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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

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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