Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, November 30, 2015

UConn's Stewart honored by AAC once again

UConn senior forward Breanna Stewart was named the American Athletic Conference's Player of the Week for the second straight time after back to back 25-point performances in wins over Kansas State and Nebraska.

Stewart is the first UConn player to start the season with three consecutive 20-point performances since Maya Moore started the 2010-11 season with six straight games with at least 20 points.

The UConn release states that she has scored in double figures 101 times although I count 100 such occurrences but either way it is an impressive achievement. She is also just two blocked shots shy of 300.

Stewart is shooting 63.4 percent from the field, a staggering 54.5 from 3-point range. She is averaging 24.7 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 2.5 blocked shots per game.

UConn officials are trying to spread the word about a "White Out" for Saturday's game against rival Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion as they are requesting that fans wear white for the contest.

Here is one of the graphics the school came up with the promote the game. The game will tip at 5:15 p.m. and shockingly, it will be the Huskies last game at Gampel until Temple comes to town on Jan. 16.


Friday, November 27, 2015

UConn freshmen getting acquainted to the Geno way

One of the best parts of covering the UConn women's basketball program is getting to see how Geno Auriemma conducts his practices.

It is not the drills he has his team fight through although it is entertaining watch the 4 on 5, 5 on 6 or 5 on 7 drills where even the best starting five in the country has no chance for success but just when he chooses which buttons to push.

Case in point was the practice before the Kansas State game where the return of Saniya Chong and De'Janae Boykin to practice enabled him to throw out five players on the court without any of the starters being out there. As Chong, Courtney Ekmark and freshmen De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson went up against the male practice players with either Tierney Lawlor and Briana Pulido mixed in, he let them attempt to run the out of bounds plays that the starting five managed to do and score at will. Possession after possession ended in failure and little by little Auriemma's irritation boiled over until he finally told them "the five of you will never be out there together (in a game), you know that, right?'

"It serves two purposes, those guys out there by themselves are really clueless and that is good because they then start to pay attention and say I can't just depend on them (the starters)," Auriemma said. "I can't depend on our upperclassmen to bail us out all the time so that is good. It is good for our upperclassmen to sit out there, watch those young guys fall apart and now that 'hey, if you don't help these guys out, this is what is going to happen.' It works well on both ends. The more they do that, somebody like Saniya who is going to have to do more or somebody like Gabby (Williams, who works with the starters now but went through similar struggles as a reserve last season(, she has to do more so it serves a lot of purposes. We don't do it often because otherwise practice would deteriorate."

If there was a silver lining it was that Collier stepped up to make a few baskets to salvage something for the reserves.

"She is just one of those guys that if you keep moving something good is bound to happen and she never stands still, she is always moving," Auriemma said of Collier. "So a shot goes up, it doesn't matter where she is on the floor, she will be around the ball when it comes off the rim. Because she does it all the time, 'x' number of times the ball is going to fall into her hands. Other guys, they only go in there once in a while and they only get it once in a while but she just has a knack."

I actually interviewed Collier after the practice but for some unknown reason I neglected to ask her about that portion of practice. I did, however, ask Morgan Tuck about it.

"We have all been in that position at some point," Tuck said. "They are only doing it to make you better, they are saying something to you  it is because they care and they want you to get better.

"It is good to play with the people you are play with the most time while you are here. It sucks that he is always on you, saying those things but at the end of the day you do that to be productive and effective with whatever group you are with. It can't be with me, Stewie and Mo out there 'oh, we are doing great' but when we are not out there it is different. I think by him setting the expectations only makes them better and it pays off in the end."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

End of an era

Usually I try to stay out of the way and focus on the players and coaches I cover. However, there was some news this week for me to go down a different path.

Perhaps UConn fans in the mid and late 1990s will remember the name Paul Marslano as he handled the daily coverage of the UConn women's basketball team before I took over the beat in 1999. Well, four days ago Paul passed away at the age of 76. Maybe it was Geno Auriemma reflecting on his 30 years at the helm of the UConn program that put me in a reminiscing frame of mine or that Paul made that much of an impact on me as a journalist, man and friend but I feel it is appropriate to share some of my thoughts about the end of an era in New Haven sports.

Just 18 months after I arrived in Connecticut I stepped into the offices of the New Haven Register for the first time. I was still in college back in 1986 when I was hired as an EA or editorial assistant which is pretty much what is sounds like. I answered phones at night, filed photos and might even make a coffee run or 100. What I did very infrequently was write. However, just stepping foot into that building would forever change my life. I thought I wanted a career in the newspaper industry and it didn't take long for me to realize it was my calling as a rubbed shoulders with some of incredibly talented people. I still recall the first time I walked into the office and I could feel the eyes of some of the most legendary figures in New Haven sports journalism trying to get a read on the new kid. The staff was complete with absolute heavy hitters. Bob Casey, Tom McCormack, George Wadley, Dave Solomon and Paul Marslano could go toe to toe with any five writers ever to work in any sports department. It struck me shortly after I received a call from my boss informing me of Paul's passing that they are all gone. They left behind proud families, a large group of friends, coaches and athletes who got to know them as more than just a reporter on assignment with a notebook, couple of pens and tape recorder as well as an impressionable young writer who learned so much about my craft being in the same building with those true legends.

Dave Solomon and I often traveled together covering UConn or worked side by side at the pro tennis tournament in New Haven or golf tournament in Cromwell. We became very close and I'm not sure if I have ever fully recovered from his tragic death in a car accident as he drove home from a UConn football practice. Bob Casey was probably the veteran journalist I attached myself to when I first started working at the Register. His ability to work the phone, develop sources and provide comprehensive coverage on any story catching his fancy was truly amazing. Tom McCormack was about as colorful of a personality as I have ever encountered and that came through with his writing. Geroge Wadley left me in absolute awe the first time I worked alongside him at an event. It was called the District Classic, a high school baseball event featuring Hillhouse, Wilbur Cross, Hamden and West Haven. We interviewed the same coach and while I relied on a tape recorder, George did not and also did not write a word down. I wasn't sure what to make of this and since his story would be running before mine, I was pretty curious if the quotes would be anywhere close to being accurate. They were, in fact, word for word as they were spoken. George also had a way to stirring things up as well as anybody I've ever encountered. He did not write simply to get a reaction which seems to be becoming a more common practice in this business but he would state his opinion is such an eloquent fashion that I would imagine that even the people in his cross hairs must have appreciated the incredible way he expressed that opinion.

This brings me to Paul. We seemed to run in parallel universes until 1999. I was wrapping up my second and final season covering the Yale men's hockey team and the decision was made to have me take over the UConn women's basketball beat. In order to help me make the adjustment my bosses had me accompany Paul to some UConn games and we rode up to UConn together. The first thing that struck me about Paul is he could find the humor in anything. His playful spirit would usually work its way into his line of questioning during press conferences. His accomplishments at that point were legendary but never once did he throw the fact that he was a regular at some of the biggest sporting events in my face. He could have made my life difficult since I was replacing him on an assignment that he really seemed to enjoy but did exactly the opposite. Perhaps he sensed my nervousness because I did wonder if I had what it took to handle a beat as competitive as UConn women's basketball.. He taught me more about journalism and so much more during that one year. Whenever he would see me in the office he loved to chat about how things were going covering Geno Auriemma and the Huskies. Even after he retired, he would call the office when I was there or call me at home and talk my ear off.

It really upsets me that I will be in Philadelphia this weekend for the UConn football game against Temple and won't be able to attend either his wake or funeral because I would love nothing more than to pay tribute to a man I simply knew as "Mars."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Even on her special night, UConn's Stewart proves she is more than just a scorer

It would be easy to look at the scoring numbers Breanna Stewart has put up since she arrived at UConn and be blown away just a little bit.

However, on a night when she became the ninth UConn player to score 2,000 career points, it was her all-around game that was hard to ignore.

Stewart did finish with a game-high 25 points but she might have taken more pride in her overall stat line with eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocked shots as the Huskies won their home opener for the 25th straight season and extended their winning streak to 40 games.

"It is definitely a nice stat line," Stewart said "I should be having a double-double but if I can maintain the assists, keep them high and just the all-around game, that is what you want to see as a player individually and even from your other teammates."

What Stewart's teammates and coaches are seeing from her in the desire not to rest on her laurels even though she led UConn to national titles in each of her first three seasons and is a two-time national player of the year.

"She comes out every night and does something different," Jefferson said. "I don't think people realize it as much because she scores so many points but she is a great scorer, a great rebounder, she can also block shots really well."

The ultimate compliment came when UConn's Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma mentioned Stewart in the same breath as Husky legends Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

"She averages about 15 shots," Auriemma said. You score 2,000 points when you average 15 shots a game, that is pretty good. The thing I liked about her the most are the intangibles in addition to the points. The thing that I most appreciate about Stewie right now is in her own way she has become very vocal. I don't mean that she is constantly chirping aoout there but when she has something to say, she says it and she asks a lot of questions, that never used to happen because she is seeing things and she is trying to get better all the time. There is not a day that goes by where she is not trying to figure out a way to get better. It is hard to get more stuff into a stat sheet than she gets.

"We went into halftime and complained that we must shoot for an hour every day, guys are passing up open shots. How do you solve your outside shooting problems? We will have our center knock in a couple of 3s. She just has the wherewithal to do when we need them done, that is kind of what Maya did, Dee did."

Stewart hit the 2,000-point plateau in her 117th career game, only Maya Moore (108 games) and Kerry Bascom (113) did in fewer games.

"When you have these kinds of milestones, you kind of just want to get it over with because people are talking about it," Stewart said. "I can still play basketball, play with my team so I just tried to play within the offense and shoot when I normally shoot."


UConn's Stewart chasing a major milestone

If Breanna Stewart scores 16 points tonight (and she has a career average of 17.1 points per game) she would become the ninth Husky with 2,000 career points.

If it happens today, it would take her 117 games. Only Maya Moore (108 games) and Kerry Bascom (113) did it in fewer games than it took Stewart. Rebecca Lobo is next on the list with 118 games.

It would also be UConn's 25th straight season winning its home opener.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chong should be good to go for UConn tomorrow night

Today was the first practice open to the media since UConn's season-opening win over Ohio State and both Saniya Chong and De'Janae Boykin were out there during drills.

Chong, who did get into the season opener during the final few minutes, is expected to be a full go for tomorrow's game against Kansas State (7 p.m., XL Center) although UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that because Boykin is still only practicing on a part-time basis as she works her way back from an Achilles' tendon injury, he doesn't not expect her to play in the home opener.

Chong is excited to hit the ground running in her first extended game action after missing both exhibition games and not getting into the Ohio State game until there was 3:21 remaining.

"I feel very excited. I know it has been hard the last couple of weeks for me, in and out all the time but actually being here and finishing up the practices, being a part of the team it feels really good," Chong said.

With sophomore Gabby Williams looking very much like the Huskies' fifth starter, UConn is extremely young on the bench as the only reserves to play more than 10 minutes against the Buckeyes were freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. Without Chong, the other reserves have played a total of 704 career minutes so there's a lot on Chong's shoulders.

"We talked to Saniya and said 'you are a leader on this team too,'" UConn senior Breanna Stewart said. "She is a junior, this is her third year of being here and she needs to help us lead the underclassmen. Saying that, just for her to hear in front of the rest of the team, helps her out
She has to be more vocal because if the freshmen see a junior not talking, they think it is OK to not talk too."

Chong has been dealing with IT Band Syndrome which results in pain on the outside of the knee. She had an injection and there's a chance that she will need more of them during the season.

"I think it will be ongoing this season, hopefully one day it will be like 'I want to go now' and hopefully soon," Chong said.

Boykin figures to make her UConn debut sooner rather than later. After missing most of her senior season at Flowers High School due to a wrist injury, it's been hard for Boykin to deal with being sidelined due to another ailment.

"It is kind of like being back in high school when I had to sit and watch so it is pretty hard for me," Boykin said. "I am excited that I am able to (practice) now.I feel comfortable, everything is fine."

Auriemma said that sophomore center Natalie Butler, expected to be out for at least another month due to a thumb injury, did some drills in practice earlier this week. Auriemma can't wait to get the 6-foot-5 Butler back to practice without restriction.

UConn signee Crystal Dangerfield, a senior guard at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was one of 77 players named to the Naismith Player of the Year watch list.

Dangerfield had 34 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in a season-opening 69-55 win over Brentwood Academy.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jefferson, Stewart, Tuck on Wooden preseason watch list

The Wooden Award sent out the list of 30 players on its preseason watch list and UConn teammates Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were among the candidates as is former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes, a senior guard at West Virginia.

Stewart won the award last season while UConn and South Carolina (Tiffany Mitchell, Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson) are the only teams with three players on the list.

Here is the list

Lindsay Allen 5-8 Jr. G Notre Dame
Jillian Alleyne 6-3 Sr. F Oregon
Ameryst Alston 5-9 Sr. G Ohio State
Adut Bulgak 6-4 Sr. C Florida State
Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. C South Carolina
Nia Coffey 6-1 Jr. F Northwestern
Nina Davis 5-11 Jr. F Baylor
Diamond DeShields 6-1 Soph. G Tennessee
Rebecca Greenwell 6-1 Soph. G Duke
Bria Holmes 6-1 Sr. G West Virginia
Moriah Jefferson 5-7 Sr. G Connecticut
Niya Johnson 5-8 Sr. G Baylor
Brionna Jones 6-3 Jr. C Maryland
Jonquel Jones 6-4 Sr. F George Washington
Kelsey Mitchell 5-8 Soph. G Ohio State
Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. G South Carolina
Kelsey Plum 5-8 Jr. G Washington
Aerial Powers 6-0 Jr. F Michigan State
Leticia Romero 5-8 Jr. G Florida State
Azurá Stevens 6-6 Soph. F/G Duke
Breanna Stewart 6-4 Sr. F ConnecticutLili Thompson 5-7 Jr. G Stanford
Morgan Tuck 6-2 Jr. F ConnecticutBrianna Turner 6-3 Soph. F Notre Dame
Victoria Vivians 6-1 Soph. F Mississippi State
Courtney Walker 5-8 Sr. G Texas A&M 
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 5-11 Jr. G Maryland
Courtney Williams 5-8 Sr. G South Florida
Courtney Williams 6-1 Sr. F/G Texas A&M
A’ja Wilson 6-5 Soph. F South Carolina

Monday, November 16, 2015

UConn's defense steals the show in season opener

When Geno Auriemma saw the halftime score in Friday's Ohio State/South Carolina game, he likely needed to do a double take.

As talented as Ohio State's perimeter duo of Kelsey Mitchell and Ameryst Alston are, putting up 47 points on the road against a South Carolina team that is normally a defensive juggernaut made Auriemma wonder what it would look like when his Huskies traveled to meet the Buckeyes on Monday night.

The last thing he expected was a 44-point win or seeing Mitchell and Alston go a combined 5 of 27 from the field including 0 for 6 from 3-point range.

"I thought we were amazing on defense," Auriemma said. "That whole first half, I thought we were great. I thought Gabby Williams and Moriah Jefferson kind of set the tone early on. They may have made it look easy but it is not easy guarding those guys, I am really happy for them and I am really proud of them.

"We watch film just like everybody else watches film and we know South Carolina is a really good team and they are especially a good defensive team so when you see the score, when I saw it was 47-45 at halftime I shook my head and I said this is going to be hard. When we showed some of that stuff to our players, they got the message. They knew that these two guys could score a lot of points. Kelsey Mitchell getting those two fouls early probably put a little bit of a damper on her game."

Mitchell had eight points and Alston seven leaving Shayla Cooper (17 points, eight rebounds) as the only Ohio State player to score consistently against the Huskies.

Just 14 seconds into the game Williams, a sophomore making her first career start, had the first of her game-high four steals which she quickly converted into the game's first two points.

Neither Mitchell nor Alston scored in the first quarter and had just three points by halftime.

"You know they are going to come out and take their shot so you are going to have to do to run with them, get your hands up the whole time and hopefully they don't shoot them as much," Jefferson said.
"It was a great team defense, everybody was switching onto those guys and were being active. I think if we can play like that all season, I think we will be fine.

"I don't think people realize how much defense we do in practice, how hard our practices are so any time you can come out here and show what we have been doing in practice for however many weeks, I think it is good."

Junior guard Saniya Chong, who had been sidelined recently due to IT Band Syndrome, was not expected to play due to the practice time she missed but she did get enough done in the last day or two to take part in warmups before the game and checked into the game late in the fourth quarter.

"I was surprised because at shootaround today she went through it and all of a sudden, 'hey if she feels good coming out of this, she wants to play,'" Auriemma said. "I was the most shocked person in the gym because I thought there was no way she was going to play. I said to myself I am not going to play her, she hasn't practiced in a week. I gave her a choice and said. 'do you want to play a little bit?' and she said yes. Now we can get started when we get back so it was a pleasant surprise for me."

Fast-paced Ohio State offers unique challenge to UConn

Geno Auriemma has been at this coaching thing for quite some time and there are no recent teams that his Huskies have played recently with an offensive style similar to what UConn will see today.
 In a season-opening loss to South Carolina the high-scoring guard tandem of Kelsey Mitchell and Ameryst Alston combined to take 43 shots including 14 3-pointers.

 "I am trying to think who had a guard or two guards who take that many shots, I'd be had pressed," Auriemma said. "There haven't been many, we could rack our brains and say it is kind of like that, kind of like DePaul but there haven't been many instances where I can look back and go, yeah I remember that. This is kind of unique."

 Ohio State, bitten hard by the injury bug a season ago, couldn't even practice 5 on 5 without the use of male practice players.  A total of 10 players saw time against South Carolina and Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff believes the Buckeyes will be able to do things that were impossible last season.

"We relied heavily on our male practice squad, we had to have those guys in there every day or else we couldn't go 5 on 5, " McGuff said. "The other thing is I think I made mistakes early on. You see the injuries happen, you are sitting there worrying about somebody else getting hurt but as we started going into the beginning of the year I said to my staff that we aren't making any progress, we aren't getting any better because we are kind of kid gloving them through practice every day. Finally I said forget, not that we are going to go crazy in practice but we are going to ratchet up the intensity and make sure we get better and when we started doing that, I think that was really a (turning) point for us, we started making a lot of progress and having a very successful season. It was difficult trying to find that balance."

The Ohio State campus is more than six hours from where Napheesa Collier and Morgan Tuck grew up but still, they are both going to have multiple family members in attendance.

 "My parents will be there, aunt and uncle, a couple of my parents' friends but it will be good to be able to see my family a little bit," Tuck said.

 "They are definitely excited, they have been calling me all week so they are super excited," Collier said. "It our first in-season game, it is going to be a tough crowd. Ohio State is a great team,"

A little history for UConn today

There was a time when opening the season against a nationally-ranked team was nearly an annual occurrence for the UConn women's basketball team.

Four times in a six-year span the Huskies kicked off the season against ranked foes losing 83-81 in overtime to Louisiana Tech (in Knoxville) in 1995, beating No. 8 Western Kentucky 74-56 in 1996, beating No. 4 Duke 104-74 in 1998 and defeating No. 3 Georgia  99-70 in 2000. The Western Kentucky and Duke contests were played in California while the game against Georgia was in Hartford. I went looking through the UConn media guide to find the last time the Huskies opened the season with a true road game against a ranked opponent and it doesn't look like it has ever happened - until today when the Huskies play at No. 6 Ohio State.

"Those are the kinds of things this team needs to be doing to be honest with you," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We need to put ourselves in as many situations as possible that are not necessarily ideal. If we played Ohio State in the middle of January on Monday night it wouldn't be an easy game, the fact that it is your first game makes it challenging and that is good because this particular group needs it, wants it, wants that kind of challenge. The young guys are going to be a little bit nervous but it is good for them to get thrown into the deep end right away. I've always said that there is no down side to playing these kinds of games early in the season, late in the season so you might as well play them."

The players are certainly looking forward to the season-opening test.

"I think it is good," redshirt junior Morgan Tuck said. "Instead, most teams have some sort of if you want to call it an easy game at home and win by a lot and it is good to get a good game early. I think it is good to kind of test yourself and see if what you are doing has prepared you for a big game."
Ohio State isn't messing around with its schedule to start the season as the Buckeyes opened with an 88-80 loss on the road to No. 2 South Carolina and now face the top-ranked Huskies.

"That wasn't the best scheduling I have ever done but I wanted to play both teams," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "Certainly Connecticut has been the best team in college basketball for quite some time and I wanted to give our kids a chance to measure themselves against them and South Carolina recently have been terrific, they have a great team and a great coach so I wanted to play them both. We got the South Carolina game scheduled and when we started looking at a date for Connecticut, ESPN said we'd put it on TV if we did it on Monday. I didn't want to pass on that opportunity and where we are with our program and building, that is a great chance to play the best team in the country on TV so that is kind of how it shook out in having to play our first two games against the top two rated teams in the country."
UConn is 24-6 against ranked teams in the month of November. What makes the number even more impressive is that the Huskies lost three of their first four November games against ranked opponents.

(home team in ALL CAPS)
Nov. 28, 1989: No. 11 IOWA 81, UConn  49
Nov. 29, 1990: No. 11 Iowa 58, No. 23 UCONN 41
Nov. 30, 1991: No. 15 UConn 63, No. 24 Louisiana Tech 61 (at Honolulu)
Nov. 19, 1995: No. 4 Louisiana Tech 83, No. 1 UConn 81 (at Knoxville)
Nov. 17, 1996: No. 5 UConn 74, No. 8 Western Kentucky 56 (at Palo Alto)
Nov. 21, 1997: No. 6 UCONN 71, No. 21 Nebraska 61
Nov. 25, 1997: No. 3 UCONN 65, No. 20 Iowa 55
Nov. 13, 1998: No. 3 UConn 104, No. 4 Duke 74 (at San Jose)
Nov. 14 1998: No. 3 UConn 100, No. 18 Arkansas 74 (at San Jose)
Nov. 17, 1998: No. 2 UConn 113, No. 14 UCLA 102
Nov. 26, 1999: No. 1 UCONN 109, No. 14 Old Dominion 66
Nov. 30., 1999:No. 1 UCONN 100, No. 10 Illinois 79
Nov. 12, 2000: No. 1 UCONN 99, No. 3 Georgia 70
Nov. 18, 2001: No. 1 UCONN 69, No. 3 Vanderbilt 50
Nov. 21, 2004: No. 9 North Carolina 71, No. 4 UCONN 65 (at Raleigh, N.C.)
Nov. 20, 2005: No. 9 UCONN 82, No. 25 Oklahoma 62
Nov. 30, 2006: No. 7 UCONN 66, No. 9 Purdue 55
Nov. 22, 2007: No. 2 UConn 66, No. 4 Stanford 54 (at U.S. Virgin Islands)
Nov. 25, 2007: No. 2 UConn 74, No. 9 Duke 48 (at U.S. Virgin Islands)
Nov. 30, 2008: No. 1 UCONN 106, No. 4 Oklahoma 78
Nov. 17, 2009: No. 1 UConn 83, No. 10 Texas 58 (at San Antonio)
Nov. 16, 2010: No. 1 UCONN 65, No. 2 Baylor 64
Nov. 21, 2011: No. 2 UCONN 68, No. 3 Stanford 58
Nov. 18, 2012: No. 2 UCONN 81, No. 16 TEXAS A&M 50
Nov. 24, 2012: No. 2 UCONN 91, No. 14 Purdue 57 (at U.S. Virgin Islands)
Nov. 11, 2013: No. 1 UCONN 76, No. 3 Stanford 57
Nov. 15, 2013: No. 1 UConn 72, No. 8 MARYLAND 55
Nov. 17, 2013: No. 1 UConn 71, No. 13 PENN STATE 52
Nov. 17, 2014: No. 6 STANFORD 88, No. 1 UConn 86

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Road trip for UConn's Nurse?

Kia Nurse will certainly do her share of traveling this season. It has already started as she is in Columbus, Ohio for tomorrow's showdown against Ohio State.

However, there's a chance she could make a couple more trips next month that have nothing to do with her role on the three-time defending UConn women's basketball team.

With the NHL's Edmonton Oilers dealing with some early season injuries on defense, her brother Darnell was called up from the AHL.

Darnell Nurse, Edmonton's first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, made his season debut on Oct. 27 and he recorded his first career NHL goal with an impressive blast in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota. Two nights later he had an assist as the Oilers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to stun Montreal 4-3.

Kia Nurse was unable to get access to a live stream to see Darnell's first NHL goal as it happened but reaction came in at a fast and furious pace on social media. She also got a first-hand report from her parents who made it to the Minnesota game.

"It is incredible," Kia Nurse said. "He just sent a text one day saying I got called up and it was absolutely phenomenal and then to see him score his first goal in his first game, just surfing through social media and every single one of our friends and family members, everybody in Hamilton was tweeting, instagraming and I was so happy. My parents were there, they made the road trip out to the game and were really happy to see that."

Nurse had a string of four straight games with at least 20 minutes played and is sixth on the Oilers with an average of 18:57 played in the nine games he has appeared in. Nurse has a goal and three assists while he has predictably had some growing pains in his own zone as well.

As luck has it, UConn does not play between Dec. 11-21 and the Oilers happen to be playing in Boston on Dec. 14 and in New York the next night. It should be noted that the final exams during the fall semester happen to start on Dec. 14 so there are some scheduling issues to deal with but if Kia can swing it, she plans on being at one or both of those games.

"When they get to Boston or New York, those are the two closest ones I can get to so I will try to get to them," Nurse said. "My parents will be around here and be around with him so there is scheduling all over the place."

The only other trip the Oilers make to the tri-state area comes on Feb. 7 and 9 with games at the Islanders and Devils. However, she will be a little preoccupied around that time with the Huskies playing at No. 2 South Carolina on Feb. 8. The only other game that could be a possibility for Kia to see her brother play live would come on Jan. 21 at Dallas since the Huskies host Central Florida at the XL Center on the 20th and play at Southern Methodist on Jan. 23.

While it is uncertain when or if Kia Nurse will see Darnell play live, their parents will be making their way to see him play.

"They are just proud parents out there," Kia Nurse said. "They will be the first ones to tell us that and then they will be the first people to deflate our heads and that is what is so great about them, they have always pushed us to understand sports are a privilege and everything else that comes before that, if you don't do that you don't play sports."

The Nurse family keeps in touch with regular chats and use of FaceTime since the family is from Hamilton, Ontario, Darnell is on the road regularly and older sister is living in Greece.

"My sister is in Greece, my parents are up there, it is a combination of (catching up) with what is going on in everybody's life and we get a text every single day," Nurse said.

Every once in a while the topic may turn to the player or players who Darnell got into it with physically.

"He is a strong kid and he likes to protect his teammates so that is something that is good about him so if he has to fight somebody, I hope he wins," Kia Nurse said.

Auriemma thrilled with newly signed UConn recruiting class

While there might be those outside the UConn program devaluing the quality of the Huskies' latest recruiting class, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is quite thrilled to be adding the trio of Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin to the fold next season.

Dangerfield is rated as the No. 3 overall player and top guard in the class according to the ESPN HoopGurlz ratings.

ESPN rated Bent as the 25th best guard and Irwin as the 15th best post player in the class which is a far cry from the current freshman class as Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier were the No. 1 and 6 rated recruits while Boykin was rated 23rd.

Still, Auriemma is rather delighted about the class that signed last week.

"It doesn't work every time but a lot of times you can tell a lot about a kid by obviously what their background is, what high school coach a kid plays for a lot of times has a lot to do with it, what AAU program they play in, what their family situation is at home, what the expectation level was for that kid growing up?" Auriemma said. "It is not always a measure and a lot of times it is and by all accounts, that group coming in more than anything, they love to play. They love to play, they understand what the demands are of playing here and they come from backgrounds where they have been well coached and they have been raised under certain expectations and I just feel real comfortable around them.

"There wasn't a lot of drama and maybe it had to do with that when they had the opportunity, all three of them really wanted to come to UConn and to me those are the exact type of kids you want to get. You don't want to get kids that you want to get on your hands and knees to try to convince them that this is the right place for you. You have to do that in a lot of cases anyways but you want to have kids who look around and go 'wow, I have a chance to go play at UConn?. That is what I have always wanted.' That is kind of where it fell with these guys and I couldn't be happier."

UConn was involved at some point in the process with seven of the top 10 players in ESPN's rankings but other than Dangerfield, the only other top 10 prospect pursued heavily throughout the entire process is No. 1 rated Lauren Cox who committed to Baylor.

The strength of the class figures to depend on what kind of players Bent and Irwin turn into. Kelly Faris, Tiffany Hayes and Kiah Stokes were among the recent Huskies who weren't exactly drawing an abundance of buzz when they committed to UConn although Hayes' rating did soar after she committed to UConn. Bent practically came out of nowhere before committed to UConn. it didn't hurt that when she was on her recruiting visit she impressed UConn's top recruiters. No, I am not talking about Auriemma, associate head coach Chris Dailey or assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph. Auriemma and his staff has relied heavily on the input from the players when recruits visit campus and both Bent and Irwin received glowing recommendations.

"It is tough to find kids who are willing to put it on the line like that and go 'there are no guarantees.' Nobody guaranteed me a starting spot, nobody guaranteed me it would be easy,' Auriemma said. "I willing to go there, fight for whatever I want, whatever I can get and I want to be a part of a winning program. That is unusual today, in today's day and age it is more about what each individual kid can get out of their program. For us, these kids are exactly what we need in this point in time."

Dangerfield, who has been compared to the player she figures to replace (Moriah Jefferson). She is also well acquainted with the current Huskies. She was on the same U-16 national team with Samuelson and Boykin and over the summer she was a teammate of Collier's on the U.S. team which won the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women.
"She is a great player and person, she is the type of person you will get better with every day in practice, she is real dedicated," Collier said. "I liked how confident, aggressive and passionate she was."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

UConn to be without Chong, Boykin and Butler against Ohio State

UConn won't have the services of junior guard Saniya Chong, freshman forward De'Janae Boykin and sophomore center Natalie Butler during Monday's season opener.

Butler was already expected to be out until at least late December due to a thumb injury and UConn coach Geno Auriemma previous stated that Boykin (dealing with a tender Achilles tendon) was likely going to be sidelined when the season began. There was a chance that Chong, dealing with IT Band Syndrome resulting in pain around her knee, could have been able to go against the Buckeyes but after Saturday's practice Auriemma said that is not the case.

"She (Chong) got an injection so she hasn't practiced in about a week so we are hoping she starts for real on (Wednesday) and hopefully by next weekend she will be good. De'Janae hasn't practiced in 10 days and today was the first day that she actually ran on the sideline. Hopefully she'll get her in the middle of next week doing at least some half court stuff and Natalie is in the same situation as before."

UConn won't practice on Tuesday so Wednesday is the earlier Chong and Boykin could be back at practice. Even when they are cleared to practice, they will need to shake the rust off.

"It varies with each kid," Auriemma said. "Some kids are pretty good with trying to simulate it but it is never that you just step in and you are good to go."

Butler is trying to carve out a role on the team after sitting out last season per NCAA rules following her transfer from Georgetown. Chong is eager to show the coaches how much she has improved, especially on defense while Boykin missed nearly all of her senior season at Flowers High School due to a wrist injury so there might not be three players more in need of this practice time on the UConn squad.

"There are no easy ones. I think everybody can benefit from a month of training camp," Auriemma said. "In today's day and age, I don't even talk to (UConn athletic trainer) Rosemary (Ragle) anymore or the team doctors, I just pretend it doesn't exist. If I show up and I see somebody running up and down the sideline and it looks like they might practice, I'll go 'oh, where did they come from?' I don't get involved in that stuff."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

UConn's recruiting class is official

Four years ago a three-player recruiting class came into UConn being touted as one of the best collection of talent in one incoming freshman class.

There won't be the same sort of hoopla surrounding the trio of Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin although they will be part of a UConn team looking to replace All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart.

Irwin was the first of the trio to sign and fax her National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. Dangerfield's letter arrived in the UConn women's basketball office not long after. Bent's was the last one to arrive.

It's an interesting group. Unlike four years ago when Stewart, Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were among the top five players in the class, the current crop of incoming freshmen include one top five recruit (Dangerfield) and a pair of under the radar prospects.

Dangerfield, a 5-foot-6 guard, averaged 15.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals as a junior at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Dangerfield, playing on a team with six college players and three others incoming freshmen, finished third on the U.S. team which won the 2015 FIBA U-19 World Championship with 19 assists (with just four turnovers) and was tied for second (behind UConn freshman Napheesa Collier) with 14 steals.

Bent, a 5-foot-9 guard from Centerville, Mass., scored more than 1,000 points in three seasons at Barnstable High (beginning as an eighth grader) and had a pair of 40-point games in a two-week span. She transferred to Tabor Academy and was part of a balanced offense as she was one of three players averaging between 11-12 points per game for a team which reached the NEPSAC Class A title game.

Irwin, a 6-foot-2 forward, is the daughter of former Branford High star Bethany (Collins) Irwin who happens to be her coach at State College (Pa.) High School. As a junior Kyla Irwin averaged 20 points per game, had a pair of 30-point games and scored at least 20 points a total of 13 times in 23 games.

Here are Geno Auriemma's thoughts courtesy of UConn's official release

"Molly is Molly. She is an old-fashioned kind of guard. She is a throwback to the days when kids just played hard and competed. She sees things and is unselfish and is just a basketball junkie. Molly loves the game as much as anyone I’ve seen in the last 30 years and I think the people here are going to really enjoy watching her play.

"Crystal is one of those unique little guards, like Moriah Jefferson, where she is strong enough and quick enough that she can get things done that a lot of players can’t. She can get to spots on the floor, on offense and on defense, which a lot of kids cant.  She had a great summer with USA Basketball and really learned a lot.  I think with Moriah graduating, Crystal is going to come in and have a chance to have an impact right away.

"Kyla is the kind of kid that we have taken great pride in getting over the last 30 years. She is a hard-working, high-energy kid and has skills that allow her to play more than one position.  She knows how to play the game.  She is exactly the kind of kid that we have looked for at UConn and the fact that she has some connections to Connecticut is an added bonus.  We are really excited about having her and her family as part of our program."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

UConn's Jefferson, Stewart named to Associated Press All-American team

It will not go down as the most stunning revelation to hear that UConn seniors Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were among five players named to the preseason Associated Press All-American team.

Stewart, a two-time Associated Press Player of the Year, averaged 17.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four for the third time in as many seasons. Stewart was named on every ballot, her second time as a unanimous preseason All-American joining former UConn star Maya Moore, Duke great Alana Beard and former Baylor national player of the year Brittney Griner as the only players to accomplish that feat. Stewart joins Moore, Beard, Griner, Tamika Catchings (Tennessee), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee) and Courtney Paris (Oklahoma) as only players to be named AP preseason All-Americans three times.

Jefferson averaged 12.4 points with 191 assists and 100 steals to earn second-team AP All-American honors as a senior while redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck was among other players to receive votes.

They were joined on the first team by South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, Nina Davis of Baylor and Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State,

Monday, November 09, 2015

Freshmen Collier, Samuelson trying to get comfortable at UConn

It's difficult to make too many generalizations by looking at box scores against overmatched opponents in the two preseason games (or even during many of the regular-season games for that matter). However, the numbers for freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson in yesterday's game against Vanguard where much better than in the preseason opener against Lubbock Christian.

Collier and Samuelson combined for 24 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocked shots and just one turnover in 49 minutes in the 98-18 victory.

"We were a little bit more relaxed in this game," said Collier, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 24 minutes. "It was our first game last week and we were a little tight. I think we played a little more free in this game.

"I told myself before the game it was like any other game because sometimes you can psyche yourself out - it is college and it is different from high school so I just wanted to try to stay calm."

Samuelson is still looking for the shooting touch to come around but is being pushed by her coaches to be more than just an outstanding 3-point shooter.

"I think last game I think we were both worried about mistakes, we didn't want to screw it up and we did," said Samuelson, who had nine points, seven rebounds (tying for the team lead with three offensive rebounds) and three assists in 25 minutes. "This game I think we felt more comfortable when we were out there and it flowed more naturally for us. I have noticed the difference from last game to this game so for the next game, it will be even better."

Time will tell if that is the case because playing at a talented Ohio State team a week from today will offer significantly more challenges that either preseason game posed for either Collier or Samuelson.

Still, they have wasted little time impressing the UConn staff including head coach Geno Auriemma.

"The nice thing about Napheesa is you can sub her in for two or three different people so that gives her an opportunity to get in and play at any given moment rather than having to wait if we can only put her in for Tuck or Steiwe or Gabby, we can put her in for anybody and she is comfortable," Auriemma said. "It is the same with Lou, really. The two of them as they get better. Lou and Napheesa, this is the worst they are going to look when they are at Connecticut and they look pretty good, that is the way I look at it."

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Chong could play in UConn's opener, Boykin not likely to be ready

In between the experimental rules used in today's preseason finale, an eight-minute interview with the always quotable Russ Davis and various other subjects to emerge today I felt I should pass on the latest injury updates.

Junior guard Saniya Chong (IT Band Syndrome causing pain around the knee) and freshman forward De'Janae Boykin (tender Achilles' tendon) missed their second straight preseason game. After the game UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he hope Chong will play in next week's season opener against Ohio State but he is not expecting Boykin to be ready.

"I would say De'Janae is probably not going to play in the opener, she is not ready to play," Auriemma said. "Saniya, I think a lot is going to depend on how she is Tuesday. She practiced a lot on Friday and a little bit (Saturday) so I am hoping with a day off (Monday), she will get better, better and better.

She (Boykin) is probably a couple weeks away. She needs to be on the floor, she needs to play because that is the only thing keeping her (back) is the experience factor, you have (Morgan) Tuck missing a day or a week, that is not as bad as a freshman because they need every moment they can get on the court and not being able to do that, it just slows him down "

Another injury of note happened to Auriemma's grandson.

"He hit the side of his head but he hasn't moaned and groaned, it is good," Auriemma said. "Doc is looking at him right now, the injury report will come out and he is probable."

Davis, who coached UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson in AAU, had some great things to say about her and I made that the focus of my game story. He also had a couple of other nuggets including this one on Breanna Stewart.

Davis, who has been a close friend of Auriemma's for years, had dinner at the UConn coach's house last night and joked that had he known that his Vanguard team would lose 98-18 he would have eaten more of the food during dinner. He also was told of a story that further illustrates how down to earth Stewart is thanks to her actions when a recruit came in for a visit and stayed with Stewart.

"She stayed at her apartment and somebody asked 'where did you sleep?' She said, 'I slept in Breanna's bed. Where did Breanna sleep? On the couch.'

"This is the national player of the year, I shared that story with my team. I saw her warming up and said 'you are the perfect example of a servant leader, that is servant leadership at its finest. Not only is she the best player, she is one of the best people so I just want people to know that from an opposing coach."

With the first regular-season game at Gampel Pavilion not coming until Dec. 5 against Notre Dame, the decision was made the unveil the national-championship banner and present the championship rings before the Vanguard game.

"We got the banners and rings out of the way so it was good," UConn senior guard Moriah Jefferson said. "You get that reminder of what that feels like and you want to feel it again."

Auriemma didn't come right out and say it, but some might have viewed it as being in bad taste to honor the 2014-15 national championship team right in front of the Notre Dame team the Huskies beat to win the program's 10th national title.

"We didn't want to do it that day because there is going to be a lot going on that day," Auriemma said. "Traditionally you like to do it in your first regular-season game but it being so far out and it being that game, the bigness of that game, I don't think we need anymore going on that game so it was good to do it today. It is kind of the end of the last season and we can move on. We got the rings, we got the banner and it was a good day all around."

UConn's Samuelson to be reunited with one of her mentors

The date of the actual first meeting with California AAU icon Russ Davis escapes UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson. But there is denying how excited she is that Davis' Vanguard University team in the final preseason game.

Samuelson watched some of the Cal Swish games when Davis  coached her older sisters.

 "I was really young, I wasn't even playing Swish but my sisters were so probably before 10 years old," Samuelson said. "He has really taught me a lot about basketball and I am excited to get out there and be able to play against him.

"He has been there for me and helped me get through some things by being very hard on me and pushing me so I don't  think I could be in the position I am today without having him and a lot of other people in my life."


Friday, November 06, 2015

Sunday won't be just another preseason game at UConn

There will be more on the decision to utilize some experimental rules for Sunday's preseason game against Vanguard in the next day or two but here's a breakdown of what to expect for the 2 p.m. contest at Gampel Pavilion.

Before the game begins the national-championship banner will be unveiled and players will be presented with championship rings so UConn officials are requesting that fans get to the game a little earlier than normal. There will also be a ceremony when the ladders used to cut down the nets after the national championship game will be presented to UConn coach Geno Auriemma who will autograph them and then they will be paid of a fundraising auction.

For anybody wondering why all of this is being done before a preseason game, the first regular-season game at Gampel is against Notre Dame and considering that the Huskies defeated the Fighting Irish to win the program's 10th national title, it would not be the best idea to have all of these ceremonies right in front of Notre Dame.

Here are the rules being used just for this game

The width of the lane will be 16 feet, which is 4 feet wider than NCAA play.
The 3-point line will be at the international distance of 22 feet, 1 inch. The NCAA line is 20 feet, 9 inches from the basket.
A team will not be granted a timeout unless it has possession of the ball. (If a team scores a field goal, it will not be granted a timeout immediately after the basket, which can occur under NCAA rules.)
The game will be played with a 24-second shot clock instead of a 30-second shot clock.
A team must advance the ball into the frontcourt in 8 seconds instead of 10 seconds.
The game will be played with a men’s basketball instead of a women’s basketball.
The game clock will stop following made field goals with two minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime periods.

Additionally, the teams will play with different substitution rules:

Both teams are allowed to substitute on dead balls after the official is done communicating with the scorer’s table.
Both teams are allowed to substitute when the ball becomes dead following a successful last, or only, free throw.
Neither team is allowed to substitute when the ball is at the disposal of a player who is inbounding the ball.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Another title for UConn commit

It won't be long until Kyla Irwin will be in a UConn uniform joining her teammates in the pursuit of national championships. In the meantime, she will continue her winning ways at State College (Pa.) High School.

Irwin had 13 kills to lead her State College team to its fifth straight Pennsylvania Class AAA District 6 volleyball title with a 25-22, 25-14, 25-14 victory over Hollidaysburg in Wednesday night's title game.

Now Irwin and her teammates await the opponent in the first round of the PIAA tournament as State College will face the second-place team in the District 7 tournament.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Good news on UConn's injury front

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was on his phone shortly before sitting down with members of the media and it was not just some idle Internet surfing that was occupying Auriemma's time. He was in touch with medical officials back to UConn to check on his injured players. By the sounds of things, Auriemma liked what he was hearing

"That is kind of what I was just checking," Auriemma said. "I think with Saniya (Chong) it is going to be a couple more days, (Morgan) Tuck seems fine, Gabby (Williams) is fine, we will see how they are at the end of today though. De'Janae (Boykin) is going to be able to go but I think they are going to keep her in a boot just so she doesn't put any pressure on her (tender Achilles) when she is not playing."

Tuck, who missed the second half of Monday night's preseason opener against Lubbock Christian because her knee wasn't feeling right while Gabby Williams landed awkwardly in the second half of the preseason game. Neither Chong nor Boykin played in the game but there is a chance all four players could take part in Sunday's preseason game against Vanguard.

Meriden native and former Capital Prep star Kiah Gillespie certainly knows how to make an introduction as she had team highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds to go with two assists and three blocked shots in Maryland's preseason opener against Goldey-Beacom.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese has loved what she has seen from the former Register State Girls Basketball Most Valuable Player.

"How quickly she has adapted has been incredible to see," Frese said. "She wants to be great. she comes from a basketball pedigree when you talk about a coaching background with her parents so she picks up things really quick. She is just poised beyond her years.

"The way she will feed a post player, the way she will pick and pop, she just kind of has the things you can't teach. She can rebound and push the ball in transition like a guard so she kind of had 'it' factor and I am excited for her future."

UConn unanimous No. 1 team in preseason Associated Press poll

As was the case when the coaches poll was released, I thought there was a chance South Carolina might garner some first-place votes when the Associated Press poll was released.

However, UConn made it a perfect 2 for 2 by being the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll as well. Here is the complete poll with teams the Huskies will play in the upcoming regular season in bold

 The top 25 teams in The Associated Press' preseason 2015-16 women's college basketball poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, 2014-15 final records, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote and last year's final ranking:<
†^                        ‡Record•••Pts•Prv
†•1. UConn (32)          ‡••38-1••|800•••1
†•2. South Carolina      ‡••34-3••|758•••3
†•3. Notre Dame          ‡••36-3••|714•••2
†•4. Tennessee            ‡••30-6••|711•••6
†•5. Baylor              ‡••33-4••|672•••5
†•6. Ohio St.            ‡•24-11••|570••23
†•7. Florida St.          ‡••32-5••|551•••7
†•8. Louisville          ‡••27-7••|541•••8
†•9. Maryland            ‡••34-3••|536•••4†10. Oregon St.          ‡••27-5••|518••10
†11. Mississippi St.      ‡••27-7••|465••12
†12. Texas                ‡•24-11••|459••|_
†13. Texas A&M            ‡•23-10••|397••21
†14. Duke                ‡•23-11••|392••16
†15. Arizona St.          ‡••29-6••|347•••9
†16. Stanford            ‡•26-10••|338••14
†17. Oklahoma            ‡•21-12••|264••|_
†18. Kentucky            ‡•24-10••|241••11
†19. Northwestern        ‡••23-9••|209••22
†20. South Florida        ‡••27-8••|202••25†21. George Washington    ‡••29-4••|171••19
†22. North Carolina      ‡••26-9•••|94••15
†23. Syracuse            ‡•22-10•••|74••|_
†24. Michigan St.        ‡•16-15•••|61••|_
†25. Chattanooga          ‡••29-4•••|60••17¶  Others receiving votes: Princeton 58, DePaul 45, Florida Gulf Coast 37, Rutgers 34, Iowa 17, California 14, Dayton 13, Arkansas 8, W. Kentucky 6, Vanderbilt 5, Iowa St. 4, UCLA 4, West Virginia 4, Missouri 3, Gonzaga 2, Miami 1.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Williams impresses in UConn's preseason opener

UConn's Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma recently suggested that sophomore Gabby Williams could be the Huskies most improved player over the last year. At American Athletic Conference media day, Kia Nurse needed almost no prodding to rave about what she has seen from her classmate and close friend.

The 6,233 in attendance at the XL Center on Monday night got to see what all the hype was about. Williams 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 25 minutes off the bench. It is not the first time Williams has put up numbers like that in a game but the way she went about compiling the statistics was an indication of how much work she has put in even if it came against a Division II Lubbock Christian team.

Williams hit a mid-range jumper, was 6 of 7 from the foul line and took it coast to coast for a layup during Monday's win.

"I definitely feel more comfortable just because I know what the expectations are," Williams said. "It is nice to know that I am able to get what we need done. I know what Coach (Geno Auriemma) wants when he puts me in and it is not about, I am not lost anymore, I know our offense, I know what kind of basketball we can play, I know what pace I have to go at most importantly so that helps a lot.
It is mostly what can I expand with my game? What can I do more of?

"It is harder to make those shots when people are forcing you to play at a faster pace, even if you are going hard at practice, you are still getting wide open shots so when  somebody has a hand in your face or you have to run a little faster, it definitely helps when it goes in."

Her performance certainly impressed Auriemma as well as All-American point guard Moriah Jefferson.

"She can get to the basket against just about anybody but if she can make 15 footers and she is making free throws, those are things that last year didn't exist for her," Auriemma said. "She is just a lot more confident right now."

Here are Jefferson's thoughts
"She worked extremely hard this season. Right after the season is over, she is in the gym putting up shots, getting up free throws, doing stuff so she could be a lot more confident in her game."

There was a scary moment when Gabby Williams got up slowly after landing awkwardly. She hobbled up the court and was quickly taken out of the game. When she got to the sideline, she exchanged in some friendly banter with UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle but took a seat near the coaches without being examined by Ragle. After the game Williams, who saw her junior and senior seasons ended with torn ACLs, said it was nothing she was concerned about.

Junior guard Saniya Chong (IT Band) and freshman forward De'Janae Boykin (Achilles) did not play since they missed Sunday's practice and Monday's shootaround. Morgan Tuck did not play in the second half.

"Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) took Morgan out because she was complaining about her knee, that she felt something on one of her layups but she is fine. Saniya didn't practice yesterday or at shootaround today, she is seeing a doctor to try to loosen up her IT Band and De'Janae same thing."

Jefferson saw some familiar faces as starting forward Tess Bruffey as well as reserves Hannah Harbin and Claire Bruffey were members of the Lubbock Titans team that lost to Jefferson's THESA Riders in the 2012 Texas home school championship game.
"We aren't best friends or anything but I remember playing them," Jefferson said. "We played them in the championship in states and it was good to see them on the court."

Last but certainly not least, UConn will unveil its national championship banner at Sunday's exhibition game against Vanguard University.


Sunday, November 01, 2015

New opponent in UConn's preseason opener

As tends to be the case these days, news of Lubbock Christian facing UConn in an exhibition game was posted on Twitter before official news of the agreement surfaced.

In the last five seasons UConn's preseason opponents have been from New England, the tri-state area or from Pennsylvania so I asked Geno Auriemma after Thursday's practice why Lubbock Christian was the opponent in tomorrow 7 p.m. tilt at the XL Center.

"We have no shortage of people who contact us and want to play so that is how it happen so people contact us and say 'we want to play,'" Auriemma said. "I don't know, I just know of them and the success that they have had. Generally I run into people in the summer and they say 'can we play an exhibition game against you guys' so they call and that is how we get them on. This one just came about. You have to go around looking for really good Division II schools and they are one of the better ones so it should be good."

Auriemma has no connections with the school or program like he does with the second preseason opponent as Vanguard University is coached by one of Auriemma's friends Russ Davis, who is a well-represented figure in the AAU circles as well as the former AAU coach of current UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson. The only real connection I could find is that Moriah Jefferson's THESA Riders team won the 2012 Texas Home School Tournament beating a Lubbock Titans team featuring current Lubbock Christian players Claire Bruffey, Tess Bruffey and Hannah Harbin.
Lubbock Christian defeated NAIA Division II Fisher 119-40 in a game in Boston yesterday.