Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

9 UConn players named to AAC All-Academic team

National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, fellow starters Kia Nurse and Morgan Tuck as well as first-round WNBA draft pick Kiah Stokes were among nine members of the national champion UConn women's basketball team named to the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team.

Natalie Butler, Courtney Ekmark, Tierney Lawlor, Briana Pulido and Gabby Williams were also among the 235 student-athletes honored by the AAC.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Natalie Achonwa dishes on Pan Am experience, Kia Nurse

From her days as a few member with national power Notre Dame as well as her experiences as a rookie with the WNBA's Indiana Fever, Natalie Achonwa has seen an impressive individual performance during her playing career.

Achonwa had one of the best vantage points for UConn's Kia Nurse's spectacular performance in the gold-medal game in the Pan Am Games. Nurse scored 33 points to lead Canada to a win over a U.S. team led by UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson.

"She was in a daze, she was in a phase and it was really great," Achonwa said before Tuesday's Indiana/Connecticut WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. "She took over that game and for a young player to do something like that, put the team on her back is great and it is great for our program to see  how far we can go in the upcoming years.

"It was 'and one' (basket and a foul) after 'and one', you let her run in transition and nobody can keep up with her."

So what is Nurse's potential with the Canadian national team.

"It is limitless, as much as Kia wants to do, as much as she wants to invest is what she will get out of it," Achonwa said. "Canada Basketball is something that is not a one-year thing, it is something you do year after year so as much as she invests into it is what she gets out of it.
Her energy and her spark."

Achonwa and Nurse are among a core of young stars on the Canadian national team. Achonwa was thrilled to see the outpouring of support after Canada won the gold medal.

"It is great to have the support of the whole country behind you," Achonwa said. "Toronto was very welcoming and the support in Toronto, we had a packed house every game. People were staying hours after the game to meet us, to shake our hands, give us hugs, to take pictures so it was great that the people we represent were able to finally get to meet us and interact.

"With have great balance on our team to our youngest player like Kia Nurse and Nirra Fields, who are still in college, to some of our older veterans who are in their 30s like Kim Gaucher and Shona Thornburn so we have great balance in terms of experience and energy, we are able to get up and down the court and also execute in the half court when we have to."

Canada will be hosting the Olympic qualifying FIBA Americas tournament next month so Achonwa will be heading up to Edmonton after playing in a few games with the Fever.

"It has definitely had its challenges but it is all worth it," Achonwa said. "I get to do something I love as a job and I get to represent my country, nothing beats that.

"To have the Pan Ams as part of a warm up tournament of the summer it was great and especially to play at home, to have two tournaments at home and allow our Canadian fans to really get to know the Canadian national team."

Achonwa, Nurse and so many of the current stars worked their way up from being stars with the junior national team to now be stalwarts with the senior national team.

"Every summer you have that same energy, that same passion and it is great to have people who have pride in representing their country and putting on that jersey so it is something that most of us have been in and have built through the years from the junior team on up,' Achonwa said. "For it to finally mold together and for us to peaking at the right time, it is great for team sports, women's sports, all kinds of sports in Canada."

A knee injury kept Achonwa from suiting up in either the WNBA or with the Canadian team as they finished fifth in the 2014 FIBA World Championships. Now she is back and contributing to both Canada and the Fever.

"It was hard because I wasn't playing basketball in general but I had so much pride, so much joy and excitement to watch them do that and have a finish that was our best so far," Achonwa said. "It was great to see that we are a team on a rise, we are not even close to being done yet. From playing with the Indiana Fever to playing with Canada I had the itch to do what I love so it is great to be back and play with both of the teams."


Sunday, July 26, 2015

UConn's Collier helps U.S. win FIBA U19 gold

Playing on a team with six college players, UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier was the U.S. star who led the gold medalists in rebounds, steals and minutes played as the U.S. won the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women for the sixth straight time.

While Collier did not have an eye opening of a stat line as she did in Saturday's semifinals, the 6-foot-1 forward had 10 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and six steals in a 78-70 win over host Russia in Sunday's championship game.

Collier had three double-doubles in seven games including ones in both the semifinals and final.

Collier's average of 9.3 rebounds per game not only led the team but was the third highest total for a U.S. player in the tournament as Alisha Jones pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game in the inaugural event in 1985, and current WNBA all-star Nneka Ogwumike averaged 9.9 rebounds per contest in the 2009 tournament.

Collier is the 13th current or future UConn player to represent the U.S. at the U19 tournament but the only ones to average more than 13.2 that Collier were eventual college national players of the year Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart.
"This is going to help me a lot, because it has showed me how to play with college players and against them," Collier said. "It gives me a little bit of extra experience."
Collier earned a spot on the five-member all-tournament team alongside of tournament MVP A'ja Wilson, a former UConn recruiting target who is going into her sophomore season at South Carolina.

The U.S. relied on its dominant frontcourt to win its sixth straight title as Wilson had 30 points amd eight rebounds, Duke's Azura Stevens had 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals and Illinois' Chatrice White came off the bench to add 10 points and five rebounds in addition to Collier's contributions.

"I had a great opportunity to work with A’ja and Napheesa last summer, so I think they were familiar with our style of play and how we like to play," U.S. and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "It was great to have their veteran leadership coming into a tournament like this and also playing well throughout, just setting the tone and setting the example of how we need to play and how we need to approach it to win in a tight situation like tonight in the gold medal game."
UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield finished with four points and five assists and she played most of the fourth quarter ahead of older guards on the roster.

Collier led the U.S. team in rebounding with 65 in the seven games, steals (17) and minutes played  (24.1 per game). She was also seventh in the tournament in rebounding  while Dangerfield had a remarkable 19/4 assist/turnover ratio (the best of any player in the tournament), was second on the team with 14 steals and averaged 7.5 points per game. UConn recruiting target Lauren Cox led all U.S. players with an average of 18.3 rebounds per 40 minutes.

One of the more impressive aspects of the run to the gold medal is that eight U.S. players averaged at least 10 points per game in last year's FIBA U17 World Championship for Women and FIBA Americas U18 Championship and the only ones to play in the tournament were Wilson and Collier.

Speaking of UConn, the Register has put together a slideshow of photos from yesterday's WNBA All-Star Game with the work of the Associated Press/ Jessica Hill featuring plenty of shots of former Huskies.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

UConn's Collier with monster game in U19 semifinals

UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier has been a consistent producer for the U.S. team at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women but that was just a prelude to what she had in store for a very good Spain team in the semifinals.

Collier had 24 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot as the U.S. defeated Spain 80-65 to advance to Sunday's gold-medal game.

"Pheese is relentless," U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. "She is competitive. She doesn’t want to lose and she leaves it all out there every time she steps on the floor. Sometimes we have to think about how the tournament is set up (with seven games in nine days) and we didn’t want to play her too many minutes to give her a little bit of decompression for what we’ll face tomorrow. But, it’s hard to keep her off the floor because of what she brings to the table.

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson had 20 points and 16 rebounds while Duke's Azura Stevens finished with 11 points.

UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield added six points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal for the U.S. which will play Russia in the title game.

Here are quotes from Collier courtesy of USA Basketball.

It felt really good to come out like that. Hopefully we can do that tomorrow and that tonight was a little sneak peek of tomorrow.

On her play tonight:My teammates really helped get me open. I got the rebounds and stuff, but I couldn’t have done it without them.

On the play of Azurá Stevens and A’ja Wilson:They were big. They were so big. A’ja had 20 points, they were just both so awesome. They were playing off the boards and getting the put-backs.

What was your plan tonight?We had to be really focused, because playing a team three times in two weeks is really hard. But, we knew our scout really well, so we were just trying to execute it well. It helped us a little bit because we kind of knew what they were going to do.

On playing Russia for the gold medal:It’s going to be really tough, but I’m actually really excited for it. I can’t wait for tomorrow. To hopefully beat someone on their home court for a gold medal would be really exciting.


UConn legend making wishes come true

Dating back to her UConn days, Maya Moore has always carried herself in a way where she was fully aware of the impact she could have both on and off the court. However, her generous spirit went to a new level thanks to a partnership with with 4-foot-9 basketball junkie and Lupus patient Ariya Smith with the Make-A-Wish Foundation which turned into a segment on ESPN's "My Wish" project
Earlier this week the emotional video of Ariya Smith and her family coming to Minneapolis for the Minnesota-Seattle game aired on ESPN bringing tears to many people's eyes including Moore herself especially with Smith began to cry when a video of Moore inviting the Smith family to Minneapolis came across the computer screen at the practice of Smith's basketball team.

Moore reflected on her interaction with Smith after Friday's Western Conference WNBA All-Star Game practice at Mohegan Sun Arena. 

"We surprised her. She had no idea that was coming,," Moore said. "That (ESPN segment) the first time I got to see her reaction on the video I sent her and I was teary eyed watching it and how much it meant to her. I try to talk about being a role model and not knowing who you are impacting. That was such an encouragement for me to know that I don't have nearly the challenges the she has to face physically with her health at her age but to know that I can help make an impact on her life, keep her motivated in some aspect is really, really cool. On the flip side, she inspires me with her story and her
love of the game, her challenges.

"All she wants to do is play. She gets the news that her body is going through all of these things and she asked 'when can I play again? Come on, you are amazing with the love of the game.' It was really cool especially right around my birthday too, it was a really cool treat."

The partnership between Smith and Moore came via the Make-A-Wish Foundation when Smith expressed an interest in meeting her Moore, her basketball idol.

"I've been watching her a while," Ariya Smith told ESPN. "She's just an amazing player. She's like the girl Michael Jordan."

Like so many of these Make-A-Wish stories, the athlete turns a simple request into so much more.

One of the more compelling stories to come out of this year's Travelers Championship was defending champion Kevin Streelman inviting the family of Ethan Couch, a 14-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor, to the annual PGA tour stop in Cromwell even though he had already fulfilled Ethan's wish of going to the Masters. Listening to Streelman talk, it would not be a reach to suggest the
partnership meant more to him emotionally than anybody else involved. Moore has similar sentiments.

"I was presented with the opportunity and once they told me more about Ariya there is no way I am going to be a part of this because it is too cool and what better way to use my gift and my platform than to do something like we just did with Make-A-Wish," Moore said. "They have been doing this for years and it is an awesome thing to use sports to bring people together and celebrate the really awesome things in life to celebrate that you might not get a chance to see.

"It is just an every-day mindset I try to live with, that if there is a way I can help, it makes sense and it can happen I want to try to make it happen. This one was just on camera but I don't get to do things quite as special as I did in Ariya very often."

Even if the fans turning out to Mohegan Sun Arena during all-star weekend hadn't seen former UConn star Stefanie Dolson before, it wouldn't take much effort to pick out the second-year Washington Mystics center and first time all-star thanks to her rather colorful head of hair.

When she made her first time back to Connecticut as a professional during the 2014 she has started the process of turning her brown hair to various shades but most notably purple. With each passing week and month, her hair color continues to become more vibrant.

"I have grown to love it," Dolson said. "If I go back to brown, it would be so sad."

The idea of going with purple hair first popped into her head when she was at UConn. However, UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey did not share her enthusiasm for that move so Dolson waited until she became a professional player to begin experimenting with the color of her hair.

"I wanted this back in college," Dolson said. "It was a quick joking thing but CD (Dailey) was like 'no.' I asked her if I could shave my head. There was a style where I can shave half of my head but that didn't really work out."

However, don't think that Dolson bypassing the move to purple hair held her personality back during her college days.

"I expressed myself plenty of UConn too," Dolson said with a laugh.

"My personality is out there, people already stare at me because I am big but it is just fun. It is its own accessory for sure."

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Friday, July 24, 2015

UConn's Collier leads U.S. into U19 semifinals

UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier had 12 points and five rebounds as the United States defeated Canada 93-45 to advance to the semifinals in the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women.

Louisville's Mariya Moore also had 12 points, South Carolina's A'ja Wilson contributed 11 points and Cal incoming freshman Kristine Anigwe added 10 points.

UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield had nine points, two rebounds, four assists and five steals although she did have two turnovers after failing to turn the ball over in each of the first games of the tournament.

The U.S. will play Spain on Saturday in the semifinals. The U.S. defeated Spain 72-57 in the opening game for both teams in the pool play portion of the tournament.

Here are quotes from Collier, Dangerfield and UConn recruiting target Lauren Cox courtesy of USA Basketball.

We came out really hard in our press and forced some turnovers, so that really helped us get the lead from the beginning.

On the play of Crystal Dangerfield:She’s awesome. I thought she really helped us score more points in transition. She was causing a lot of turnovers and got in their heads. So, she did awesome.

How important is it to have so many players who share the ball and distribute the points like this team does?It’s amazing, because on other teams here, there’s only one or two good players. So, when you’re scouting other teams you only have to shut down one person. But you can’t shut down a whole team. So, I think that it really helps that everyone can score; everyone is so good.

How much fun is it to play with this group of players?
It’s awesome playing with this group of girls. We trained for about two weeks and not all of us knew each other when we came here, but we came together so quickly. I think we’ve grown so close over the past couple of weeks, so I’m glad I’m here with them.

What do you need to tighten up on ahead of the final two games?We need to work on our turnovers. Sometimes we make bad mistakes, so that would be the one area that we need to fix.

On playing Spain for the third time in less than two weeks:It’s really tough to play a team three times in that amount of time. It’s hard to play a team twice, let alone three times. We’re definitely going to have to be on our ‘A’ game.

How were you able to take Canada out of its game?We had a really good start. We really shut them down. We shut their main players down. Everyone did a really good job of playing defense against them, and we shut them down in that first quarter.

On the energy the team brought from the start:It was good to see that we came out with a lot of energy. We haven’t been doing that in the past couple of games. We knew we needed to come out strong, because we beat Canada in Spain (on July 13), so we knew they wanted to get some revenge. It was good seeing us come out with a lot of energy.

You played Spain twice since July 14. How difficult is it to play a team like that three times in less than two weeks?It’s always really hard to beat a team three times, especially a team like Spain. They have some really good players who we have to shut down. They’re going to be out for us because we’ve already beaten them twice. But, if we come out with the same kind of energy that we did tonight, we’ll be good.

How were you able to disrupt Canada from the start of the game?Our starting group did a really good job of working our game plan. Then our bench was able to really keep after it. They had trouble against our press, and the zone was just causing them problems.

Do you feel as if the team is starting to peak at the right time?I do feel that way. We’re starting to click on offense a bit better, and our defense is really starting to disrupt the other teams and our bench is getting stronger. Our rebounding is getting better. We know we really have to start to blocking out and going harder, because the games mean more and the teams are going to be harder, but I think we’re doing a really good job.

Was this a total team effort?Yes. I thought we had a really good team effort tonight. We had balanced scoring; we had balanced rebounding. We were sharing the ball well. Everybody was playing really hard on defense.

What do you expect to see from Spain tomorrow?I’m sure that they’re going to play a little bit harder, because they know that they’ve gotten beat twice and they may have that mindset, like it may be hard to beat a team three times. They’ll be playing with more intensity. I think they’ll be showing confidence, so they may hit a couple more shots. But, I think we’ll be fine. I think we’ll be able to calm them down and keep them under wraps.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

UConn's 2015-16 roster is up

Before last season Briana Pulido gave up her No. 11 uniform number to freshman Kia Nurse and switched to No. 24 with no complaints. Well, as luck would have it, incoming freshman Napheesa Collier wore No. 24 in high school so Pulido is changing numbers once again. Pulido will wear No. 2 for the upcoming season.

Collier will wear No. 24, Katie Lou Samuelson was given No. 33 and De'Janae Boykin No. 35.

Here is a link to UConn's updated roster

Kiah Stokes, a member of three straight national titles as UConn, was one of 147 student-athletes to survive the first cut for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

Stokes is one of four players from Connecticut colleges on the list as University of New Haven sprinter Ivy Watts and Post University lacrosse standout Miranda Polaski and Western Connecticut volleyball and softball star Nina Wojtkiewicz also made the cut. The top 30 nominees will be announced on Oct. 18.

Tomorrow's practices for the WNBA All-Star game at Mohegan Sun Arena are open to the public.

The Eastern Conference is up first from 3-3:45 p.m. followed by the Western Conference from 4:15-5 p.m.

The practices are usually pretty entertaining as the head coaches are wired for sound and they tend to play to the crowd. There's also plenty of Connecticut connections as former UConn stars Tina Charles and Stefanie Dolson are on the Eastern Conference team along with the Connecticut Sun's Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone while UConn legends Sue Bird and Maya Moore are members of the Western Conference team.

The game is set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

UConn's Auriemma: Hammon's NBA summer success "has nothing to do with gender"

Geno Auriemma knows something about breaking any perceived gender barriers in the basketball world as he was the second men's head coach to win a Division I women's national title and only one to do it more than once. So who better to ask about former WNBA star Becky Hammon not only being the first female to be a head coach of a team in the NBA Summer League but also leading the Spurs to the summer league title?

"That is what we have been trying to tell everybody, if you are good at what you do, it is not that complicated," Auriemma said on Tuesday after he taped an interview with Michael Kay of the Yes Network in New York. "People think that the game of basketball is really complicated. It is really not. What is complicated is if you complicate your relationship with your players. When you look at Becky and she spent a year under maybe the best coach in the NBA (Gregg Popovich).

"She is probably really good at interacting with those guys 1 on 1 and getting them to believe in 'this is what we are doing, this is how we are going to do it.' That is not a gender thing. It has nothing to do with gender."


Collier delivers again for U.S. U19 team

UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier continued her impressive play at the FIBA U19 Championship as she had 11 points, four steals and a team-high nine rebounds in an 89-39 win over Argentina in the Round of 16.

UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield had six points, two rebounds, one assist and four steals. She also posted her fourth straight game without a turnover.

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson led four U.S. players in double figure scoring with 18 points. Notre Dame incoming freshman Ali Patberg had nine points and nine rebounds, Louisville's Mariya Moore had 11 points and six assists and Duke's Azura Stevens also had 11 points.

The U.S. will play Canada in Friday's quarterfinals.

2 UConn products, 2 Connecticut Sun players are WNBA All-Star reserves

Connecticut Sun teammates Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone
to make their first all-star appearances on Saturday
The WNBA released its all-star reserves late last night and leading the list are former UConn stars Sue Bird and Stefanie Dolson and the Connecticut Sun duo of Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone.

This is Bird's ninth all-star game and the Seattle Storm guard has been a starter seven times. Bird leads the Seattle Storm in scoring (10.3 points per game) and is the WNBA leader with an average of 5.5 assists per game.

With the Tulsa Shock's Skylar Diggins, one of the Western Conference starting guards, out for the year with a torn ACL, and fellow starter Seimone Augustus of Minnesota currently out with a knee injury, Bird would have to be considering among the top candidates to be named a starter. WNBA President Laurel Richie will announce the injury replacements while all-star game coaches make the changes in the starting lineups.

Dolson will be making her first all-star appearance. She is 15th in the WNBA in scoring with an average of 13.4 points per game and is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. There are now four former UConn stars on rosters for Saturday's WNBA All-Star game as Tina Charles of the New York Liberty will start for the East and Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx will be in the starting lineup for the Western Conference.

Bentley, in her third season in the WNBA and second with the Connecticut Sun, is sixth in the league in scoring (17.1 points per game) and her average of 2.64 steals per game is second in the WNBA.

Bone, also in her second season with the Sun and third in the league. She leads the Sun in rebounding (6.3 per game) and is second in scoring (15.4).

Here's reaction from Bentley and Bone courtesy of the Connecticut Sun

Alex Bentley on being named to the All-Star game“I am really honored to be a part of the All-Star game. I would not be here without the help of my teammates, and I also have to thank coach Donovan, who has put me in a great situation where I had more opportunity to succeed. It’s going to be great to play on my home court.”

Kelsey Bone on being named to the All-Star game“As a little girl, it’s something that you always dream about. It’s a testament to my teammates, and I am excited to be able to represent the Sun at home for this All Star game."​

Here are the reserves (although Lindsay Whalen's status is up in the air after being poked in the eye in Sunday's game and the Minnesota guard is considered iffy to play tonight when the Lynx host the Sun).

Eastern Conference: Bentley, Bone, Marissa Coleman (Indiana), Dolson, Emma Meesserman (Washington) and Cappie Pondexter (New York).
Western Conference: Bird, DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix), Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles), Plenette Pierson (Tulsa), Danielle Robinson (San Antonio) and Whalen.

Fans can watch Friday's all-star practices from 3-5 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena for free. The game is set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and will air on ABC.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

UConn's Auriemma dishes on Nurse's big game, Samuelson's & Collier's summers

After watching the semifinals and finals of the women's basketball competition at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, UConn coach Geno Auriemma arrived back in the U.S. in time for an entertaining and wide-ranging 90-minute interview with Michael Kay of the YES Network which will air on the CenterStage show at a date yet to be announced.

Auriemma dropping such nuggets as he would "walk there and give it all up" if given an opportunity to be an assistant coach under San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich; Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Cheryl Miller are the three best women's basketball players he has ever seen and if he needed to fight his way out of a fox hole, he would choose UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey and his brother Ferruccio.

Auriemma wasn't done holding court as he met with four reporters (including myself) who cover his team after the taping of the show in New York.

The first subject was Kia Nurse's wondrous 33-point performance to lead Canada over the U.S. in the gold medal game in the Pan Am Games last night.

"She is just a fearless kid and to do it on that stage with the gold medal at stake, at home and against the U.S..." Auriemma said.  "I saw her after the game and I don't think I ever saw a kid happier and more proud of her team and herself. It is was an incredible performance. I was standing there when Stewie (UConn forward Breanna Stewart, the leading scorer for the U.S. squad) came over, Stewie put her arms around her and said 'really, you picked today to do that.' It was an electrifying performance, it really was.

"When you perform like that in that environment, the confidence that you get , the things that you can draw on  when you are playing in college, you are playing in the Final Four or whatever is in her future, you know that you can do it. There is no doubt in her mind anymore. Last year there were times during the season where she would question herself like most freshmen do. I think a game like (Monday) night solidifies what we all think about her and that is she is something pretty special.

"Her parents are unbelievable proud of her understandably, they were all there, her brother was there, her sister and they get to relive it again in August in the Olympic qualifier in Edmonton. It is a lot for a young kid but there hasn't been anything thrown at her that she can't handle. The makeup of the team is a little different too. They are doing things a little bit more wide open so it plays more to her style."

Auriemma did not see the nasty collision between Nurse and Moriah Jefferson, the other UConn player on the U.S. team, as they chased a loose ball in the fourth quarter. Both players left the game. Nurse was able to return but Auriemma said Jefferson suffered a concussion and did not return.

"I didn't see the actual collision part until later," Auriemma said. "I wouldn't expect anything less, I can't saw that I am surprised that happened. They are two great competitions and that is why that is they are who they are."

Auriemma also spoke publicly for the first time about incoming freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, who left the U.S. U-19 team to return home.

"Her mom got sick and her dad wanted her at home," Auriemma said. "Katie Lou made the decision that 'I want to be here at this point in time.' I don't envision there be anything more than that down the road (meaning that Samuelson is expected to return to campus later this summer right on schedule). When she was here for summer school, she was incredible. It is unfortunate that her mom got as sick as she did. They are a very close-knit family, very private family and they wanted to circle the wagons here for a while.

"They are already under a lot of pressure being away from home, the pressure of having to perform at a certain level and the expectations that people have for them whether it is USA Basketball or UConn or anything (else). Sometimes we forget that if that was a kid that didn't play sports and didn't  have all of those expectations, they would have done the exact same (reaction). Just because she is a basketball player, that doesn't change the fact that she is an 18-year-old kid."

He also spoke about fellow incoming freshman Napheesa Collier, who is one of the top players on the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U19 World Championships.

"A few years ago they (USA Basketball) didn't know who she is," Auriemma said. "Now you watch her on the court, you watch what she does and you see the results at the end of the game, it is pretty remarkable what she does. there is nothing spectular that she does but she does all the little things that need to be done on the basketball and she does them every day. I think by the time this summer is over, Napheesa is not going to be an incoming freshman anymore. She will hit the freshman wall, she will have her struggles just like Stewie did and Moriah did but mentally you are going to be a different player than the player who graduated from high school four months ago."

Auriemma also said that participation in the Maggie Dixon Classic is up in the air. The original plan was to play Kentucky but the SEC changed up some things with the bye weeks in the SEC schedule impacting the availability to play non-conference games in January. As of right now there is an opening in the schedule and word is UConn officials are closing in on filling the spot although time will tell if it will result in a game at the annual Maggie Dixon Classic.

"We've been working, working and working and something happened along the way," Auriemma said. "It is in limbo right now."

UConn won't release its non-conference schedule until the details are finalized on the game in schedule. Other than that game and the ones at South Carolina (in February) and at Colgate, here is what I have for dates of the UConn's non-conference games.

11-16 at Ohio State
11-23 vs. Kansas State
11-28 vs. Nebraska
11-30 at Chattanooga
12-2 at DePaul
12-5 vs. Notre Dame
12-11 vs. Florida State (Mohegan Sun Arena)
12-21 vs. LSU

Monday, July 20, 2015

UConn's Nurse steals the show as Canada wins Pan Am title

Much like she did during her freshman season at UConn, Kia Nurse has displayed a tendency to defer to her older teammates with the Canadian national team.

However, with a chance to help Canada win its first gold medal in women's basketball at the Pan Am Games, Nurse stepped to the forefront and put on a performance for the ages.

Nurse finished with 33 points, two shy of her combined point total in the four games of the tournament, to go with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot as Canada defeated the United States 81-73 in the gold-medal game.

Nurse's brilliance deprived her UConn teammates Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart of leading the U.S. to its first Pan Am women's basketball title since 2007.

Stewart led the U.S. with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Jefferson had 14 points, two rebounds and two assists despite leaving the game for a short time in the first half after rolling her ankle and then being knocked out of a game as she had a head on head collision with Nurse as both players dove on the floor for a loose ball midway through the fourth quarter.  Kentucky's Linnae Harper, arguably the best player in the U.S. in the last two games, had 14 points and Notre Dame's Taya Reimer finished with 10 points.

Coming into the game Nurse's best scoring game came when she had 12 in the opener against Venezuela. She had that in the second quarter alone as Canada rallied from an 11-point deficit to take a two-point lead on a 3-pointer by Nurse with 46 seconds left in the second quarter. Reimer hit two free throws with 11 seconds left to enable to U.S. to go into the locker room at halftime tied with Canada.

Going one step further, Nurse played in 11 competitions with Canada's senior national team in 2013 and 2014 and in eight of them she scored fewer than 33 points.

Obviously, Kia Nurse played really well," Stewart said. "She just came out and was doing everything, whether it was 3s, driving to the basket and getting and-ones, that kind of stuff.  We had them for a second, and then they let the crowd and momentum get behind them and never really looked back."
Stewart and Jefferson are the only U.S. players to average more than 30 minutes per game in the tournament. Stewart led the team in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game and was second in rebounding (8.8 per game) and was tied for the team lead with nine steals. Jefferson was the second-leading scorer (12.2 points per game) while handing out a team-high 19 assists.

Something tells me that Jefferson will use Nurse's incredible effort as a point of reference during the season if she feels like Nurse isn't looking for her shot enough.

Nurse will have a chance to further her reputation with the national team when Canada hosts the Olympic qualifying FIBA Americas tournament next month.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

UConn duo goes for another title on Monday

Another championship is within reach for UConn's Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart.

Jefferson and Stewart led to UConn to national titles in each of their first three seasons and also won gold medals at the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and 2013 FIBA U19 Championship.

However, if not for some late-game brilliance from former UConn recruiting target Linnae Harper, that streak would have come to an end in the Pan Am Games semifinals on Sunday.

Cuba led by 14 points and took a one-point lead after Jefferson lost the ball near midcourt resulting in Ineidis Casanova's layup. Harper, a rising junior guard at Kentucky, hit two free throws with seven seconds left to play and then a steal in the closing seconds as the U.S. held on for a 65-64 victory. The win puts the U.S. in the gold-medal game on Monday at 8:45 p.m. where Jefferson and Stewart will see a familiar face as UConn's Kia Nurse's Canada team rolled past Brazil 91-63 in the other semifinal.

Harper had eight of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter and also had four steals.

In an interview with ESPN after the game Stewart said that Harper "won us the game."

Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 15 points, four rebounds and four steals. South Carolina's Alaina Coates added 10 points and 15 rebounds while Jefferson had 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Stewart finished with 10 points. Down the stretch Stewart was not an offensive factor as she missed her final three shots (all from 3-point range) and did not score in the final 8:53 leading to players like Harper and Coates stepping into the forefront.

Nurse who averaged 8.7 points in Canada's three pool play games, had nine points and three rebounds in the semifinal. Meriden's Damika Martinez is also playing in the Pan Am Games although her Puerto Rico team finished 1-2 in group play and was relegated to playing in the fifth-place game. Playing without leading scorer Carla Cortijo, who was injured late in the loss to the U.S., Puerto Rico lost 77-56 to Argentina to finish sixth. Martinez had nine points and three rebounds in the loss and finished with 25 points and nine rebounds in the four games.

Toronto is not the only location where UConn products are going after a gold medal.

UConn incoming freshman Napheesa Collier had 17 points and six rebounds and UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield had seven points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and had her second straight game without a turnover as the U.S. defeated China 88-62 to improve to 2-0 in pool play at the FIBA U19 Championship for Women in Russia.

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Duke's Azura Stevens added 16 points and Florida State's Shakayla Thomas finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and two steals. The U.S. wraps up group play against winless Egypt on Monday although the U.S. has already clinched the Group B title.

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Current, future UConn stars go for gold

The UConn women's basketball finds itself in the spotlight even in the middle of July.

A memorable day featuring current and future Huskies began when incoming freshman Napheesa Collier had 13 points, a game-high 14 rebounds including eight on the offensive end to go with five assists and three steals as the United States squad opened play in the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women with a hard-earned 73-57 win over Spain, a team that finished fourth or higher in the last four U-19 events.
UConn commit Crystal Dangerfield came off the bench for eight points, three assists and two steals. More importantly, Collier and Dangerfield did not commit a turnover while combining to play 43:57. Louisville's Mariya Moore and UConn recruiting target Lauren Cox joined Collier and Dangerfield as the only U.S. players to play at least 10 minutes and not commit a turnover.
Next up was Kia Nurse trying to help Canada clinch the top seed in Group B at the Pan Am Games.
Canada, coming off a sixth-place finish, had already secured a spot in the semifinals before meeting up with Cuba in a showdown of 2-0 teams.
Nurse finished with seven points and four rebounds in a 71-68 victory but her greatest contribution came on defense. In the third quarter Nurse, the youngest player on the Canadian team, has given the defensive assignment on Cuba's top scorer Yamara Amargo.

The 30-year-old Amargo, who averaged 17.5 points in Cuba's first two games, had four points in the first 1:13 of the third quarter giving her 10 in the game. However, with Nurse shadowing Cuba's top offensive threat most of the way in the final two quarters, she managed just two points for the remainder of the game.

The win not only gives Canada a chance for its first Pan Am medal since winning the silver medal in 1999 but enabled them to draw Brazil instead of the U.S. in today's semifinals.

The U.S. clinched the top spot in Group A with a 93-77 win over Puerto Rico in a game much closer than the final score might indicate. Puerto Rico was within a point with 9:27 left to play and was only down five points with 6:48 remaining before scoring eight straight points to start a game-clinching 14-1 run.
UConn's Breanna Stewart had a team-high 24 points to go with 12 rebounds, two assists and four steals while Moriah Jefferson chipped in with 14 points, three rebounds and six assists. South Carolina's Alaina Coates, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds, was the only other U.S. player to score in double figures.

Puerto Rico, the defending champions, needed to beat the U.S. to have a chance at qualifying for the semifinals. Aided by former Texas star Carla Cortijo scoring 24 points while former South Florida standout Jazmine Sepulveda and Ali Gibson, a former star at Oregon State for U.S. assistant coach Scott Rueck, were each 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Meriden's Damika Martinez chipped in with seven points and three rebounds.

It will be another busy day of basketball beginning at 1:15 p.m. when the U.S. plays China at 1:15 p.m. in a game that can be seen on FIBA's youtube site.
The U.S. and Cuba will meet in the Pan Am semifinals at 1:30 p.m. with Canada and Brazil playing in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Both of those games can be seen on ESPN3 with the U.S. game likely to be shown on ESPN2 as well.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

UConn's Jefferson excited to suit up for U.S. in Pan Am Games

There is another chance to make a run at championship glory before Moriah Jefferson teams up with Breanna Stewart in the quest for an unprecedented fourth straight women's Division I national title in the upcoming season.

Stewart, the only returning player from the U.S. team which finished seventh in the 2011 Pan Am Games, and Jefferson will be among the headliners as the U.S. opens play in the Pan Am Games today at 9 p.m. against Brazil.
Jefferson is pretty fired up about the chance to make her Pan Am Games debut and to play alongside Stewart once again.
"She is my teammate and I love her to death," Jefferson said. "Any time you can play especially in that setting, we are representing our country, I can't wait.
"We have been playing together since I can't even tell you how long now and it just seems like second nature to be on the same team. It is kind of weird that Morgan (Tuck) isn't there this time but we understand that she has things that she needs to take care of."
Tuck overcame multiple knee surgeries to play a starring role in UConn's national championship run last season so she opted to pass on the chance to attend the trials used to select the Pan Am Games and World University Games squads.

Few people were surprised when Jefferson, a first-team All-American as a junior as well as the winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award presented annually to the nation's top point guard, However, before getting to UConn Jefferson got a taste of what it is like not to make the cut for a national team so she didn't think it was a foregone conclusion that she was going to make the squad.

"I know what it feels like to be cut because I have been there coming in and I didn't make it for a couple of years and then  the past couple of years I have been on the team," Jefferson said. "I never take anything for granted, I go out there, play my hardest and hope I make the team."
Four years ago the Pan Am Games were played in late October meaning that many top programs weren't volunteering their stars to suit up for the U.S. The result was a seventh-place finish as the U.S. posted a 2-2 record. Stewart, the only high school player on the squad, was surrounded by under the radar prospects. Avery Warley is the only member of the team on an active WNBA roster. Kayla Standish was 19th overall pick in 2012 WNBA draft while April Sykes, Christine Flores and Katelan Redmon were also selected in the draft in '12. Stewart averaged 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and also led the team with nine blocked shots. It would not be a reach to suggest that a team consisting of the players failing to make either the World University Games or Pan Am Games squads would be better than the U.S. team competing in the Pan Am Games in 2011.
Stewart, Jefferson and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell are among the top prospects for the 2016 draft. Kelsey Plum, who was the No. 7 scorer in Division I as a sophomore, and Stephanie Mavunga are among the highly-touted underclassmen on the squad giving the U.S. a much better chance at success than the team had four years ago.

The U.S. faces the Dominican Republic on Friday before wrapping up pool play on Saturday against Puerto Rico. A potential showdown with Canada could await in the medal round. If that occurs, Jefferson could find herself guarding her UConn teammate Kia Nurse.
"It is really special," Jefferson said. "It is really exciting to be able to do what she has done on her national team then to come over here, play and win a national championship in her first year so I know they really are proud of her."

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Connecticut Sun's Thomas' generosity benefitting UConn commit

I couldn't help but be struck by the irony that Connecticut Sun star Alyssa Thomas sponsors an AAU team featuring UConn commit Kyla Irwin especially since three of the 15 losses Thomas' Maryland team suffered in her final two collegiate seasons came at the hands of the Huskies.

The Alyssa Thomas Elite team, led by Irwin, won the 17-and-under title at the 14th annual United States Junior Nationals Hershey National Showcase. So after last night's Connecticut Sun game I was wrapping up an interview with Thomas and asked her how she came to sponsor an AAU team and especially one with a star eventually headed to UConn.

She said it is one of the benefits from her being sponsored by Under Armour.

"We get an allotment of gear and we are able to sponsor a team so I tried to sponsor a local team," Thomas said. "It is an organization my parents run and they are doing really well this year."

Thomas' father Bobby is the executive director of the Central PA Elite AAU program and her mom
Tina Klotzbeecher-Thomas is not only the organization's secretary but also the head coach of the team that Thomas sponsors and Irwin plays on.

"It is always good to give back," Thomas said. "I love to give back to the people who have supported me throughout my career. Now it is their opportunity, they are getting college exposure so hopefully they can get (opportunities) like I did."

What about Thomas, a former Maryland star, aiding in the development of a player who is part of UConn's next recruiting class?

"I know," Thomas said with a chuckle. "She is a good player. I have known her and her mom (Bethany, a former Branford resident and assistant coach on the AAU team) for a while so I am definitely happy for her."

As for Thomas, she was clearly hobbled after crashing into the basketball support after tangling up with Cappie Pondexter of the Chicago Sky in last night's game. Thomas left the game for a while, received some treatment and returned to the game drawing praise from Sun coach Anne Donovan.

"That kid who I am sure is going to be sore the next several days, she just battles," Donovan said. "(Sky rookie Betnijah) Laney is in there to play physical and try to keep her off the glass and she still comes away with six offensive boards. She kind of characterizes this team and how hard they play, they refuse to be outmatched."

Thomas downplayed the pain she might be in.

"The three days (off) is definitely going to help," Thomas said. "She put me in an awkward position and it didn't feel too good. I just tried to push through it. I have been playing with it (a sore hip) all season so I just get some rest."

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Former UConn stars Moore, Charles among top WNBA All-Star vote-getters

Former UConn star Maya Moore is the No. 2 vote-getter among Western Conference players as the WNBA released the first round of voting for the WNBA All-Star Game which is being played at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 25.

Skylar Diggins of the Tulsa Shock, who recently suffered a season-ending knee injury, leads all players with 11,099 votes followed by the Chicago Sky's Elena Delle Donne, who has 10,589 votes.

If this happened to be the final voting numbers, Delle Donne, the Atlanta Dream's Shoni Schimmel and Angle McCoughtry, Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever and former UConn star Tina Charles would start for the Eastern Conference while Diggs, Moore, Seimone Augustus of Minnesota and the Phoenix Mercury duo of Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree would be the starters.

Here in the voting with former UConn and current Connecticut Sun players in bold

Backcourt: Elena Delle Donne (Chi) 10,589; Shoni Schimmel (Atl) 4,419; Cappie Pondexter (Chi) 2,862; Courtney Vandersloot (Chi) 2,301; Ivory Latta (Was) 2,222; Alex Bentley (Con) 1,896; Marissa Coleman (Ind) 1,404; Allie Quigley (Chi) 1,326; Briann January (Ind) 1,289; Brittany Boyd (NY) 1,191; Kara Lawson (Was) 1,162; Tiffany Hayes (Atl) 1,118

Frontcourt: Frontcourt: Tamika Catchings (Ind) 5,558; Angel McCoughtry (Atl) 4,225; Tina Charles (NY) 3,359; Emma Meesseman (Was) 2,612; Natalie Achonwa (Ind) 1,948; Stefanie Dolson (Was) 1,727; Erika de Souza (Atl) 1,530; Swin Cash (NY) 1,402; Kelsey Bone (Con) 1,277; Chiney Ogwumike (Con) 1,189; Kiah Stokes (NY) 1,142; Alyssa Thomas (Con) 1,124

Backcourt: Skylar Diggins (Tul) 11,099; Seimone Augustus (Min) 5,518; Sue Bird (Sea) 4,693; Lindsay Whalen (Min) 4,091; DeWanna Bonner (Phx) 3,438; Kayla McBride (SA) 1,994; Odyssey Sims (Tul) 1,891; Jewell Loyd (Sea) 1,622

Frontcourt: Maya Moore (Min) 7,783; Brittney Griner (Phx) 3,656; Candice Dupree (Phx) 3,410; Ramu Tokashiki (Sea) 2,378; Nneka Ogwumike (LA) 2,337; Rebekkah Brunson (Min) 2,139; Courtney Paris (Tul) 1,508; Plenette Pierson (Tul) 1,190; Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Sea) 1,152