Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, October 31, 2016

No immediate eligibility for UConn's transfers

When I first heard that Chatrice White was granted a waiver by the NCAA after transferring from Illinois to Florida State and then hearing the possibility that Natalie Romeo could be immediately eligible after going from Nebraska to Washington, it got me thinking (which is never a good thing). The Illinois and Nebraska situations that White and Romeo left were not pretty but neither were the ones at Duke and Kentucky where Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara began their collegiate careers before transferring to Duke.

So if White and possibly Romeo could play for their new teams without sitting out the season, couldn't a case be made for Camara and Stevens to play for UConn this season?

I brought the subject up with UConn coach Geno Auriemma after today's practice and he said neither player will be eligible to play for the Huskies until the 2017-18 season.

"I don't have an answer behind those other programs what happened, why some kids are eligible and some kids are not," Auriemma said. "I just know that our two are not. From talking to them, it doesn't seem like there is anything that would make me think 'OK we should go and pursue this.' I don't know happened that those other players were able to do that. If I felt there were something there, I would pursue it but it would be dishonest for me to think there is when there isn't."

Also, with Kia Nurse getting a game in Canada next year, I was curious if UConn would try to secure a game in Nevada for Gabby Williams. Auriemma said that UConn's west coast trip next season will have to suffice for Williams' homecoming game.

UConn kicks off its season with an exhibition game against Division II Indiana (Pa.) tomorrow night at 7 at Gampel Pavilion. It was a foregone conclusion that Nurse, Williams, Napheesa Collier and Kaie Lou Samuelson would start. Auriemma said he is planning to start senior Saniya Chong as well. Auriemma has been thrilled with what he has seen from Chong which is a good sign but now the challenge is to carry her strong work in practices throughout the entire season. It would be huge for the Huskies if that were the case since it would allow the coaching staff to bring freshmen Crystal Dangerfield and Molly Bent off the bench. There will be more on Chong in the coming days.

Auriemma said everybody should be good to go for the game. He said Nurse stepped on somebody's foot but she was able to practice without restriction today so she should be good to go.

Finally, the preseason Associated Press poll comes out tomorrow at 9 a.m.. UConn has been the preseason No. 1 team in each of the last three seasons and six times in the last eight years but I would be pretty surprised if that trend continues. I vote in the poll and picked the Huskies fourth behind South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

UConn is No. 1 in WBCA Coaches Poll

The preseason coaches poll is out and UConn starts off at No. 1.

Am I surprised that UConn can lose Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck and still be ranked 1st? Well, to borrow one of the favorite answers from UConn legend Sue Bird "yes and no."

I understand the thinking that UConn has won the last four national titles and buying into the thinking that they are the best until somebody proves otherwise. However, if you put the UConn roster on another team would that squad be preseason No. 1? I would say most likely not.

For the sake of full disclosure, I vote on the Associated Press poll and I voted UConn fourth behind South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor and think you could make arguments for Louisville, Maryland and Ohio State being ahead of the Huskies. When the AP poll comes out next week, I am not expecting the Huskies to be ranked first.

I don't want anything to take this as me downplaying the talent on this UConn team. I believe Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams could be as talented as any other quartet in the country but there are question marks as well. Will the Huskies ask freshman Crystal Dangerfield to run the offense and will it be too much for Dangerfield (or any freshman) at some point? Are Saniya Chong and Natalie Butler ready to be night in and night out contributors? What happens when the Huskies go to the bench? How will UConn handle a team with a dominant post player? The good news is it won't take long to figure out where the team stands. The season opener is at No. 12 Florida State (a tad under ranked in my opinion) and then host No. 4 Baylor. UConn will also play No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 South Carolina, No. 5 Maryland, Texas and Ohio State (tied for sixth).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Olympic memories aren't fading away for UConn's Auriemma, Nurse

UConn guard Kia Nurse was Canada's leading scorer at 2016 Olympics
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, fresh off leading the United States to a second straight Olympic gold medal, said he would not be coaching the national team again. Time will tell if that's the case because at this point four years ago Auriemma was saying pretty much the same thing.

However, it is clear that Auriemma came out of this Olympics significantly more energized than he was four years ago. One of the advantages of covering the UConn football and women's basketball teams (especially before the practice facility came to be) is I would occasionally catch up with Auriemma inside Gampel Pavilion. One of those meetings came on one of his first trips back to campus after leading the U.S. to the 2012 Olympic gold medal. The circles under his eyes had circles of their own and he looked completely spent emotionally and physically. This time around, however, he seems to have emerged from the experience with more of a jump in his step.

At American Athletic Conference media day earlier this week, I asked him about that.

"It was a much different experience when you know what is coming," Auriemma said. "I was able to change my approach a little bit and it was still difficult to come home August 22 and have our players show up Aug. 26th, that was hard.

"I knew my team and in 2012 I didn't know them. I knew what I was going to get and there was  comfort level which made it easier for me, much easier transition."

Auriemma returned to UConn content that his team accomplished everything he was hoping they would. The story is a little different for junior guard Kia Nurse.

Nurse led her team into the Olympics after being her team's leading scorer in the FIBA Americas tournament which served as an Olympic qualifier and Pan Am Games last summer.

Canada faced France in the quarterfinals with the knowledge that a victory would give them a chance to play for a medal while a loss eliminated them from medal contention.

Canada was up by 13 points when Kim Gaucher scored with 7:30 left in the first half and took a five-point lead into halftime before it all began to unravel.

Nurse has had some many magical performances for her national team but she seemed to be pedaling uphill throughout the entire game. Perhaps it was the case that she missed much of the preparation time leading into the Olympics due to an offseason surgery, it simply wasn't her day or France was able to turn her into a jump shooter by cutting off her aggressive drives to the basket, but Nurse couldn't hit a basket. She finished 3 of 17 from the field in the 68-63 loss en route to a seventh place finish.

Nurse was hoping to return home with a medal. She joked that she would leave it with her parents and point out to her brother Darnell, a defenseman for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, that despite the remarkable number of trophies he has accumulated, he couldn't top her achievement of earning an Olympic medal. Those conversations just may happen one day but not at the current time.

As time has gone on Nurse has learned the appreciate everything that her national team has been able to accomplish instead of a focusing on her disappointing performance against France.

"Every summer when I come back here and put my dreams (in focus) again," Nurse said. "I look back at my summer and realize how fortunate I was to have that experience, thinking about it if you want to be an experienced player you have to keep on playing. I've been fortunate to have that extra experience, find all of my strengths and weaknesses and work through them.

"My whole thing is we had three vets who were finished with the national team no matter what the outcome was and see how they carried themselves every day, the pride and passion they played with each and every day for the last four years of my career and all the years they were with the team. It was a shame we couldn't finish it off and the fairy tale for them and everything they put into the program. It was obviously disappointing but we are extremely proud of how far Canada basketball has come, when those ranking came out and we were six, we bumped up three spots that is just a testament of how far Canada basketball has come."

As Nurse referenced, the Canadian team will look somewhat different four years from now. Gaucher is 32, Shona Thorburn is 34, Lizanne Murphy is 32 and Tamara Tatham is 31 and the future of the team will rest with the seven members of the squad 25 or younger. Canada combined to go 9-3 in the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championships and FIBA U17 World Championships so perhaps players from those teams will be in the mix. There are also plenty of Canadian stars opening eyes at the collegiate level so it will be interesting to see what the team looks like in two years at the World Championships and in four years time as well.

"It is starting to get more towards my age group so all the players that I played with in the age divisions," Nurse said. "They are doing great things in the NCAA level, in the pro level overseas, for them to come up to the next level and play on the national team I think it is going to great."

A third person with UConn ties who went to the Olympics was also at media day in Philadelphia as former UConn forward Jamelle Elliott and current Cincinnati head coach Jamelle Elliott served as an advanced scout for the U.S. team.

"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Geno to think enough of me to be a part of this Olympic staff as a coach the best players in the world and try to go for a gold medal," Elliott said. "It was an unbelievable experience and it allowed me to reenergize as a coach being an assistant again, being around the coaching legends on the men's side Mike Krzyewski, Jim Boeheim, Tom Thibodeau just to hear those conversations and hear them talk about basketball it was unbelievable experience."

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Lofty expectations for UConn's Kia Nurse

The biggest question surrounding today's American Athletic Conference  women's basketball day had little to do with the preseason poll since UConn was predictably the unanimous pick to win the conference. Why not? Even with the graduation of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, the Huskies have never lost a game in the AAC and never had a final score closer than 14 points in 63 games.

Now when the subject turned to who would be the AAC preseason player of the year that is a different story.

Tulane's Kolby Morgan impressed me as much as any opposing AAC player not named Courtney Williams a season ago and she is the top returning scorer in the conference. Temple's Alliya Butts is another worthy candidate. However, I sort of assumed it would be a UConn player for the reasons mentioned above as UConn has never lost in this conference and 22 of the 63 games have been decided by at least 50 points.

That leaves Kia Nurse, the only player to start all 38 games a season ago, and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Huskies' top returning scorer, as top options.

Nurse, despite not being unanimously voted onto the AAC preseason team, was the one to receive that honor.

"Obviously it is a big honor and I am fortunate to have it but I believe it is preseason so I understand that I have to go out there, still perform and show it in that way," Nurse said.

UConn brought four players to media day in Philadelphia, the most of any team, and none of them were seniors which is a little unusual. The good news is that senior guard Saniya Chong earned plenty of praise from UConn coach Geno Auriemma for how she has been practicing.

"I think Saniya is going to have a great year, I really do," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, "She is going to surprise a lot of people. She knows that there isn't anymore of 'OK, I'll get it next year' or 'OK, they don't need me because they've got ...' She has been really good since the first day of practice and I am really happy for her and I think she is going to be a big key."

Auriemma isn't going to ask Chong to play like an All-American. He would love to see her play a role similar to what Ketia Swanier did as a senior. Play some quality minutes, distribute the ball, make the sots when you are open (and playing alongside Nurse, Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams she will be open)."

If the Huskies can get 12-15 quality minutes a game from her it would serve several purposes. First, it would take some of the pressure off freshmen Crystal Dangerfield and Molly Bent and it would allow Nurse to play her more natural position of shooting guard.
"I have been playing off the ball more recently especially with the national team," Nurse said. "It wasn't my natural position but I was a point guard for most of my life so I do think I will be playing a little bit of both. I do think off the ball I can help out because I understand the offenses and those kinds of things and I think Moriah helped me out a lot with that last year. Doing a little bit of both, I think I can handle it.

"I think she (Dangerfield) has to understand that she is not alone in this. As somebody who has been here for a long time and worked with Mo (Jefferson) in that kind of sense, I learned from her and have Shea on your side and go through film, I have her back on that and I will help her out wth all of that."

SALES FITTING INAliyah Gregory was already fired up when she headed that Tahnee Balerio would be making the move from Albany along with newly-hired UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. Then when the high-scoring junior guard found out that former UConn and WNBA star Nykesha Sales would also be joining the UCF staff, she was downright giddy.

"It is amazing opportunity,' Gregory said. "I was already excited because we had Coach (Balerio) on our staff and then I found out Coach Keesh was hired and I said the two of them are going to take it to a new level."
Although Sales is a Bloomfield native, she settled in Orlando after beginning her WNBA career with the Orlando Miracle. When the team relocated to Connecticut, Sales became a face of a team that made it to a pair of WNBA finals and after retiring, she worked with the team.
Sales wasn't even on Abrahamson-Henderson's radar when she was trying to figure out who to hire to complete her staff when she happened to see Sales playing a pickup game on the UCF campus.

"I said 'that must be a sign for me,'" Abrahamson-Henderson. "She is a great person and she has no ego. They call her cool Keesh, she was a strong enough woman. She has that winning mentality and nobody on my staff has a losing mentality, they only know how to win, we just teach winning."
Gregory is among the players to benefit from Sales knowledge.
"It is the experience that she has, she played at UConn and played at the highest level," Gregory said. Being able to pick her brain and being able to (learn) from her, it has been really good.
"A lot of people say that my personality is just like hers so we get along really well. I know if I need anything, she always has my back."

UConn unanimous pick to win AAC

UConn was the unanimous pick to win the American Athletic Conference women’s basketball title for the fourth year in a row.

    Team            Points
1. UConn (10) 100
2. Temple 87
3. USF (1) 86
4. Tulane 73
5. SMU 50
6. East Carolina 49
7. Memphis 47
8. UCF 41
9. Tulsa 33
10. Cincinnati 23
11. Houston 16
(USF received first-place vote cast by UConn’s Geno Auriemma since he can’t vote for his own team)

Preseason Player of the Year
Kia Nurse, Jr., G, UConn

Preseason All-Conference First Team
Katie Lou Samuelson, So., G/F, UConn
Kia Nurse, Jr., G, UConn
Kitija Laksa, So., F, USF
Alliya Butts, Jr., G, Temple
Feyonda Fitzgerald, Sr., G, Temple
Kolby Morgan, Jr., G, Tulane

Preseason All-Conference Second Team
Zykira Lewis, Sr., G, UCF
Napheesa Collier, So., F, UConn
Gabby Williams, Jr., G, UConn
Alicia Froling, Jr., F, SMU
Leslie Vorpahl, Sr., G, Tulane

Friday, October 14, 2016

Live blog for UConn's First Night

For those who might be interested, the Register will have alive blog running during tonight's First Night festivities which includes various twitter feeds from people running and/or covering the event.

I am currently in Tampa as I will be covering tomorrow's UConn/USF football game and won't be attending First Night but the David Borges, who covers the men's basketball team for the Register, will be providing coverage so feel free to follow him on Twitter @DaveBorges

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rosters set for UConn's First Night festivities

The rosters for the scrimmage portion of First Night have been announced.

Molly Bent, Napheesa Collier, Kyla Irwin, Tierney Lawlor, Kia Nurse and Azura Stevens will play for the White team, being coached by UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie.

Natalie Butler, Batouly Camara, Saniya Chong, Crystal Dangerfield, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams are a part of the Blue team coached by Geno Auriemma.

Doors open for Friday's event at 3 p.m. The first 50 students in line will be granted premium courtside seating and the first 300 fans to sign-up at the marketing table inside the South entrance at Gampel Pavilion will be granted entrance into a Selfie Session with the teams. This session will allow fans to take pictures with the members of both the men's and women's team at 5:30 p.m. That takes the place of the autograph session with the teams and head coaches.

There will be a women's volleyball game against Central Florida as a much improved UConn team puts its 13-4 record on the line.

The basketball portion of "First Night" kicks off at 7:30 p.m.

UConn is planning to hold its first official practice tomorrow as the Huskies begin the quest for an unprecedented fifth straight national title. However, the practice isn't open to the media so don't expect reports coming from the practice.