Raiders have seen this before but for most of the country, this is the first time she has really broken out of her offensive shell since arriving at UConn. Jefferson has been quite to credit the incredible amount of major-college guard prospects to come out of Texas.

Just in her final season of AAU the DFW Elite sent players to programs like South Carolina, Texas, Texas A&M, Duke, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt.

"You have to be ready to play against the best guards in the nation," Jefferson said. "You have to be ready to play and perform every day. I think anybody who plays wants to be the best at whatever position they play, just try to make the most of it and be ready to play every day."


UConn recruiting targets, U-17 teammates square off

Right to the very end Natalie Chou and Lauren Cox were filling up the stat sheet.

Chou missed a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play and Cox was able to beat the rest of the players down the court for a layup just before time expired in last night's Plano West/Flower Mound game featuring the two UConn recruiting targets and teammates on the U.S. squad which won the 2014 FIBA U-17 World Championship for Women.

Chou finished with 20 points, four rebounds and five assists in Plano West's 70-47 victory while Cox led Flower Mound with 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

It's not every day that you go to a high school game and see two of the top projects in the Class of 2016 go head to head as Chou and Cox did on both ends of the court for much of the game in front of a nice crowd which included UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey.

I missed the early portion of the game because I made the mistake of heading to the first basketball court I saw at Flower Mound High School only to realize it was the one used for the JV game and by the time I walked around the corner to the larger arena, the game was midway through the first quarter.

The highlight had to come late in the second quarter. Cox came up with a steal but was falling out of bounds and had to blindly throw a pass to avoid losing possession. Plano West got the ball back and Chou (who had a couple of her shots blocked by Cox) made three straight post moves that would have made former Boston Celtics star Kevin McHale green with envy but could not shake off the pesky defense by Cox. After Plano West got the offensive rebound, Chou moved out to the perimeter and hit one of her three 3-pointers.

I found out the hard way that there were two entrances to the visiting locker room so I never got to speak to Chou but did chat with and understandably downtrodden Cox after the game.

Chou's role with Plano West not too much different from the one she played with the U-17 thanks to a strong supporting cast led by Harvard commit Sydney Skinner who had seven 3-pointers and 25 points in last night's win. However, Cox has to do a little bit of everything including being a press breaker for Flower Mound. When she was able to get position in the low post, she scored nearly every time but Flower Mound's inability to handle the Plano West press kept her from spending as much time as she would have liked within a shadow of the basket.

"I have to handle to ball more here," Cox said. "I am trying to be a leader. We are just working hard, we are trying to make a strong district run. We are just working hard in practice every day and get better."

With Plano West and Flower Mound both in the 6-6A district, Chou and Cox have squared off before but this was the first meeting since they played together on the U.S. U-17 squad.

"It is always fun playing against her. we played together so it is always fun going against her," Cox said. "It gives both of us a competition."

Cox seems to handling the pressure that goes with being the most sought after player in her class. When coaches come to see her play, Cox appreciates it but at this time the recruiting side of things is pretty low on her priority list.

"I just don't really pay attention, I wave at them after a game," Cox said. "It doesn't matter who is in the stands, it's all about what happens on the court.

"I have a list of 13 schools and I am not going to have a date where I am cutting it to this number."

I thought it was funny that Cox pulled out her phone to make sure she got all the schools currently on her list.

Here is the list in the order she gave them to me although she did say they are in no particular order.

UConn, Duke, Notre Dame, UCLA, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma, Louisville, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and SMU

Cox said she has no idea when she will be committing.

With UConn and SMU, two of the teams on her list, playing tomorrow afternoon you would figure Cox will be at that game, right?

She coaches 12 year olds on the club volleyball team she used to play on and with a tournament this weekend, she isn't sure she can make it to Moody Coliseum on Sunday.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Impressive seasons continue for UConn signees

Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson continue to light it up during their final high school campaigns.

In Collier's two most recent games she had more points combined than the two Incarnate Word Academy opponents.

In a 45-34 win over Lee's Summit West Collier finished with 33 points, 17 rebounds, two assists, two steals and six blocked shots while she had 29 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and two blocks in a 63-25 win over Cor Jesu. She is averaging 29.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 4.1 steals and 4.3 blocked shots per game.

In her first two games in 2015, Samuelson had 35 points in a 74-52 win over La Jolla Country Day for her ninth 30-point game of the season and last night added 27 points in a 74-31 win over North Torrance. She is averaging 31.9 points per game at Mater Dei, winners of 10 straight.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

UConn freshmen take advantage of opportunities

With Courtney Ekmark missing nine straight games with a foot injury, the three freshmen haven't had much of a chance to get into a game together since the season opener at UC Davis.

That all changed in Wednesday's win over Tulsa. After sitting on the bench for less than a minute, Kia Nurse was reinserted into game with 14:38 left to play joining fellow freshmen Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams on the court. They spent the next 5:25 playing alongside each other. Ekmark had a 3-pointer and a steal, Williams made a free throw and grabbed a rebound and Nurse had a rebound and an assist during that span. By game's end they combined for 36 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the 98-60 win.

Nurse is entrenched in the starting lineup but these next few weeks could be pivotal for Ekmark and Williams earning quality minutes on a nightly basis.

"It showed how we can score when we don't have either Mo (Jefferson), Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) or Stewie (Breanna Stewart) in the game so it definitely shows us where we need to get better," Williams said.

Ekmark hit the first two 3-pointers as a Husky in the game.

"I know she hated being out and she works hard all the time so I know that was tough for her," Williams said.

Tough night at the office

Leaving the XL Center around 11:30 p.m. last night I was greeted by a blast of Arctic air as I walked across the street to the Church Street Garage. That, however, was not the coldest slap in the face I had to deal with this week.

Late Monday afternoon I was finishing up a story and blog on Naugatuck receiver Bryan Coney deciding to accept a preferred walk-on spot on the UConn football team when my phone rang. On the other line was Rich Elliott, the UConn women's beat writer for the Connecticut Post for the last 14 seasons. "What have you got?" was the greeting we developed over the years when one of us would call. After a second or two of silence he cut right to the heart of the matter - as is his custom - and said "I got laid off." Even typing those words sends a chill through my body that has nothing to do with the weather.

Layoffs are nothing new in the newspaper business. I have seen former coworkers who headed off to other publications deal with the sudden loss of work. I was in the office a few feet away when the Register's science editor was let go and sat in emotionally-charged meetings after more layoffs were announced. Heck, in between my two stints working at the New Haven Register I was the sports editor for a chain a weekly papers including three that folded right under my nose back in the early 1990s. Still, this news really shook me up.

When you cover a beat like UConn you get to know the fellow beat writers as more than just competitors and fellow journalists. In some cases they become close friends. That is certainly the case with Rich and I. The world we live in is one few fully understand. The nights of leaving an arena at 1 in the morning and driving home in the middle of a blinding snowstorm, the 80-90 hour weeks, the day off that becomes something other than that when a top high school player opts to pick that time to commit to play for Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma all come with the territory. When you cover a high school beat you may run into a competitor at a game or even two in a week if the stars align but when you have an assignment like documenting the dominance of the UConn women's basketball team, you will have stretches when you are together 24 out of 28 days. You often are on the same flights, in the same hotels, have breakfast, lunch and dinner with each other in locations as varied at Palo Alto, California and South Bend, Indiana and all points in between. I did a quick count yesterday and estimated that Rich and I covered games in about 25 different states as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 10 seasons both of us were on the beat.

Last night UConn made the heartwarming step of leaving a regular spot on press row for Rich directly to my left even though his paper made the head-scratching decision to no longer cover the UConn men's and women's basketball programs. However, Rich's former paper took it a step further. Just 24 hours after finishing up his work at the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York, Rich was summoned to a meeting at his paper where he was let go as was UConn men's basketball beat writer William Paxton.

If a paper wants to focus their manpower elsewhere and become more of a locally-based sports section, they have that right although it is a curious decision. We live in a time where web clicks rule the day so it should be noted that when you go onto the Register's website and hit the link for most read sports stories yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week, next month invariably at least seven of the top eight stories have to do with UConn and I would envision the same in true at the Post. But it is not my place to tell another media outlet how to go their job. However, to get a beat like UConn men's or women's basketball, you have to pay your dues, prove yourself worthy to break news. Rich and Bill got those beats because they earned them with their talent and hard work and now two of the most gifted journalists at that paper are unemployed. It is stunning to me that they didn't use this shift in philosophy to make a bigger push covering high school sports or the local college scene. Rich and Bill are experienced covering high school and college events that have nothing to do with UConn but that opportunity was lost.

The Post is not the first paper to take this step. When I started covering UConn it wasn't unusual to have reporters from a dozen papers at the games. If my math is correct, five were in attendance last night and just three will be at the next game at SMU on Sunday.

The seat next to me, other than a bag of cookies (Rich was well known for his love of cookies, brownies, pretty much anything that can make one's sugar levels go through the roof) and sign reading "For One of the Good Guys" was left vacant during Wednesday night's UConn/Tulsa game. I texted him the photo and he responded with "That Is Awesome!!"

I kept waiting for him to come in and sit down next to me, grumbling about the traffic or bone-chilling temperatures and would have given anything for that to happen. However, he was at home with his wife and two boys and to say his absence was felt by his fellow journalists would be an understatement of incredible proportions. Often times all we could do is look at each other and shake our heads in disbelief that one of the state's three largest papers took a step nobody thought would ever come.

He is not the first person to lose his job without a moment's notice in this or any other business. The holidays are a prime time for layoffs to be implemented in order to increase a company's financial bottom line. The only problem is that many of those layoff victims don't work in a business where you are given an outlet to vent like the one I am presented with.

I feel for Rich and Bill, their families and their uncertain futures. I feel for myself and how much I will miss hanging out with a person who when I wasn't trying to beat out for stories, became one of my closest friends and somebody who was there for me when I dealt with the sudden death of my sister shortly before the start of the 2010 NCAA tournament or tragic passing of Register columnist Dave Solomon 16 1/2 months later. We gravitated towards the same hangouts after our work was done, both take the success or failure of our fantasy football teams a little too seriously, enjoy many of the same TV shows and movies. I will miss getting first-hand reports of how his son's flag football team, which he helps to coach, is faring and so many other things. However, mostly I feel for the UConn sports fans who couldn't even find a mention of last night's game against Tulsa on the website of the Connecticut Post.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Mosqueda-Lewis ties UConn's 3-point mark in rout of Tulsa

The story angle would have been straight out of a Hollywood script. The California born Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis tied the UConn career record by making her 318th career 3-pointer early in the second half of Wednesday's demolition of Tulsa. Certainly Mosqueda-Lewis must have gotten some inspiration as a youngster watching Diana Taurasi, another former California high school phenom, light it up during her days as a Husky.

Not exactly.

Mosqueda-Lewis answered the inquiry with "I was born in 1993" and after doing the math admitted that she had yet to be bitten by the basketball bug as a 10-year-old which is her age when Taurasi played her final collegiate game.

For those trivia buffs out there, the record-tying 318th career 3-pointer came off a Moriah Jefferson assist just 52 seconds into the second half in the second-ranked Huskies' 98-60 win over Tulsa before a crowd of 8,103 at the XL Center on Wednesday night.

Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 11 points in 20 minutes and will have a chance to move into sole possession on the career charts in Sunday's game at Southern Methodist.

"I don't think I will ever be at Diana's level at anything except for this so I will take it and keep going because she can't come back to do anything about it," Mosqueda-Lewis said with a laugh. "It is an awesome and it is an honor to be up there with her and be a part of UConn forever. I heard she wasn't that happy about me being that close to her (mark).

"She is definitely a player I watch now in the WNBA and especially with Coach (Geno Auriemma) being a part of USA Basketball and I have watched the Olympics she has played in and she is just an incredible competitor."

With UConn (13-1, 3-0 in the American Athletic Conference) rolling past the Hurricanes, the starters spent much of the second half on the bench. When Mosqueda-Lewis checked out with 15:34 remaining, there was a chance that her night was done. However, most of the crowd remained and began to rustle a bit when Mosqueda-Lewis reentered the game with 7:09 to play. If they hung around to see the historic 3-pointer No. 319, they would leave disappointed as she could not bring herself to jack up another 3 with the game so out of hand.

"When I was with that last group, it was more about getting them some minutes and kind of help them go through the offense and get a feeling of what it is like to be out there," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I think today was the longest they have been out there without really getting a sub so I am getting a feel of what the starters feel like when we stay out there for 10 minutes straight, see how mentally strong we have to be to. I think it is going to be important for them to get some cohesiveness together."

Mosqueda-Lewis, who failed to make a 3 in her last two games which is something that had not previously occurred in her collegiate career, had two 3-point attempts in the first 49 seconds of the game. She missed the first one but made the second and added another trey later in the half to pull within one of Taurasi's mark setting the stage for her record-tying shot early in the second half.

"Things like that happen because you get a lot of opportunities to play with some great players, to work on your game and be at a place where we share the ball really well, get so many assists every game that if you are a great shooter and you come here and play a lot, you are going to have a lot of opportunities to make shots," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "That doesn't mean you are going to make them. What K has done is something is very difficult to do. I know everybody wants to be seen as more than just a shooter, they want to be seen as a basketball player and I a happy for K that she has become a much better basketball player."


Former UConn star Taurasi still lighting it up

Diana Taurasi is showing no signs of slowing down more than 10 years after she played her final game at UConn.

Taurasi had 28 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals to lead UMMC Ekaterinburg to an 84-74 win over ZVVZ USK Praha 84-74 in her first game of 2015. Alba Torrens, a former draft pick of the Connecticut Sun who could make her long awaited WNBA debut this season, finished with 16 points and Candace Parker had 12 points and nine rebounds in support of Taurasi.

In another game played on Wednesday, former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham (cut by the Connecticut Sun during the 2013 training camp) had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five steals as Bourges Basket defeated BK Imos Brno 79-48

Success runs in the family of UConn's Kia Nurse

When the members of the UConn women's basketball team gathered around a television set the belief was they were going to continue with their Harry Potter viewing marathon. However, freshman Kia Nurse had other ideas.

Nurse normally defers to her older teammates when it comes to dominating control of the remote control channel changer but not on this night. She quickly tuned into the NHL Network and on this night she was not about to see that channel get changed not with her brother Darnell set for the opportunity of a lifetime as a member of the host Canadian team playing in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Kia Nurse's teammates might not know what was more entertaining, the spellbinding end to end action in the third period of a classic final between Canada and Russia or their normally cool as a cucumber screaming uncontrollably at the TV set each time Russia seemed to be on the verge of tying the game. Usually it was Darnell Nurse, a rock-solid defenseman, who helped to relieve whatever pressure the Russian team was bringing. He was named Canada's Player of the Game in the 5-4 win and one of the top three players in the tournament for a team winning gold for the first time since 2009. The announcers mentioned that Nurse was not on the ice for an even-strength goal by an opposing team in the seven games which is a staggering accomplishment.

"He was fantastic and I kept yelling 'if you are tired get off the ice,'" Kia Nurse said. "I just screamed at the TV all the time but he was amazing, he would shut down anybody who came his way. I couldn't be any happier for him. I was yelling and screaming, I was close to tears. They were making fun of me but it was my brother.

"The national team has always been a real big part of our family and really taking pride in that. He had a chip on his shoulder from last year when he got cut from that team. He worked hard each and every day and worked hard every day after that and it shows. There is not a person in this world more deserving than that."

It's been quite a whirlwind last several months for the parents of Kia and Darnell Nurse. Kia was a starting guard for a Canadian team which had a surprising fifth-place finish at the FIBA World Championship for Women and now it was big brother's turn to represent his country with incredible distinction.

"They were really contemplating leaving the World Juniors to come to the Madison Square Garden game (against St. John's) and I told them they should stay, he gets that (chance) once in a lifetime," Kia Nurse said. "They were there, my sister, my aunts, uncles, grandparents and I saw them on TV ecstatic, just going crazy.

"It is amazing. We have to thank (her parents) for everything they do, the sacrifices that they have made. It is special to play for your national team and he killed it.

"We do talk a lot about it, I send him good luck texts almost every single game and we say do it for your country, do it for your family and do it for yourself."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma has recruiting players from athletic families before but he would be hard pressed to find one that can rival the Nurse family. Dad Richard played in the CFL, aunt Raquel Nurse played basketball at Syracuse (where she met her husband Donovan McNabb, who went onto star with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles) and sister Tamika played on the Canadian junior national team in 2004 and 2005, helping Canada to a ninth-place finish in the FIBA U-19 World Championships in 2005.

"I think that is pretty remarkable when you think about it," Auriemma said. "She is young and he is young and they have had a lot of success at a young age. Their family is pretty well put together, they have their heads screwed on straight; they have their priorities in order. They have managed to really keep things in perspective. I am not surprised that he has had great success because everyone expected him to be really, really good from the time he was a young player. You don't get drafted that high in the NHL draft (Darnell Nurse was taken by the Edmonton Oilers with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft) if you are not somebody who is pretty special. You don't get to play on your national junior team when you are still (a teenager).

"I have seen it on both ends. On the father's end it happens a lot, on the mother's side it happens. I think it is more prevalent on the girls side if their father was an athlete and then you get 50/50 on those guys. Some of those guys are great to deal with because they understand how hard it is to be in that situation and the others can be difficult to deal with because they think they know more about the game than anybody else. That is a family that is very competitive and from the father down to the youngest, they have all experienced great success and I am not surprised at all. Kids take on certain personalities, we are pretty fortunate that the kids that we get have the personalities that you want to coach depending on what kind of expectations they have for themselves."

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