Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

USF's Williams to challenge UConn's defense once again

When Courtney Williams blew up for 26 points in South Florida's loss to UConn on Jan. 10, I recall wondering out loud how many players can lay claim to four 20-point outings against the Huskies.

Naturally, with USF set to play UConn in the regular-season finale tomorrow, I decided it was a perfect time to find the answer to the question.

I have a media supplement that includes box scores dating back to the 1997-98 season so I was able to go back that far and add Chamique Holdsclaw's games from the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons since Tennessee site has links to box scores from every season.

Here is what I found:

Former Skylar Diggins and Angel McCoughtry, former stars at Notre Dame and Louisville are the only players with five 20-point games against the Huskies over the last 20 seasons. Williams joins a select group including Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw and Notre Dame's Kayla McBride and Natalie Novosel with four 20-point performances. Notre Dame legend Ruth Riley and Tennessee's Semeka Randall each other three such offensive explosions.

The list is somewhat limited simply because not a lot of teams play the Huskies enough to make a list like this. Certainly Notre Dame did during Diggins' days and Tennessee had plenty of games when players like Randall and Tamika Catchings were in school. Other programs like Boston College, Rutgers, Stanford and LSU had periods of time with plenty of showdowns with UConn.

With tomorrow's game and a chance for a rematch in the AAC tournament final next week, there's a chance that Williams could move into second place but I don't see any player ever catching Diggins for No. 1 on the list.

Here are the point totals I found against UConn
Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame 2009-13: 251 points in 15 games
Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame 2008-12: 161 points in 12 games
Kayla McBride, Notre Dame 2010-14: 153 points in 10 games
Angel McCoughtry, Louisvile 2005-09: 150 points in eight games
Ruth Riley, Notre Dame, 1997-2001: 128 points in nine games
Courtney Williams, South Florida 2012-present: 126 points in seven games
Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennesee 1995-99: 122 points in six games
Niele Ivey, Notre Dame 1996-01: 117 points in eight games
Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers 2002-06: 116 points in seven games
Kara Lawson, Tennessee 1999-03: 115 points in nine games
Semeka Randall, Tennessee 1997-2001: 111 points in seven games
Tasha Pointer, Rutgers 1997-01: 105 points in nine games

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Video look at UConn's Senior Day festivities

The basketball side of things took a bit of a backseat today, especially during the first quarter.

What transpired before the game took center stage especially when associate head coach Chris Dailey being surprised with her induction into the Huskies of Honor.

Here's a look at the videos I shot as Briana Pulido, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart were honored on Senior Day and then came the Huskies of Honor ceremony with Jefferson, Stewart and Dailey joining some select company.

Dailey's honor a highlight of UConn's Senior Day

Perhaps the biggest upset of the women's college basketball season up to this point is that UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey had no idea of the honor that was bestowed on her earlier today.

There is not an aspect of the UConn program that Dailey doesn't have her finger on so when members of Dailey's family were contacted about her impending induction into the Huskies of Honor, somehow the word never trickled down to Dailey.

"You can't even describe it because I wasn't expecting it and he (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) doesn't keep secrets very well so I didn't know anything and he didn't say anything," Dailey said. "Usually you would think somebody would blab and it would usually be him."

Pretty much from the time the Huskies of Honor program was created, it was more of a case of when and not if Dailey would be included among the legendary figures she helped to recruit and coach. Auriemma said he wasn't sure why but this just seemed to be the right time. After Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart had their banners unveiled, the mystery surrounding who the third banner was for ended up being revealed.

Morgan Tuck was the only player who knew what was coming. She was told on Friday just so she wouldn't think she was being honored in that fashion.

 "I think CD is extremely important," Tuck said. "She is the one who keeps everybody on our toes and makes sure we are doing the right things. Every little thing, CD is on us, how we dress, how we act or (wearing) headphones so she helps us become better people."

Dailey knew some of her family members would be in attendance but didn't realize just how many of them made the trip until the announcement came that she was joining the Huskies of Honor.
"My sister lives in London, my brother came from Ohio," Dailey said. "I had no idea that a lot of my cousins, my aunt and a lot of people were here. Just to see your name up here, it is emotional because I know my parents would be really, really proud. They were here at the very beginning."

Dailey's father passed away in 2003 and her mom died just last year. Dailey teared up when discussing the support she received from her parents.

"It is never enough to say that she has been for as long as I have," Auriemma  said. "I think the most important thing is putting her up on that wall kind of puts her next to, not above, not under but next to all the people who wouldn't be on that wall if it wasn't for her so I think it is very appropriate. Every single player that is up there, there's a pretty good chance they wouldn't be there if it wasn't for a bunch of stuff that CD did."

So why was Saturday the day for Dailey to be honored?

"We are not getting any younger and I always say it is never too early to do something but there can come a time when maybe it is too late," Auriemma said. "Maybe we missed the boat, maybe we should have done it when her mom was alive. I know she is our biggest fan, her and (Dailey's) dad but just felt like the right time to do it, I don't know why. I am glad we did it and every player who has ever played her appreciates it."

There was a video at halftime with many of the players weighing in on Dailey's honor including Rebecca Lobo playfully mentioning many of the Dailey-enforced rules and suggesting that Dailey needs to step it up because she is the coach of the post players and the list of players in the Huskies of Honor is dominated by perimeter players.

Dailey reflected on how meaningful it was to be honored in this way.

"Mostly you think about a lot of different things and that was on the my mind," Dailey said. "My family, the players that I had a role (in their development). I already looked at my phone and there are a lot of texts of everybody from Morgan Valley, Rebecca. It has just been that kind of week with having Diana, Sue and Maya back (for the national-team training camp) and you just think about a lot of things, it is difficult to put into words."

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UConn Senior Class' ultimate legacy: Winning

There are so many numbers to crunch when it comes to telling the story of the last four years for Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.

However, whenever I have asked the players and especially Stewart about the individual milestones, the answer I would get in return usually would be something like this - the only number that concerns me is wins.

Well, I did some checking and if UConn were to win today and Monday against USF, win the American Athletic Conference title and NCAA championship, they would finish with a 151-5 record. For those wondering, the Maya Moore/Lorin Dixon class at UConn currently holds the NCAA Division I women's basketball record with 150 wins over a four-year span. Even more remarkable is that I found 10 classes with at least 140 wins and eight are from UConn although it includes the 144 wins from 1999-2003 but the lone recruit in the Class of 2003 (Kennitra Johnson) transferred out long before what would have been her senior season.

150: UConn 2007-11 (150-4)
147: UConn 2008-12 (147-7)
146: UConn 2006-10 (146-6)
146: UConn 2011-15 (146-10)
144: UConn 1999-03 (144-5)
144: UConn 2010-14 (144-11)
143: UConn 2009-13 (143-11)
143: Notre Dame 2010-14 (143-10)
140: UConn 2012-16 (140-5)
140: Baylor 2010-14 (140-10)

Friday, February 26, 2016

UConn's Senior Class Lives Up To Advance Billing

When UConn signed the trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, there was talk of them being the best recruiting class in women's basketball history.

The Sue Bird-Swin Cash-Asjha Jones-Keirsten Walters-Tamika Williams class signed in 1997 certainly needs to be mentioned about the best ever. When Tennessee signed a six-player class headlined by Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike, who would all be taken in the top 16 picks in the 2008 WNBA Draft, there were stories speculating that it might be the best class ever.

There were recruiting services that had Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck among the top four players in their class and certainly in the top 10. Their ultimate legacy can't be determined until this season plays out. If the Huskies run the table, UConn would have won an NCAA Division I women's record 151 games since their arrival (topping the 150 won by UConn during Lorin Dixon's and Maya Moore's four seasons) and no other women's recruiting class could lay claim to four national titles in four seasons.

Individually, Stewart has earned the right be to mentioned in the company of Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi when discussing legendary figures in the program history while Jefferson will be able to hold her own alongside of Jen Rizzotti and Bird when the discussion turns to the best point guards to play at UConn. Geno Auriemma has used Jones as a player to compare to Tuck. Anybody who has been around Auriemma dating back to Jones' playing days can appreciate just lofty that praise happens to be.

At the recent national team training camp I asked Bird about the benefits of having fellow star players to deal with the expectations that Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck have dealt with since arriving at UConn.

"To have to do everything is no burden that any player should have to bear," Bird said. "There are some who can do it but something is missing when you have to do it all by yourself. When it is a team, you are together, it is a really special relationship. You have support, it is just a support system, it is there in your dorm room, it is there when you walk out (on the court) and it is extremely helpful."
Stewart is the only Division I women's players with at least 300 assists and 300 blocked shots since blocked became a statistic officially recognized by the NCAA in 1988. Cheryl Miller and Cindy Brown also had more than 300 assists and 300 blocks but since blocked shots totals before 1988 aren't included in the NCAA record book, I haven't been able to come up with a list of other players with at least 300 assists and 300 blocked shots but if Stewart gets to 400 assists and 400 blocked shots, neither Brown nor Miller accomplished that feat.

Jefferson is two assists shy of 600 and when she gets there, she will have the best assist/turnover ratio of any players in that group dating back to the 1999-2000 season.

Finally, they became the first trio of UConn teammates to combine for 5,000 career points and also have the most assists, steals and blocked shots of any three UConn classmates.

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 5008
98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 4487
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 3930
00-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 3899*
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 3896

REBOUNDS98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 2467
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 2104
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 1994
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 192500-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 1802*
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  1769
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 1750

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 1225
00-04: Battle-Conlon-Taurasi 1098*
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti 1032
98-02: Bird-Cash-Jones   954
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker  952

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 614
98-02: Bird-Cash-Williams 578
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  567
04-08: Houston-Swanier-Thomas 548
88-92: Baer-Davis-Pattyson 545

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 433
91-95: Dixon-Lobo-Webber 414
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 413
93-97: Berube-Rose-Wolters 404
11-15: Banks-KML-Stokes  389
*-does not include statistics for Battle and Moore during 2004-05 season

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UConn legend Rizzotti never tires of answering call from USA Basketball

Six former or current UConn stars were among those taking part in the U.S. national team training camp earlier this week.  But Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart were not the only members of UConn royalty in attendance.

Jen Rizzotti was among those appointed to be court coaches by USA Basketball. Rizzotti has a long relationship with USA Basketball as a player and a coach.

Rizzotti was the head coach of the gold-medal winning teams at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 and 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships and an assistant in 2006 when the U.S. won the FIBA Americas 18 championship. At the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, Rizzotti was asked to serve as an advance scout for the U.S. team and that is something she said she would be doing at the Olympics later this year as well.

"That has been dictated to Chris Dailey and I that we will be the scouts again for the Olympics and the staff so whatever (Olympic assistant coaches) Cheryl (Reeve), Dawn (Staley) and Doug (Bruno) need in terms of a live scout, a film breakdown or stats, that will kind of be my role."

Rizzotti's experiences with USA Basketball date back to when she was an All-American point guard at UConn. She tried out for the 1996 Olympic team and was a member of the Jones Cup team in 1996. She doesn't need to be asked twice if the folks at USA Basketball ask her to be involved with one of their teams.

"Immensely I enjoy it and the biggest reason is the people," Rizzotti said. "(USA Basketball Womens' National Team Director) Carol Callan is one of my favorite people in the entire world. She is great at what she does, she is fun to be around, she is smart, she is funny and she really understands what it takes to make a special occasion. She has been a part of all of my experiences, I have gotten to coach with great coaches, I have gotten to coach great players. The staff at USA Basketball is obviously phenomenal. I think we say this all the time that the teams that you are on and the experiences that you have are usually never about the places you go or the wins or losses, it is about the people you surround yourself with and they do a phenomenal job of getting great people around so I have really enjoyed myself every time I have done it."

Rizzotti received a tour of the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center shortly after it opened. But being in there for the training camp when her name was among those hanging with the other former national players of the year made for a bit of a surreal scene for her.

"It is a little bit humbling and you just feel proud of have been a part of it and that your name is up there with all the great players," Rizzotti said, "You see the precedent we set from '95 on and you are happy for the future, the legacy, what the kids have to appreciate now and just hope they are going to feel the same way in 10 years when they come back."

Rizzotti wasn't the only player who is or was a point guard at UConn checking out the festivities. Current UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson was a regular viewer of the practices, sitting in the far corner for all three days.

Rizzotti might have a deeper appreciation of what Jefferson means to this UConn team more than most people since she filled a similar role on the 1995 national championship team.

"She actually tried out for the 19-and-under team I coached maybe as a sophomore or junior. Breanna was the youngest on that team and (Jefferson) didn't make that team," Rizzotti said. "I remember watching her in tryouts and Geno asking about how she is doing and I remember saying that she is very fast and skilled but she doesn't really know how to control a team yet, she doesn't know how to set the offense, she doesn't know how to organize that group and provide that leadership that a team full of all-stars needs.  To watch her now and not just her senior year but since her sophomore year, she is one of the best players at the country and one of the best players to play that position here, it has been amazing. She put a lot of effort not just into the physical piece of the game but much more into the mental side of the game. It is a lot of fun to watch her play. She doesn't have a gear lower than fifth, she doesn't take possessions off and is able to play at a high level for the entire game if she needs to. That comes from practice, you don't get that because you want to but because you do it every day."

Speaking about point guards, another one who had a strong showing at the camp was UConn graduate assistant Jasmine Lister who not only organized the team of male practice players as she does with the Huskies but had the added benefit of being able to serve as the point guard of the group.

On Monday she was hitting 3-pointers, dishing off assists, getting to loose balls. When Lister, a former Vanderbilt star, was pressed into duty with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks due to a string of injuries during the summer, she played against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. I remember writing then that if you had to pick out the current college graduate assistant with no previous WNBA experience with the exception of the 2014 training camp with the Seattle Storm, it would have been impossible to say Lister was that player. I had the same feeling watching the U.S. practices as Lister looked very much like she belonged. As she left the facility on Monday, USA Basketball CEO/Executive Director Jim Tooley made a point of telling Lister how well she played. Her current boss was also impressed.

"She was Bob Cousy, player/coach," UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma said. "She had those guys exactly where we needed them and they played in a way that we need them to play. Jas coaches them, she ran the offense, she is going to be a heck of a coach down the road."

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

UConn's Nurse wins Golden Horseshoe Award

The third time was the charm for UConn guard Kia Nurse.

This was the third straight year that Nurse was a finalist for the Golden Horseshoe Award, presented to the top athlete in the Hamilton, Ontario area.

Golfer Mackenzie Hughes won the award in 2013 and hockey player Laura Fortino earned the award in 2014. This time Nurse was the winner beating out her brother Darnell, a defenseman with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers and rugby star Cindy Nelles.

She is the second women's basketball player to win the award, joining her Canadian national team teammate Shona Thorburn who was the winner in 2006.

Persistent Pulido excited for Senior Day at UConn

I have to admit that I'm not really sure how much to make of Saturday's "Senior Day" festivities simply because after the Tulane game there could be as many as eight games remaining in the state of Connecticut for the Huskies.

There's still going to be plenty of time for the trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck to play either at Gampel for the regular-season finale against USF and first two rounds in the NCAA tournament, Mohegan Sun Arena for the American Athletic Conference tournament and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport for the NCAA regionals.

However, for former walk-on Briana Pulido, Saturday is certainly going to be anything but an ordinary day at the office.

I just filed a story on Pulido which is much longer than my office probably prefers and it has nothing to do with the fact that the apartment complex I lived in during my Miami days is only about a mile from Gulliver Prep when Pulido was a cross country, basketball and track and field standout.

Her story is intriguing on many levels. There happens to be her ambitious goal of becoming a doctor which has resulted in Pulido balancing life as a Division I athlete with a rather challenging academic course load. The way she went from being a member of the UConn track team as a freshman to switching to the basketball court. her emotion upon hearing that she was receiving a scholarship for her senior season and how her insistence that her mom head to the hospital after losing feeling in the right side of her body just may have saved the life of her mother. Hopefully the story will all of those items will be posted on the Register's site in the next few hours.

"I am going to be really happy, my parents are going to be really happy and I just want to enjoy the night," Pulido said.

Pulido knew when she shifted over to basketball that she wasn't going to see an abundance of playing time and she has learned to make the best of the on-court time she gets both in practice and games.

"I knew that going in," Pulido said. "It wasn't really a factor for me or anything. I am on the best team in the nation, I didn't start to get 30-40 minutes, 20 minutes, not even 10, it doesn't matter to me."

It has been a challenging journey both as a student and basketball player.

"The experiences have outweighed that and doing what I have done, I haven't done so bad and I am just cutting myself some slack here," Pulido said.

UConn announced that the 1 p.m. game is a sellout. Also, SNY will be televising the Senior Day event in its entirety beginning at 12:30 p.m.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Freshman Samuelson shines as UConn wins AAC title

Everything appeared to be rolling right along as Katie Lou Samuelson scored in double figures in a career-high seven straight games. Samuelson was settling into a starting role and then, without warning, it all started to get away from her.

Samuelson was 2 for 5 from the field in back to back games against East Carolina and South Carolina and in the next game she missed all three of her 3-point attempts in the next game against Temple. Samuelson found her way back into the double-digit scoring column the next time out against Cincinnati and it was around that time that her performance in practice also began to pick up.

Samuelson had 15 of her team-high 19 points in the first quarter in a win over East Carolina and tonight matched her career high with 21 points in a win over SMU.

"I think my confidence is up more than it was at the beginning of the season," Samuelson said. "I feel more comfortable out there to make plays and help out.

"A change in me in practice has helped a lot and it took a while for it to translate into games."

Samuelson has also adjusted to the in your face coaching style of Geno Auriemma.

"I haven't been coached by anybody like him and it definitely has been a challenge but I am starting to get kind of used to it," Samuelson said.

Auriemma has liked what he has seen from Samuelson in the last couple of weeks.

"She has been really good the last  two weeks or 10 days," Auriemma said. "She has a different kind of presence out there. She reminds me so much of Stewie (Breanna Stewart) when Stewie was a freshman. There is a lot of great stuff going on and during the game there will be a lot of (times) when you go 'wow' and then there are things that she still struggles with."

Samuelson became the eighth Husky to have at least 50 3-pointers as a freshman. Five of them (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Maya Moore, Bria Hartley, Diana Taurasi and Jen Rizzotti) are in the Huskies of Honor.

The win gave UConn the outright American Athletic Conference title as the Huskies are a perfect 3 for 3 in that category. In fact UConn has never lost a game in the AAC, going 58-0.

"There are things along the way that need to be celebrated," Auriemma said of winning the conference title. "We are not going to skip over anything. Today means a lot, next week to play in the conference tournament that would mean a lot. I don't think you can just skip over things and brush it under the rug and make sure I let them know it all the time."

One thing that caught my attention was the playful banter between Auriemma and Moriah Jefferson when she checked out for the final time.

It turned out that recently Auriemma suggested to one of his players that they intentionally missed free throws when they realized there was a player ready to check in for them.

He said Jefferson admitted that she considered doing it so she could stay in the game a little bit longer.

UConn still has two regular-season games left but will be the No. 1 seed in the AAC tournament, being played at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Huskies will play the winner of the game between the No. 8 and 9 seeds on Mar. 5 at 2 p.m. At the current time that would be an East Carolina/Cincinnati matchup.

Tuck making the grade at UConn

Morgan Tuck provides a rather simple explanation of what drives her to succeed in the classroom even as she tried to help the Huskies to a fourth consecutive national title.

"You don't want to be the ones on the side (when the UConn players with GPAs of 3.0 or higher are announced) because I have been on that spot before so," Tuck said. "To be able to walk out, it shows that you have been able to take care of everything off the court and I don't have to get any questions about my parents about what I was doing."

Tuck was indeed one of the women's basketball players honored (along with Briana Pulido, Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams, Tierney Lawlor, Courtney Ekmark and Natalie Butler) for having at least a 3.0 GPA in the fall or spring semesters in 2015. All the athletes who made the grade had the chance to be recognized at halftime of the UConn/SMU game including 19 honored with 4.0 GPAs.

UConn women's basketball managers Danielle Hercules, Maeve Maloney, Joy Liu and Kyle McCormick (who attained a 4.0 GPA) were also recognized.

Here's a list of the student-athletes with 4.0 GPAs
Football: Sean Marinan, Andrew Paluch, Justin Wain
Men's Cross Country: Michael McGonnigle, Kyler Osborne, Seth Zuidema
Women's Cross Country/Track: Terra Briody, Lily D'Agostino, Emily Howard, Emese Kanyo, Kelly Myers, Ericka Randazzo
Women's Hockey: Annie Belanger
Women's Lacrosse: Alexandria Crofts, Karaline Smith
Women's Rowing: Arielle Sherman-Golembeski, Kathryn Stevens
Women's Soccer: Emily Armstrong
Women's Tennis: Shea Flanagan

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Samuelson thrilled to connect with UConn legend

Thanks to the Twitter account of her high school team, the photo of UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson having a conversation with another sweet-shooting California native has made quite the splash on social media.

The photo was taken after Diana Taurasi wrapped up the second day of the three-day training camp with the U.S. national team and shortly before Samuelson and the Huskies had a Monday afternoon. The timing couldn't have been much better as Samuelson is coming off a Taurasi-like offensive performance in the first quarter of Saturday's win at East Carolina. Samuelson finished with 15 points, which would have marked the second best scoring effort of her freshman season even if she did not play in the final three quarters.

"She is giving me advice on freshman year and to keep my head up," Samuelson said. "Things are starting to go a little bit (easier) so it is really cool to have somebody that I look up to so much and she just feels connected to this program and connected to all of us. I haven't known her before so it was nice to have that connection."

Samuelson and her teammates were able to check out the three days of practices with the 16 players in the national team pool including teammate Breanna Stewart.

"It was amazing," Samuelson said. "It was cool to see the different intensity level they had, every single one them, the confidence, the skills they all possess. It was really a treat for all of us and I think we all learned a lot."

Samuelson was 4 of 5 from the field including 3 of 4 from 3-point range en route to scoring 15 of her 19 points in the first quarter. She now has 47 3-pointers this season and with three in Wednesday's game against SMU, she will join Taurasi, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Bria Hartley, Maya Moore, Jen Rizzotti, Ann Strother and teammate Kia Nurse as the only UConn freshmen with 50 3-pointers as a freshman.

"I'll take that any day but if my shots aren't going in, I am going to have to find other ways to contribute," Samuelson said. "I would like to make all of my shots, I am sure my teammates would to but I am going to take it game by game and not limit myself if my shots aren't going in.

"I definitely feel comfortable, during practices I can see a difference, a little more confidence to do more on the team, feeling more responsibility. I am still probably going to make mistakes but I know that each game that I play, I will feel more comfortable

"They don't want me to just sit in the corner, hide and try to take that on and say I am just a freshman. They want me to help out and take on some of the weight off of their shoulders."

The entire UConn team, when they didn't have classes to attend, were regular observers at the training camp

As a result, the leading scorer on the Canadian national team that earned an Olympic berth by winning the FIBA Americas Championship for Women got to see the defending Olympic champions in action.

"I texted my teammates and said 'I am sitting in enemy territory,'" UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse said. "They said 'get as much (information) as you can.' All right, I am not going to get anything but all right.

"You get to see some of the best players in the world, their practicing tendencies and just the confidence that they have in having to pick things up so quickly."

I did some checking and there are three Division I women's players shooting at least 55 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the foul line.

One of those players is Maryland junior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who is shooting 55.6 percent overall, a stunning 56.7 percent on 3-pointers and 80.2 percent from the free-throw line. The other two players in that category are UConn seniors Moriah Jefferson (58.5 percent on field goals, 41.9 percent on 3-pointers and 88.6 on foul shots) and Breanna Stewart (.589/.417/.817).

In UConn's history, there are two players who hit all three shooting percentage landmarks. Shea Ralph did it as a redshirt sophomore and Jefferson accomplished the feat last season.

UConn signee Crystal Dangerfield is one of five finalists for the Naismith Girls' High School Player of the Year.

Dangerfield, a senior guard at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is averaging 24.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Dangerfield has eight 30-point games this season in leading Blackman to a 26-3 record and the Tennessee District 7-AAA championship.

Erin Boley, Lauren Cox, Joyner Holmes and Jackie Young are the other finalists. The winner will be announced on Mar. 10.

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Taurasi: Time at UConn "the best four years of my life"

Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Stefanie Dolson each have had the opportunity to make their way back to UConn on multiple occasions since their run with the Huskies came to an end.

However, it has been more of a challenge for Diana Taurasi to visit the campus where she made the transition from California high school phenom to women's college basketball legend.

Practicing for three days at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center where a banner with her name hangs alongside the other former Huskies who were national players of the year as well as seeing the 2002, 2003 and 2004 national-championship banners prominently displayed has brought back so many memories for Taurasi.

"I think when I got to this place, I saw all of the banners and my God, there has been so much here," Taurasi said. "I have been reflecting a little bit, even driving on campus and I lived here for four years. It was the best four years of my life, I always tell people. Those four years I spent here, probably the hardest but the best four years of my life."

Taurasi has won three WNBA titles, been a two-time WNBA Finals MVP, won three Olympic and two World Championship gold medals since graduating from UConn.

Taurasi could still be in the mix four years from now when the U.S. makes another run at Olympic gold but with fellow three-time gold medalist Tamika Catchings having announced her retirement from the sport after the Olympics and upcoming WNBA season, this is the last run for the trio of Catchings, Taurasi and Sue Bird.

"I don't think they've changed who they are from when they were in high school to now," said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director. "As they have matured, they have been so comfortable in their skin and part of it is that they learned from the others who were before them so they want to pass that along. You can want to pass it along but if nobody listens it is dead air. The beauty of it is that people listen and then they become the ones to pass it along. I can't say enough about the three of them, it will be an emotional time when they really are done. We want them to continue to play forever, The appreciation and gratitude that we have is enormous.

"They have been through so much together. Interestingly enough with those three is that they were all on the world championship team in 2006 that didn't win. Why we don't ever want to talk about our losses, I think the resolve that they have, you can feel it. They don't ever say it, they don't ever talk about it but you can feel the resolve. When you sort of see that this might be one of the last couple of times you might do something, you soak it in a little more. Not that they are all retiring, Tamika is the only one who has said it but you can tell that they are appreciating it so much more."

Taurasi won't be taking inventory on a regular basis between now and the Olympics. Assuming the team's three veterans all make the team (which seems to be a rather fair assumption), they will make certain the focus remains on the process and not simply an emotional farewell tour.

"Our sole purpose is to play well and win a gold medal," Taurasi said. "If we focus on that, at the end everybody will be appreciative of that."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Some more history at UConn

The new Associated Press poll was released a few minutes ago and while Tennessee failing to make the top 25 for the first time since 1985 is drawing the headlines, the fact is that this marks the 200th time UConn is ranked first. As a point of reference, Tennessee is second on the list at 112 weeks atop the poll.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not one to focus on where his team is ranked or some of the staggering numbers the Huskies have put up since moving to No. 1 in the polls for the first time after a historic win over Tennessee back in 1995. Still, after day two of the national team training camp, he did address the Huskies' sustained excellence.

 "That is probably the big thing, the consistency," Auriemma said. "Being able to keep going, keep going, the whole thing of repeating it through different groups of kids, through different recruiting cycles and still be able (to be ranked No. 1). You will look around at what is going on around the country, it is not as easy as everybody thinks because if it was, there would be a lot more people doing it. That is something, sometimes we take it for granted because we are so focused on trying to win a national championship and that is not something that we ever talk about think about."

Hartford head coach Jen Rizzotti, who was the point guard on the first UConn team to top the polls (and first one to break into the top 10), is a court coach during the trials and she weighed in on the historic achievement.

"You are not surprised by it but when you think about the magnitude of what they've accomplished, it is really amazing that they have been able to not only reach that standard but more importantly sustain that level of success when they have that target on their back every single year," Rizzotti said. "I think the biggest desire to be No. 1 is that in that Tennessee game when we were No. 2 and we wanted to prove that we were the best and to continue it because people still thought that game was a little bit of a fluke. For us to stay undefeated and finish No. 1 was certainly a source of pride for us."

With Tennessee's streak of being ranked ending at 565 weeks, UConn has the longest active current streak at 428 weeks of being ranked followed by Stanford's run of 283 weeks.

It was also announced that the WNBA Draft will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena for the third straight time. It will mark the sixth straight time the draft is held in Connecticut. The 2016 event will be held on Apr. 14. Seattle has the No. 1 pick and the Storm are set to make Breanna Stewart the fifth UConn product to be taken first overall.

Former UConn star Dolson looking to impress

There are 11 players in the current national team player pool standing 6-foot-2 or taller and six of them are not in Storrs for the U.S. training camp.

The absence of former Olympians Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker opens the door for others to open the eyes of the selection committee members. Former UConn star Stefanie Dolson is among those looking to make a strong impression to put her name in the conversation not only for the 2016 team but the 2020 squad as well.

"It is a great opportunity," Dolson said. "Obviously I like Tina and Sylvia as people and players but the fact that they aren't here gives me a chance to show how much I have grown as a player and how hard I have worked to get to where I am now. I have to take the opportunity and show what I have. It may not be scoring, it may be screening, getting other people open."

Dolson joins Maya Moore, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi as the former Huskies among the 16 players at the three-day camp. Unlike the other three, Dolson's memories of her time at UConn is still relatively fresh in her mind.

"Thankfully I am still at that point, I am not at the Dee and Sue era where you come back and don't recognize anything," Dolson said. "I feel like I am still at home, I recognize campus so I was on the bus smiling. I love coming back here, it is always fun

"To be able to play with these guys, learn so many things from them, play for Coach Auriemma and all the other coaches here pushing me, I just love being back here in Connecticut."

Dolson, like the majority of the players taking part in the camp, spent the last few months playing overseas. She joined her Washington Mystics teammate Ivory Latta playing in Turkey for Edirne as she averaged 12.7 points aided by Dolson shooting 89 percent from the foul line and added 8.5 rebounds per game.

"We are all coming from different spots right now - overseas, home - it is crazy," Dolson said. "I think that is why we are all professionals, we are all coming here, put everything aside and focus on these practices that Coach (Geno) Auriemma set up for us."

After Sunday's practice was over Dolson made her way to the seats where the current UConn players were sitting. She played with six of the current Huskies including Breanna Stewart, the only college player taking part in the training camp. In the two years since Dolson last played for the Huskies she has seen Stewart take her game to even higher levels than when they teamed up to lead UConn to a 40-0 record.

"She has gotten better," Dolson said. "When I was here, she was a freshman and I was like 'wow, she is good.' But the fact that she has gotten better just shows how much work she has put in, how well the coaches have done pushing her so she doesn't get complacent to be where she was as a freshman. I am proud of her and how hard she has been working so it is always nice to see her play. 

"She came in, when you come to Connecticut you kind of have to have that angst about you that you know you are pretty good but she had the competitiveness also, she didn't give up on plays, she played great defense. That is something that is fun to watch, a player who knows she is good, who works hard and is always competitive with everything she does."


Sunday, February 21, 2016

UConn's Stewart taking advantage of glorious opportunity

Breanna Stewart wasn't going to lie, the UConn senior All-American was a bit on the groggy side when she got up this morning.

Stewart and her teammates played at East Carolina last night and even with the benefit of a chartered flight back to Connecticut, she didn't return to campus until shortly before 2 a.m. Still, Stewart was not going to let anything and not even jet lap or a lack of sleep keep her from putting her best foot forward during the first day of the U.S. national team training camp.

"What drives me when I get tired is looking at the players I am playing with and playing against, this opportunity, nobody else in college has this opportunity and I want to make sure I take advantage of it," Stewart said.

As Stewart mentioned, she is the only active collegiate player among the 16 players taking part in the three-day national team camp being held at UConn. She found herself matched up against Nneka Ogwumike, Tamika Catchings and Brittney Griner, among others, during the morning practice.

While there was a time when her inexperience resulted in Stewart being a little indecisive, that was not the case this time.

"Obviously she wasn't physically ready for all of this (a couple years ago)," UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma said. "After being around them for a long time and having traveled to Europe she hadn't done that. If you were to bring anybody out here today and say 'pick out the college player' nobody would be able to do that. She is right at home with that group. She blends in, she stands out in certain areas and in other areas the experience part is going to be an issue. Every day that she is with them, she gets better and better."

Stewart doesn't know if she will be among the 12 players picked to represent the U.S. in the quest for Olympic gold but she does think she has earned her spot in the national team player pool.

"I think I am at a point right now where I don't even think of myself as the lone college player, the youngster and that kind of stuff because as you continue to play with them, you get more and more comfortable so now it is just playing basketball," Stewart said.

"You can look at anybody on the court I am playing with offensively or that I am playing against, there is never going to be a team with this many great players on it, you will get better with the ball in your hands, without the ball and defensively."

Stewart's UConn's teammates were among those in attendance at the camp.

"I was thinking about it earlier this morning, 'wow, we are national team (camp) here at Storrs,'" Stewart said.

"Our entire team, we are excited about it. We have a group message going and right away, it is like 'who is coming to practice.' They will be here tomorrow and the next day because when the best women's basketball players come to town, they want to see them."


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Another title for UConn commit Espinoza-Hunter

Andra Espinoza, who played a starring role in leading Blair Academy to its sixth straight Mid Atlantic Prep League title last week, led the Buccaneers to a sixth consecutive NJISAA Class A title with a 64-44 win over Lawrenceville.

I haven't seen stats from the game and unfortunately, the live stream doesn't begin until much of the first quarter has been played so I won't be able to provide her stats from looking at footage of the game. However, she had some nice assists, scored from the perimeter and in the paint.

Here is a link to the live stream of the game

Friday, February 19, 2016

UConn's Jefferson set to join select company

There have been some tremendously talented and driven guards to suit up for UConn over the years but Jen Rizzotti is the only one with at least 600 assists and 300 steals. That figures to be changing, perhaps as soon as during tomorrow's game at East Carolina.

UConn senior Moriah Jefferson currently has 590 assists and 329 steals so with 10 assists against the Pirates, she would join Rizzotti in the 600-assist, 300-steal club. Some of the other players in this group include Dawn Staley, Ticha Penicheiro and Suzie McConnell.

I did some research and with the assistance of Phil Pierce from the NCAA, I came up with 18 Division I players since the start of the 1999-2000 season with 600 assists and 300 steals and the best assist/turnover ratio among that group is former Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot's 2.3 (1,118 assists/487 turnovers). That was as far back as I could go because getting turnover numbers before that is rather challenging.

Here is the list
Player              School       Games Stl    Ast/TO  Ratio 
Moriah Jefferson , UConn  142 329     590/229  2.58

Player              School             (Years)    Games Stl    Ast/TO  Ratio 
Courtney Vandersloot Gonzaga (07-11)       136 366 1118/487 2.30
Leilani Mitchell Idaho/Utah (03-08)             119 382 744/354  2.11
Jess Strom Penn St. (01-05)                          133 310 776/375  2.07
Skylar Diggins Notre Dame (09-13)             150 381 745/393  1.90
Melanie Boeglin Indiana St. (02-06)             124 444 685/366  1.87
Odyssey Sims Baylor (10-14)                       145 331 641/369  1.74
Fantasia Hilliard Sacramento St (11-15)       126 308 726/457  1.59
Toccara Williams Texas A&M (00-04)        111 452 724/452  1.60
Jasmine Newsome UT Martin (10-14)          130 325 691/455  1.52
Jasmine Young East Carolina (05-09)          112 320 665/440  1.51
Maria Jillian Western Michigan (01-06)       120 364 625/420  1.49
Brittany Boyd California (11-15)                  134 367 732/499  1.47
Tiera DeLaHoussaye W Michigan (05-09)   122 328 657/431  1.36
Danielle Robinson Oklahoma (07-11)          141 309 726/545  1.33
Jamierra Faulkner , So Miss. (10-14)           124 366 883/681  1.30
Nikki Blue UCLA (02-06)                            118 325 602/471  1.29
Brittany Hrynko DePaul (11-15)                  138 305 680/551  1.23
Cricket Williams San Jose St. (00-04)          105 311 644/559  1.15

Texas wing Lexi Gordon commits to UConn

The recruitment of sweet-shooting L.D. Bell High School just Lexi Gordon ended on Friday morning when she announced her commitment to UConn on her Twitter account. However, it really came to an end on Jan. 16 when she sat a couple of rows behind the Huskies' bench in a win over Temple.

It wasn't just that the three-time defending national champions were rolling past a solid Temple team as much as it was the chemistry she saw between the players and coaches.

"I love the culture of the program," said Gordon, who averaged 25.9 points and 9.4 rebounds as a junior. "I love the coaching interaction with the players and the players' interaction with the other players. Going there will get me out of my comfort zone and I am all into getting out of my comfort zone because I know he will make me into the best player I can be."

So what does Gordon like the most about how UConn plays?

"The ball movement and how they get everybody involved," Gordon said. "Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and Mo (Moriah Jefferson) are obviously great players but they all know their roles and everybody knows their roles perfectly, they have real good team chemistry and it shows."

The 6-foot Gordon is a tremendous shooter with 3-point range but is also willing to mix it up inside. She often had to guard post players in high school although that won't be the case in the AAU season or when she arrives at UConn.

Gordon, who recently cut her list of schools down to UConn, Baylor, Texas and TCU, had a chance to reflect on what is took to get to this point.

"It is really special," said Gordon, who is interested in sports broadcasting. "I have worked so hard for so long and it is not going to stop, I have so much work to do but just to know that my hard work has gotten me here, it is a blessing. It is crazy, nobody thought I would be at this point. In eighth grade nobody thought I would be here but I worked hard and outcome is crazy."

Gordon joins Jefferson as the only Texas natives to commit to UConn during Geno Auriemma's run with the Huskies. Just as was the case with Jefferson, Gordon's parents were willing to let their daughter make the best decision for herself.

"My parents have been the most supportive people in my recruiting process," Gordon said. "They have always told me it is my decision and not their decision. Both of them going to TCU, of course it was hard for me to say I chose Connecticut but my parents are behind me 100 percent supportive no matter what. It has helped a lot knowing they are on board. they pretty much let me handle it on my own."

Gordon joins Blair Academy's Andra Espinoza-Hunter as players from the Class of 2017 to commit to UConn. Stewart, Jefferson and Morgan Tuck will be playing professionally before Gordon plays her first game at UConn so there will be plenty of eyes on the incoming recruiting class of Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin as well as the Class of 2017 to keep UConn in its familiar perch as a national-championship contender.

"The program is a winning program and I don't think that is going to change because they continue to bring in the right people," Gordon said.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

UConn's Jefferson, Stewart and New Haven's Holmes Senior CLASS Award finalists

UConn All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart and West Virginia guard Bria Holmes, a former Hillhouse High star, were among 10 women' finalists for the Senior CLASS Award which recognizes success on the court, in the classroom and in the community.

Yale's Justin Sears was one of 10 men's finalists.

Jefferson leads the 25-0 Huskies with 135 assists and 71 steals while Stewart is UConn's top scorer (19.6 points per game) and rebounding (8.3). Holmes leads West Virginia in scoring, averaging 16.6 points per contest. Sears is averaging a team-leading 16.5 points per game for a Yale team that has won 12 straight games and is 8-0 in the Ivy League.

The winners will be named at the respective Final Fours.

Women's Basketball 2015-16 Finalists
Name Position School
Jillian Alleyne Forward Oregon
Adut Bulgak Center Florida State University
Aundrea Gamble Guard Arkansas State
Ruth Hamblin Center Oregon State
Bria Holmes Guard West Virginia University
Moriah Jefferson Guard University of Connecticut
Jonquel Jones Forward George Washington University
Kelsey Minato Guard Army West Point
Tiffany Mitchell Guard University of South Carolina
Breanna Stewart Forward University of Connecticut
Men’s Basketball 2015-16 Finalists
Name Position School
Ryan Arcidiacono Guard Villanova
Malcolm Brogdon Guard University of Virginia
Perry Ellis Forward University of Kansas
Buddy Hield Guard University of Oklahoma
Georges Niang Forward Iowa State University
Marcus Paige Guard University of North Carolina
Justin Sears Forward Yale University
Denzel Valentine Guard Michigan State
Fred VanVleet Point Guard Wichita State University
Kyle Wiltjer Forward Gonzanga

UConn recruiting target Lexi Gordon expected to announce decision tomorrow

One of the benefits of making the trip to the SMU and Tulsa games last month it that it gave me a chance to catch up with Lexi Gordon not long after she visited UConn and was offered a scholarship.

Gordon had 22 of LD Bell's 27 points in a 40-27 loss to Southlake Carroll and she said her plan was to announce her college decision after her junior season of high school was over and the AAU season got rolling.

Well, her season came to an end on Tuesday with a loss to South Grand Prairie in the first round of the Texas 6A Region 1 tournament and last night it was reported that she would announce her decision on Twitter tomorrow.

Hurst LD Bell 2017 F @Lexi_g34 will announce on Twitter Friday her commitment decision. Baylor UConn TCU Texas are finalists @dfwvarsity

UConn, Baylor, TCU and Texas are her finalists. Obviously since I cover UConn, most of the questions I asked her focused on her visit on UConn but I definitely got the sense that following in the footsteps of Moriah Jefferson by becoming the second Texas native to play for Geno Auriemma with the Huskies is a realistic possibility.

"It was incredible and it opened my eyes," Gordon said of her visit to UConn. "When you go there, you know how successful they are and you would think that they are just a bunch of robots and they would be kind of stuck up but they were really nice people, they are all genuine and all family orientated. It was a really fun experience that my family really enjoyed.

"They played a really good game (against Temple on Jan. 16), Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) and Stewie (Breanna Srewart) played incredible that day and you could tell that the kids love each other because even on the bench with their teammates, I know they were having fun. Just I know that I will have to work harder than ever and Coach Auriemma would put me in the position where I wanted to be when I get older. I want to be a sports broadcaster and ESPN is right up the street so that is a good resource to have right around the corner. It was just a really good environment to be in."

Gordon averaged 24.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a junior.

After the game I spoke to Gordon's high school coach Brock Pembleton about how well Gordon has played as a junior.

"She is an incredible shooter, a competitor," Pembleton said. "She gets after it and she doesn't want to lose by no means to anybody. She is a smart player, she is going to be all over the floor. Obviously teams shove everybody towards her. It is much better when we get somebody else to help us out. She has a lot of pressure on her and not forcing things when they aren't there, trust her teammates and work that makes it tough. She has handled it well. She has matured through all of that."


Season has been a challenging one for UConn's Butler

One of my favorite parts of covering the UConn women's basketball team has little to do with the games being played although there have been some classic matchups with Notre Dame and Tennessee to write about over the years. I love watching Geno Auriemma work in practice. He has a sense of knowing which buttons to push and the more dominant the Huskies look over the course of a season the more difficult he makes things in practice.

Two days before the Temple game was the most recent practice I was allowed to check out. In the final 20-30 minutes, which is the part open to the media, starters Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse stood underneath the basket as did Gabby Williams as the quartet of Courtney Ekmark, Natalie Butler, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were put through the ringer in a challenging 4 on 4 defensive drills.

Things were not going well and with each passing possession Auriemma began to chirp more and more at the four Huskies. The fatigue was starting to show and that was exactly what Auriemma wanted to happen. If you ask any of UConn's greatest players about the challenges of playing for Auriemma, they will invariably say it is the ability to push through when things are the toughest.

Auriemma did not like what he saw from Natalie Butler. He did not think she was in the proper defensive stance, wasn't getting her hands up on defense like he asked and wanted her to compete harder. Not liking her response when he mentioned that to her, he had Williams replace her in the drill. Auriemma continued to address Butler and the 6-foot-5 sophomore answered back which was not the right move. Butler, to her credit, only let Williams take part in a couple of possessions before she checked herself back into the drill. This time she performed at a much higher level. It was the definition of "pushing through."

"Coach, if he is on me it means he wants to make you better as a player," Butler said. "I think what I have learned is if he stops talking to you, that is a bad thing. If they are pushing you and they are on you, they are very interested and want to continue to make you better. How do you respond to that, how do you step up to the plate. We practice harder than we play in games so it is going to help you in the long run."
The reality is that UConn likely could win a national championship this season regardless of what impact Butler might have. However, with Stewart and Jefferson graduating and there being a pretty good probability that Tuck could also join them as first-round WNBA draft picks in April, Butler's development could go a long way in determining if the Huskies will be a national-championship contender next season.
"You have to realize that every day is an opportunity to get better and next year we are not going to have the three seniors," Butler said. "How do you step up? How do you fill different positions. There is no more hiding on the bench, step up and perform."

Butler's role in the Temple game two days later was a rather limited one. Some of that could be chalked up to the matchup as the Owls play with an undersized lineup similar to what DePaul does and it can be a nightmare for a true low-post player to run all over the court to defend players more comfortable hanging out around the 3-point line than in the paint.

That changed last night. With Auriemma wanting to see more from the Huskies role players, he took stars Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck out of the starting lineup and replaced them with Butler, Collier and Saniya Chong.

While it wasn't always pretty especially when Cincinnati was tied with UConn at 15 when all five were subbed out midway through the first quarter, there were some promising signs.

Collier might have had her most active and well-rounded game in the last few weeks while Butler was a low-post presence on both ends of the floor and more importantly, aggressively pursued rebounds rather than waiting for them to land in her hands.

"I am glad I am finally doing that," Butler said. "I haven't done that in a long time and my freshman year that was my go-to (skill) to go after the ball by moving your feet and playing with heart, I have sort of gotten away from that. I am just getting back to basics, my teammates need me to do it and I want to perform for the seniors and give them a great (end) to the year."
Sometimes tells me Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson will be back in the starting lineup when UConn plays at East Carolina on Saturday but it will be important for players like Butler, Collier and Chong to build on what took place last night. The real test could come in the regular-season finale against USF to see how much playing time they manage to earn.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

UConn's Stewart doesn't limit her winning to the basketball court

In many ways the final score was not even close to being the most important aspect of the two hours spent inside Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.

More than 8,000 fans turned out to watch the UConn women's basketball dispatch Cincinnati for their 62nd straight win. Many of those in attendance were adorned in pink shirts, belts, shoes or ties since it was the annual Play4Kay Game to raise money for cancer research.

Before the game rather than just have the five starters introduced so they could hand a mini basketball to wide-eyed kids, every UConn player took in the festivities in order to allow cancer survivors to receive a towel and basketball from the Huskies as well. At halftime it was impossible to ignore the pure emotion as Fiona Furlong, a cancer survivor who is affiliated with the UConn Health Center, spoke about the importance of the night not just from a fundraising perspective but also from an emotional one.

Had the cancer-related events come to an end when Furlong got the UConn fans to join her in a UConn chant heard regularly at Husky games, it would have been a memorable evening. However, the Huskies' two-time national player of the year Breanna Stewart had something on her mind. With the blessing of the UConn women's basketball program she asked the fans to join her in wishing ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, the sideline reporter for the Women's Final Four, well in her fight with cancer.

"When I was a freshman, I wouldn't have felt comfortable going this, it would have been out of my element," Stewart said. "The way I have grown over the past four years shows a lot and being a role model to kids and even adults, that is what I want to do besides playing basketball here is to make an impact off the court.

"We had planned it with Kevin (DeMille, UConn's assistant director of women's basketball administration) because we wanted to do the thing (handing out prizes) with the student section to not only put it to the students but also the entire gym.

"It was a big deal. Holly, she means a lot to our team. She has been around us a lot in the NCAA tournament. Anytime we see somebody going through that, you want to wish them the best and just seeing them pull through. Even from reading her tweets and what is being said on SportsCenter, it is unbelievable how strong she is and I can't wait to see her in March."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who lost his father Donato to cancer and at one point started Geno's Cancer Team featuring student volunteers, also headed out on the court in the pre-game introductions and exchanged hugs with the cancer survivors. Seeing Stewart taking the lead in engaging the crowd the way she did reminded him how far his senior star has come in the last four years.
"Stewie wouldn't talk to me four years ago much less (the crowd)," Auriemma said. "Stewie has grown up a lot. They had talked about what they were going to do and obviously the cancer awareness thing was important for a lot of people, it is important for the community, it is important for those people who were here. Holly Rowe is a big part of our (women's basketball) community, she is a big part of the college basketball world and Stewie I thought was right on point."


SNY to air Senior Day festivities live

Since I have been getting asked about this, I checked with UConn and have been told that SNY intends to air the Senior Day ceremony before the Feb. 27 game against Tulane live and in its entirety.

It will actually not be the final home game for either Moriah Jefferson or Breanna Stewart (or Morgan Tuck if she opts not to take advantage of a fifth season of eligibility) with USF coming to Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 29 in the regular-season finale.

Both Stewart and Jefferson will have their numbers added to the Huskies of Honor since both have previously been named first-team WBCA All-Americans.

The ceremony should start somewhere around 12:30 p.m. with the game tipping a few minutes after 1.

Speaking of Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck, they were all among 20 players named to the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20

Stewart won the award last season and is the heavy favorite to make it two in a row.

Here's the full list of candidates
Jillian Alleyne 6-3 Sr. F Oregon
Ameryst Alston 5-9 Sr. G Ohio State
Rachel Banham 5-9 Sr. G Minnesota
Jordin Canada 5-6 So. G UCLA
Nia Coffey 6-1 Jr. F Northwestern
Nina Davis 5-11 Jr. F Baylor
Moriah Jefferson 5-7 Sr. G ConnecticutBrionna Jones 6-3 Jr. C Maryland
Kelsey Mitchell 5-8 So. 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
Azurá Stevens 6-6 So. F Duke
Breanna Stewart 6-4 Sr. F Connecticut
Morgan Tuck 6-2 Jr. F Connecticut
Brianna Turner 6-3 So. F Notre Dame
Victoria Vivians 6-1 So. F Mississippi State
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 5-11 Jr. G Maryland
Courtney Williams 5-8 Sr. G South Florida
A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. F South Carolina

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jerseys among UConn items on bid as part of Play 4Kay Game

Tomorrow's Cincinnati game will be the annual Play 4Kay game and there's more to the night's festivities than encouraging people to wear pink items to the game.

There have been bids on every jersey worn by UConn's players and shockingly Breanna Stewart's No. 30 is leading the way with $759 but the highest bid goes to the item offering three floor-level seats for the Feb. 27 game against Tulane which happens to be the Senior Day game.

There is also a general donation page set up for fans who want to donate to UConn's fundraising efforts for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

UConn commit Espinoza-Hunter shines in title game

UConn commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 31 points to lead Blair Academy to a 63-56 win over Mercersburg in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League title game on Sunday.

Espinoza-Hunter followed up a 32-point effort in the semifinal win over Peddie on Saturday and she had eight 3-pointers in the two games.

There is another title for Espinoza-Hunter to go after as Blair hosts the Hun School in the first round of the state tournament on Thursday.

Seniors Jefferson and Stewart star in win at Temple

Both Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart have had their share of huge offensive games since arriving at UConn but Sunday's 85-60 win at Temple marked just the second time they scored at least 20 points in the same game.

Jefferson's take on her 25-point effort (to go with eight assists and eight steals) and the 24 points by Stewart (along with eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and six blocked shots) is almost that it was a necessary evil.

Starters Morgan Tuck and Kia Nurse had one made field goal each and other than a garbage time basket by Natalie Butler, the only reserve to make a shot from the field was Gabby Williams who was a spectacular 9 for 9.

"It is fun but at the same time it is not what we really want to do," Jefferson said. "We want to be consistent we want the flow to be everybody in rhythm and everybody to make a play. Sometimes there are other games when we have to do it and there are other games where you can where we don't need to."

Temple got blown out only a month ago when the Owls played at UConn but when Erica Covile hit a layup, the game was tied at 30 with 4:08 left in the second quarter. Temple missed its final seven shots of the half and had three turnovers allowing the Huskies to use a 10-0 run to take a 10-point lead into the locker room at halftime.

"I thought the first 20 minutes the only thing we did better was we had more All-Americans on the floor than they did," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I don't think we did anything better. I don't think we rebounded better, ran our offense better, played better defense. I don't think we did anything better than them, I told them at halftime the only reason we are 10 points is we have three All-Americans on the floor and they don't."
Jefferson moved past UConn legend Sue Bird in both points and assists while Jefferson, Stewart and Morgan Tuck now are the most productive trio of classmates in UConn women's basketball history in points, assists, steals and now blocked shots.

Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, who was an assistant coach on some of the Huskies best teams, believes that the Jefferson and Stewart deserve to be mentioned among the best guard-forward combos to ever suit up at UConn.

"Both of those guys are unbelievable and the way Jefferson never gets rattled no matter what the situation, she just plays hard, knocked down shots when she has to," Cardoza said. "I just remember the championship game last year and how she just stepped up and won the game for them. I love her and I tell my guards all the time to just watch her. She is busting her butt running all over the place, she is never complained about being tired, she is running her team. You need to pay attention watch her study film of her. I love Jefferson and Stewart she is going to go down as one of the best to play. She is just unbelievable, she is super athletic and the things she is able to do at her size, oh my gosh. I am so excited about her graduating, both of them and Tuck too. Even though Tuck didn't have a great night, I hope Tuck leaves too."

I will have more on Williams in the next day or two as she joins Rebecca Lobo, Stewart, Shea Ralph and Nykesha Sales as the only UConn players to attempt at least nine shots from the field without missing. She finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals.

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Another milestone in reach for UConn's Big 3

Not that there needs to be much more statistical proof that the trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have turned out to be a pretty good  recruiting class and by pretty good I mean among the best in women's college basketball history.

They have already combined for the most points, assists and steals of any trio of classmates in UConn's program history. They aren't going to catch the trio of Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams in the rebounding department but with four blocked shots, they would take over first place in that category as well.

Here are the lists

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 4861
98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 4487
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 3930
00-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 3899*
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 3896
REBOUNDS98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 2467
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 2104
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 1994
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 186500-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 1802*
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  1769
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 1750
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 1175
00-04: Battle-Conlon-Taurasi 1098*
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti 1032
98-02: Bird-Cash-Jones   954
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker  952
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 588
98-02: Bird-Cash-Williams 578
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  567
04-08: Houston-Swanier-Thomas 548
88-92: Baer-Davis-Pattyson 545
BLOCKS91-95: Dixon-Lobo-Webber 414
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 413
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 41093-97: Berube-Rose-Wolters 404
11-15: Banks-KML-Stokes  389
*-does not include statistics for Battle and Moore during 2004-05 season
Speaking of Stewart, she currently has 120 career double-digit scoring games. If she gets there today, it would tie her for 18th in NCAA Division I women's basketball history with Kansas State's Kendra Wecker, Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley and Sugar Rodgers of Georgetown. She is currently second in UConn history in that category and could move as high as third on the list. Maya Moore's NCAA and UConn record of 149 games with at least 10 points is out of reach as if the 146 double-figure games Brittney Griner delivered during her time at Baylor. Rachel Banham of Minnesota is the active leader with 126 double-digit scoring games.
I came down to Philadelphia yesterday partly because of the noon start time but also to catch up with New Haven native Tanaya Atkinson, who is Temple's third-leading scorer. Another the topics I asked the former Career High star about was her thoughts on the UConn team and players.

"They have a lot of poise," Atkinson said. "They are not cocky but they are confident in everything that they do. If they miss a shot, they are not going to get down on themselves, they are really a good team and that is exactly why they are the No. 1 team in the nation because they all know what they can do and when they can do it. They don't brag about it, they have good sportsmanship and I like that. If we fall, they help pick us up so I like that."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Auriemma looking for more from UConn role players

It was a familiar case of characters heading over from Gampel Pavilion to the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center for the media availability portion of yesterday's practice with one exception.

There was a cameraman there to get some footage of reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart during practice. There was a slight problem with that plan as Stewart never stepped foot on the court during the 20-30 minutes when the media was able to watch practice. It was nothing Stewart did that led to her standing underneath the basket for the latter portion of practice. Actually, it was completely the opposite. Auriemma felt like he could have gotten more from the younger UConn players leading into Monday's showdown at South Carolina. As a result, sophomores Natalie Butler and Courtney Ekmark teamed with freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson during a 4 on 4 defensive drill.

Possession after possession Auriemma stood up against a wall next to assistant coach Shea Ralph and watched them struggle to keep a team consisting of three male practice players and either Tierney Lawlor or Briana Pulido from scoring.

There must of have 15-20 straight possessions where Auriemma said little. As time wore on, however, he became more vocal. He made sure the four players know that 1 on 1 defensive drills are not his thing. If a basket was scored by the other team, it was a failure for all four of them and not just the person who gave up the basket. Auriemma drove home the point that trust needs to be earned and it is on this very court where that takes place. Other than racing onto the court after a hustling Collier dove on a loose ball, Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck did not take part in the practice that the media was able to see. It was Auriemma at his demanding best. He ran similar drills when Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck were freshmen and will likely do so with future freshman classes. It was further illustration of why the Huskies have won 60 straight games. Rather than rest of their laurels after a 12-point win on the road against second-ranked South Carolina, Auriemma was pushing his players to try to do more.

"Guys have kind of showed me 'this is what I am,'" Auriemma said. "I don't know that in a month you are going to change that but I told them I would them all an opportunity to make them part of the mix but it is going to up to them to prove to me and some of the other players that they can be trusted in those big game situations.

"It is not about winning, it is more about how can you do something to help us win, what can you do, what will your part be in this. Well Coach, I just want to sit on the bench and watch. 'OK, we can accommodate that.' Or 'Coach, I want to contribute more, who do I do that?' Well, you do this, this and this. OK, 'let's go today starting at practice and then you see  where it takes you.' It is not a situation where I said 'guys, I talked to Stewie and Moriah and they said they don't want to play 40 minutes anymore, you guys need to come out and play.' Hell, no. I talked to Stewie and Moriah and said you need to get those guys going here, you guys don't need to be playing 40 minutes every night. They go 'why not?' They didn't want to come out the other night so you think in the NCAA tournament when we have two games and a week off, two games and a week off that they are going to go 'I can't go 40 minutes?' Are you kidding me, if you try to take them out, they are liable to punch you.

"It is not about that, I just want those guys to be able to say 'I contributed. Coach, you can count on me to be this.' "

One of the things I noticed when that group of four players were on the court together was how vocal Samuelson was. She was the one said the most and when Auriemma challenged them all to act like they were successful when a defensive stop was made or to get annoyed when a basket was scored, it was Samuelson who did just that. She showed raw emotion when her team failed to prevent a basket and on the next possession initiated a series of celebratory high fives following a strong defensive showing.

"I think being out there, I just knew I was going to talk as much as I could and that group of four, we are kind of a quieter group especially the older girls are on (the sideline) so I knew I had to step up and try to be louder so I tried to do that," Samuelson said. "I know they tried to be more vocal to so it just kind of went together. I wasn't thinking 'oh, let me lead this group.' It was just I knew I needed to step up and talk a lot because it benefited this who group here and the older girls know they can trust me.

"I still have a long way to go I think (in being vocal on the court). Sometimes when I am play with Morgan, Stewie and Mo I sometimes can get a little quiet but I know I have to not be afraid to talk and use my voice because I need to do what I can to help them. I know in certain situations like I was just in, I tend to get louder so I need to consistently do that no matter who is in.

"He is definitely pushing all of us to step up and help in any way we can whether it is setting good screens, getting stops on defense, knocking in shots he needs to know that we can help and we can contribute. We can't just hide and hope they can it on their own because you never know what is going to happen with foul trouble and God forbid injury where every single person on this team is valuable."

UConn's Stewart fired up for national team camp

When Breanna Stewart first heard about the national team training being held at UConn, she was led to believe that she would not be an active participant.

USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan said as much to Stewart. However, UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma had other ideas.

"Why should they put you on the team if you aren't going to practice?" Auriemma said. "What do you want them to do? Do you want them to see that you really, really want to be on this team or you want to watch who is going to be on this team? It is not make or break. This is not a tryout, like 'OK, we leave her and these 12 are on the team and these guys are not.' This is an opportunity for everybody to go, 'this is what this kid can do, this is what that kid can do; this is how this kid fits into that group.' I think she would be disappointed if she couldn't participate so it was never a question of she wasn't going to, it was just a matter of how much/ I will wait and see how much that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday."

Stewart is the only active college player among the 16 Olympic team finalists expected to take part in the camp from Feb. 21-23. UConn will not practice on the first day of the camp as it is a scheduled off day but she will take part in some degree at the Huskies' practices on the 22nd and 23rd.

"I will have her go through a normal practice for us where she goes about half speed for an hour and saves all of her energy for the game," Auriemma said with tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "She might not be as rested for the SMU game because she'll have to work a little harder against those guys than she does against our guys.

"I am not going to put her in jeopardy, believe me. I am not going to make her do something that I don't think is in her best interest "

It will be a chance for Stewart to test herself against some of the world's best players and have a chance to make a case for being a part of the Olympic team.
"I originally didn't think I was going to take part just because Carol Callan said that I wasn't," Stewart said. "You kind of understand because we are in the middle of a season here at UConn but Coach said that I would be participating and that was just this weekend. When you (hear) that, you are obviously excited. You want to play in this camp. It is probably the last training camp the national team will have before they name the Olympic team and it is only going to help.

"It is a huge opportunity to still be at UConn but look up to players that I have looked up to, who have done so much for women's basketball. Just to be on the same court with them, it is such a learning experience and will help me going forward."

With each training camp Stewart takes part in she feels more and more comfortable. There is still a respect factor when she takes the court against legendary figures but she now acts like she belongs there instead of being in awe of the company she is keeping.

"I remember when I went to my first national team training camp, I was a sophomore and I was with everyone," Stewart said. "You could look at the entire roster and go 'wow. There is Tamika Catchings, there is Candace Parker, there is Dee (Diana Taurasi), there is Sue (Bird).' The list could go on and on but watching them on TV and being able to play with and against them is awesome."


Friday, February 12, 2016

Tuck in no hurry to make her decision whether to return to UConn next season

I was not the only person who sat in on Geno Auriemma's press conference after the win over South Carolina and notice how he referred to Morgan Tuck as joining Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart out the door at the end of the season.

I usually don't inundate the UConn seniors about WNBA questions but felt it was important to raise this subject so I did so after today's practice.

Tuck said no decision has been made either way and she doesn't believe she will announce her intentions by the Feb. 27 home game against Tulane that will serve as the Senior Day game.

"We are on the same page about it right now," Tuck said. "It is not a set decision yet. He has given me his (advice), he has talked to me quite a bit so right now he told me that we will deal with it when we have to, at the end of the season we will say what the decision. It will probably be closer to the end of the season."

Here's what Auriemma had to say about his advice to Tuck.

"My conversations with Morgan haven't changed one iota, the same (discussions) we've had since the beginning of the season are what we have now," Auriemma said. "My advice to Morgan in November, maybe December was why worry about it, why have this on your mind the whole season. You don't have to make that decision today, the decision has to be made in April so why don't you wait and see how the season turns out. There hasn't been any time when Morgan walked into my office and said 'Coach, this is what I am definitely doing.'"

Auriemma said there are people who leave with remaining eligibility because they don't enjoy school but he said that is not the case with Tuck.

"Morgan, she loves school, she loves this environment, she loves all of this but she also has dreams of playing in the WNBA," Auriemma said. "The decision she is going to have to make is 'what is my body telling me, what is my future?' It is not an easy decision. It is not as easy as 'Stewie and Moriah are leaving, you should too' or 'hey, what more can you accomplish in college?' I don't think it is that simple.

"It is not going to be one of things where she flips a coin and says 'heads, I leave; tails, I stay.' This is going to be pretty well thought out, taking everything into consideration. If you feel strongly one way or the other, that is good. The worst thing to say is I don't know what I want to do."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stewart, four former UConn stars taking part in U.S. national team training camp

UConn will be well represented at the upcoming U.S. national team training camp being held in Storrs later this month.

Current star forward Breanna Stewart will be joined by former UConn stars Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. UConn and U.S. national team head coach Geno Auriemma will run the camp while associate head coach Chris Dailey and former UConn star Jen Rizzotti will serve as court coaches.

The training camp will take place from Feb. 21-23 at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center.

The timing of the camp allows Stewart, the only active college player on the list of Olympic finalists, to take part in practices without missing any games as the Huskies play at East Carolina on Feb. 20 and the next game is at home on Feb. 24 against SMU. Stewart will miss some practice time with her UConn squad during the camp although at least one of the days of the camp figures to be an off day for the Huskies.

Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Jewell Loyd , Kayla McBride, Angel McCoughtry, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Danielle Robinson, Courtney Vandersloot and Lindsay Whalen are also expected to take part in the training camp. Other finalists for the Olympic team including former UConn star Tina Charles are not expected to take part in the camp due to overseas playing commitments.

The training camp sessions will not be open to the public.

Reigning Nancy Lieberman Award winner Moriah Jefferson is one of 10 candidates for the 2016 award given to the nation's top women's collegiate point guard.

Jefferson leads UConn with 124 assists and 62 steals and is the third-leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game.

Army's Kelsey Minato, Baylor's Niya Johnson, DePaul's Jessica January, Duquesne's April Robinson, Maryland's Brene Moseley, Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen, Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, Jasmine Nwajei of Wagner and Washington's Kelsey Plum are the other candidates.

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse, the only player to start all 23 games for the Huskies this season, was one of  eight players named to the CoSIDA Division I District I All-Academic squad making her eligible for Academic All-American honors.

The Yale duo of  Nyasha Sarju and Whitney Wyckoff are also District I All-Academic picks while Briana Bradford of the University of New Haven was named to the Division II District I squad.

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Monster games for UConn recruits Irwin and Dangerfield

It was a night of offensive explosions for a pair of UConn signees.

Crystal Dangerfield netted a career-high 38 points as Blackman High School defeated Smyrna 68-55 to improve to 23-3.

Coming into the season Dangerfield's career high was 26 against Myers Park on Dec. 31, 2013. She topped that with 34 points against Brentwood Academy in the first game of her senior season and matched it in a January win over Whitney Young.

Dangerfield has scored at least 20 points a total of 19 times in 25 games as a senior including seven 30-point contests.

Speaking of lighting it up, with UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley looking on, Kyla Irwin matched her career high with 43 points and added 14 rebounds and nine steals in State College's 76-23 win over Hollidaysburg in her final home game.

It is the second time this month Irwin had 43 points which matches the school's single-season scoring record set by Katie Glusko. In a current eight-game winning streak Irwin is averaging 32.3 points per game. She is just 52 points shy of 2,000.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

UConn trio on Naismith Trophy midseason list

UConn's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were among 34 players named to the midseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy.

Stewsrt, who won the award last year, leads UConn in scoring (19.5 points per game) and rebounding (8.3). Jefferson is the team leader with 124 assists and 62 steals while Tuck averages 14.3 points per game.

Here is the complete list

Lindsay Allen   Notre Dame Jr. G
Jillian Alleyne   Oregon  Sr. F
Ameryst Alston   Ohio State Sr. G
Kristine Anigwe   Cal  Fr. C
Rachel Banham   Minnesota Sr. G
Imani Boyette   Texas  Sr. C
Jordin Canada   UCLA  So. G
Alaina Coates   South Carolina Jr. C
Nina Davis   Baylor  Jr. F
Mikayla Epps   Kentucky Jr. G
Aliyyah Handford   St. John's Sr. G
Moriah Jefferson   UConn  Sr. G
Chanise Jenkins   DePaul  Sr. G
Niya Johnson   Baylor  Sr. G
Jonquel Jones   G. Washington Sr. F
Brionna Jones   Maryland Jr. C
Brittany Martin   Oklahoma St. Sr. F
Kelsey Mitchell   Ohio St. So. G
Tiffany Mitchell   South Carolina Sr. G
Kelsey Plum   Washington Jr. G
Aerial Powers   Michigan St. Jr. F
Shereesha Richards   Albany  Sr. F
Tabatha Richardson-Smith Seton Hall Sr. G
Jessica Shepard   Nebraska So. F
Azura Stevens   Duke  So. F
Breanna Stewart   UConn  Sr. F
Morgan Tuck   UConn  Jr. F
Brianna Turner   Notre Dame So. F
Victoria Vivians  Mississippi St. So. G
Courtney Walker   Texas A&M Sr. G
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough Maryland Jr. G
Jamie Weisner   Oregon State Sr. G
Courtney Williams  South Florida Sr. G
A'ja Wilson   South Carolina So. F