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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim!

Praying for Moriah Jefferson to full recovery. I remember in March Madness, Moriah got hit in the head and mouthed "I cannot hear". I wonder now if she had a mild concussion in that game.

I have no idea if Aurieema was serious or not about "walk there and give it all up". If you are a HoopGurlz Top 20 high school player actively being recruited by UConn, would you have second thoughts about signing with UConn?

Praying for KLS mom.

7:51 PM 

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