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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

UConn dominates Register's top 10 sports stories of 2015

UConn just finished off a perfect 2015, winning all 38 games it played. The 1981 Louisiana Tech, 2002 and 2009 are the only women's Division I teams to accomplish that feat during the NCAA era.

Even before the Huskies rolled to a 107-45 win over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference opener last night, the Register posted its top 10 stories of 2015 and the Huskies' march to a 10th national title including the third in a row was the No. 1 story just ahead of former UConn star Scott Burrell taking over as the head men's basketball coach at Southern Connecticut State.

As for last night's game, I was not in attendance and covered the Yale/Central Connecticut State men's game but I can say that while Natalie Butler finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds along with two steals and two blocked shots in her first game at UConn deservedly garnered much of the attention, seeing that Saniya Chong followed up her Maryland performance by playing 22 minutes in the win was very encouraging. If Chong and Butler can be regular contributors it would pay tremendous dividends moving forward as the duo should play significant roles next season. Chong finished with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists (with no turnovers), one steal and a blocked shot. Having another ball handler and scoring threat from the perimeter to bring off the bench could prove incredibly important at some point this season.

A pair of UConn incoming freshmen had their high school teams in championship games of holiday tournaments.

Kyla Irwin had 28 points and 12 rebounds (including the 1,000th of her career) to lead State College (Pa.) High School to a 60-28 win over North Schuykill in the title game of the Kiwanis Holiday Classic.

Here's a photo courtesy of her AAU program, Central PA Elite after Irwin's milestone.

Crystal Dangerfield's Blackman High School team ran into a tremendous Duncanville (TX) team in the championship game of the Sandra Meadows Classic.

Dangerfield had 20 points but Duncanville rolled to a 64-43 victory. Dangerfield had at least 20 points in each of the last four games in the tournament and averaged 22.8 points in the five games. Also, Dangerfield was named the Daily New Journal's Sportsperson of the Year.

UConn Class of 2017 recruiting target Jade Williams' Prestonwood Christian team also posted a 4-1 record in the prestigious event. The only loss came to Plano West, a team led by Baylor signee Natalie Chou. That loss sent Prestonwood Christian into the Silver Bracket. Three wins later including a 53-49 win over Harvard-Westlake gave Prestonwood Christian the title. Williams had 18 points in the Silver Bracket title game.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

UConn eyeing more perfection

The UConn women's basketball program knows something about perfect seasons. During the NCAA era the Huskies have accounted for five of the eight undefeated seasons. The Huskies also happen to own four of the top five winning streaks in NCAA Division I history.

With a win tonight at Cincinnati, the Huskies have a chance to do something even more rare than a perfect season and that is to finish a calendar year undefeated. I did some checking and it would be just the fourth time this has happened during the NCAA era.

In 1981 Louisiana Tech went 37-0, UConn posted a 36-0 record in 2002 and went 38-0 in 2009. During 2015 UConn is currently 37-0.

Both current and future Huskies have a chance to end 2015 in style as two of the three incoming freshmen will try to lead their teams to holiday tournament titles today.

Kyla Irwin had 26 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocked shots to lead her State College (Pa.) High School team to a 61-38 win over Northampton in the opening game of the Kiwanis Holiday Classic. State College will play North Schuykill.

Crystal Dangerfield's Blackman HS team advanced to the Sandra Meadows Classic championship game with a 63-62 win over McEachern. Blackman previously defeated Houston Westside, Plano and Frisco Liberty. Next up is the 7:30 p.m. (8:30 here in Connecticut) championship game against host Duncanville. Dangerfield scored 84 points in the first four games of the tournament including 25 in the semifinal victory.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Carnage caused by storms in Texas hits close to home for UConn's Jefferson

Moriah Jefferson had just wrapped up another practice when she grabbed her phone and couldn't believe her eyes.

The text messages, voice mails and emails came in at a furious pace from friends and family members. Some were just checking in to see if her home is Glenn Heights was among those crushed by the tornadoes and to see if her family was OK and others were filling her in on what was going on in her hometown.

"I was actually in practice when it was happening," Jefferson said after Monday night's win over Maryland. "I came back and had a million texts from everybody

"My family is OK, they lost power but that is about it. I had a few friends and some of my friends had friends that lost their houses. My players go out to them and I am really sad about that situation.

"I tried to reach out to a couple of people. I talked to a couple of people (impacted by the storm) and thankfully they have a lot of family in surrounding areas.

"It makes you appreciate life knowing that there are people who actually died in those storms. I am grateful that none of my family members happened to be in the way of it."

Jefferson said that unfortunately the area in Texas she grew up in has had to deal with tornadoes and serious storms in the past.

"In the last couple of years we have had a lot of tornadoes and the city of Lancaster (about a 10-minute drive from Glenn Heights) got destroyed. I remember growing up and one time and the tornadoes are literally in the back yard and it just didn't happen to hit our house. It is something that comes with where you live and it is always scary when it happens."

UConn tested early and often by Maryland

The script is a rather familiar one. A talented, nationally-ranked opponent hangs with UConn for a while but once the Huskies get up by eight or 10 points, that is all she wrote.

However, Maryland had a refreshing new plot twist in store for those who made their way to New York for the Maggie Dixon Classic.

The Huskies led by seven at the end of the first quarter and Maryland quickly ripped off the first seven points of the second quarter to tie the game up. Early in the third quarter UConn seemed to be in control when a Breanna Stewart basket gave the Huskies an eight-point lead/ Then Brionna Jones, who had a spectacular offensive game, scored in the lane, Kristen Confroy drained back to back 3-pointers and after a Morgan Tuck free throw, Brianna Fraser's three-point play capped the 11-1 run to give the Terrapins a 43-41 lead. UConn answered right back, headed into the fourth quarter up by nine points. The lead grew to 12 on a pair of occasions and yet again Maryland came charging back. A 3-pointer by Tierney Pfirman pulled the Terps within four with 68 seconds to play. It wasn't until Saniya Chong calmly buried a 3-pointer with 40 seconds to play that victory No. 47 in a row was assured.

"We have talked about nothing is going to be easy this season and we don't want it to be because we want to be able to reach our potential individually and as a team," said Stewart, who had eight of her 23 points in the fourth quarter. :When we play a team like Maryland, they kept fighting no matter what the score was, no matter how much they were down, how much they were up."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma certainly didn't like some of things his team did last night especially the nine turnovers in the first quarter and stretches of stagnant "wait for somebody else to make a play" offensive play but he had to love the fact that Maryland pushed his team in different ways than any other opponent this season.

"Sometimes we make it look real easy," Auriemma said. "We try to explain to our players that it is not easy and it is not going to be easy and a game like today reminds all of us that this is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be hard when you play really good teams.

"Maryland is a good tough matchup for us because they are so big inside and we can't handle that unless we get some help and the minute we help, they've got guys who can make you pay for it and knocking in 3s. I think they are much more balanced than I think they were last year and they are a lot harder to match up with. We are still trying to figure out how we are going to go forward. In games like this you miss what Kiah Stokes would do defensively. Brionna Jones was 12 for 14 and I don't think that would happen if we had Kiah. We don't make enough 3s because we lost the greatest 3-point shooter (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) and we haven't had anybody step up and fill that role yet so there are still some things that we have to figure out and a game like this helps us do that."

In the process of leading UConn to the hard-earned victory Stewart moved into sixth place on UConn's career scoring list passing the iconic Diana Taurasi. She also moved into a tie for seventh place in rebounding with Kara Wolters.

When UConn plays Cincinnati on Wednesday night, Stewart needs only 13 points to pass Kerry Bascom, Nykeska Sales and Mosqueda-Lewis and move into third place on the Huskies' career scoring charts.

"That is a huge honor just to obviously be in the same sentence with them and I think it just goes to show that how hard I've worked since I have been here," Stewart said. "Points are nice but the wins are more important and I think you guys understand that."

Stewart has done plenty of winning as well. Since her arrival the Huskies are 123-5.

Morgan Tuck also reached a milestone when she joined UConn's 1,000-point club. It marks the first time in program history that every member of UConn recruiting class of at least three players all scored 1,000 career points.

UConn's Class of 2002 had four 1,000 point scorers (Sue Cash, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and Sue Bird). There's no telling whether Keirsten Walters would have gotten there as well if not for her troublesome knees. The class that Diana Taurasi came in with also had three 1,000-point scorers although Ashley Battle and Jessica Moore hit that milestone the year after Taurasi graduated.

Monday, December 21, 2015

UConn rolls by LSU even without Stewart

Whenever the best player in the country misses a game due to a sprained ankle it is obviously a cause for concern.

However, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after Monday night's 86-40 win over LSU that he expects to have Breanna Stewart back when the Huskies face Maryland in next week's Maggie Dixon Classic.

"It wasn't real bad so let's see what we could do, let's get her ready for Monday at shootaround," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the Huskies won their 46th game in a row. "She tried to talk Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) into letting her play and Rosemary said no. We have another week so I would expect that she would be back to normal (when UConn plays Maryland in the Maggie Dixon Classic on Dec. 28)."

Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson found out several hours before the game that she would be making her first career start.

Samuelson joined classmate Napheesa Collier in the starting lineup marking the first time the Huskies had two freshman starters since the 2013 Big East tournament semifinals when Stewart and Moriah Jefferson started in a win over Syracuse.

Samuelson had seven of her 14 points in the third quarter. She also had five rebounds and a career-high five assists.

"I wish I had started the game off like that," Samuelson said. "I started the game off a little slow and just needed to do that. It stated to fall into place in the third quarter, it was a good third quarter and I am going to try to build on it."

While Samuelson didn't find out she was starting until several hours before the opening tip, Collier knew she would be making her second straight start all week long. She finished with seven points, 12 rebounds, four steals and a career-high six blocked shots for UConn (9-0).

"I think it was good for us to see that any of us can get hurt at any time we can still win without one of our best players," Collier said.

Stewart who sprained her right ankle in a recent practice when she stepped on the foot of teammate Tierney Lawlor. Sophomore center Natalie Butler, who has been practicing during the last week and was thought to have a chance to make her UConn debut, was also held out of the game as she continued to get comfortable after undergoing surgery in the preseason to repair a torn ligament in her thumb. Junior guard Saniya Chong, who continues to be hampered by IT Band Syndrome causing discomfort around her knee, went through pregame drills but did not play in the game.

Samuelson (ankle) and Gabby Williams (leg) were looked at by Ragle on the bench but Samuelson said she is fine and as for Williams, Auriemma said, "she is good, (Ragle) pronounced her good."

Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin, two of UConn's signees in the Class of 2016, were in attendance and watched the game while sitting behind the UConn bench.

National player of the year Stewart out for UConn tonight

UConn will be playing without two-time national player of the year Breanna Stewart in tonight's game against LSU.

Stewart sprained her ankle in practice last week and is not in uniform tonight. It will be the first game she has missed since the first round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, a stretch of 92 straight games.

Natalie Butler, who had a chance to make her UConn debut, is also in street clothes so she won't be playing either. Saniya Chong, who was thought to the least likely of the Huskies to play tonight, is in uniform.

Obviously the subject of Stewart's availability moving forward and especially for Monday's game against No. 6 Maryland in the Maggie Dixon Classic will be addressed with UConn coach Geno Auriemma after the game.

Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson will start in Stewart's place

Some family time for UConn's Nurse

In a perfect world Kia Nurse's finals week schedule would have allowed the UConn sophomore guard to either see her brother Darnell play for the Edmonton Oilers in games at Boston and New York.

However, things didn't quite work out that way. She did improvise and make it down to Boston on Dec. 14 after the game to have dinner with her brother, a former first-round pick.

"It was fun and we sat down, the waiter asked us if we were celebrating anything and he said 'we haven't seen anything in three months so let's just celebrate that,'" Kia Nurse said. "It was really fun to just kind of catch up and sit down. We called the family at home when we were at the table, it was kind of like a reunion and it was a fun time.

"I didn't make it for the game, I had an exam. I would have liked to see him play live but I was able to catch it because it was finally streaming on the television so it was really fun to get to watch him and see him in that atmosphere."

Nurse began the season in the AHL, recording one assist in six games with the Bakersfield Condors. When the Oilers dealt with injuries on the blue line, Nurse was promoted to the NHL. He not only has two goals and five assists in 25 games. He is also third on the team in time on ice, averaging 20 minutes, 40 seconds per game.

"Everything he is going through, I know that he is living out his dream so for me that is pretty crazy," Kia Nurse said.

"I said to him 'how do you like it? How does it feel?' He said that everything is just so awesome. He is getting his first place by himself so it is like a new journey but it is fun to kind of be a part of it and he is just having the time of his life.

"When you thrown him into the fire, that is exactly where he needs to be. He does well under pressure and he works hard so he is kind of prepared for everything especially in that industry where you have to prepared to be playing that day or going back down to the (AHL) and I think he has done a really good job of balancing all of that."

I also asked Nurse about the Connecticut Sun hiring Curt Miller as the new head coach since Miller coached his sister Tamika, his aunt Raquel and almost convinced Nurse to play for him at Indiana.

"He is an awesome person and I love being around him and we kind of get together," Nurse said. "Through the whole recruiting process he is somebody who was really fun to talk to and get to know. From all the stories that my sister and my aunt have told me about him, he is obviously an fabulous basketball coach, he knows exactly what he is talking about and getting to know him was an absolute pleasure

I was absolutely so happy for him. I know he worked extremely hard. She (Tamika Nurse) said he knew what he was doing and his system worked really well. He knew how to make practice fun and serious at the same time and my sister really likes that, she liked the atmosphere at Bowling Green the whole time she was there."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Butler could make UConn debut tomorrow; Geno on tough scheduling

The hope was that the week and a half between games during the final exam period would enable Natalie Butler and Saniya Chong to get healthy enough to become a part of the UConn playing rotation.

Well, it is sounding a little bit like a good news/bad news proposition.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma met with the media after Sunday's practice and he is hopeful that Butler, a sophomore center yet to play in a game this season due to a thumb injury, could see some time against LSU on Monday night. However, the IT Band Syndrome continues to keep Chong, a junior guard, from practicing on a regular basis and without restriction and it doesn't look like she will be playing against the Tigers.

"Natalie practiced all week but Saniya didn't, she was off and on," Auriemma said. "The other day (Morgan) Tuck and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and Kia (Nurse) didn't practice so that was a real interesting practice to say the least. Saniya has been off and on. She did some half court stuff, some full-court stuff yesterday but she didn't practice the whole practice. The day before she did some half-court stuff, today I don't think she did anything extensive. I think it is a matter of how she feels. Some days it is good and some days it is not so good."

Chong gives UConn a ball-handling guard off the bench when she is healthy which is something the Huskies don't have at the current time.

"We talk about it a lot with the other coaches that we miss it a ton because there are things she does with the ball that you don't realize and because she hasn't been healthy since the beginning when we started playing games," Auriemma said. "She was unbelievable two days this week. We haven't seen that in so long that we forgot just how explosive she is with the ball. She has pretty done it as much as you can do. It is not the kind of the thing that you say play through it, it is not the type of thing you can play through,  you are either good to go or you can't play."

Butler, who had to sit out all of last season after transferring from Georgetown, has been able to practice but her thumb is still not 100 percent after surgery.

"I think it is more of when she is comfortable catching the ball, that has been the biggest problem," Auriemma said. "She doesn't feel comfortable catching it. The issue with that is when it is your thumb, everything is affected, your whole hand is affected and every time you are playing you get hit on it again and not just with the ball but other stuff. It is not one of those things where she is magically healed, it is something that is going to evolve over a period of time.

"I think it is incredibly frustrating for her because she has waited forever it seems like, not being able to play because you are sitting out that is bad enough as it is and just when you are ready to transition into the next thing, the first day you get hit and you need surgery. Mentally that really screws you up mentally."

Chong's and Butler's teammates are anxious to see them back out on the court.

"I am not a trainer but they are working their way to make sure they are ready to go and they are just as anxious as anybody else to get on the court," Stewart said. "It is tough, it is kid of when Morgan had her knee (issues) or Gabby had the injuries. To have to sit out a whole year and right when you are about to start, get hurt again, that has (an impact) on your mentality but I think she is determined to push through it."

If Auriemma had his way, he would have his team play every team in the top 10 or top 20 every single season. He is close to getting his wish with next year's non-conference schedule with the No. 2-6 teams in the latest Associated Press set to face UConn next season. The newest addition is a home and home with Baylor.

"That is something that we talked about before and the series ended," Auriemma said. "Neal (Eskine, UConn's Senior Associate Director of Athletics) got right on it and it took like five minutes. They were anxious to do it and we were thrilled to do it. We keep adding really good teams to our non-conference schedule. I think the fact that we were from 18 conference games to 16 has really giving us a lot more flexibility and this is partly a result of that."

It is hard not to be struck by the timing of Baylor's enthusiasm about playing UConn as the Huskies will be losing All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson to graduation and there's a chance that Morgan Tuck would follow her teammates out the door rather than to take advantage of a fifth season of eligibility.

"There is a line from here to Chicago for people waiting to play us in non-conference games starting next year," Auriemma said with a laugh. "We understand that and I am sure we will take our lumps for a little bit. We played them all before we got Stewie so we might as well play them now.

Most of the games are official with signed contracts. No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 Notre Dame are not at that point yet but Auriemma believes it is more of a case of when and not if.

"That is just a matter of finding dates," Auriemma said. "I don't think it is a matter of whether we are playing or not, we are just trying to find dates."

While UConn fans are not accustomed to seeing the Huskies lose, it is a realistic possibility that UConn could suffer some losses in its grueling non-conference schedule next season and Auriemma is OK with that.

"We have three All-Americans on our team, I think everybody knows that and we had four last year," Auriemma said. "You don't win as many games as we have won the last couple of years without having that many good players. If we have one returning All-American next year or none, the schedule is going to be brutal and I think it should be. I think our home schedule should be the same way and the road schedule with the really young team that we are going to have is going to be really difficult. We are way past the stage of what our record is. What we are trying to accomplish is to get our team ready to win a national championship. What our record is going into the NCAA tournament is irrelevant, we are way past winning streaks. We have already been there, done that. Playing games that you God forbid might lose shouldn't be 'a don't do that.' There are a lot of schools that schedule not to lose and that is not who we are."

Here is the 2016-17 non-conference schedule with current rankings
No. 2 South Carolina
No. 4 Baylor
No. 5 Texas (at Mohegan Sun Arena)
No. 10 Ohio State
No. 16 DePaul

No. 3 Notre Dame
No. 6 Maryland
No. 11 Florida State
Kansas State

There is one remaining home game expected to be finalized sooner rather than later against a perennial NCAA tournament team. I will hold off revealing the team until it becomes official although it won't be Stanford, Louisville or UCLA. It looks like Louisville and UCLA will be on future UConn schedules. The original thought was that Stanford would return to UConn's schedule next season after a one-year hiatus but that is not happening. Pac-12 teams like UCLA and Cal have proven that they are willing to play the Huskies so if Stanford/UConn doesn't happen in the future, there are options.

LSU coach has fond memories of working with UConn stars

The last time the top-ranked and undefeated UConn women's basketball team took to the court, it was a reunion of sorts for star forwards Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck as Florida State coach Sue Semrau was an assistant coach on a pair of U.S. junior national teams featuring the UConn stars.

It will be more of a same on Monday when LSU heads to the XL Center to face UConn as LSU head coach Nikki (Caldwell) Fargas was an assistant coach on the U.S. U-18 team in 2012 and U-19 squad in 2013 that was headlined by Stewart, Tuck and Moriah Jefferson.

"It was great to be able to be a part of the national team that had those three young ladies on it," Fargas said. "They are unbelievable people. They work hard every day, they were competitive, they were in summer school and they were balancing both that and playing USA ball so it just showed how focused they were in becoming not only the best they could on the basketball court but also in the classroom. That is what you want your student-athletes to take the opportunity and maximize it. You could see that they were going to be on that path prior to them to get to college.

"You can't ask for better leadership from Moriah, Stewart is just an unbelievable specimen of an athlete so she can do anything and everything. Morgan Tuck, she is just solid and that kid can just calm the waters and she will.

"It was just a pleasure coaching and being around those three.

There's so much to like about how Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck play the game and how they approach the game of basketball. Fargas, however, was struck by something else about the trio.

"I liked the fact that they enjoyed playing the game," Fargas said. "It was fun, they are obviously skilled, they obviously have knowledge of the game. All we had to do was put a blueprint out there and let them go and create this unbelievable masterpiece. They did it so elegantly. They are great teammates. You don't have to turn it on and turn it off. Everything doesn't have to be
so serious with them. They knew when it was time to go to work and punch the clock so to speak, get down to business and then we would leave it and enjoy ourselves."

Stewart and Tuck were the top two scorers while Jefferson was one of the three U.S. players with at least 30 assists on the team which won the 2013 FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women. Fargas was also an assistant on the 2012 U.S. U-18 team. Jefferson and Tuck were the only U.S. players to start all five games en route to winning the FIBA Americas Championship for Women. Once again Tuck and Stewart were the team's top two scorers on the U-18 team. The U.S. teams, coached by Miami's Katie Meier, went 14-0 with an averaging margin of victory of 41 points.

I was a little curious how Monday's came about and it turns out while there are teams who seem more enthusiastic about playing UConn after the graduation of Stewart and Jefferson, Fargas was willing to play this year's star-studded UConn squad.

"Rutgers we had already scheduled a home and away so we were already contracted for Rutgers," Fargas said. "Last year we reached out to UConn to start a series with them as well. Last year you are looking at what your roster looks like, we wanted to be very competitive in our non-conference scheduling. What better way to do that than play the best team in the country in UConn and
a very qualified and potential NCAA tournament team in Rutgers."

Unfortunately, the LSU team Fargas thought would be taking the court against the Huskies is not the one who will be stepping onto the XL Center on Monday.

The Tigers not only graduated two of its top four scorers (DaShawn Harden and Sheila Boykin) but leading scorer Danielle Ballard did not return for her senior season and freshman Stephanie Amichia, who started two games a season ago, is also not a part of this year's team. Raigyne Moncrief and freshman Ayana Mitchell suffered season-ending injuries. Moncrief and Mitchell tied for the team scoring lead in a season-opening loss to Wake Forest. Moncrief's injury leaves LSU without its top four scorers from a season ago.

"We are a work in progress," Fargas said. "Every day we are stressing the same philosophy whether we had our full roster or not. We just had to ask players who play different roles for us to step up and do more. You lose two of our best kids and two other kids don't return, four potential starters, now you are looking at your bench and hopefully this opportunity that they have will allow them to get better and better."

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

UConn/Baylor set to renew series

UConn has signed a contract for a home and home series with Baylor, which could very well be the No. 1 or 2 ranked team in next year's preseason polls.

The series begins with a home game for the Huskies next season. They will not play during the 2017-18 season but the Huskies will play at Baylor during the 2018-19 campaign.

Next year's non-conference schedule has a chance to be one of the toughest the Huskies have ever played as contracts have been signed for the return games with Ohio State, Florida State, Maryland, LSU, DePaul, Chattanooga, Nebraska, Kansas State. UConn will play Texas at Mohegan Sun Arena and UConn is expected to renew home and home series with South Carolina and Notre Dame.

New Connecticut Sun coach dishes on UConn's Kia Nurse

When Curt Miller's name began to emerge as a candidate to become the new coach of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun I couldn't help but reflect back on the recruitment of current UConn guard Kia Nurse.

There was a sense that Miller's relationship with the Nurse family (he coached both Kia's older sister Tamika and aunt Raquel) might just be enough for Nurse to say no to UConn's late recruiting push and head to play for Miller at Indiana.

Miller brought up the recruitment of Nurse without any prodding when he was introduced as the Sun's new coach in a press conference at the Cabaret Theater inside the Mohegan Sun Casino on Thursday.

"I really wanted Kia Nurse at Indiana before I left, I worked my tail off to get Kia," Miller said. "I coached Kia's sister at Bowling Green, I coached Kia's aunt at Syracuse and it was coming down to Indiana and Syracuse for Kia Nurse so I shot him (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) off a text saying 'do you really need another good player? Can you please throw me a bone and let me end up with Kia?' I think Kia's family would have killed me if she would have come to Indiana and I would have left but that is the kind of relationship we had. I think we got a text back 'sorry for you' or something sarcastic.

"I can still remember sitting in Washington, D.C. at an AAU tournament and Kia was playing. Shea Ralph was sitting in front of me, I was standing over her shoulder. I watched her pick up her phone and start to text Chris Dailey. They don't even know this happened but I watched Shea text Chris Dailey saying 'have you ever seen the Nurse kid play?' my heart sunk below my belt because I thought we were really going to get Kia Nurse. I turned around and text my staff things that I absolutely can not repeat right now that we are absolutely in trouble. I have great respect for them and I appreciate anything that they said kindly about me throughout this process."

Miller was scouting the UConn/Ohio State game in November and he approached Auriemma and politely asked him that if anybody involved in the Connecticut Sun coaching search contacted him that he could put in a good word for him. Both team general manager Chris Sienko and CEO Mitchell Etess mentioned Auriemma giving Miller a stamp of approval as being important in ultimately Miller being hired.

Miller also said that one of the things he was most impressed by in his dealings with the Auriemma-run UConn program is how the players on the court rush over to help up a teammate after they draw a charge or dive on the floor for the loose ball and he stressed those things as priorities in his head coaching stops at Bowling Green and Indiana. Miller was also an assistant coach on the Syracuse team that stunned UConn on Jan. 2, 1996 but joked "I don't think UConn probably dwells on that loss too much."

After the press conference I asked Miller to talk a little more about the Nurse family.

"The Nurse family are a class act and tremendous people," Miller said. "As you see, Darnell is now in the NHL, Kia's thriving at UConn but don't forget about the oldest daughter Tamika who started her career at Oregon and finished playing with me at Bowling Green and was a tremendous athlete herself. It is just an incredible family, humble and a pleasure to be around. I am really happy to see Kia having all the success at UConn.

"I coached Kia's aunt, I coached Kia's sister so I remember Kia when she could barely dribble the basket so to watch where she has come from and to know that we had a special relationship and even though I didn't get a chance to coach her but to know that our friendship exists and I am her biggest fan. I am really happy for her and excited to see where her game will go. As I said, I ended up not coaching her at the college level but maybe I will get to coach her in the pros."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

UConn loses freshman forward De'Janae Boykin

UConn announced that freshman forward De'Janae Boykin has decided to transfer.

"Recently De’Janae expressed her desire to be closer to (home)," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. "She is a great kid and I am glad I was able to get to know De’Janae and her family.  The entire coaching staff and team wish her nothing but the best in the future."

Boykin will complete her final exams before finalizing her transfer.

She did not appear in a game this season due to the combination of a tender Achilles' tendon as well as some academic issues. She did not make the trip when the Huskies played at Chattanooga and DePaul and was also left back on campus when the Huskies headed to play at Colgate.

Boykin missed most of her senior season at Flowers High School due to a wrist injury and then was sidelined by Achilles issue.

I spoke to her at a recent practice when she was back taking part in some of the drills.

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

Boykin is from a very close family. She transferred from girls' basketball powerhouse Riverdale Baptist to Flowers High School so she could attend the same school as her brother Joshua, who is blind.

“He was kind of scared going to high school and he asked me if I could go to school with him,” Boykin said in a 2014 interview with the Register. “It was a school down the street and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll go to school with you.’ It is great to know I am here for him, he is there and I can help him out whenever he needs something.

“We are very independent. We have always been cool and we always fight like brothers and sisters do all the time. It is special because I always see him and if something happens, I have his back the whole way.”


Monday, December 14, 2015

UConn's Collier honored

UConn's Napheesa Collier was named the American Athletic Conference's Freshman of the Week after averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in wins over Colgate and Florida State.

Collier had 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals against Colgate and then, in her first career start, Collier had six points, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals against Florida State.

Collier is averaging 6.4 rebounds and 5.5 rebounds per game and is second on the 8-0 Huskies with 20 steals.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jefferson makes history at UConn; Collier impresses

Moriah Jefferson moved to the top of one list at UConn during Friday night's win over Florida State but she wasn't exactly patting herself on the back for it.

Jefferson not only became the 11th Husky to dish out at least 500 assists but she has the best assist/turnover ratio (2.48 with 501 assists and 202 turnovers) of any UConn player with at least 500 assists. However, Jefferson had four assists and three turnovers in the 73-49 victory making the fourth time in eight games this season that she failed to have at least twice as many assists as turnovers. As a point of reference, it was the 18th game during her junior season when she had her fourth outing with an assist/turnover ratio under 2/1.

"It (500 assists) is a good number to be at and hopefully look to get some more," Jefferson said.

"I haven't done a good job of it (assist/turnover ratio) this season. I was talking to (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph), we were saying that if I do turn the ball over try to get it back the next play so that is something I need to keep working on but there turnovers they need to start going down at some point."

Jefferson's annoyance at turning the ball over resulted in a couple of her four steals as she came from behind to cause a turnover. She did the same after one of her missed shots resulting in what I consider to be perhaps the most pivotal stretch in the game.

Florida State was only down 12 points with less than 3 minutes left in the third quarter. Jefferson missed a jumper and Leticia Romero grabbed the rebound. The talented FSU point guard was looking up the floor when Jefferson came in from behind, knocked the ball away and threw a pass to Breanna Stewart. Stewart quickly kicked a pass over to Kia Nurse for a 3-pointer. The Seminoles seemingly had a numbers advantage and could have pulled within 10 points (nine with a 3-pointer). Instead it was suddenly a 15-point lead. FSU wouldn't get closer than 13 the rest of the way.

Geno Auriemma has always loved the idea of bringing a game changer off the bench, somebody who can completely change the pace of the game.

While Gabby Williams was performing well as a starter, he simply thought that returning her to the reserve role she played so well as a freshman might be a way to add some energy off the bench.

What resulted is freshman Napheesa Collier and contributing six points, seven rebounds, two assists, four steals and two blocked shots in 32 minutes in her first career start.

"She played really confidently," UConn forward Morgan Tuck said. "I think it was really good for her on a big stage, a big game to play her game and do a lot of things."

Auriemma said don't be surprised to see Collier remain in the starting lineup.

"I thought the combination of Napheesa and Gabbym if you look at them as one player that fifth spot, I think they had 10 points, 11 rebounds, six steals if that one player did that, you would say that is pretty good," Auriemma said.

"I always think your bench has to be dynamic and in whatever form that takes. Last year we watched the game and said what do we need coming off the bench, a lot of times we need Kiah Stokes to come in and block shots like she did in the game at Note Dame or the Texas game in the NCAA tournament  and I just don't know if we were getting that during the early part of the season so I kind of like the way it went tonight and if it keeps going like this in practice, I am going to stay with it."

The first sense I had that Florida State coach Sue Semrau made quite an impression on UConn's Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck while being an assistant coach on the U.S. U-19 team back in 2011 that included the two current UConn stars came last year when Stewart and Semrau were being honored by the Associated Press.

Stewart had received the AP Player of the Year award for the second year in a row when she congratulated Semrau for winning the coach of the year honor. There was just one problem, that hadn't been announced yet. Stewart got a little embarrassed but it was clear that she really liked playing for Semrau.

Fast forward to last night and I got a similar reaction from Tuck.

"She was such an energetic coach. I think she was one of my favorite coaches I played with on USA because she taught us to have energy and be passionate for our teammates, for ourselves in general," Tuck said. :She has such a love for the game and it rubs off on everybody she coaches."

Semrau was an assistant coach to Jen Rizzotti as the U.S. won the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Chile. The team not only included Stewart and Tuck, UConn's top two scorers, but former Huskies Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Semrau didn't need much prodding to talk about either Tuck or Stewart.

"I think Morgan is an unsung hero," Semrau said. "She is somebody who in the short corner is just deadly and that is what I want Ivey Slaughter to do.

"She (Stewart) is one of the best players on the planet, what can't she do? I know if I were coaching her there would be a lot of things but as a spectator, as an opposing coach, I think she is a special player."

What's interesting is that not only did Semrau coach both Stewart and Tuck with USA Basketball but so did the head coach of UConn's next opponent. LSU's Nikki (Caldwell) Fargas was an assistant coach on the U.S. U-18 team in 2012 and 2013 U-19 squad featuring Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

UConn's veterans deliver in Florida State win

In the world that the UConn women's basketball team resides in there are simply different definitions for what constitutes a nail-biting moment.

There was a time when Florida State was only down by eight or 10 points and I happened to glance over to the UConn bench and the Huskies' Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma had a worried look on his face.

Auriemma knew how good this Florida State team was and if somehow the Seminoles could be within about six points coming down the stretch, he was concerned what might transpire. His four returning starters made sure that never happened.

It was a 31-23 game with 4 minutes left in the second quarter when Breanna Stewart scored off an assist from Kia Nurse and then Moriah Jefferson hit a pair of baskets 30 seconds apart to give the Huskies some breathing room going into the locker room at halftime.

Florida State had crept back within 10 with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter when Stewart scored. What followed might have been the most important sequence in the game. Jefferson missed a jumper and Leticia Romero, the Florida State guard who Auriemma said "might be the best guard we have played against so far" was dribbling the ball up the court when Jefferson reached in from behind for the steal. Jefferson got the ball to Stewart who set up Nurse for a 3-pointer.

"We have played together for a while now," Jefferson said. "Kia Nurse coming in too so I think you have to be calm and poised. You have to be able to come out to make plays when you need to make plays."

Morgan Tuck led the way with 18 points, Stewart had 15 points, five rebounds, seven assists, five steals and six blocked shots, Jefferson had 15 points and Nurse finished with 14. Stewart passed Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters and is now seventh on UConn's career scoring list while Jefferson became the 11th Huskies with 500 assists. Milestones aside, this was not about the individual numbers as much as it was how the four returning starters impacted the game when it mattered most.

"Their decision making really sets them apart," said Florida State coach Sue Semrau, who coached both Stewart and Tuck during one of her USA Basketball stints. "I think Morgan is an unsung hero. She is somebody who in the short corner is just deadly and that is what I want Ivey Slaughter to do.

"She (Stewart) is one of the best players on the planet, what can't she do/  I think she is a special player."

Now the Huskies get some time off with the next game not until Dec. 21 against LSU. The hope is that Saniya Chong and Natalie Butler will be back for that game while Katie Lou Samuelson should be closer to full strength by then. If freshman De;Janae Boykin is ready to make her UConn debut by then remains to be seen.

"It has been hard," Auriemma said. "She hasn't been healthy. She had the wrist issue and then she had the Achilles issue so that is one problems and the other problem is that there are some academic issues we are trying to work through so it is like she hasn't been there. It is a little different that Natalie because at least Natalie had a chance to practice all of last year so it has been a struggle, it really has been a struggle for her and hopefully this week she takes care of what we needs to take care of (during finals) and we will go from there "

UConn's Jefferson closing in on milestone

Another game and another UConn senior is on the verge of a milestone.

This time it is guard Moriah Jefferson who needs three assists to become the 11th Husky with at least 500 assists. However, it is another number that is even more impressive and that is 2.50. That happens to be Jefferson's career assist/turnover ratio which would be the best number for any UConn player with at least 500 assists.

Here is the list
Player          (Years)       Assists TOs   A/TO
Jill Brumbaugh (84-88)        541        229    2.36
Sue Bird (98-02)                   585        277    2.11
Kelly Faris (09-13)               545        282    1.93
Diana Taurasi (00-04)           648       353    1.84
Maya Moore (07-11)             544       301    1.81
Renee Montgomery (05-09)  632       351    1.80
Jen Rizzotti (92-96)               637       407    1.57
Bria Hartley (10-14)              559       367    1.52
Laura Lishness (87-91)         531       352    1.51
Pam Webber (91-95)             546       364    1.50


Thursday, December 10, 2015

3 UConn stars, New Haven's Holmes on Naismith Trophy watch list

The UConn trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck as well as former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes are among 50 players on the watch list for the Naismith Trophy.

Jefferson, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, is third on the Huskies in scoring averaging 12.3 points per game. She leads UConn with 42 assists and 18 steals. She is also just three assists away from becoming the 11th Husky with 500 career assists.

Stewart, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, leads the team in scoring (23.9) and rebounding (8.6). She is also the first NCAA Division I women's player with at least 300 assists and 300 blocks and one of two players with at least 300 blocked shots and 100 3-pointers.

Tuck, a 6-foot-2 redshirt junior forward, is the second-leading scorer (15.1), third in rebounding (6.1) and in assists (26).

Holmes, a 6-foot-1 senior guard at West Virginia, recently scored her 1,500th career point. She is averaging 18.8 points per game while shooting 60.4 percent from the field.

Here's the list of players on the watch list

Lindsay Allen Notre Dame Junior G
Jillian Alleyne Oregon Junior F
Ameryst Alston Ohio State Senior G
Rachel Banham Minnesota Senior G
Imani Boyette Texas Senior C
Adut Bulgak Florida State Senior C
Jordin Canada UCLA Sophomore G
Alaina Coates South Carolina Junior C
Nia Coffey Northwestern Junior F
Kahleah Copper Rutgers Senior G/F
Nina Davis Baylor Junior F
Amber Deane Dayton Junior G
Kim Demmings Wright State Senior G
Diamond DeShields Tennessee Sophomore G
Makayla Epps Kentucky Junior G
Bashaara Graves Tennessee Senior F
Rebecca Greenwell Duke Sophomore G
Ruth Hamblin Oregon State Senior C
Aliyyah Handford St John's Senior G
Bria Holmes West Virginia Senior G
Moriah Jefferson Connecticut Senior G 
Chanise Jenkins DePaul Senior G
Niya Johnson Baylor Senior G
Jonquel Jones George Washington Senior F
Brionna Jones Maryland Junior C
Brittney Martin Oklahoma State Senior F
Tiffany Mitchell South Carolina Senior G
Kelsey Mitchell Ohio State Sophomore G
Adrienne Motley Miami Junior G
Kelsey Plum Washington Junior G
Aerial Powers Michigan State Junior F
Courtney Range California Junior F
Shereesha Richards Albany Senior F
Tabatha Richardson-Smith Seton Hall Senior G
Leticia Romero Florida State Junior G
Jessica Shepard Nebraska Freshman F
Azura' Stevens Duke Sophomore F
Breanna Stewart Connecticut Senior F Rachel Theriot Nebraska Senior G
Lili Thompson Stanford Junior G
Morgan Tuck Connecticut Junior F Brianna Turner Notre Dame Sophomore F
Victoria Vivians Mississippi State Sophomore G
Courtney Walker Texas A&M Senior G
Shatori Walker – Kimbrough Maryland Junior G
Jamie Weisner Oregon State Senior G
Sydney Wiese Oregon State Junior G
Courtney Williams South Florida Senior G
Courtney Williams Texas A&M Senior F
A'Ja Wilson South Carolina Sophomore F

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Never-nervous Breanna Stewart puts on a show for UConn

Some of the greatest players in UConn history have gotten caught up in the emotion that comes with playing in homecoming games. The quest to impress family members and friends can overwhelm even the coolest customer.

However, Breanna Stewart vowed that she would be able to control her emotions and play the way her team expects her to perform.

It wasn't just idle chatter as she had eight points, a rebound, two assists and two steals in the first 4:58 en route to another impressive showing highlighted by a career-high 10 assists to go with 22 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots in 29 minutes (none in the fourth quarter).

"The one thing I will remember about tonight it having the opportunity to come here and play Colgate, have my friends and family here watching," Stewart said. "I knew I was going to be kind of emotional because a lot of people were coming but at the same time I wanted to make sure I was focused on the game."

Stewart certainly was focused as she made her first five shots from the field before finally misfiring late in the second quarter. Perhaps had she played in the fourth quarter Stewart might have had her first collegiate triple-double but she still left with memories that will last a lifetime. She also did it on the night when she became the first Division I women's player with 300 assists and 300 blocked shots.

"She did exactly what she has been doing all year, it is just a continuation of the very first game against Ohio State, everything is starting to look the same and it is an incredible consistency about her," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

"It is great to see her start the game off like she did. Stewie is one of those rare individuals that she seems to ready for those moments when she needs to be ready. You look at all three Final Fours she has been in, whatever the moment calls for her to do something whenever the spotlight was on her, whenever people are paying attention the most, it seems to be when she plays her best."

Stewart's special night did come with a moment of levity when she accidently scored into the Colgate basket while trying to grab a defensive rebound.

"That is just one of those moments that you have to laugh it off. I grabbed the ball, one of my rebounds and it went into the basket."

It is the first time I can recall a UConn star scoring for the other time since Swin Cash did it.

"Swin's was more fundamentally sound," Auriemma said. "She got the rebound; she squared up; she jumped and shot it. It was a great follow through, picture perfect until she realized she was shooting at the other team's basket."

While UConn played in front of a season-low 1,782, the atmosphere was rather electric. Stewart especially got a chuckle out of the enthusiasm of some members of the Colgate football team, currently still alive in the FCS playoffs, sitting right behind the UConn bench.

"It was really entertaining," Stewart said. "The past three or four games we have really exciting atmospheres whether it is home or away. The kids behind the bench were non stop, a lot of energy. I don't know if they were hyped up for finals week or something but they were ready."

There was a scary moment when freshman Katie Lou Samuelson asked out of the game early in the fourth quarter and then fell to the floor. She was helped to the bench by Stewart and after a brief conversation with UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle, she took a seat with the other reserves.

"She hasn't been feeling well," Auriemma said. "She has some sort of head cold or something going on as a lot of us do. She was dehydrated and it kind of got her. She felt really lightheaded. She is fine."

UConn didn't have the services of junior guard Saniya Chong as the IT Band Syndrome continues to wreak havoc with her, causing pain around her knee.

"She came to practice (Tuesday) and couldn't run," Auriemma said. "She tried it again today and still didn't (feel pain free). I don't know about Friday (when UConn plays Florida State) but then we have 10 days (before playing again). I don't think people realize how painful that IT Band (Syndrome) is, you have a hard time jogging never mind running."

Gabby Williams only played five minutes in the first half and Napheesa Collier started in her place in the second half but Auriemma said that was a case of Williams not being as comfortable and effective playing against a zone defense than his dissatisfaction with how Williams played.


UConn's Stewart first member of 300-300 club

Breanna Stewart wasn't quite sure what to make of the achievement that will be the first of its kind among Division I women's basketball players.

However, with her career--high 10 assists in tonight's game against Colgate, she became the first women's player in Division I history with at least 300 career assists and blocked shots.

"(Recording) 300 assists and 300 blocks is kind of cool," Stewart said. "It is an interesting stat that people don't really look up but you guys did and I get pride out of both. If it is an assist, a skip pass to Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) and she knocked down the corner 3 was exciting to see but also a block if it is a good one, it is going to get the crowd involved."

While I had a few hours in Chicago I went through the list of players with 300 blocked shots and nearly three times as many players with 300 career blocks had fewer than 100 assists than had more than 200 assists.

Former St. Mary's star Louella Tomlinson leads the way among the 300 block club with 262 assists followed closely by former UConn star Rebecca Lobo at 260.

“You don’t win as many games as Stewie has won, you don’t win as many gold medals, you don’t have the reputation she has if you weren’t able to make your teammates better,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That is the greatest compliment anyone can pay you, not only are you a great player, but you make the people around you better. I think Stewie is too unselfish at times, but that is way better than the other way. It is great to hear that she will do it, because that is one more way to separate herself from everyone else who has played this game, as if she needed another way. That to me is the ultimate compliment to somebody that you can do some great things at both ends of the floor that are really unselfish acts, come over to help and block a shot and then pass it to your teammate for a layup.”

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Jefferson steps up on defense in UConn's win

In the eyes of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, Morgan Tuck was the 'x' factor in UConn's 91-81 victory.

In my opinion (and my game story indicated as much), it was the defense of Moriah Jefferson that turned the tide in UConn's hard-fought victory.

Notre Dame freshman Marina Mabrey had one of the most impressive offensive performances I have seen for an opposing player against UConn - for a half.

Mabrey was 9 of 11 from the field including 3 for 3 from 3-point range en route to 21 points by halftime.

When UConn coach Geno Auriemma went into the locker room, he sarcastically asked for any volunteers to try to keep Mabrey under 50. Jefferson not only accepted the challenge but held her to just two points.

"She was making everything, she was being really aggressive and really physical. I wanted to take her, limit her touches and face-guarding her," Jefferson said.

Her performance reminded me a little bit of the job she did a season ago on Tiffany Mitchell in a win over South Carolina.

"I think they are two different kinds of players but at the same time you can't let them get the ball," Jefferson said. "Once they get the ball, they are really dangerous threat so I tried to do my best to make her back pedal. It started with that and then I knew 'I've got you.' I love defense and I take a lot of pride in my defense. I just wanted to make sure I could do whatever I could with my team to help them to make sure she wasn't getting the shots."

Mabrey finished with 23 points but after halftime she attempted just two shots (none from the 3-point line) and had three turnovers.

"She is a great defender," Mabrey said. "I've never gotten that before in college so it is something I have to work on."

Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck have known Breanna Stewart for years, have practiced alongside of her for the past four years so when they are almost speechless after one of her plays, it is noteworthy.

In the first half Stewart saw a ball coming off the rim and she went in pursuit of the offensive rebound. However, the ball hung up on the rim a little longer than anticipates so while she was being fouled she swooped in and came up with one of the most remarkable plays I've seen.

"It was the best play," Tuck said. "It was one of those plays that you are on the court playing and you are like 'wow, only Stewie can do that.'"

Jefferson admitted that the other players on the court sort of just stood and watched Stewart do her thing.

"We were talking about that play in the locker room," Jefferson said. "Everybody just kind of stopped and stared and said 'what is going on?' I thought she was going to dunk it. She touched the rim, it was a great play. She plays really hard anytime she is attacking like that and getting offensive rebounds, she is going to be way above the rim and it is just a matter of whether she finishes it or not."

So what was Stewart's take on a play that is sure to be shown when she is taken in April's WNBA draft and perhaps multiple times before that time.

"I was just trying to put it back," Stewart said. "My hand touched the rim and I was like 'uh oh.' The one thing I thought of was first of all, 'I am OK and I hit the (floor) hard and the basket went in.'"

Point guard matchup could be special in UConn/Notre Dame game

In a perfect world the fans coming to Gampel Pavilion would get to see Breanna Stewart squaring off with Notre Dame's Brianna Turner. However, a shoulder injury will keep Turner out of action.

Still, there is a must-see matchup featuring point guards Moriah Jefferson of UConn and Lindsay Allen of Notre Dame.

"She is a really good player and she is looking for her shot a lot more this year so it is going to be a challenge for me," Jefferson said.

"Anytime you are playing against really good guards, you want to come out and hold your own. She is going to come there really scrappy on defense. It is about being tough with the ball."

Allen is perhaps the only player on the Notre Dame with the same role she had a season ago and she will be front and center at today's game.

"I think she should get a little bit more attention," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think she is one of the best point guards in the country. She is not somebody who scored a lot for us last year but this year she is going to have to."

There is a live blog up and running for today's UConn/Notre Dame. Feel free to check it out

UConn thrilled to be part of Jimmy V Women's Classic again

When UConn hosts Notre Dame later on today it will be the fifth straight season and eighth time overall that the Huskies are featured in the Jimmy V Women's Classic.

For UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose father fought the good fight against cancer before dying in 1997 resulting in Geno being actively involved in raising money for cancer research, would love for the Huskies to be asked to play in the next five events as well.

"The thing that has always impressed me is that when this started, the very early stages of the Jimmy V Classic, you aren't quite sure where it is going," Auriemma said. "You are not sure where is this going to end up. Is it one of those things where it goes a couple of years and fades away? It took a lot of work from a lot of people especially at ESPN and of course at the Jimmy V Foundation. It has only got bigger and stronger, had more of an impact and it still resonates today and Jimmy hasn't coached a game in (25) years. To be a part of it and to be asked to be a part of it year after year after year, it must mean that we are contributing to the cause and I like that."

UConn incoming freshmen Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin each had 20-point games to lead their respectively teams to victory.

Dangerfield had 25 points,her fourth 25-point effort in five games this season as Blackman High School defeated William Blount 64-37 to improve to 4-1.

Irwin had 23 points in State College High School's 42-40 overtime win over Mount Lebanon in State College's first game of the season.

Molly Bent's Tabor Academy team will face the Rivers School today at 3 p.m. in its season opener.

Friday, December 04, 2015

UConn expecting the best shot from shorthanded Notre Dame squad

The UConn coaches and players heard the news that Notre Dame sophomore star Brianna Turner will not play in tomorrow's Jimmy V Women's Classic game due to a shoulder injury that could sideline her for a couple more weeks or perhaps put her season at risk. Perhaps junior forward Taya Reimer will also miss the game, although she is considered to be a game-time decision. Still, the Huskies are expected to get a serious test when the third-ranked Fighting Irish come to town.

"I don't really know who is playing, who is not playing,' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Not having Brianna Turner in terms of not playing doesn't make (Notre Dame) more dangerous or less dangerous. What is does is make them different. There is a better chance of a four-guard lineup more often which makes the game a little different."

Auriemma's players expressed similar sentiments.

"They know how we play. they are not one of those teams that 'oh, it's UConn,'" UConn redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck said. "They are used to that so I think it is good for us because it is early on in the season, it is going to be a really good game.

"We are going to prepare as if both of them playing. It (stinks) that they are banged up, Bri Turner is not going to be in and they don't know about Reimer. You want them to play because you want to play them at full strength with their whole team but at the same time, we are going to play either way. We are going to play our game and do the same things."

If anybody wondered just how highly Auriemma thinks of the coaching ability of Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, I'll give you this nugget from today.

"I think they are one of the best teams in the country at utilizing the talent that they have," Auriemma said. "I really enjoy watching them play, I watch them play even when I am not scouting them for us, I like that way they play. She is as good of a coach in the country as we will face, nobody's better.

"I am never surprised as how well Notre Dame plays, who is in their lineup and who they have. People were having heart attacks when Notre Dame beat us a couple of times (actually the Fighting Irish are responsible for seven of the Huskies' last 12 losses). Of course they did, they had four first-round draft picks. Now they have rejuvenated themselves because they don't have Jewell Loyd and Achonwa and Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride, those guys aren't there anymore but they have redesigned their team. When you get to the level they are at right now, you are not surprised. You are not surprised that (Madison) Cable is doing what she is doing, she has had a chance to see a lot of players in the last couple of years do exactly what she is doing right now and the kids that they have added are good, solid players. Mabrey, both of them (Michaela and Marina), are really tough kids and Lindsay Allen has become one of the best point guards in the country."

There was no sign of freshman De'Janae Boykin at today's practice and she won't be playing tomorrow.

"She's got a lot of work to do physically and academically," Auriemma said. "She has yet to be at a practice full (speed). She has been there for a third of it, a half of it but never a full (practice)."

The good news is that Natalie Butler did get some practice time today. Her surgically-repaired left thumb only had tape on it and not a splint or cast.

Auriemma said "the doctors cleared you but I haven't," Auriemma said.

He said perhaps Butler could play against Notre Dame although in my opinion, the game would probably have to get out of hand for that to happen. It is more likely that she makes her UConn debut on Wednesday against Colgate.

"She looked OK today," Auriemma said. "I think every day she is getting a little closer."

UConn issues traffic advisory for a busy Saturday

UConn is trying to provide an advance warning to people coming up to campus tomorrow that traffic could be a little on the hectic side and not just because the women's basketball game is sold out.

The Boston Pops are playing at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Also, the Mansfield Downtown Partnership will be welcoming guests to Storrs Center from 1-5 p.m. as part of its annual Winter Welcome.

Here is part of the advisory sent out by UConn

The basketball game is expected to end around 7:30 p.m. or slightly earlier, so many Gampel guests will be leaving campus as the majority of Jorgensen patrons arrive. In addition to North Garage, some limited surface lot parking will be available across the street at Lot 9 for Jorgensen patrons, and South Garage spaces will be opening as basketball fans leave.

Drivers are also asked to be especially vigilant for pedestrians, particularly as evening falls, and to remember to give them the right of way in crosswalks.

“Saturday is shaping up to be a busy and exciting day here, and we expect many thousands of regular and new visitors on campus,” UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “We encourage them to expect more traffic than usual and plan accordingly – and, of course, to have fun and enjoy this great day on our beautiful campus.”

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Report: Notre Dame's Turner won't play against UConn

Notre Dame sophomore forward Brianna Turner missed last year's regular-season game against UConn due to a shoulder injury although she was able to come back after only missing three games and help the Fighting Irish reach the national title game.

Well, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw told reporters that Turner won't play in Saturday's UConn/ND game because of an issue with the same shoulder. This time, however, it is sounding like Turner could be out for a while.

Also, fellow former Taya Reimer is considered to be a game-time decision for the Fighting Irish,

Turner, who only played in four of the first seven games, is Notre Dame's second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game and the top rebounder (6.8) while recording 15 of the team's 34 blocked shots. Reimer is averaging 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in the four games she has played in.

At the NCAA's women's basketball media day I asked McGraw if the Fighting Irish might become more dependent on its post players for offense after being a guard-heavy team in recent years which seems ironic considering the injuries to Turner and Reimer.

"This year I think we will be post orientated, that is a little bit of change for us because we have been so guard heavy with such great guards over the years," McGraw said. "Now we have really good guards who can shoot the ball really well and do a lot of things but I think our posts are the best part of our game. Brianna, Taya and Kathryn Westbeld we are expected big things from all three of them."

McGraw also spoke about Turner's improvement.

"This summer she came back as a free-throw shooter, she had to work on that and she can hit the free throws now, she can put the ball on the floor, she is a better passer and I think she is a little more mature, she is a little more poised in her game and be a little more aggressive looking to score this year."

Notre Dame still has plenty of talent led by Madison Cable, who if she isn't the most improved player in women's college basketball she is on a very short list. Cable went from averaging 21 minutes and 6.2 points per game to averaging 16.4 points (in 28.6 minutes per game.). Cable has always been an outstanding 3-point shooter but this year she is a staggering 19 for 33 from 3-point range. Freshmen Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale are both averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Westbeld is taking on a much larger role as a sophomore while Lindsay Allen is one of the best point guards in the country. McGraw is a top-notch coach and has plenty of talent to work with but still, if Reimer isn't able to go, Notre Dame won't have three of the top four scorers from last year's team (Jewell Loyd left a year early to head to the WNBA) to go against the Huskies.

Samuelson ssves her best for last in UConn win

There was part of Geno Auriemma who strongly considered letting Katie Lou Samuelson watch the entire second half from the bench after an uneventful showing in limited first-half action.

However, with some of his assistant coaches suggesting he give the reigning national high school player of the year another chance to show what she could do, Auriemma summoned Samuelson off the bench.
What followed might have been the most important eight-minute stretch of Samuelson's brief tenure with the Huskies.
Yes, Samuelson did drain a pair of 3-pointers including a crucial one just 25 seconds after a hard-charging DePaul team pulled within five points. But more importantly to Auriemma and the other coaches, Samuelson did more than display her outside shooting touch. She helped the Huskies break DePaul's press, played solid defense and also had a rebound and steal as the Huskies finished strong for an 86-70 victory on Wednesday night.

"It is cool to know he had that trust in me. He told me after the game that 'I wanted to put you in there and see how you responded.' He said when I play hard like that then that is exactly what will happen. It is really good knowing that he has that trust. I am going to keep playing hard and hopefully he will continue to have that trust in me.

"It is important for me to try to contribute and help the team in any way that I can whether it is trying to break the press like that, passing the ball, getting rebounds, getting the ball to the right person but overall in that game it was doing whatever the team needed to get that win."

In the first three quarters Samuelson played four minutes, missed her only shot and had one assist. Then she scored all 10 of her points in the fourth quarter.

"That burst in the third quarter gave us some room," Auriemma said. "I turned around at one point and said 'what am I going to do with Lou.' The consensus was 'let's give her another shot, let's see what she does.' This might have been her best game since she has been at Connecticut. She is a tough kid and she has been down a little bit because her shot doesn't go in as much as she is used to seeing it go in but that is not why we are upset with her. We are upset with her because she doesn't do all the other things she is capable of doing. You are not in California anymore, you are allowed to get in a
stance in this part of the country.

"You won't get arrested if you get into a defensive stance, you can put your hand up too, nobody will say a bad thing about you and you are allowed to go after rebounds. You will actually get rewarded, even if you don't get the rebound, try. There are so many things that she does well but when you are a good shooter and you don't see the ball go in as much, you start to pout and feel sorry for yourself and you forget all the other things you are really good at. That is kind of where she has been so hopefully these last couple of games have helped her along."
Part of the deal of playing at UConn is that resident superstars like Breanna Stewart often times spend long stretches of games sitting on the bench. It has nothing to do with the quality of her play or maybe it does as her brilliance has resulted in a string of lopsided games.

So when last night's game came to an end and I was given a final box score, one of the first numbers to jump out at me was the 40 minutes Stewart played. Before the DePaul game she had played the entire game just once in a regular season game and that came against Notre Dame when she was a freshman.

"I just couldn't see myself taking her out," Auriemma said. "There was just too much chaos going on out there, we needed somebody who could help us everywhere on the floor. She inbounded the ball, dribbled the ball up the floor, scored down low, hit a 3, made a good pass to somebody. When you have Stewie in the game, it is like having three players on the floor because she can do so many things. By taking her out I was scared that we would lose a little bit of that cohesiveness that she gives us."

Stewart finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds. She also had a pair of assist giving her 296 in her career. If she hands out four assists in Saturday's game, she will become the first Division I women's basketball player with 300 blocked shots and assists.

"Before the game we were talking about these kinds of games are the reasons why we came to Connecticut, especially the big moments and somebody has to make a big play late in the game," Stewart said. "We are all players who can do that and with the crowd cheering for us and against us, it made it really exciting."

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Early Second-Half Run Keys UConn victory

Breanna Stewart described the first half of Wednesday night's DePaul game as Huskies playing as if their heads had been cut off, her Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma used the word "insanity" for what he was witnessing.

During the halftime break he implored them to take a collective deep breath and stop trying to get into a game of "H-O-R-S-E" with the Blue Demons.

Right on cue UConn opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run en route to a hard-earned 86-70 victory.

"There was one time that I didn't know what to say," Auriemma said after the Huskies won their 42nd game in a row, "I just turned around and said this is crazy, this is complete insanity. It reminded me a little bit of the Dayton game. I even lied to them one of the time saying that they are not going to make all of them (3-pointers)."

DePaul seemingly couldn't miss at times, making nine 3-pointers in the first half and the 13 treys they made are the most the 5-0 Huskies have given up.

Taking a precarious 44-41 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Huskies came out and finally got some breathing room by opening the third quarter on a 9-0 run.

"They way they were pushing the tempo, we were doing it right back instead of taking our time," said UConn senior forward Breanna Stewart, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

"(In the third quarter we were) staying composed offensively and defensively and not taking the first shot we had. We wanted to make sure we ended this trip on the right note."

Back in 2008 UConn got into a similar style of game against DePaul and needed some late heroics from Maya Moore to escape with a one-point win. Auriemma was relieved that there were no late-game drama on this night.

"Make a couple more passes, make them stay on defense a little bit longer, limit how many times we have to rebound," Auriemma said. "The thing that you worried about in games like this is DePaul played with so much emotion in the beginning of the game and it lasted the entire first time. The last thing you want is for it is be a game in the fourth quarter, they take the lead and now we feel like we have a chance to win the game right now. Anytime we needed a bucket, we needed a rebound, we needed something good to happen, we made it happen."

UConn's Stewart on verge of first of its kind milestone

Breanna Stewart has accomplished some remarkable things during her time at UConn but she is on the verge of doing something that no Division I women's basketball player has ever done.

Stewart, who recorded the 300th blocked shot of her remarkable career in Monday's win over Chattanooga. Now she is just six assists shy of hitting the 300 mark in that category as well.

As I previously mentioned, Stewart joined former High Point star Mckenzie Maier as the only Division I players with at least 300 blocks and 100 3-pointers. As it turns out, the block-assist daily double that she is closing in on is even more rare.

More than 60 Division I women's players have blocked at least 300 shots but not one of them even hit the 300-assist plateau.

Here is the list of those with 300 blocks and at least 200 assists, it shouldn't come as a shocker that Rebecca Lobo is pretty high on the list

Players                   Team          Blocks    Assists
Louella Tomlinson St. Mary's  663       262
Rebecca Lobo, Connecticut     396       260
Elizabeth Williams Duke         426       256
Brittney Griner Baylor             748       239
Amy Jaeschke Northwestern    357      228
Jessica Davenport, Ohio State  384      225
Zane Teilane, W. Illinois          406      220
Courtney Paris Oklahoma        446      218
Mackenzie Maier High Point   306      215   
Jordan Adams, New Mexico    344      211
Lisa Leslie, USC                       321     208

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Versatile Stewart continues to make history at UConn

I don't think it is exactly stop the presses type of a news flash for me to report that Breanna Stewart's versatility is truly something to behold.

Even before she played her first game at UConn, Stewart was expected to do things that few if any players did at UConn. She has certainly lived up to the advance billing.

Stewart became the fifth player in program history to record 300 career blocked shots in Monday's win over Chattanooga. With six more assists she would become the first player in UConn history with at least 300 assists and blocked shots. But let's not stop there. She is not only the first Husky with at least 300 blocked shots and 100 3-pointers but is just the second player at the Division I level to accomplish that feat.

Anybody who knows who the other player to accomplish this feat is probably a close personal friend or a relative of former High Point star Mackenzie Maier who had 306 blocked shots and 127 3-pointers while playing at High Point from 2007-11. Former Northeastern Illinois star Delores Jones came close with 94 3-pointers and 305 blocked shots.

Only four other players including Husky legend Rebecca Lobo had at least 30 3-pointers to go with 300 blocked shots. If I exercised any common sense, I would have checked the assist totals of those in the 300-block club but I do have time between now and the opening tip to hopefully scour through the various team media guides that I did for the research above to come up with the list of players (if there are any) with 300 blocks and 300 assists.

UConn announced that Saturday's game against No. 3 Notre Dame is sold out. The game will be played at 5:15 p.m. and air on ESPN.

UConn is 4-0 heading into tomorrow's game at DePaul while Notre Dame, which hosts Ohio State tomorrow, is 6-0.

UConn officials have been pushing the "White Out" for the game encouraging fans to wear white.