Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lawlor, Pulido get scholarships; Butler on the mend

The location of American Athletic Conference women's basketball media day might have limited the amount of Connecticut media at the event but it certainly did not cut back on the number of newsworthy items to address.

Let's start with former walk-ons Tierney Lawlor and Briana Pulido being rewarded for their hard work by being given scholarships. It is actually something that happened at the end of the 2014-15 season but I didn't begin to hear rumblings about it until I covered an Ansonia High School football game a few weeks back and a school official said that Lawlor, an Ansonia High graduate, was given a scholarship for her final two seasons.

I wasn't able to address it with UConn coach Geno Auriemma at First Night but media day was a perfect time to confirm it which he did.

"I just felt like they deserved it," Auriemma said. "When you are putting in the same amount of time, you are putting in the same amount of work, you are making the same sacrifices as all the other kids, I think after a period of time that you prove you are willing to do that for nothing, I think it is something that you deserve so I felt like they deserved it."

Auriemma has run a no-frills type of program and he did make the scholarship awarding process a Broadway production.

"We meet with the players at the end of the year individually so when they came in, we sit down with them and I said 'this is what we are going to do, what do you think?' And you can just imagine their reaction," Auriemma said.

We got the players first and I did not know about Pulido being put on scholarship for her final season but I did get Moriah Jefferson on Lawlor.

"She is the first people who will ask me to shoot or if you need a rebounder, we will shoot together," Jefferson said. "She is a great person to have around."
Auriemma knows the rest of the UConn team shares Jefferson's opinion on Lawlor and Pulido.

"They love those guys because our players know how fortunate they are," Auriemma said. "I don't ever want them to feel like they are entitled to anything so for them to see that those kids had to earn it ... The only thing that the other kids had to do to be on scholarship, they just had to be really good basketball players in high school  and they were awarded a scholarship to come here. These other two, they had to come here and prove that they deserved it and that means a lot to our players."

UConn has suffered some freak injuries over the years but few more bizarre than the torn ligaments in the left thumb of Natalie Butler.

A pass from a teammate caught Butler with her thumb extended. The decision was made for her to undergo surgery and that took place exactly a week ago. Auriemma is hopeful that Butler, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgetown, could be back around Christmas.

"We are really anxious to get her back," Auriemma said. "When somebody operates on your thumb, that takes a long time to heal.

"I am always thinking eight (weeks), she might be thinking five but I don't know. You have her here, you work hard all summer, she had it going in workouts in September and all of a sudden she is on the shelf."

The good news is that Morgan Tuck and De'Janae Boykin are both back at practice.

Auriemma was very much in favor of the move to four quarters and loves the idea of being able to advance the ball with a timeout in the last minute of the second and fourth quarters as well as some of the other rules implemented this year.

However. he's like to take it a step further. With old friend Russ Davis (the AAU coach of UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson and former UConn guard Lauren Engeln) bringing his Vanguard team in for a Nov. 8 exhibition game at Gampel Pavilion, there will be some different rules being utilized.

The lane will be widened, there will be an 8-second count to get the ball across midcourt, a 24-second shot clock, the shot clock will only reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound, the international 3-point time of 22-1 will be in play and the game will feature men's regulation basketballs instead of the smaller ones used in women's games.

"I'd like for people to see it and see if there is any difference at all," Auriemma said. "He is a great guy, he coaches the game the right way, his kids play the right way. These rules benefit him, he doesn't usually have a center, it will be fun for them. We will see where it goes, it might not go anywhere I think it is a good time to do it

"People think I come up with these ideas to help us win more games," Auriemma said. "Me widening the lane, you think that helps me? I don't think so. You think I want Stewie (Breanna Stewart) further from the basket? No, I want to be able to throw the ball to Stewie a foot from the basketball but if we widen the lane that gives teams that don't have Stewie a chance to be a little bit more competitive. Move the line back, why? So you don't have these kids  jacking up 3s who aren't good 3-point shooters now only the best 3-point shooters are going to shoot it. We are back to one basketball for the entire world, this is our basketball so kids can go on any playground, play basketball and they are using the came ball. We are going to try it, see what happens to go from there.

"If he (Davis) had said we aren't doing it that we wouldn't have been able to do it but I knew he would be in for it . I have known him for a long time, we are paying him a lot of money to come out here, he is coming to my house and he is going to drink 10 bottles of my really good wine so believe me he isn't doing this for free."

There was one tweak that he was not able to get approved and that was moving the rims down about four inches.

"I wanted to lower the basket but I couldn't get (approval)," Auriemma said. "There was a rough kind of estimate with the average height of a NBA team, what the average height of a men's college team is and what the average height of a women's college basketball team and we figured about four inches would be really good and not even tell anybody and see if they notice until the first time Stewie went up and dunked it. It wouldn't even be about that, just play at the rim and I would just like to see what that looks like but we are not doing that."

With the announcement that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski would be stepping down as the U.S. men's national team coach after next year's Olympics, I thought it was a good time to make sure that Auriemma was planning to follow through with his plans to step away from the U.S. women's national team coaching gig after the '16 Olympics as well.

"I hope it is sometime after the Rio Olympics that 'thank you Coach Auriemma for your services but they are no longer required, we are going in another direction," Auriemma said. "I just don't want it to be before next August. I don't think anybody thought it Mike was going to do it a fourth time. Doing it twice is hard, doing it three times I can't even imagine the amount of commitment, the amount of time it takes. People think there is no stress because you are coaching the best players in the world but because you are playing the best players in the world, there is a lot of stress.

"This is it. I said it last time that this was it but I am a softie when people ask me and I gave in, I did it maybe because part of me wanted to."

Auriemma looked exhausted when he returned from the 2012 Olympics and he admits doing both the U.S. and UConn jobs takes a toll on him.

"You don't notice in on a day to day basis," Auriemma said. "If you add it up over eight years and you come back October 12 and you start practice on Oct. 15, after a while you add it all up, you look back and you can feel it. It doesn't pop up all of the time but there are those moments that you are sitting there and say 'I haven't had time to catch my breath.'"

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco made it clear that he is very much in favor of having the American Athletic Conference women's tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.

It was held there in the conference's first two years, is returning there in 2016 with the AAC holding an option to have it there in 2017 as well. Aresco threw out the possibility of extending the deal beyond the next two years.

"Mohegan has been good to us," Aresco said. "As long as UConn remains a mainstay of our conference, how could you go wrong? We bring in 30-35,000 people, the other teams enjoying playing in front of those kinds of crowds. It is a lot of fun for them, there is a lot of energy around that tournament. A lot of the other women's tournaments have struggled and ours does not.

"It is a beautiful arena, everybody likes playing there. It is the right size. We have a one-year presence and then a one-year option so we could be there two more years and I'd like to talk about even extending it.

"You might say that the other teams, they might say it is a long way to go and it is in UConn territory  but no they love the fact that this is the best tournament of the women's (conference tournaments)."


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