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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

UConn's Tuck thrilled to have bigger role in Final Four

Don't misunderstand Morgan Tuck because she absolutely loved seeing her teammates finish off a perfect season by winning the a record ninth national title. However, when she made the difficult decision to undergo season-ending knee surgery, she was left in the role of reluctant spectator.

This time around the redshirt sophomore will have a much more hand's on role as UConn attempts to win its third consecutive national title.

"I think playing and be able to come down here and do what we came here to do, it makes it a little better," said Tuck, who is averaging 19.8 points, 5.8 rebound and 5 assists per game during the NCAA tournament. "I think the big part of me was just not to sulk and feel sorry for myself. My teammates did a really good job of making sure I was included. They did a really good job of cheering me on at practice.

"This year I feel like more a part of the team so it makes it more special."

When former UConn star and current ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo was asked the player who has grown the most since a loss to Stanford on Nov. 17, she did not hesitate in mentioning Tuck.

"She plays with no fear about reinjuring (her knee)," Lobo said. "She said she is eager for when they let her play without the brace. She goes in there and I don't think there is any trace in her mind of worrying about the injury which is a hard thing to do. I think to come in on a team that was undefeated and won a national championship, not only fit in but play a really prominent role, she has done a great job for them."

Tuck admitted that it didn't happen overnight.

"I was out for over six months but it took a while to get the rust off and get back into the flow with the team and how they were playing," Tuck said. "We had preseason and the first part of the season to do that and it was a perfect time for me to get my flow."

The Maryland coaching staff isn't exactly hiding its enthusiasm for incoming freshman Kiah Gillespie of Meriden.

The Capital Prep star and two-time Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year first opened some eyes playing in the Rose Classic in New York and from that point on the Terrapins were all in on the versatile 6-foot-1 Gillespie.

"We pounced on her really quick, We were excited to at least get an in and things worked out for us," Maryland assistant coach Marlin Chinn said.

"I call her Magic Johnson because she can take it off the rim, she can go coast to coast, she can deliver any pass she wants to deliver. She can play the 3 (small forward) and 4 (power forward) at the same time. She is so versatile and another thing she is improving in her rebounding. She is really been focusing on that especially going against better players. I had a chance to see her down in New York this past winter, she played a really good Potter's House team and rebounded the ball really well. I am excited to see what she can bring to us next season."

Gillespie took another major step forward when she made a serious run at making the U.S. U-17 national team.

Chinn said the plan is for Gillespie, who averaged 31.2 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.5 blocks during her senior season, to contribute immediately.

"I think Kiah has a great basketball mind," said Tina Langley, Maryland's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.

"When she goes to train, she trains game specific and it comes from her parents both being coaches. She comes in with a great knowledge of the game and also a great skill set."

There are coaches out there who want no part of playing non-conference games against UConn as long as Breanna Stewart is still playing for the Huskies. Florida State's Sue Semrau is not one of those individuals.

Florida State will be playing UConn at Mohegan Sun Arena next season with the return game in Tallahassee during the 2016-17 season.

"It is great always to have this opportunity," Semrau said after receiving the Associated Press Coach of the Year award.

"We played them back a few years ago and it is time again. If you want to be the best you have to play the best. It is a quality opponent that helps you get better."

Semrau is no stranger to what Stewart can do on a basketball court as she was an assistant coach in 2011 when Stewart led the U.S. team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots en route to winning the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women.

"She has just expanded her games in so many ways," Semrau said. "She was long, she could rebound, she could block shots but now she is hitting the 3, being able to put it on the deck. She is one of the most talented women's basketball players who has ever been."


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