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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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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