Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

UConn legend Taurasi shines as U.S. tops Australia

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 15 of her game-high 20 points in the third quarter to lead the U.S. past Australia 104-89 at Madison Square Garden.

Elena Delle Donne had 17 of her 19 points in the first half, Brittney Griner had 15 points, former UConn star Maya Moore had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists while Angel McCoughtry added 12 points as the U.S. finished undefeated in its three international friendlies heading into the Olympics.

Liz Cambage led Australia with 22 points while Leilani Mitchell had 16 of her 18 points in the first half.

UConn guard Kia Nurse hit four free throws in the final 22 seconds as Canada defeated France 71-63 in the first game of the doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

Nurse was just 1 for 8 from the floor but after being reluctant to hoist up shots after a tough start on Friday against the U.S., it can be viewed as a positive sign that Nurse was taking available shots which is something she will need to do if Canada is to make a run at winning an Olympic medal.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Charles continues to add layers to her game since leaving UConn

Perhaps it is the fact that I don't see Tina Charles on a regular basis during the summers like I did when she played for the Connecticut Sun but watching her play both with the New York Liberty and with the U.S. national team left me wondering if a great former UConn player has ever improved as much as Charles after turning pro.

When you look at the great players to come out of UConn, they do many of the things in the WNBA that they were able to accomplish at UConn. Players like Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Sue Bird have similar roles with the pro teams that they did at UConn and have all made tremendous strides to make an impact at the next level. However, they don't really get asked to do things that they didn't do with UConn. Charles, however, has added range on her jump shot, is so much better as a passer and can create her own shot. All of those factors combined with her outstanding play in the low post have helped her become the WNBA's leading scorer and rebounder heading into the Olympic break.

"My mental approach (is the key)," Charles said. "I believe if you have confidence you can do anything you want. I have the most confidence in my game and just the work that I put in and what we guys will see displayed on the court when you see me play."

Charles is clearly one of the best players in UConn history. She is the only player in program history with more than one season with at least 350 rebounds. She is the program's all-time leading rebound, ranks third in scoring and is fifth in blocked shots. Still, the layers that she has added to her game in recent years is really astounding.

"Professional basketball players are like any other professionals, they study, they get better and they add things to their repertoire," said U.S. and UConn coach Geno Auriemma. "Little by little she's better at scoring on the move, she is really good at using her body around the basket. When she came to UConn her freshman year, she rally didn't have that 15 footer and now it is like automatic. She has done what a professional is expected to do and that is why she is where she is."

Nobody on the national team has known Charles as long as Maya Moore. They played together on U.S. junior national teams before teaming up at UConn, combined to lead the Huskies to back to back national titles and have played in Olympics and FIBA World Championships together. After last night's win over Canada Moore weighed in on her ever improving former collegiate teammate.

"It has been a process for her starting when she was a freshman/sophomore at UConn working with CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey), working with the coaches every day trying to find her way," Moore said. "Finally her junior year I think she broke through that wall at the Final Four when she was unstoppable, she was more of the Tina that we know now. Plus, she has added to her game. It is really fun to watch her evolve. It is inspiring to see my fellow teammate continuing to add things to her game."

A couple years ago Taurasi received glowing reports from Bird about the enthusiastic welcome the U.S. national team received from the fans at Webster Bank Arena.

Taurasi got to see it for herself last night. The fans gave UConn associate coach Chris Dailey a huge hand when she came onto the court and she isn't even working with the national team. Breanna Stewart received the loudest ovation among the players and I jokingly asked Auriemma if the response he received when he entered the arena was the most positive since a 2014 game at Baylor.

"When I heard ovation when I was walking in, I turned around to see if there was somebody behind me that they really liked and it was just me," Auriemma deadpanned. "I thought 'that was nice.' You usually don't get that, it was nice. The people down here have always been different, they have always so incredibly appreciative of our team and the fact we are down here playing, you bring the U.S. national team into a building it is special. It was special for the fans and special for the players."

The U.S. wraps up the USA Basketball Showcase with a game against Australia at Madison Square Garden tomorrow.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Could all-UConn team win Olympic gold?

While making the rather interesting drive from Newark, Delaware to Tarrytown, N.Y. yesterday for the latest media availability for the U.S. national team, I wanted to come up with a little different story angle than yet another update on the five UConn graduates on the U.S. team.

Since I have seen plenty of caustic posts on Twitter about how the U.S. team has become little more than a chance for Geno Auriemma to get his former players on the squad (a laughable point of view when considering the qualifications of Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi), I thought it would be fun to get some people to weigh in on whether an all-UConn team could win the Olympic gold medal. I spoke with Bird, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan, assistant coach Doug Bruno and guard Lindsay Whalen on the topic for a story which ran in this morning's paper.

When I mentioned it to Bird, she said "who is on the team" since she wasn't sure if I meant active players or all UConn players so here is the breakdown of the 15 current UConn graduates in the WNBA.

Current  Olympians
Sue Bird: Averaging 12.5 points and league leading 6 assists per game. Is 241 assists shy of Ticha Penicheiro's WNBA career record. Tied for eighth with 573 career steals.
Tina Charles: Currently the WNBA leader in both scoring (21.4) and rebounding and one of the frontrunners with WNBA MVP. Could join Chamique Holdsclaw as only player to lead WNBA in scoring and rebounding in same season.
Maya Moore: Three-time WNBA champion is fourth in league in scoring (19.4) and sixth in assists (4.4). One of five players to be named WNBA regular-season and finale MVP.
Breanna Stewart: Winner of WNBA Rookie of Month three times, she is second in WNBA in rebounding and fifth in scoring
Diana Taurasi: Sixth-leading scorer in WNBA at 18.9 points per game. One of three WNBA players with more than 7,000 points in regular season and fifth all-time with 1,547 assists

Swin Cash: Ranks 13th in WNBA history with 5,075 regular-season points and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Key member of championship teams with Detroit and Seattle.
Stefanie Dolson: After averaging a career high 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds for Washington last season, is contributing 8 points and 4.7 rebounds
Kelly Faris: Averaging 2.1 points and 11.9 minutes in 103 career games with Connecticut Sun
Bria Hartley: Averaging 6.5 points, 2 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 16.9 minutes with Washington Mystics. Since May 21 Mystics are 6-4 when she plays at least 15 minutes, 3-8 if she does not
Tiffany Hayes: Atlanta Dream's No. 2 scorer at 14.5 points per game. Averaging career highs in points, assists, steals and minutes played. Has seven 20-point games, Atlanta is 10-7 when she scores in double figures
Moriah Jefferson: Second on San Antonio in scoring (12.2), contributes 4 assists, 1.4 steals per game. Third among qualifying players with 45.3 3-point percentage. Averaged 17.1 points in last eight games before Olympic break
Renee Montgomery: Averaging 7.8 points per game for Minnesota, highest total since 2013 season. Hit game winner when Minnesota beat Los Angeles in showdown of undefeated teams. Minnesota is 7-2 when she scores at least 10 points
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis: Averaging 6.4 points and 16.7 minutes while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range in last seven games for Seattle
Kiah Stokes: Eighth in WNBA in rebounding (7.6), sixth in blocked shots (1.5). Second in league in rebounding per 40 minutes
Morgan Tuck: Averaging 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 17.2 minutes as a rookie for Connecticut Sun. Averaged 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in one three-game stretch in June.

There is already a portion of the women's basketball world tired of the "all UConn, all the time" coverage so a team of only UConn alums representing the U.S. in the Olympics might mean the end of Twitter but it was something worth pondering.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

USA Basketball Showcase is Ideal Preparation for Olympics

There were plenty of feel-good stories coming out of Elena Delle Donne's return to the University of Delaware during last night's international doubleheader. Similar tales will be spun with five former UConn stars set to play in Connecticut tomorrow night as well as New York natives Sue Bird, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart anxiously awaiting the chance to play at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

However, the true purpose of the exhibition games against France, Canada and Australia is not simply to provide emotional homecoming scenes. With a limited amount of time to prepare, UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma loves the fact that the U.S. team will be squaring off with three teams who could be in the medal hunt at next month's Olympic tournament.

"I won't be surprised if they all compete for the three medal spots, that is how good they are so we are seeing the best that is out there," Auriemma said after the 84-62 win over France. "There are more good teams, don't get me wrong but these aren't just 'friendlies' where we are trying to break a sweat and name the score. These are teams that are going to make you work really hard for everything. If nothing else, I think it gets you in the right mindset moving forward. We are not going to going to Rio coasting on false confidence. Whatever we get done here it going to be real and it is going to carry us a long way."

The first exhibition game was not against a potential Olympic opponent but a matchup against the USA Select squad, a group of WNBA stars in their mid 20s all eager to show the folks at USA Basketball that they deserve to be in the equation for future Olympic squads. What happened was an entertaining offensive showcase that for lack of a better term reminded me of "pond hockey" where there was little structure but plenty of 1 on 1 play.

"Today was more like what they are used to and what we are going to be seeing," Auriemma said. "I knew our effort was going to be different than it was against the Select team. We would get a lot more production from a lot more people. We can also guard plays, the Select team didn't run any plays, they just ran up and down and had some fun. It is hard to play against teams like that and it also got our attention too and that is never bad."

The U.S was a bit sluggish offensively in the first half but it was a different story in the second half and especially during the 31-point third quarter.

"I think, offensively (we improved) in terms of getting out of each other’s way," Diana Taurasi said. Defensively, we played with a little bit more energy, with a certain edge that we didn’t have against the Select Team."

If there was one memorable defensive play it was Brittney Griner's emphatic block when she was in the low post and used her incredible wing span to block a shot on the perimeter drawing a huge reaction from the U.S. bench with Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen leading the way.
"Blocking shots is one thing I can always rely on whether I am stepping on the ball, fumbling the ball or just not catching the ball, I can always rely on defense," said Griner, who did not attempt a shot in 6:24 of action. "I might not be always able to score but I can make sure you can't score either.
I love blocking shots more than dunking so when I get one, I want to get it again so I was happy about that."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

UConn's Nurse returns to the court

It wasn't the most prolific return to the basketball court for UConn's Kia Nurse but after months of inactivity after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, she was just happy to get back into the flow of things.

"It was good to get the kinks out," Nurse said after recording seven points and three rebounds in her first game since helping UConn win its fourth consecutive national title in April.

When Nurse returned to campus, she met with medical personnel for the regular end of the season checkup. Before long Nurse underwent an MRI which showed that Nurse was dealing with a sports hernia. Surgery soon followed forcing Nurse, who seemingly never takes a break, from being able to hit the court.

The surgery and recovery forced Nurse to miss Canada's first two phases of preparation for the upcoming Olympics. She was fully cleared less than a week ago and played in her first game on Wednesday.

"I wasn't sure when the injury happened, it happens over time," Nurse said. "I think I've been playing a lot of basketball for a long time and it has been a progression type thing. Obviously you are dealing with a lot of different things (during) the year."

Nurse came off the bench against Australia. That doesn't figure to be the case when the Olympics start next month since Nurse was Canada's leading scorer in the FIBA Americas and Pan Am Games tournaments, helping Canada to gold medals in both events.
She showed some of her offensive explosiveness in the second half when she had a steal and layup and later hit a 3-pointer.

"She is already a talented player and it is only going to help her game," said Australian Olympic and Phoenix Mercury star Penny Taylor who had a game-high 19 points in Australia's 80-67 victory. "She was a real reason why they came back at the end. With her ability to shoot the ball, she is so strong, she can drive and she is a floor leader out there so she is a really exciting player."

Even with her place as one of the unquestioned stars of a talented Canadian team, when Nurse officially received word that she was a part of the 12-member Olympic team, it left her nearly speechless.

"It is hard to put words to," Nurse said. "It was a dream come true obviously. When I was with the Cadet team, I would watch (former) Cadets play in the Olympics. I am extremely fortunate and extremely proud to (an Olympian)."

Nurse and Canada will have two more international friendlies as part of the USA Basketball Showcase including Friday's game against U.S. at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport when she will square off against her college head coach Geno Auriemma, the head coach for the U.S. national team and former teammate Breanna Stewart.

In recent stories documenting UConn's interest in Australian Chantel Horvat, Taylor is credited with telling Auriemma about the talented forward.

Taylor joked "I guess, I am really proud of her so I really tell everybody about her."

Horvat has expressed an interest in playing collegiately in the U.S. and there has been mutual interest between her and UConn.

Taylor is hoping it all works out for Horvat, who has opened eyes playing in national and international U-16 and U-19 events.

"We had an Opals camp back in March and some of the younger kids were included in that so I really got to see a wide range of younger talent," Taylor said. "She was one of them. She definitely understands the game well and she is a smart girl, whatever she decides to do is really up to her."

UConn's success not limited to the court

The UConn women's basketball program was one of 21 teams honored by the American Athletic Conference with 2015-16 Academic Excellence Awards for having the highest grade-point average in its sport among conference teams.

Here is the list of honorees
Baseball                                                         East Carolina
Men’s Basketball                                          Temple
Women’s Basketball                                    UConn
Men’s Cross Country                                   Tulsa
Women’s Cross Country                             Memphis
Football                                                          Cincinnati
Men’s Golf                                                     UCF
Women’s Golf                                               East Carolina
Women’s Rowing                                         Tulsa
Men’s Soccer                                                SMU
Women’s Soccer                                          Memphis
Softball                                                           USF
Men’s Swimming and Diving                      SMU
Women’s Swimming and Diving                Cincinnati
Men’s Tennis                                                 Memphis
Women’s Tennis                                           UCF
Men’s Indoor Track and Field                     Cincinnati
Women’s Indoor Track and Field               Memphis
Men’s Outdoor Track and Field                  Cincinnati
Women’s Outdoor Track and Field            Memphis
Women’s Volleyball                                     Temple

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

UConn great Breanna Stewart honored by WNBA

Former UConn star Breanna Stewart was named the WNBA's Rookie of the Month for July. She has swept the honor in the first three months of the season.

In July, Stewart led all rookies in scoring (averaging 20 points per game), rebounding (9.3), assists (4.0) and blocked shots (2.3 bpg).  Among all WNBA players, she was tied for fifth in scoring, tied for second in rebounding, fourth in blocks and first in minutes played (35.6 mpg).

The former UConn standout scored in double digits in all eight games played in July, including five with 20 points or more.

UConn products lead U.S. to exhibition game victory

Former UConn star Tina Charles shoots over former Connecticut Sun forward Elizabeth
Williams in Monday night's exhibition game in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)
The U.S. women's Olympic team was in danger of dropping its first game when a trio of former UConn stars took control.

The U.S. Select team, a group of young WNBA players, held a two-point lead with a minute to go. Breanna Stewart hit a layup off an assist from Tina Charles to tie the game. Charles also had a pair of key rebounds while Maya Moore was 4 for 4 from a foul line in the final 39.3 seconds to lead the U.S. to an 88-84 victory.

"We were trying to accomplish a lot," said Moore, who tied for the team lead with 11 points. We were putting different lineups out there on the court, trying different schemes, trying to see what we could do…and the Select Team was very aggressive in terms of those moments when we weren’t completely on the same page. But we were able to respond and finish the game the right way. Hey, we could have easily lost this game. So I’m glad we were able to come through and build some momentum for the next game."

Moore also had three rebounds and three assists while Elena Delle Donne also had 11 points. Lindsay Whalen and Angel McCoughtry had nine points each, Stewart had six of her eight points in the fourth quarter, Charles had eight points and four rebounds. Diana Taurasi had seven points and a team-high five assists while Sue Bird finished with six points.

Natasha Howard had 18 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, Jewell Loyd had 20 points and Odyssey Sims added 17 to lead the Select team.

"I thought the way the Select Team played was really cool," UConn and U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "They played as if they play against these guys all the time, which they do. There wasn’t going to be any sense of intimidation of who they are, which is why we play these games. We need the challenges. We need to look at different combinations and figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. For us, in the two days we’ve been together, we did a lot of really good things and we’re going to get better and better every day. And for the future of USA Basketball, there were some unbelievably positive signs out there of what the next group could potentially look like. It was a good day, I think, all the way around."

The U.S. will now play three international friendlies in three different states beginning tomorrow when the U.S. faces France at 7:30 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware. That will be preceded by a 5 p.m. game between Canada (featuring UConn's Kia Nurse) and Australia at 5 p.m. On Friday at Webster Bank Arena, Australia and France will play at 4:30 p.m. followed by the Canada/U.S. game at 7. Canada and France will meet at 1:30 p.m. on July 31 followed by the U.S./Australia game at Madison Square Garden. The team will wrap up the state-side preparations with a practice in Houston on Aug. 2 before leaving for Rio.

"They’re three really big games for us against three teams that are going to be at the Olympics that we’ve played before," Taurasi said. "We know what kind of team they are, what kind of quality they have. It’s going to challenge us to go out there and play hard and play really well to win. When you put this jersey on, as coach said, there are no moral victories. At the same time, these games are there to prepare you, to get you in a position where when we get to Rio, we know what we’re going with and the things that we’re really good at. It’ll be a tough and competitive three games."

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Monday, July 25, 2016

UConn legend Maya Moore to hold basketball camp in Connecticut

Maya Moore, UConn's all-time leading scorer, will host a one-day basketball camp at East Granby High School on November 5 from 9 a.m.-noon.

The camp is open to boys and girls in grades 1-12 and cost of the camp is $99. Visit for more information.

Former UConn star Tina Charles was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the sixth time this season.

Charles averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as she heads into the Olympic break leading the WNBA in scoring and rebounding. Nneka Ogwumike was named the Western Conference's Player of the Week for the fourth time this season.

Friday, July 22, 2016

UConn's Kia Nurse named to Canadian Olympic team

UConn's Kia Nurse, in action during the FIBA Americas final, will play
in her first Olympic Games next month as key player for Canada.
UConn guard Kia Nurse emerged as a star of the Canadian national team last summer while leading her country to the FIBA Americas and Pan Am titles so it was hardly a shock that she is part of the 12-member Olympic team which was announced on Friday.

In the FIBA Americas event Nurse averaged a team-best 13 points per game and added 18 rebounds, 11 assists and six steals in the six games. She led the team in scoring (averaging 13.6 points per game) in the run to the gold medal at the Pan Am Games. She also averaged 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

Nurse, who has earned the reputation of playing her best when the stakes are the highest in her first two seasons at UConn, has also played at a high level at the most opportune times with the national team. She had 20 points in the 82-66 victory over Cuba in the FIBA Americas championship game which earned Canada a spot in the Olympics. She had 33 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Pan Am gold medal game to lead Canada to a win over the United States team led by UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson.

Nurse was the only player to start all 38 games en route to UConn's run to a record 11th national title during the 2015-16 season. She finished fifth on the team in scoring averaging 9.3 points per game and was one of four players with at least 100 assists. She is expected to take on a large role offensively following the graduation of Jefferson, Stewart and Morgan Tuck.

The 12 players who took part in the FIBA Americas and Pan Am events have all been named to the Olympic team.

Former Notre Dame star Natalie Achonwa is joined by fellow 2012 Olympians Miranda Ayim, Kim Gaucher, Lizanne Murphy, Michelle Plouffe, Shona Thorburn and Tamara Tatham. While Nurse, Nirra Fields, Miah-Marie Langlois, Katherine Plouffe and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe will be first time Olympians.

Nurse has missed the first two stages of preparation for the Olympics after undergoing sports hernia surgery after helping the Huskies win the national title. She is expected to be able to practice without restriction later today when the team begins its final training camp in Toronto before playing exhibition games against Australia on July 27 in Newark, Delaware, versus the U.S. on July 29 in Bridgeport and against France on July 31 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Canada opens play in the Olympics on Aug. 6 against China.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Coombs commits to UConn

Mikayla Coombs, a 5-foot-8 guard out of Wesleyan School in Norcross, Georgia, has become the third player from the Class of 2017 to commit to UConn.

Coombs made her announcement on her Twitter page

I am very happy to announce that I have committed to the University of Connecticut ! 🔴🔵⚪️

Normally I'd be on the phone with her at some point today but since I am currently on vacation, I'll most likely wait to touch base with her until later this month or in August.

Coombs averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game as a junior. With the graduation of leading scorer Cairo Booker (the only other player to score more than 10 points per game last season) I would expect her individual scoring stats to improve next season. The most important thing about her time in high school is how she got used to playing in a winning environment as Wesleyan since the program has won 11 state titles since 2002 and 2003 is the only year they haven't reached a state final since 2001.

Here's a blog entry I did on her during the U.S. U-17 national team trials.

Coombs is ranked fourth in the Class of 2017 by All-Star Girls Report, is sixth in the Blue Star rankings and is No. 21 according to ESPN HoopGurlz.

She joins Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Lexi Gordon as players in the next recruiting class committed to UConn.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Former UConn star Montgomery adjusts to new role

Earlier in her career former UConn star Renee Montgomery was asked to provide offense whenever she was in the game as she averaged at least 10 points per game in four of her first five seasons.

However, when Montgomery joined a star-studded Minnesota team last July, she wasn't going to be asked to shoot at will. Montgomery was asked to be more responsible with the ball, bring defensive energy off the bench and when given the opportunity to take an open shot.

Montgomery posted the best assist/turnover ratio of her professional career in the 19 regular-season games she played with the Lynx last season. This season she is averaging more steals per 40 minutes of her career.

"A team like ours when we have so many weapons, you have to find a niche for yourself so ball pressuring and 3s will be good ones for me," Montgomery said before Thursday's game at Connecticut. "The coaching stuff instilled so much confidence in me as a player that if I see the rim and I am open, I get yelled at all the time that I don't shoot the ball enough. They have a lot of confidence in me as a player so that helps with how you perform."

That was never more evident than in the closing moments of the clash of undefeated teams when Montgomery hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left in a 72-69 win at Los Angeles.

"They don't just talk the talk," Montgomery said. "It is one thing that they say 'we need you to shoot' but when you shoot they get mad and if you miss it they will get you mad and take you out. They are not like that. They want me to shoot shots because they think I can make shots so for her (Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve) to draw up a play for me to shoot in one of the biggest games in WNBA history, it proves they are not just giving me lip service, they really believe that.

"Those are the games when you are working out, nobody is in the gym and you are imagining you are shooting the last shot. Everybody sees somebody doing '3-2-1.' Those are the kinds of games where all that working out, that is the game you are preparing for."

Lynx star Maya Moore, the all-time leading scorer in UConn history, also reflected back on one of the most hyped regular-season games in recent WNBA history.

"If you are in a competitor you want to be in those situations where there is a little extra something added to the game with two teams having a chance to play each other going in undefeated," Moore said. "It was a fun game and I was glad we were able to finish it the way we wanted to. We learned a lot."

Speaking of learning lessons, Montgomery and Moore are two of six freshmen at UConn to play at least 1,000 minutes. While it is uncertain how many minutes highly-touted freshman Crystal Dangerfield will play, she figures to have a prominent role so I asked Montgomery what advice she would give to Dangerfield.
"I would just tell her to take it all in, whatever Coach Auriemma says, you have to ignore the delivery and listen to the message," Montgomery said. "He might go off on you for a long period of time but the point is to take care of the ball. Sometimes you have to ignore the delivery and listen to the message."

After Thursday's overtime victory Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller said rookie guard Rachel Banham would undergo knee surgery that should keep her out through the Olympic break. It turns out her time on the sidelines will be longer than that.

Banham had season-ending micro-fracture surgery on her right knee Friday at the Constitution Surgery Center in Waterford. Banham will need between 4-6 months of rehabilitation before she returns to the court.

“While we are obviously disappointed to lose Rachel for the remainder of the season, we remain tremendously excited about her bright future with the Sun,” Miller said in a statement. “Rachel showed the potential to be an impact player in this league despite playing through significant pain for the majority of the season. We really appreciate her grit and determination to play when less than 100 percent, but it is now time for her to concentrate on her rehab so she can come back healthy for her second season."

Banham averaged 3.7 points in 10.9 minutes per game while shooting 35 percent from 3-point range. She had two double-digit scoring games. Her final stint with the team as a rookie came when she played 4:34 in the overtime win. The only time she saw after halftime was the 3.1 seconds she was on the court late in overtime with the Sun up by two and Miller opting to put his best foul shooters on the court with the Sun leading by two points with 10.9 seconds left to play. After Alex Bentley made the first of two free throws, Banham checked out of the game.

While there is no good time for an injury like this to happen, Connecticut is in a better situation after recently acquiring USF star Courtney Williams as part of a trade that sent Kelsey Bone to Phoenix. Williams played more than any other Sun player after the first quarter in the Minnesota game.

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Report: Australia wing on UConn's recruiting radar

An additional scholarship came available following the transfer of Courtney Ekmark to Arizona State and according to a report, the UConn coaching staff is in the mix with Australian Chantel Horvat.

The 6-foot-2 Horvat was a member of the Australian team which won the bronze medal at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships.

Horvat averaged 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in the U-19 Worlds and her average of 22.54 points per 40 minutes ranked second on the team.

It's pretty interesting how UConn got involved with Horvat as current Phoenix Mercury star Penny Taylor, a member of the Australian Olympic teams which lost to the U.S. in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, told UConn coach Geno Auriemma about Horvat. Assistant coach Shea Ralph reached out to Horvat via email to see if she was serious about coming to the U.S. to play in college which is not a path the top Australian stars normally take.

The last time UConn went hard after a recruit from Australia came during the Diana Taurasi era when the Huskies were in the running to land Jessica Foley before she chose to head to Duke and actually hit a game-winning shot to beat the Huskies snapping UConn's 69-game home winning streak in 2004.

Horvat was the co-MVP of the Australian Junior National Championships in 2015 after averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds in the eight games. Her performance at the Australia U-16 championships in 2013 really put her on the radar. She averaged a tournament best 16.3 points per game and also averaged 8.1 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game.

She broke into the SEABL at age 14, the youngest player to ever see time in the league. This past season she averaged 9.7 points per game for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence squad. As a point of reference, the top scorers in the league include former Division I standouts Kayla Standish, Chante Black (a former first-round pick of the Connecticut Sun), Kathleen Scheer and Mikaela Ruef.

UConn has three scholarships remaining in the Class of 2017 with U.S. U-18 team member Megan Walker as well as Mikalya Coombs both planning to visit UConn either later this summer or in the fall.

“It’s pretty surreal to think that UConn is now also one of the schools that are recruiting me," Horvat said in a blog post on the site. "Their presence will definitely make it harder to make a decision now."

Friday, July 08, 2016

UConn's Kia Nurse on road to recovery

At this rate it might save time by listing the members of the UConn women's basketball program who haven't undergone medical procedures in the last couple of months.

Well, it is time to add Kia Nurse to the list. According to this report, she underwent sports hernia surgery but is expected to be recovered in time to play for Canada in the Olympics.

"It wasn't something she could work through and play through this summer, it was a necessity," Canadian national team coach Lisa Thomaidis said.

Nurse will not play in the upcoming international friendlies against China on Saturday, Sunday and Monday at the Edmonton Grads International Classic but Thomaidis believes Nurse will be cleared to take the court when the team gathers in Toronto on July 21 for Phase 3 of preparations for the Olympics.

Nurse was a breakout star for Canada last summer, leading the team in scoring en route to winning the Pan Am Games title and the FIBA Americas tournament with the latter event qualifying Canada for the Olympics.

Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, Nurse, Crystal Dangerfield and Batouly Camara are among the UConn players who have undergone surgeries since the end of the season although all are expected to be fully recovered by the time UConn kicks off official practice in October.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Connecticut Sun's Stricklen reflects on loss of her mentor

With Minnesota in town for tonight's WNBA contest at Mohegan Sun Arena, I did catch up with former UConn stars Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery and will have something coming up on them in the coming days. However, this is my first chance to catch up with former Tennessee star Shekinna Stricklen since the passing of legendary Lady Vols' coach Pat Summitt.

Stricklen said "I cried until I couldn't cry anymore."

Stricklen was among Summitt's former players to make it to Knoxville to get one last chance to see her mentor.

"It helped me come to peace with everything, seeing her peacefully, not hurting and not suffering made me feel a lot better," Stricklen said. "I cried until I couldn't cry anymore but it was good that my teammates (supported me), all the coaches were there, (Connecticut Sun coach) Curt (Miller), (Sun general manager) Chris (Sienko) everybody was there for me and it made me feel a whole lot better. It was not just my family back home (supporting her) but being in Connecticut is also a family."

The chance for different generations of Lady Vols gathering aided all of those who made the trip.

"We were able to come together, share our stories from her team in 1974 all the way to 2012, all of them were there and we were able to share stories, laughing and it made everybody feel better," Stricklen said. "She impacted me more off the court. On the court she stayed on me because I was so laid back, I can hear her always screaming at me not to be so laid back but off the court, she was very loyal, very respectful. She treated everybody the same it didn't matter who you were and I really got that from her.

"Last week was very emotional for me. I was able to go to Knoxville and I was able to get to see her on Monday which really helped me out a lot. Just being around her left me with a lot of memories. Every memory, every moment with her I will never forget."

Since Summitt's death Stricklen has been blown away by the reaction to the passing of a true legend.
"It's amazing to see so many people wearing 'We Back Pat' shirts, writing about her and knowing she is a legend," Stricklen said. "She really made women's basketball. Seeing that so many people see all that she has done and brought into the game is amazing."

Stewart is WNBA's Rookie of the Month - again

Former UConn star Breanna Stewart is a perfect 2 for 2 in securing WNBA Rookie of the Month honors.

In June, Stewart led all rookies in scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounding (9.5 rpg) and blocked shots (2.0 bpg) and ranked second in assists (3.6 apg) in 11 games.  Among all WNBA players, she was first in rebounding, second in blocks, third in minutes played (34.4 mpg) and fifth in scoring.
Stewart had four straight 20-point games including a 38-point explosion in a win over Atlanta on June 28 which is the third-highest total for a rookie in WNBA history.

For the season, Stewart leads the league in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and is seventh in scoring (18.7 ppg).  Stewart also has seven double-doubles.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Catching up on a busy week

Among the things I've learned while covering the UConn women's basketball team is when you chose the days and weeks when you try to get away, invariably that is when the news happens.

Case in point, I headed to my nephew's graduation from the University of Michigan in late April and vowed to not turn on my computer in the time I was there. I stayed true to my word until it became apparent that Azura' Stevens would be transferring to UConn. That news was just the tip of the iceberg.

I had last week off and needed each day as I completed a move to a place closer to UConn. With Geno Auriemma's annual golf tournament being on Monday, the plan was to take an extra day the week before because the chance to catch up with Auriemma and his players was simply to valuable. Well, the rest of the week was anything but tranquil in the world of women's basketball.

Obviously the news of Pat Summitt's death is as big of a story as the sport has experienced in recent memory. I wrote a short blog when I heard the news about my interactions with her and plenty of others have been weighing in. The one person in the newspaper industry I was most interested in hearing from was Dan Fleser, the highly-respected Tennessee beat writer for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Fleser did not disappoint with what I consider a must read bit of reflection of a relationship between a reporter and legendary coach.

When I was at Geno's golf tournament, I was the last of the reporters to arrive as I used the trip to West Hartford to move more stuff into my place and ran a little behind schedule. When I got there, Batouly Camara had to return to campus and when I didn't see Courtney Ekmark I figured she had a similar story. Well, you know what they say about people who assume things. On the date when I was moving my big stuff, for some reason I woke up about three hours earlier than I planned and checking the time on my phone, I noticed reports of Courtney Ekmark's transfer to Arizona State from the media outlets in Arizona. It's ironic that during one of my trips to the airport last year to cover the UConn football team, she was at the next gate over accompanied by her father and lots of her stuff. After chatting with the Ekmarks, it turned out the players were given permission to go home for a few days. I didn't happen to be at the airport during the time when she truly was heading home for good.

Ekmark seemed to embrace life at UConn so in one sense I'm a little surprised especially with a lack of available players on the 2016-17 UConn team with any height. She would have competed with freshman Kyla Irwin to be the second forward off the bench (even if she was listed as a guard) but the chance to play close to home and perhaps get more of a chance to play was too much for Ekmark to pass up and if she didn't make an impact as a junior, Stevens and Batouly Camara would become eligible when Ekmark would have been a senior.

I'm sure by now you've heard of the question and answer piece with Duke coach Joanne P/ McCallie posted by the Duke Chronicle on Friday.

Certainly McCallie's criticism of Auriemma for accepting Stevens and Camara as transfers generated more attention in these parts. I found it comical that a coach who perpetually underachieved in the postseason would offer criticism of the four-time defending national champions. I was more disturbed (but not completely surprised considering her action in post-game press conferences) with the way she threw Stevens and Angela Salvadores under the proverbial bus.

While I read the comments on the factors leading to Stevens' departure as she blamed UConn, Stevens and her family, USA Basketball, the ozone layer (OK, maybe not that one) it reminded me of the scene in the Blues Brothers when the character played by Carrie Fisher was preparing to shoot John Belushi's character as payback for leaving her at the altar.

"I ran out of gas. I got a flat tire. I didn’t have change for cab fare. I lost my tux at the cleaners. I locked my keys in the car. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!" 

If I were the subject of an internal investigation as a result of my actions resulting in departures of players and assistant coaches, my initial reaction would be to look in the mirror and ponder how I was going about my business. Sadly for the Duke program and its fans, it doesn't appear that is the way McCallie chose to deal with it. Apparently everybody else is to blame but not her. I would have to think that the quotes on Stevens and Salvadores just may come up when programs are recruiting against Duke for elite players.

It is very rare to see coaches go off on kids leaving their programs even if there is an axe to grind and it is for good reason. I would think any parent of a player being recruited by Duke would cringe that the person they are entrusting to be the coach would act in such a fashion. She already had several strikes against her including the consistent departures of go-to players from the program and the perception that her players don't improve as much in the Duke program as in other top-level ones. Now she is on the record disparaging her players. The whole rant about Auriemma adding transfers because he wants to win falls under the category of "that's true and what exactly is wrong with that."

There's been a lot of chatter that Auriemma has changed his philosophy on transfers which is not accurate. There are programs who rely heavily on transfers but that has never been Auriemma's way of proceeding. He has gone on the record saying he has little interest in junior-college kids but not once has he ever said he won't take transfers. The issue is accepting the right type of kids into the program whether they are transfers or high school prospects. This season he will have three transfers on the team which is highly unusual but all three left programs that were not the same programs they entered. Natalie Butler left Georgetown after a brilliant freshman season after head coach Keith Brown was suspended and eventually resigned after being accused of verbally abusing players. The Duke and Kentucky programs have seen wholesale personnel changes with only eight players currently on the Kentucky roster and Alexis Jones, Sierra Calhoun and Stevens among the former Duke stars on the rosters of other top teams this season. Camara was recruited by the Huskies coming out of Blair Academy but UConn was a little late to the party as she opted to head to Kentucky. Stevens played with UConn's Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield and went through the trials with Katie Lou Samuelson with the U-19 national team last summer so there is a sense of familiarity with both of them. There will be much more on Stevens and her decision to come to UConn later this week.

With the Duke brand, McCallie will continue to get top players but I have to admit that I will wonder why a player who is serious about basketball would go to play for McCallie especially with Stephanie White's arrival at Vanderbilt giving players who would consider Duke as well as the improvements of the Northwestern program to go with perennial national-championship contending programs Notre Dame and Stanford, it will be interesting to see how the recruiting side of things work at Duke in the next few seasons.

Camara underwent surgery to repair a pre-existing issue (this year's UConn team seems to have plenty of those) in her right shoulder. She is expected to be good to go for the preseason but of course needs to sit out the season due to NCAA rules on transfers.

I also regret not taking a trip down memory lane with Gabby Williams when we met up with the team last week since the women's high jump at the U.S. Olympic trials was today. I tuned into the event four years ago because I had written a feature on former Amity High star Allison Barwise and I was curious how she would do. Williams, then just 15, finished fifth and the reaction of the veteran jumpers when Williams made it over 6-0 1/2 (on her third and final attempt) and 6-2 1/4 was the best part of the entire event. I had no idea I'd be writing about Williams due to her exploits on the basketball court and not her world-class jumping ability.

Finally, the U.S. team wrapped up play in the FIBA U-17 World Championship for Women and after finishing third in the FIBA Americas 16 event last summer, they ended up earning the bronze medal once again after losing to Australia in the semifinals.

Christyn Williams, who visited UConn last year along with UConn commit Lexi Gordon in January and was in attendance at the Huskies' win over Temple, was the second-leading scorer for the U.S. averaging 11.9 points per game. Williams had four straight double-digit scoring games before being held to two points in the loss to Australia. She also averaged 4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals in the tournament.

Oh, and the Connecticut Sun won a game by coming from behind on the road. Alex Bentley, who seems to be playing with much more passion following the trade of Kelsey Bone, had 24 points as the Sun improved to 4-13 (only three games out of a playoff spot). The Sun won at Dallas 86-83 and now head home to face Minnesota on Thursday.