Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Compelling family affair stories headlining Final Four

Wins by Stanford and UConn tonight will make for the family reunions to end all family reunions with the Samuelson sisters squaring off in Sunday's national title game.

Since I've had access to the younger of the Samuelsons just a few times in the last six months, I spent a little more time with Karlie Samuelson yesterday to get her take on the potential showdown with her sister Katie Lou.

It's a remarkable story and one that ESPN has certainly gotten plenty of mileage out of. Naturally, Karlie Samuelson was far and away the most popular of the Stanford players during the media access session on Thursday.

"It is pretty cool to be able to go to the Final Four with both of my sisters," said Karlie, who played with older sister Bonnie in the 2014 Final Four. "Before the tournament started, I said it would be crazy for us if we met in the NCAA tournament. We haven't talked about it much since the tournament."

Karlie calls or texts her younger sister rather regularly and often times has critiques of the game she just played.

"I like to see her do well," Karlie said. "I like to tell her different things that people aren't talking about. I just like to talk to her a lot."

There is another family story that has flown a little more under the radar and that is the tale of Mississippi State point guard Morgan William.

William dropped 41 points on Baylor to go with seven assists and no turnovers in the regional final to set up a Final Four showdown with UConn tonight. After the game she was rather emotional as she spoke about the game falling three years and a day after the unexpected passing of her beloved stepfather.

"I felt like the emotion was driving me because the day before was when he passed, I was still in the middle of it and it as my motivation," William said. "I just played for him and that was all him. It just all hit me, I did not plan that. They started asking questions and it just came out.

"If I didn't have him in my life, I don't know if I would have been this successful or I will still be playing basketball. I remember when he passed, I wanted to quit, I didn't have the motivation but my mom and my high school coach said he would have wanted you to play so keep playing.

"I am glad I kept playing, he would be proud of me and mad that I quit. I am not a quitter but during the tough times, I couldn't go in the gym for a month. I'd go in the gym, try to dribble and I couldn't do it, I just started crying. It was in March so I wasn't going to school, I knew I had to go into the gym, I was going into college and I wanted to be develop."

William's roommate is fellow junior guard Blair Schaefer, who happens to be the daughter of Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer so the bond between the head coach and star point guard is even stronger than your typical player/coach relationship.

"Morgan is like my sister," Blair Schaefer said. "We are roommates and we hang out all the time, we would do anything for other, I feel like when we started rooming together, we were closer and my parents have us over for dinner all the time. Having her come over is a normal thing, go home and do homework. Every since she lost her dad, he has always been there for her in case she needs anything. She has the special bond with my dad to where if she ever needs to talk basketball with anybody, she can talk with him, she can tell him, 'Coach this hurts my feelings when this happens' or 'I get bothered when this happens' but he is good as listening and he understands that as a dad and as a coach at the same time."

Obviously Blair Schaefer was aware of the magnitude of the anniversary of the death of Donnie Rory, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 44. With the emotion still driving her, William put together as good of a stat line as you will ever see in the NCAA tournament.

"It was a special moment, you need to cherish that moment because he is in heaven looking down on her and proud of her," Blair Schaefer said. "He used to work her out, be her coach and trainer and he is the reason why she is where she is today. 'I know you wish he was here to see you play but he is watching you from heaven and he is so proud of you.' It is great that she is playing so well and playing so well for him."

During the Baylor game, Schaefer and her teammates kept feeding the ball to William.

"She had this look in her eyes like nobody was going to stop her," Schaefer said. "She was hot, we were running plays (normally reserved) for our shooting guards because she was making everything. We told her, 'they are not adjusting and not guarding it so we are going to keep running it.' I just feel like she was truly a great point guard that day, she was not going to let her team lose and she had that mindset.  I feel like when she has that mindset and she has attitude, we have a full team with that attitude behind her."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

UConn's Auriemma named AP Coach of the Year for ninth time

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't ready to declare this his best coaching job but he was quick to admit how fortunate he is to work with his coaching staff and players as he was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year for a ninth time.

"The reality of the situation is we probably didn't do anything different this year," Auriemma said. "We didn't work any harder, we didn't put in more hours, we didn't watch more film or come up with new drills. It really is about putting the players in a tough spot and letting them do the rest, they did and that is why we are here.

"If you are consistent and you try to put the same effort into it all the time, that is the best that you can do. Some years it is going to work out perfectly, some years it is not, some years it ends in a championship and some years it doesn't. Not every year turns out to be perfect but I like to think that every year our coaching staff puts the effort in, puts the time in and try to give our players the best chance of being successful. This year the challenges were different than they were last year, for sure. There were a lot of things we tried to cover up and we covered them up pretty well up to this point.

"I'll bet you there were times that we won national championships, went to the Final Four and didn't get coach of the year so it is not like you are undefeated and go to the Final Four, you are going to get coach of the year. Some years they vote for you, some years they don't."

I asked Auriemma what the best part was about coaching this particular group of players.

"What is different is that since October to now, they have become something different, they have changed individually, as a team they are not anywhere near the team that they were in October or November for that matter," Auriemma said. "That has been really rewarding. Some teams are already amazing October 15, last year's team and this team has changed incredibly and that is probably the thing that makes us feel the best about it."

Washington senior guard Kelsey Plum was named the AP's Player of the Year receiving 30 of the 33 votes (UConn's Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as South Carolina's A'ja Wilson received the other votes).

Plum became the NCAA Division I women's all-time single-season and career scorer this season.

"I got the best shot every night, different defenses, I think I got the kitchen sink thrown at me with box and 1s, triangle and 2s, switching, hedging and all that stuff so it was great as a player you get to challenge yourself within the game, when things are going on, you have to figure out how to adjust but that is really cool because a lot of people don't get that opportunity," Plum said.

If she has a regret it is that her Washington team isn't the one playing UConn tomorrow as Mississippi State knocked the West Coast Huskies out in the Sweet 16.

"I actually dreamed about playing against Connecticut in Storrs although that will never happen now," Plum said. "He's the greatest of all time and to hear what we said today, I was like a kid in the candy store."

Plum does have a connection to UConn as former UConn graduate assistant Jasmine Lister is in her first season as an assistant at Washington.

"Jas has been great and the addition to our staff, she brought a new energy, she works extremely hard," Plum said. "She is really like a young, bright mind in this game. Her future is going to be special."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Walker, Coombs team up for win at McDonald's All-American Game

UConn incoming freshmen Megan Walker and Mikayla Coombs were members of the winning East team at the McDonald's All-American Game played in Chicago today.

Walker had a couple of chance to put the East ahead in the closing seconds of regulation before the East pulled away for the 80-74 victory.

Walker finished with 13 points, five rebounds and one steal in 22 minutes while Coombs had two points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Coombs and Walker will team up again in the Jordan Brand Classic in New York next month and fellow UConn signee Lexi Gordon has also been selected to play in the game.

Another day and more All-American honors for UConn's newest terrific trio.

Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams were named to the 10-member United States Basketball Writers Association All-American team joining Washington's Kelsey Plum, Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, South Carolina's A'ja Wilson, Oregon State's Sydney Wiese, Brianna Turner of Notre Dame and the Maryland duo of Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

Collier, Jones, Mitchell, Plum and Wilson are finalists for the USBWA Player of Year award.

UConn signee Coombs has "an interesting upside"

A pair of future Huskies will take the court later on today for the McDonald's All-American Game.
Megan Walker, who has been earning nearly every national player of the year honor, will be among the headliners in the game being held in Chicago. However, her UConn-bound teammate on East squad has flown under a radar just a bit.

The 5-foot-10 Mikayla Coombs averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.2 steals in leading the Wesleyan School to the Georgia Private School 1A title, the 12th for the program since 2002. UConn coach Geno Auriemma compared the way she plays the game to current star guard Kia Nurse in the sense that she can impact the game in a variety of ways regardless of whether her shot is falling.

I asked UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph, who will be Coombs' position coach, for her thoughts on the UConn incoming freshman.

"She has an impact everywhere on the floor," Ralph said. "She plays hard, she is a great defender, she can do a lot of different things on offense, she is a competitor and she can play a lot of of different positions. For Mikayla, she has a really interesting upside because she can do all the stuff and she embraces it. She can rebound and is an all around player."

The game will start at 5 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Memorable Connecticut swan song for UConn's Saniya Chong

Twenty seconds after recording her fourth assist of the game, Saniya Chong made her way to the bench. It would be her final game in the state of Connecticut and the moment was bittersweet for the senior from Ossining, N.Y.

"It was pretty amazing," Chong said. "What made it really amazing was how we played together, we played as a team. I am really sad but I am excited to go to the Final Four and finish it off."

Chong fittingly enough was replaced with 1:47 to play by fellow senior Tierney Lawlor since the two have the distinction of being the winningest class in women's college basketball history with a record of 152-1.

The roof might have blown off of Webster Bank Arena had Lawlor connected on an open 3-pointer with 29 seconds to play but still, going four years without losing a game in the state of Connecticut and losing one game overall is quite the legacy.

"I wanted to be on the court, contribute and just help my teammates in any kind of way," Chong said. "If you just have confidence, keep being persistent and hopefully the end result is pretty good.
It gets everybody excited right away, it gives everybody this edge of, 'we can do this, we've got this and keep focused.'"

Chong and the other four starters were having the time of their lives watching the final seconds tick off the clock. Although UConn, as is its custom, will wait until the national title game before cutting down the nets it was emotional for them to clinch a berth in the Final Four.

"In the beginning of the season we had a lot of doubters," Chong said. "Each and every day, we challenged each other. Throughout the season we just got better and better and just proved everybody wrong. It was just a feeling of happiness and how we made it here, we did it because we all came together.

"Throughout the season, you hope to win, you don't expect the end result yet. We had this one goal each and every day to challenge each other and get better and it will go from there so keep focused, keep being consistent."

Chong played a team-high 35 points and had 11 points, four assists and two steals in the 90-52 victory. It was Chong's 144th career game and with a 143-1 record, she is tied for seventh most wins in program history.

Maya Moore 150-4
Moriah Jefferson 150-5
Kalana Greene 148-9
Tiffany Hayes 147-7
Breanna Stewart 147-5
Tina Charles 144-6
Saniya Chong 143-1
Stefanie Dolson 143-11
Kelly Faris 143-11

Monday, March 27, 2017

UConn rolls past Oregon to return to the Final Four

When a team wins its last 111 games including 28 straight in the NCAA tournament, sometimes it is hard to celebrate each and every game.

With a hard-driving coaching staff constantly pushing, the players' reactions after games don't always look like one from a victorious team. However, as the final seconds ticked off the Webster Bank Arena, the five starters were smiling from ear to ear as the Huskies return to the Final Four for a record 10th time in a row.

"It is a feeling that never gets old We've been there before but it never gets old," UConn junior forward Gabby Williams said.

Williams was her typical brilliant self with 25 points. Regional most outstanding player Napheesa Collier led the way to 28 points. Here are some numbers to chew on -

Collier has 96 points in this year's tournament while Williams has 85. I went through NCAA tournament box scores earlier today and they rank second and fifth in program history for most points through the regional round of the tournament. Diana Taurasi had 103 points in 2003, Barbara Turner had 91 in 2006 and Maya Moore had 87 in 2010.

The records don't stop there. Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson are the highest scoring tandem in UConn women's basketball history.

Kia Nurse has 20 3-pointers tying the record for the most in one NCAA tournament (with either one or two games remaining). Betsy Harris had 20 for Alabama in 1994, Diana Taurasi of UConn matched that mark in 2003 and Maya Moore did the same seven years later.

UConn is now 152-1 since Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor arrived at UConn as they are the winningest class in women's college basketball history.

UConn set the NCAA women's Division I record for assists in a season. The Huskies have 852 topping the mark of 850 set two seasons ago.

Geno Auriemma is the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history with 113 record breaking the mark of former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

Sure I'm forgetting a few statistical notes.

Next up is the Final Four. UConn got the second of the semifinals which is likely to start around 10 p.m. on Friday against Mississippi State.

UConn's Collier, Samuelson earn Associated Press All-American honors

When the season began there were 10 players named on multiple ballots on the Associated
Press preseason All-American women's basketball team and not one of them hailed from the
four-time defending national champions.

It was a much different story as UConn sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou
Samuelson were named first team All-Americans by the Associated Press. They join Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart as the only UConn sophomores to earn first-team AP All-American honors.

Samuelson is UConn's leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. She heads into
Monday night's regional final against Oregon needing five 3-pointers to tie Kaleena
Mosqueda-Lewis' single-season program record. Samuelson and Mosqueda-Lewis are the only
UConn players with at least 100 assists and 100 3-pointers in the same season. The 724
points scored by Samuelson this season are the fifth most in program history. She has nine games with at least 25 points, the third most at UConn in the last 20 seasons.

"I think the big thing was at the end of the season I sat down with the coaches and
talked about how I could improve on a lot of little things and this year specifically,"

Samuelson said. "I really had no choice, I was going to have to do so many different
things in order for our team to be successful this year. Coach (Geno Auriemma) always
said it is interesting to see what people can do if they have no other choice but to do
it. I felt like I had to do more things offensively and defensively I had to step up,
that is what I have been trying to do."

Collier is second on the team in scoring with an average of 20.4 points per game. She is
shooting 69 percent from the field, the fourth best total in program history trailing
only the numbers Tamika Williams put up in her final three season.

Collier's scoring average jumped 13.64 points this season, the second largest one-year
improvement in UConn history and among current Division I women's players trails only
South Dakota' Allison Arens, Cassie Broadhead of BYU and Army's Madison Hovren.

"I feel like I didn't play to my potential last year, there were a lot of factors to it,"
said Collier, who also leads UConn in rebounding and blocked shots. "Everybody is so
much bigger and stronger than in high school and it is such a big learning curve. I knew
I could play better so I worked harder this season to get stronger, get more confident
on the ball."

UConn junior forward Gabby Williams was named a second-team All-American. She is third
on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, leads the Huskies with 185 assists and
94 steals and is second in rebounding. Williams could become the first UConn player with
at least 200 rebounds and assists in the same season.

"It is not something I thought about," Williams said. "You rarely think about individual
awards, it just kind of comes. We are focusing on how do we win, what's next for us."

Junior guard Kia Nurse, the only UConn player to receive a vote on the preseason ballot,
was an honorable mention selection on the postseason team. She is averaging 13 points per game, leads the Huskies with a 46.3 3-point percentage, is second on the team with 69 3-pointers.

Washington's Kelsey Plum was the only unanimous selection. She was joined on the first team by South Carolina's A'ja Wilson and Brionna Jones of Maryland.

Oregon's success is extra special for homegrown star

Not suggestion that Lexi Bando grew up close to the Oregon campus or anything like that, but if the wind was blowing the right way she could probably hear the PA system from most of the athletic events without leaving the comfort of her home.

Bando, who had a pair of absolutely huge 3-pointers in Oregon's win over Maryland in the regional semifinals, isn't just a part of this year's feel-good women's basketball story, she has witnessed many of Oregon's greatest athletes as a wide-eyed youngster sitting in the stands at Ducks football and basketball games.

"I grew up right behind Autzen Stadium," said Bando,  "I can walk to campus."

Bando said she began attending home games at Oregon, "pretty much as soon as I could." We always had season tickets to the football games and also went to the basketball games.."

Bando struggled to pick out one game as her most memorable one that she witnessed while growing up in Eugene but had no such difficulty rattling off some of the players she grew up idolizing.

"I've seen some really good players, Aaron Brooks, Luke Jackson, Taylor Lilley, so many great games."

With all those memories, it was a foregone conclusion that Bando, who leads Oregon in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, which school she was going to attend, right? Well, not exactly.

"I was recruited by Kelly (Graves) to go to Gonzaga so signed my letter to go to GU and when he made the transition to go to Oregon, I decided to follow him," Bando said. "It has been like a dream come true to play in front of my family."

So what was it about Graves that would make Bando sign to play with him at Gonzaga and after he was hired at Oregon, go out being released from her commitment so she could play for him at Oregon?

"He is a great coach and an even better person off the court," Bando said. "He wants to know about your life ,he wants to make sure you are taken care of and he has always had the best coaching staff with him. That is what really led me to him."

While the Oregon women's basketball team is looking to make it to the Final Four for the first time, the men's team has already punched its ticket.

"Just a huge congrats to them," Bando said. "It is what we strive to be like. Dana Altman has done an awesome job with them, we are hoping to kind of turn it into a basketball school. Our women's program hasn't had too much success but that is on the rise right now.

"This is such a young team and program on the rise, this is going to be a powerhouse ."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Half of Samuelson-Samuelson Final Four is set

You had to feel for UConn sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson. All she wanted to do was watch her older sister Karlie's game in the NCAA tournament but UConn's press conference and media availability session coincided with that.

Samuelson, among the most accommodating players on the UConn team to the media, answered all the questions both at the podium and in the locker room but obviously her mind was very much on what was transpiring in Lexington, Kentucky when Karlie helped Stanford rally for a one-point win over Notre Dame to punch a ticket to the Final Four.

"I've always been the little one and they always played as hard as they could against me," Katie Lou Samuelson said. "Maybe every once in a while they let me shoot a shot over Bonnie. They really pushed me to be the best that I can."
Karlie Samuelson was heavily recruited by UConn and there was a time when it appeared she might have suited up for the Huskies. She opted to stay in California and play at Stanford.
The decision is one she hasn't regretted but has made for plenty of traveling for her dad Jon who has been traveling between Lexington, Kentucky and Bridgeport to see Karlie's and Katie Lou's games in the regionals.
"I went to hug him after a little bit of celebration," Karlie Samuelson said. "He said I made him cry too. I'm just so thankful that he's coming out here and my mom is supporting me at home with the dogs and Bonnie.
"He hasn't slept. He went from my game to Lou's game to our game back to Lou's game. I'm just really thankful to have so much support from my family."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma knows the Samuelson well having recruited two of the Samuelson sisters. Even though Karlie Samuelson played a starring role in the last loss suffered by Auriemma's Huskies, he still holds the middle of the three Samuelson sister in the highest regard.
"I was watching the game and they put the camera on Lou's dad Jon and I've never seen a happier guy in my life," Auriemma said. "He has to be shot all the plane miles he is doing back and forth. Stanford has been so steady all these years, when Lou came here it was not an easy thing for the Samuelsons, you've got kids 3,000 miles apart so trying to figure it all about and keeping your fingers crossed that maybe they'll both play in the Final Four and now one of them is already there and hopefully we can get there as well and the family can go crazy trying to figure out who to root for.
"She is one of my favorite players, one of my favorite kids. A week doesn't go by when I'll say, 'man, we've got the wrong Samuelson.' They got the one who plays really hard, is really emotional, dives on loose balls, plays good defense, gets her hands up on shooters. We've got the wrong one. I must say that once a week just to get Lou really (worked up_ and it works all the time."
Auriemma sees similarities with all three of the Samuelson sisters.

"They are great kids, great teammates, they all shoot the hell out of it," Auriemma said. "They are all really competitive, they are smart not just in the classroom but smart basketball players as well and they are great kids to be around. They are the kinds of kids you want on the team, the kinds of kids you want as a teammate if you were on the team. They are the kinds of kids you want to coach all three of them."

Karlie and Katie Lou Samuelson have never met in a game in college and for that to happen, Stanford and UConn would need to play in the national championship game.

Oh, and look for the traveling man Jon Samuelson to be in the stands tomorrow when UConn plays Oregon as he was for all four of Karlie's games in the NCAA tournament and Katie Lou's game against UCLA.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Chong delivers again for UConn

In Saniya Chong's first three seasons, when UConn reached the regional round of the NCAA tournament there was no guaranteed she would even step onto the court until the game's outcome was no longer in question.

Chong did play 10 minutes against Texas as a sophomore and 10 more against Mississippi State a season ago in the Sweet 16 game but that was more of a case of somebody needing to eat up some minutes in a blowout victory.

Here minutes in today's regional semifinal came about because they were earned. Chong was out there for 38 minutes and often times she was the one asked to break UCLA's press. She hit some clutch shots, fought hard for some rebounds, had a couple of huge assists in the 86-71 victory.

The win the 151st since Chong and fellow senior Tierney Lawlor arrived at UConn matching the NCAA women's Division I record for wins in a career set by UConn's Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore from 2007-11.

"I left really good, I was out there just enjoying my time playing," said Chong, who had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in the UCLA win. "I had to go out there and do whatever my team needed of me and that was to handle the ball.

"That was my main thing, just having my teammates trust me, I am out there contributing any way that I can. Not just me but T (Lawlor), she has the number just like me and it has been a great ride and a lot of memories."

Chong's performance wasn't lost on her teammates or coaches.

"Saniya has done a great job this year, stepped into a huge role and done it flawlessly and today especially when we had a lot of pressure on us, she did a great job finding an opening, getting to the basket and making plays," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said. "It was a good ending and obviously we want to have a good ending for her and T this season and this is a good step from her.

"What we've saw from her was her talent and her ability to read the game before the play happens. I think the biggest thing that has changed for her is her confidence in herself and her understanding that her teammates have as much confidence in her as anybody else. She has really understood that we trust in her that she can make those plays."

Chong's career at UConn has followed a different script. With the way the Huskies bring in elite talent on an annual basis, if a player hasn't carved out a significant role by the end of their sophomore season it usually doesn't happen. However. Chong went from playing a total of nine minutes in UConn's final three NCAA tournament games a season ago to becoming a vital cog on a team three wins away from an unprecedented fifth straight national title.

"She has been really consistent this year in practice and in games," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "She played great today, she is our quickest player with the ball and having a ball screen, I don't know if anybody could stop her. She is a great 3-point shooters. She is another ball hander, she is a great free throw shooter so we are going to need her in the clutch but I thought she played really well.

"In the past I don't know if Saniya was either ready or capable of doing that but this year she had a great opportunity. She has taken it and been one of our most consistent players."

Memorable March continues for Samuelson family

Jon Samuelson, the patriarch of the sweet-shooting Samuelson family, is certainly racking up the frequent flyer miles these days.

Samuelson was in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday to watch Karlie score 15 points in Stanford's victory over Texas to advance to the Elite Eight. The plan was for him to board a flight to so he could be in the stands when his youngest daughter Katie Lou leads her UConn team against UCLA later on today.

Samuelson's wife is staying behind "with Bonnie and my dogs," Katie Lou said on Friday. "Dad just got to Lexington. He is going to stay for that game and he will probably get here right before our game."

There are many remarkable aspects about the success of the Samuelson sisters. When Katie Lou makes eight more 3-pointers, it will mean all three sisters have hit the 200 mark.

Bonnie, who graduated in 2015, had 237 in 141 games at Stanford. Karlie is at 244 in 132 games with the Cardinal while Katie Lou stands at 192 in 71 games. I checked in with the NCAA earlier this season to see if I could get a list of all the players with at least 200 3-pointers in NCAA Division I women's basketball history but they don't have that information so I am not sure if another sister combination both surpassed the 200 3-pointer mark never mind having three siblings accomplish the feat.

That is far from the only impressive aspect of the Samuelson sisters. Bonnie appeared in the regionals in all four of her seasons at Stanford as has Karlie while Katie Lou is 2 for 2 in that regard.

"Our parents are proud of all of us and gives them a chance to watch all of us play," Katie Lou Samuelson said. "A lot of people don't get that opportunity to watch their daughters for that long so just being able to get that far is an opportunity for our parents and grandparents to see each of us play."

There was much more on the youngest of the Samuelsons in today's paper. My advance was on how sophomores Napheesa Collier and Samuelson have taken on larger roles aided by the lessons they learned last season from Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart. Also, UCLA happens to have Samuelson's former high school teammate Ally Rosenblum on its roster so I checked in with her to get some insight from a player who has been a teammate of Samuelson's for more than a decade.


Friday, March 24, 2017

UConn's Auriemma shows love for Cinderella Quinnipiac team

As UConn's five starters made their way to their interviews with ESPN and head coach Geno Auriemma was about to emerge from the locker room to head to the interview with the media, UConn women's basketball sports information director Pat McKenna dropped a hint that Auriemma had something special planned at his presser.

 As it was winding down, Auriemma unzipped his jacket to reveal a Quinnipiac t-shirt. Auriemma took it a step further as he explained why he was wearing a shirt for the first Connecticut team other than UConn to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.

 "I'm just glad we're not in their bracket because I'll tell you what, I wouldn't want to be in their bracket," Auriemma said. "They remind me of our '91 team. I watched them play the other day. There was about 10 minutes left -- eight minutes left in the game, and I remember saying, 'I think they're going to win.' I couldn't believe it. And everybody in the place was going nuts. I thought, 'oh, my God, this is like 1991, replaying itself.' And Trish, that potty-mouth coach of theirs, if I ever said some of the stuff that she said, I'd get crucified. I told her that, too. Catholic school girl like herself? She should be ashamed of herself."

Word got out to Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri of Auriemma's wardrobe choice before the start of the Bobcats' press conference in Stockton, California.

"Well, first of all, Geno has been such a mentor for me going way back," Fabbri said. "He helped me in this process, get a job at Quinnipiac a long, long time ago, 22 years ago. But really just a gold standard, a great guy, and then he was so excited. He reached out as soon as we won, and so complimentary of what we were able to accomplish over the weekend.The fact that he is wearing our shirt in support of our team in this tournament at this time, just so thankful, and very grateful for his support and UConn women's basketball's support of Quinnipiac's women's basketball, and the two teams in Connecticut here representing women's basketball in the Sweet 16."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

WBCA honors pouring in for UConn's Auriemma and his star players

At this time of the year it is seemingly a daily occurrence for either Geno Auriemma or his players to receive some sort of national award or be among the list of finalists for such an award. It just so happens that all of this is the case today.

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association announced that Auriemma has been named the women's Division I coach of the year for the seventh time after leading his team to another undefeated regular season even after the graduation of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.

Also, Napheesa Collier joins Washington's Kelsey Plum, Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina as finalists for the Wade Trophy, the top individual award bestowed to a women's basketball player. Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams were also named to the WBCA's all-region team making them eligible to be selected to the WBCA All-American team which is the criteria required to be part of the Huskies of Honor.

Collier is averaging 20.2 points per game (shooting 69.3 percent from the field), she leads the Huskies in rebounding (8.9 per game) and has a team-best 68 blocked shots.

Samuelson is the team leader in scoring (20.9 points per game), her 114 3-pointers is seven shy of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' single-season program record. She also has 111 assists and 50 steals.

Williams is averaging 13.7 points per game, leads the Huskies with 179 rebounds and 93 steals and is second on the team in rebounding and blocked shots.

In case anybody is wondering why Kia Nurse is not on this list, the way the WBCA does things, there is a limit of three players per team who can receive all-region honors. That is why Asjha Jones is not up on the Huskies of Honor even though she had the kind of senior year that normally ends with All-American recognition. Nurse is certainly one of the best 40 players in women's college basketball but only three Huskies can make this list.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Quinnipiac headed to Sweet 16

UConn advancing to regionals isn't exactly a stunning turn of events but seeing Quinnipiac getting to the Sweet 16 is really something to behold.

The Bobcats became the first Connecticut women's team other than UConn to advance out of the subregionals in the Division I tournament beating Miami at home after topping Marquette in the first round. Next up is a test against No. 1 seed South Carolina, a team that could be missing two starters.

My colleague David Borges is down in Coral Gables covering the tournament so feel free to check out his coverage from his remarkable accomplishment.

I did a couple of stories this season on Quinnipiac, a preseason feature focusing on seniors Morgan Manz and Adily Martucci and then wrote a story off a late season game against Iona about how a balanced offensive attack could prove to be beneficial.

Just think about what a last few months it has been for Quinnipiac's women's teams.

The story of the volleyball team going from being a conference doormat to coming a match away from earning an NCAA tournament appearance.

UConn puts on another passing, shooting display

The day before UConn hosted Syracuse in a rematch of the 2016 national championship game I caught up with Kia Nurse to address the Huskies' impressive passing ability which could very well result in them setting the NCAA women's Division I record for assists in a season. It was during that interview when I mentioned the team's impressive finishing ability.

She took particular glee in being asked about her teammates' finishing ability. Well, in Monday night's 30-point win over Syracuse it was Nurse doing much of the finishing with 29 points thanks in large part to her tying the NCAA Division I women's tournament record by making nine 3-pointers.

With Nurse leading three players in double figures, the Huskies finished the third quarter with a staggering ratio of 30 assists on 31 baskets.

"I think in this tournament, we are going to need to share the ball and play completely as a team with everyone contributing as much as we can rather than trying to go 1 on 1," UConn sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson said. "We want to make sure we use every single person to try to find that open shot every time."

The Huskies assists on 26 consecutive baskets at one point and even without handing out an assist in the fourth quarter, they had 30 assists. According to the research I did earlier this season, the 64 assists in back to back games are the most in program history.
Here's the chart I put together with the previous or next game listed depending on which one had the larger number of assists

34 vs. Western Michigan (95-46) Nov. 23, 2003 NEXT GAME: 19
34 vs. Quinnipiac (117-20) Dec. 27, 1998 PREVIOUS GAME 20
33 vs. Georgetown (107-45) Jan. 2, 2001 PREVIOUS GAME 20
32 vs. Tulsa (96-50) Feb. 5, 2017 NEXT GAME: 31
32 vs. Charleston (103-39) Nov. 11, 2012 NEXT GAME: 27
32 vs. Dartmouth (95-47) Mar. 20, 2005 NEXT GAME: 14
32 at Providence (95-68) Feb. 2, 1997 NEXT GAME: 16
32 vs. Northeastern (96-34) Dec. 29, 1995 NEXT GAME 16
32 vs. Iona (101-42) Dec. 23, 1994 NEXT GAME 31
31 vs. South Florida (102-37) Jan. 10, 2017: PREVIOUS/NEXT GAME 25
31 vs. SMU (102-41) Feb. 4, 2014: PREVIOUS GAME 25
31 at Temple (93-56) Jan. 28, 2014: PREVIOUS/NEXT GAME: 25
31 vs. Florida State (83-71) Dec. 21, 2008 NEXT GAME 20
31 vs. St. John's (118-44) Feb. 23, 2001 PREVIOUS GAME 19
31 vs. Syracuse (100-74) Feb. 18, 2000 NEXT GAME 22
31 at Seton Hall (88-45) Dec. 8, 1999 NEXT GAME 28
31 vs. California (99-52) Dec. 28, 1994 NEXT GAME 32
30 vs. Oregon (114-68) Nov. 20, 2013 NEXT GAME: 26
30 vs. Holy Cross (117-37) Nov. 14, 2010 NEXT GAME 12
30 vs. Stony Brook (98-35) Nov. 11, 2007 NEXT GAME 29
30 vs. Buffalo (107-40) Nov. 19, 2004 NEXT GAME 16
30 vs. Hampton (116-45) Mar. 17, 2000 PREVIOUS GAME 17
30 vs. Georgetown (94-75) Feb. 5, 1995 NEXT GAME 22

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Syracuse hot-shot freshman Cooper familiar with UConn fans

Precocious Syracuse freshman Gabby Cooper finds humor in her seating selection during last year's national title game even almost a year later.

As a native of Lansing, Illinois, it was an easy decision for Cooper's family to buy tickets to the 2016 Final Four after Syracuse punched their ticket. However, getting a spot in the Syracuse section proved to be a little more difficult that anticipated.

"The first game we got those tickets late so I sat in the second section kind of behind the rim," Cooper said. "For the UConn game, (Cooper's mother) went to buy the tickets. I have a two-year-old niece and she started to act up as she was in the middle of buying tickets. When she came back to  buy tickets, all the seats by the Orange were sold out so we actually sat in the middle of the UConn section right behind the UConn bench basically."

Hold on, a Syracuse commit is watching UConn beat the Orange while sitting a couple of rows behind the bench?

"It was kind of weird because everywhere you look everybody has on Navy (blue) and everybody has UConn gear," Cooper said with a laugh. "My trainer from back home, he trained Morgan Tuck so he was there, my family and it was all WNBA players who played for UConn, they were right behind us. it was kind of weird. We had our Orange and blue on."

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey was a bit on the nervous side as she watched the final moments as Quinnipiac held on for an upset win over Big East tournament champion Marquette to become the first double-digit seed to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"I am so happy for them," Dailey said. "I ran into Trish at a game (on the recruiting trail), we text back and forth and she thought her staff might come up to maybe watch a practice. I was nervous on that 3 (by Marquette that rattled in and out at the buzzer) but as soon as it was over, I texted her.

"She has done a great job. I am so old that I remember her as a player, I remember her back in the day at Fairfield. She is one of the good people in the game. She does it the right way, she works hard, she has a philosophy and she sticks with it and you have to admire that. It is great for women's basketball
to have two teams in our state win their first game and move forward."

Chong ready for final home game at UConn

Saniya Chong joined fellow senior Tierney Lawlor as part of the emotional Senior Day festivities before she played her final regular-season home game at Gampel Pavilion.

There will be no such ceremonies before tomorrow night's game as Chong will play at Gampel Pavilion for the final time as a Husky.

If UConn wins, the seniors will become the fourth class in program history not to lose a game at Gampel in their four years.

Chong still remembers her first game at Gampel Pavilion when she had six points, three assists and two steals in 76-57 win over No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 11, 2014.

"It was pretty amazing," Chong said. "It was my first game. I remember it was my first time putting on a UConn uniform and you never know what to expect going out there. It was really a day that I will remember forever."

UConn is 9-0 at Gampel Pavilion this season including the win over Albany in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Overall, the record is 36-0. The Class of 2004 headlined by Diana Taurasi and Derby native Maria Conlon finished 43-0 at Gampel, the Tina Charles-led Class of 2010 went 47-0 while Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon finished 40-0 at Gampel during their time.

"When you are a freshman and you don't expect to have this record or expect much," Chong said.."It has been an amazing experience and I have a lot of memories and looking back it to know that
I made history and I made so many new friends."

There was no guarantee that Chong was going to have a significant role as a senior. Typically, if a player doesn't carve out a role by the end of their sophomore years they often get passed by in the playing rotation by the new patch of recruits. That is not the case with Chong who went from averaging 17.1, 19.0 and 12.4 minutes per game to being out there for 30.3 minutes as a senior.

"I couldn't be happier for anybody that I am for Saniya." UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "This year she has been able to put it all together, she has been able to everything off the court in a good place and anything on the court, she is the quickest player we have with the ball, she is great with ball screens. She stayed engaged, she has worked really hard and she plays the majority of the time. There aren't many minutes in the game when Saniya isn't on the court whether it is with the first group or with the second group, she has done a great job with the second group. She has really grown up and it nice to see."

Chong is also a part of the last class at UConn that can remember having practices at Gampel Pavilion on the regular basis as the Huskies began practicing at the Werth Family Champions Center during Chong's sophomore season.

"It was like last year I was just in here (practicing)," Chong said, "I know some of the new girls they don't realize we were in here and how different it is compared to our new facility. I am happy
I had the ability to experience both."

It was not all good news for Chong. The former Ossining High School star heard that they fell to Baldwin 73-45 in the New York AA state title game ending a run of four consecutive state titles, a run that began when Chong was a senior.

"I felt really bad for them and I heard Coach (Dan) Ricci got thrown out so I knew it must have been a bad game but they still came a long way and I am very proud of them," Chong said.

UConn signee Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 19 points in the game. Espinoza-Hunter was an eighth grader on the first of Ossining's teams that won the AA title before playing at Blair Academy for the next three seasons. She returned for her senior season and the 995 points she scored broke the NYSPHSAA single-season record set by Karen O'Connor in 1987.

I am proud of her, she worked so hard to get where she is and I know she is over there breaking records. I am happy for her to come her and continue her career.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

UConn's Nurse hitting her stride

Geno Auriemma questioned whether junior guard Kia Nurse would even be at 100 percent for the rest of the season on the night that the pairings were announced.

Well, I'm not sure if she is 100 percent or not but she certainly looked as healthy as she has been since she injured her right ankle against South Carolina on February 13.

The first indication I had that she was feeling better came when Saniya Chong was the first starter subbed out instead of Nurse. Nurse may have played the entire first quarter had she not picked up her second foul with 1:40 left in the quarter. By that point she already had 10 points (making all three of her shots, both of her 3-pointers and both of her foul shots). She would finish with 24 points going 6 for 7 from 3-point range in just 24 minutes.

"Having Kia back puts out rotation back in place so everybody feels comfortable for where they are," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It allows the other players to know that we are going to be the right offense, we are going to be getting the ball to the right places as the right time. Saniya (Chong) and Crystal (Dangerfield) have been great but they have never been in these kinds of games and played in these kinds of games. One of them was in high school and the other one really didn't play much last year. Kia gives them confidence, she gives the entire team confidence but she especially gives Crystal and Saniya a tremendous amount of confidence.

"If you put Kia out there with the other four starters and you are one of the other teams that are playing against us, you start looking at your scouting report and who do we want shooting the ball? She is probably somebody who is going to be open more times than not. You saw today that when Kia gets is going from the perimeter, she makes everything."
While both Auriemma and Nurse had their game faces on thee was a light moment after Nurse made a layup early in the third quarter but it was a bit of an awkward looking shot.

"She shoots layups the Canadian way, they taught her how to shoot layups over there," Auriemma said. "She doesn't know if she should shoot it backhand or slap shot so I was trying to show her yesterday how to shoot it the American way and when she (nearly)missed, I was just shaking my head and she started laughing because she knows what I am talking about. She goes so hard to the basket she forgets to shoot it. That is why I am a great coach, I am taking the starting point guard n the Canadian national team trying to show her how to shoot a layup, who's better than me."

Nurse was told to stay off her ankle and not take part in any basketball activities, not even shooting drills for a couple of weeks. Only recently has she been able to get back in the gym putting in the extra work she is known for.

"I was getting in the gym this weekend getting some shots up trying to get that feel back, that helped," Nurse said. "The Wednesday that I came back ,that was the first time I was able to shoot, everything else was wait for it to heal, bike work.

"I was shooting decently (in practices leading into the game). I think individual (workouts) s in the gym all alone, that was when I was shooting better but in practice it was coming back."

A few notes from the game.

Katie Lou Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield both recorded their 100th assist of the season giving the Huskies five players with 100 assists the season matching the program record.

The 34 assists are the most for UConn in an NCAA tournament game and the third most in NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament history as Stanford had 37 against Arkansas in 1990 and 35 versus Howard in 1997.

Dating back to the 1994-95 season, it is the most in a game for UConn as the Huskies have 34 against Western Michigan on  Nov. 23, 2003 and against Quinnipiac on Dec. 27, 1998.

It was the eighth time UConn scored at least 100 points in a first-round game, the most in NCAA Division I women's tournament history.

Perhaps the most frightening stat of all, since 1995 UConn's margin of victory in first round games is 48.4 points and the opposing teams have averaging 46.5 points per game.

This was the 60th NCAA tournament game played at Gampel Pavilion only Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena and Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

When UConn and Syracuse play on Monday, it will be the sixth time the teams which played in the NCAA title game will meet the next year in the tournament but the first time such a game has taken place before the Final Four.

1984: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BEAT Louisiana Tech in national semifinals 62-57
1988: Louisiana Tech defeated TENNESSEE in national semifinals 68-59
1989: Auburn defeated LOUISIANA TECH 76-71 in national semifinals
1996: Tennessee defeated UCONN 88-83 (OT) in national semifinals
2004: UCONN defeated Tennessee 70-61 in national championship
2015: UCONN defeated Notre Dame 63-53 in national championship

Relationship between UConn's Auriemma, Albany's Griffith goes way back

One of the things on Geno Auriemma's to-do list yesterday was to reconnect with a person who he considered to be a dream to coach when he was an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympics.

The mission was accomplished as Auriemma spent a few minutes with Albany assistant coach Yolanda Grffith.

"A lot of his stories he used to tell ...," Griffith said. "Every day when we go out and I see him on the road recruiting, he brings back memories of letting me know that I was one of the players he appreciated and loved to work with when he did the Olympics because I just went out and did my job, no questions asked. I do my job, I compete evry day in practice and we formed a good bond, a good relationship.
Auriemma, facing Griffith for the first time with both of them in a coaching capacity, wasn't about to limit his characterization at merely being a "good relationship."
"She was by far my favorite player to coach on that Olympic team," Auriemma said. "She was the toughest, most competitive, I think most talented, the smartest. She was relentless in everything she did. You could count on her every day in practice every game. Up to that point I had only seen her play at a distance  but getting a chance to spend time and actually work with her, I came out of there thinking this kid is something special, she is a special human being. I respect the fact that she enjoyed being coached."
Griffith was the leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer on a U.S. team that won the Olympic gold medal despite playing without the injured Chamique Holdsclaw.
At the time when Auriemma was one of U.S. head coach Nell Fortner's assistant coaches he was coming off his second national championship as the head coach at UConn. He is now at 11 and his Huskies are the No. 1 overall seed as they head for their fifth in a row and 12th overall title.
"Geno has established a strong organization, a strong pedigree as far as women's basketball goes," Griffith said. "His footprint is all over women's basketball and he is winning no matter who he puts on the court, what individual puts the uniform on, they know the pressure is on them to help the program to win. I had that experience in 2000 when he was an assistant with our Olympic team. He was very competitive bringing the best out of players. He is hard on you and that is one thing about being a competitive player, you want them to be hard so they can teach you the good, the bad of the game and that is what he's done. Hat's off to him, he's been successful with this program and that it what you want, you want not just one strong program but multiple programs in women's sports to continue to be successful."
Griffith is 10th in rebounding, 16th in blocked shots and 26th in scoring in WNBA history even though she played her final game in the league in 2009. There have been prominent WNBA legends who have used their fame to secure high-profile coaching jobs before they were ready. Griffith has been willing to pay her dues serving as an assistant coach at Dartmouth, Lafayette and UMass before joining the staff of first-year Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee after former Great Danes coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson took the job at UCF,
"If you look at where she comes from, it is not one of entitlement," Auriemma said. "It was not one of, 'do you know who I am and do you know what I deserve?' She is willing  to do it the way she did it as a player. She is going to work for everything she gets and she expects to start at the bottom and work her way up because that is how it has always been for her and she will get to the top because that is who she is."
Griffith is one of eight players to be named the WNBA MVP and Finals MVP and a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Coaching was something that Griffith knew she wanted to pursue even during her Hall of Fame career. When she suffered a career-ending torn Achilles' tendon early in the 2009 season, her opportunity came sooner than she imagined as the WNBA's Indiana Fever made her an adjunct assistant coach in 2009.
"It was just in me when I was playing," Griffith said. "I was a mentor, a coach, a player so I just felt like it was in me to be my next journey."
Griffith enjoys the process whether it is recruiting or seeing young prospects emerge into reliable veterans.
"When you start working with players when they are freshmen until they are seniors, you see their development," Griffith said. "You form that relationship and knowing that you are just a phone call away. It is not a matter of what you do with them on the court but what you do for them when they leave."
Her first season at Albany has not been always smooth sailing. When the Great Danes suffered an overtime loss at Yale on Dec. 3, they were sitting with a 3-5 record. America East Conference play began with three wins and three losses which was quite the struggle for the dominant program in the America East. Albany finished the season going 12-1 including the three wins in the conference tournament to secure a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
"The players from last year, the experience they have with Imani (Tate), Bailey (Hixson) and with Cassie (Edwards) the veterans understanding what they did last year and wanting to come back again this year," Griffith said. "That is the competitiveness of them, they wanted another opportunity before they graduate. They wanted to continue the tradition the streak, it is an amazing run. We had one point where we went on a 10 or 11 game winning streak, hit a bump in a road and then we found a way to bounce back."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ontario well represented in Storrs subregional

There are plenty of questions that Albany freshman Mackenzie Trpcic has heading into her first NCAA tournament game.

It's safe to say that the mode of transportation used by two influential men in her basketball career is not at the top of the list.

Trpcic's dad is making the trip from Hamilton, Ontario as will her former AAU coach Richard Nurse, who happens to be the father of UConn guard Kia Nurse.

"Obviously my dad is going to be there tomorrow, her dad is going to be there tomorrow, I don't if they are going to car pool," Trpcic said with a laugh.

If there was a constant at today's press conferences it is that all four teams in the Storrs subregional were represented by Ontario natives. It started with UConn's Nurse, then Brampton's Cassandra Edwards was one of the three players at the podium for Albany. Julia Chandler of Toronto was among those entertaining questions for Syracuse while Chatham's Bridget Carleton will be heading up to the media interview room when it is Iowa State's turn to speak to the media.

"It is fantastic that we have this many Ontario kids and I've played against pretty much all of them," Nurse said. "It is fun to be in this environment. It is something we talked about when we were younger, kind of getting to play in an NCAA tournament. I am super excited for them, proud of their success and a testament to what has been growing back home."

Trpcic is two years younger than Nurse but growing up in the same town as Nurse, it was only natural that they crossed paths on the basketball court in their younger days.

"Her father is my AAU could and we went to rival schools so we always battled against each other so it is always great meeting up with her," Trpcic said.

"I know her personally, our families are close and it is always nice seeing someone who is from the hometown who I know well succeed, she has been doing really well."

So what does Trpcic think of Richard Nurse (who also coached Edwards) as a coach?

"He is a tough coach but he is a character," Trpcic said. "He is a very good coach. He is always around basketball. You will see him. He will be up on his feet for her tomorrow and maybe for me, I don't know probably not."

Nurse is a key member of Canadian national team program so obviously she is a kind of a big deal when she returns to Hamilton.

"Her dad is still a coach so she is still in the scene," Trpcic said. "A lot of young girls look up to her, she is a big role model back home so it has been an amazing past few years in basketball just in Hamilton in general for girls. It is a hotbed in Hamilton right now, in all of Ontario and now we are getting a lot of recognition.

"It is just exciting, we are on ESPN so it is a much bigger stage and the fact that we played in high school gyms against each other and now we are here. There's a lot of kids coing through now especially now that they have us to look up to with us being on national televison and on the national stage, it is just a start."

The second opening round game features close friends Chandler and Carleton.

"Julia and I grew up playing each other through club basketball and that sort of thing and getting to play on the national team, provincial teams, we got really close these past few summers," Carleton said. "It is going to be awesome to get the chance to play against each other at the collegiate level. It is kind of a new experience for both of us, we are excited and looking forward to it."

Carleton, who is second on Iowa State in scoring with an average of 15.2 points per game and is working herself into position to compete for a spot on the 2020 Canadian Olympic team, feels plenty of pride seeing the success enjoyed by the Ontario natives in Storrs for the subregional.

"It says a lot about our province and what kind of basketball players are coming out," Carleton said. "I think it is really exciting. Canada basketball is kind of on the rise so it is awesome having Canadian players on all four teams that are in this area. Kia Nurse and I are pretty close, we trained together this summer, Mackenzie is a great player too, Chelayane and Julia on Syracuse, it has been a great to reunite with all of these girls. It kind of says a lot about the growth of Canada basketball for sure."

UConn's Collier, Samuelson finalists for Naismith Trophy

UConn sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson join Washington's Kelsey Plum and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina as the four finalists for the Naismith Trophy.

Fans can vote for the winner between Monday-March 31 by visiting

Here is the release

Kelsey Plum, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history, headlines the four finalists vying to win the 2017 James A. Naismith Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding women’s college basketball player. The University of Washington standout is joined by South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, and UConn teammates Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today.

The four finalists were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former award winners and conference commissioners, who based their selections on outstanding on-court performances during the 2016-17 college basketball season. The vote was tabulated and certified by Aprio, formerly Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, the largest full-service, independent CPA-led business advisory firm based in Atlanta.

This year, fans have a say in the choosing the winner. Between March 20-31 fans can visit to cast their ballot for one of these four Naismith Trophy finalists. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 31 and fans are limited to one vote per day. The fan vote will account for 5% of the total vote.
The 2017 Naismith Trophy women’s winner will be announced on April 1.
“After watching these four women play this season it’s evident just how incredibly talented they are, and that alone has elevated them to a status worthy of winning the Naismith Trophy,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “Their teams’ success is a direct result of these women’s work ethic and leadership – qualities that are embodied by the long line of past Naismith winners.”
About the finalists:

Napheesa Collier, Sophomore, UConn
 2017 American Conference Co-Player of the Year with teammate Katie Lou Samuelson
 Four-time American Athletic Conference Player of the Week
 Enters the NCAA Tournament second nationally at 68.9 percent FG shooting
 Scored a career-high 39 points in the regular-season finale at USF, which marked the fifth-highest single-game scoring total in school history
 Team leader in rebounding at 8.9 rebounds per game

Kelsey Plum, Senior, University of Washington
 Leads the nation in scoring at 31.7 ppg, while shooting 53.3 percent from the field overall, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 88.8 percent from the foul line
 Became the first player in Pac-12 history, female or male, to score 3,000 career points
 Broke all-time NCAA and Pac-12 scoring records
 Named Pac-12 Player of the Year
 Has scored 21 or more points in all 31 games
 Became third player in NCAA history to reach 1,000 points in a single season
 Became just the second player in Pac-12 history to record 300 career three-pointers

Katie Lou Samuelson, Sophomore, UConn
 Led UConn in scoring during the regular season, averaging 20.7 points per game
 Named American Conference Co-Player of the Year with teammate Napheesa Collier
 Named Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 American Athletic Tournament
 Scored a career-high 40 points in 28 minutes during the AAC Final, becoming only the third Husky all-time to score 40+ points in a game
 Went 10-10 from three-point range in the AAC final, establishing a new NCAA record for most 3-point FG made in a game without a miss
 Won the 2015 Naismith National High School Trophy as the most outstanding high school girls basketball player in the country

A’ja Wilson, Junior, University of South Carolina
 Claimed her second consecutive SEC Player of the Year and was named SEC Tournament MVP
 Led the Gamecocks in scoring this year and was third in the SEC (17.4), while ranking ninth in rebounds (7.6) and third in blocks (2.2)
 Powered Gamecocks to third-straight SEC Tournament title (just second program in league history to win three straight) with 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game
 Career-high 11 20-point games, including five against top-25 opponents
 Holds school record for career blocked shots, setting the record in her 74th career game – fewer than anyone else on the top-10 list
 Won the 2014 Naismith National High School Trophy as the most outstanding high school girls basketball player in the country

The Naismith Trophy women’s honor was first presented to Anne Donovan (Old Dominion University) in 1983. Other notable winners include Cheryl Miller (1984-86, University of Southern California), Dawn Staley (1991-92, University of Virginia), Lisa Leslie (1994, University of Southern California) and Diana Taurasi (2003-04, UConn).

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Getting close to go time for UConn

By the time UConn takes to the court for its NCAA tournament opener against Albany it will be nearly two weeks since the Huskies' last game which is easily the longest break between games all season long.

If one UConn player would benefit the most from this time away it would be junior guard Kia Nurse, who has been slowed by a right ankle injury in the latter portion of the season, right? Maybe not. Certainly some time has been worked in for Nurse to rest her ankle and continue her recovery process but UConn coach Geno Auriemma thinks having a game or two mixed in over the last couple of weeks wouldn't have been the worst thing for Nurse.

"She is still not 100 percent, you can see it and she probably won't be the rest of the season," Auriemma said. "She looks good, not great but she looks good and she has gotten her timing back a little bit. She needed to be playing  so once we get on the court and playing, I think that will really help her a lot."

Nurse missed the final four games of the regular season and was limited to no more than 22 minutes in any of the three games in the American Athletic Conference. After playing at least 30 minutes in 17 games this season, there will come a time in the NCAA tournament when she approaches or surpasses the 30-minute mark.

In an attempt not to head into the NCAA tournament out of sorts, there haven't been long stretches without practices.

"The schedule that we have kind of resembles the schedule we have throughout the season so play a game, have an off day," Nurse said. "We are trying to maintain that schedule."

Nurse has played more than twice as many minutes in the NCAA tournament than any of her teammates, she knows that this is the time of the season when the intensity picks up.

"Everybody you can tell it is that part of the season, that part of March where everything you do has to be precise, everything you do has to be ready game preparation wise," Nurse said. "I think our practices have definitely been showing that."

Nurse, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, will see some familiar faces with six other Canadian natives including five from Ontario in the Storrs subregional.

Albany, UConn's first-round opponent, features three Canadians as Jessica Fequiere is the team's leading scorer, Mackenzie Trpcic is also a Hamilton native and Cassandra Edwards. Syracuse features Ontario natives Julia Chandler and Chelayne Bailey while Iowa State relies heavily on Bridget Carleton, one of the rising stars in the Canadian national team program and a player who has be a team captain on multiple junior national teams.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

UConn signee Megan Walker named Gatorade National Player of the Year

How's this for a span of less than a week?

UConn signee Megan Walker hits the game-winning basket with 14 seconds left to lift Monacan High School to its third straight Virginia 4A state title. The victory caps a 30-0 season and Walker will leave having led Monacan to 53 wins in a row.

Then she is named the winner of the Naismith national high school player of the year award.

Tonight she is at the Verizon Center for the NBA game between Washington and Dallas. She is asked to come onto the court because she is going recognized for winning another state title - or so she thought.

As she was waving to the crowd as she was requested to do, WNBA star Elena Delle Donne came up from behind and presented her with the Gatorade National Girls' Basketball Player of the Year award.

"I looked down and read national player of year and it started setting in what was going on," Walker said.
Walker averaged 25.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game in leading Monacan to
a 30-0 season and third consecutive Virginia 4A championship. Walker had 35 points (one
shy of her season high) in the 4A title game including 18 in the fourth quarter. Walker's
jumper in the lane with 14 seconds left lifted Monacan to the 60-59 victory.

Walker finished with 13 games with at 30 points and 25 double-doubles in her four
seasons at Monacan.

"This year the leadership came out because we were two-time state champs and I knew this year was going to be harder so I had to make sure our team, we were on the same page," Walker said.
Walker is the eighth future, current or former UConn player to win the award joining
Tamika Williams, Ann Strother, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna
Stewart and Katie Lou Samuelson.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma compared Walker's potential impact on the Huskies as being
similar to what Samuelson has accomplished. No, the Hall of Fame coach isn't expecting
Walker to be the 3-point shooter that Samuelson is but does think her size will enable
her to play multiple positions when she gets to UConn.

"There is not a lot that Meg can't do," Auriemma said. "I am looking forward to getting
her up here, let's put it that way.

"When you are her size you are not limited to just one thing. She is like Lou (Katie Lou
Samuelson), not as tall but you can put her anywhere on the floor and be successful. It
is just a matter of repetition and being put in the situation where you aren't the best
player on the floor every minute of every day. There is a reason why everybody in
America thought she was the best player because of the many things that she can do and
not the one thing that she can do."

Normally I would write that the next step for Walker (other than playing in two national high school all-star games) would be her high school graduation before she heads up to UConn for summer session. However, she will be enrolled in summer session before she actually dons her cap and gown to receive her high school diploma.

"I am looking forward to getting there, start workouts and getting better," Walker said. "I think I really enjoy the process more than anything."


Pair of UConn legends part of ESPN's tournament coverage

The NCAA women's tournament kicks off on Friday and of course UConn's quest for an unprecedented fifth straight national title will be among the top story lines. However, UConn's fingerprints can be felt in other ways as Husky of Honor members Rebecca Lobo and Sue Bird will be prominently featured in ESPN's coverage of the event.

Lobo will continue in her role as studio analyst along with host Maria Taylor and former Georgia head coach Andy Landers.

Bird will join Lowell Galindo to call the games in the Waco subregional including Saturday's Baylor/Texas Southern and Cal/LSU games.

There will also be some familiar faces calling the games in the Storrs subregional with Eric Frede, who is the play by play announcer for the UConn games for SNY, and former San Antonio Stars head coach Dan Hughes who was a part of the announce team for the American Athletic Conference tournament..

Also, Jenn Hildreth and Steffi Sorensen are on the call for Saturday's Quinnipiac/Marquette first-round game.

ESPN is putting its No. 1 team on the Bridgeport regionals with Dave O'Brien being joined by Doris Burke, Kara Lawson and Holly Rowe.

Most of the broadcasters have been a part of ESPN's women's basketball coverage in the past. A couple of notable exceptions are Kaylee Hartung, a key member of ESPN's college football coverage and Molly McGrath, who in my opinion is emerging into one of the best and most versatile broadcasters employed by ESPN. Hartung will be working at the Oklahoma City regional while McGrath will be part of the announce team at the regional in Stockton, California.

Also, former Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault will be a part of the announce team for the subregional hosted by Notre Dame.

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UConn's Auriemma a finalist for Naismith Coach of Year honor

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is one of four finalists for the Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year, an honor he has received seven times.

Here is the release which was sent out a few minutes ago

Four candidates have advanced to the next round of voting for the 2017 Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year. The group features three would-be first- time winners, both individually and for their university, and a coach who already has claimed seven awards. Karen Aston (University of Texas), Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), Scott Rueck (Oregon State University) and Vic Schaefer (Mississippi State University) make up the final ballot, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today.

The four finalists were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former Naismith Award winners and conference commissioners, who based their selections on outstanding coaching performances during the 2016-17 college basketball season. The vote was tabulated and certified by Aprio, formerly Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, the largest full-service, independent CPA-led business advisory firm based in Atlanta.

This year, fans have a say in the overall voting process. Between March 20-31 fans can visit to cast their ballot for one of these four Naismith Award finalists. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 31 and fans are limited to one vote per day. The fan vote will account for 5% of the total vote.

The 2017 Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year winner will be announced on April 1.

About the finalists:
Karen Aston
Led Texas to a 23-8 (15-3 Big 12) record, including a 19-game win streak, the 10th-longest in program history
The Longhorns posted six wins against Associated Press Top-25 opponents during the 2016-17 season
Recorded her fourth consecutive 20-plus win season in her five-year tenure
Secured a No. 3 seed in the Lexington, KY region, the Longhorns fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance
Aston became the second-winningest head coach in Texas school history (112 victories), trailing only Jody Conradt
Aston was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year for the first time in her career

Geno Auriemma
Led UConn to its fourth straight American Athletic Conference Tournament championship, as well as its fourth consecutive AAC regular-season crown
The Huskies are 32-0 this season and have won 107 straight contests dating back to 2014
Completed the regular-season without a loss for the ninth time in his career
Was named American Athletic Conference Co-Coach of the Year
Took the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament (Bridgeport, CT Region)
Won the Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year on seven previous occasions (2016, 2009, 2008, 2002, 2000, 1997, 1995)

Scott Rueck
Guided OSU to a 29-4 overall record (16-2 in the Pac-12), the second-highest single-season win total in program history
Led the Beavers to a third consecutive Pac-12 regular-season title in a year when OSU was projected to finish fifth in the  league
Was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the award
Has a record of 151-80 at Oregon State, the second-highest win total in program history
Oregon State is 112-25 over the last four seasons
Open the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed in the Stockton, CA region

Vic Schaefer
Led the Bulldog team to a 27-3 record, tied for the second-most wins in school history, including a school-best 13 games in the SEC
Became the first MSU coach to win 25-plus games in three straight seasons
Recorded the program’s first-ever win at Tennessee and halted Iowa State’s 96-game home win streak in regular-season non-conference games
Guided MSU to its first top-5 national ranking, and the No. 5 RPI in the nation
Recorded MSU’s top 3 single-season wins marks each of the last three seasons
Received the program’s highest seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City,  OK region

The inaugural Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year award went to Pat Summitt (University of Tennessee) in 1987; she went on to win four more (2004, 1998, 1994, 1989).
For more information, visit

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

UConn signee Megan Walker named Naismith national player of year

UConn incoming freshman Megan Walker capped her brilliant senior season with an undefeated season and third straight state championship. One of her rewards is being awarded one of the most prestigious honors.

Walker was named the winner of the Naismith Trophy becoming eighth former, current or future Husky to win the award joining Tamika Williams, Diana Taurasi, Ann Strother, Maya Moore, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart and Katie Lou Samuelson. She also joins La'Keshia Frett and Kara Lawson as the only Virginia high school players to win the award.

“Megan is so deserving of this award. She holds herself to a maturity level of people many years her senior. She is humble yet confident, and is always helping everyone on the team improve,” said Larry Starr, Monacan High School coach in a release. “Megan is a great teammate, leader, and person and will represent the Naismith Trophy with dignity and class.”

Walker averaged 25.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game and saved her best for last with 18 points in a 60-59 win over King's Fork in the Virginia 4A title game including the game-winning basket with 14 seconds left to play.

Walker had six 30-point games and nine double-doubles as a senior and helped Monacan end the season on a 53-game winning streak.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma made his way down to Walker's final game at Monacan so he witnessed Walker's brilliant fourth-quarter performance.

"There is not a lot that Meg can't do," Auriemma said. "I am looking forward to getting her up here, let's put it that way. When you are her size (6-foot-1) you are not limited to just one thing. She is like Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson), not as tall but you can put her anywhere on the floor and be successful. It is just a matter of repetition and being put in the situation where you aren't the best player on the floor every minute of every day. There is a reason why everybody in America thought she was the best player because of the many things that she can do and not the one thing that she can do."

Being at the game enabled Auriemma to act like her coach for a few moments after the game.

"I always tend to look at things funny, 'Meg you were amazing in that fourth quarter, 18 points the game-winning bucket, just took over the game. You know Meg if you had done that in the first quarter, second quarter and third quarter you wouldn't have been down 11 and you wouldn't need to be a hero," Auriemma said. "She looks at me, 'yeah, I know.' What she did in that fourth quarter, she is capable of doing that the entire game but she is a high school kid and she doesn't know enough about that, we are dealing with that with Crystal (Dangerfield). When these kids are in high school and they know that, 'OK, game is on the line, time for me to take over ...'

Auriemma was thrilled that Walker and fellow UConn signee Mikayla Coombs ended their (non all-star game) high school careers by winning state titles and doing it on the same day was extra special.

"I am happy for them that they were able to win championships," Auriemma said. "Mikayla does it completely different, she has a lot of Kia Nurse in her, she just accomplishes a lot. She is going
to give us a different kind of dimension that we don't have right now."

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Monday, March 13, 2017

UConn tops a star-studded Bridgeport region

UConn drew the No. 1 overall seed, no surprise there, and will face Albany on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Gampel Pavilion with a chance for a rematch of the national championship game with 2016
national finalist meeting Iowa State in the other first-round game on Saturday at Gampel

Duke, winners of 12 of its last 14 games, is the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport regional.

Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion Maryland is the third seed with fourth-
seeded UCLA being sent to UConn's region for the second season in a row.

The region features some of the best point guards in the country including Syracuse's Alexis Peterson, Lexie Brown of Duke, Feyonda Fitzgerald of Temple and Jordin Canada of UCLA.

It is a record 11th straight season as a No. 1 seed and the 20th time UConn has been a
No. 1 seed trailing only Tennessee's record of 22.

Since tournament went to 64 teams in 1994, it is 12th time the Huskies have been No. 1
overall seed. It is the eighth time UConn has entered the NCAA tournament undefeated
matching the total of all the other women's Division I programs. This will be the third
time that a team entered the tournament with a perfect record in consecutive season.

Vermont lost in the first round in 1992 and 1993 while UConn won the national titles
with undefeated records in 2009 and 2010.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma can match Pat Summitt for the most Final Four appearances as a
head coach as this would be the Huskies' 18th. Auriemma has already guided UConn to a
women's Division I record nine consecuive Final Four appearances.

UConn finishes atop AP poll once again

UConn finished atop the final Associated Press poll for the third straight time and a staggering 14 times overall in the last 23 seasons.

The Huskies finished as the unanimous No. 1 team and barring some craziness behind closed doors from the NCAA selection committee, will be the No. 1 overall seed for the 12th time when the NCAA pairings are announced tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

The Huskies beat No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 South Carolina, No. 4 Maryland, No. 5 Baylor, No. 10 Florida State, No. 11 Ohio State, No. 14 Texas and No. 19 DePaul.

UConn is also the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest coaches' poll although the difference is the coaches will have a poll at the end of the NCAA tournament while there are no further AP polls this season.

3 UConn signees named Gatorade state players of the year

Andra Espinoza-Hunter is New York's Gatorade state player of the year
making 8th time in last 12 years a UConn recruit wins New York honor
UConn incoming freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Megan Walker were selected as the Gatorade state players of the year in Georgia, New York and Virginia respectively making them eligible for the Gatorade National Player of Year honor.

Coombs averaged  16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.2 steals per game in leading the Wesleyan School to the Georgia 4A Private School state title.

Espinoza-Hunter is averaging 37.8 points, 7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3 steals per game for Ossining High School including a 40-point effort to clinch a spot in the New York AA semifinals.
Walker averaged 25.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 rebounds per game to lead Monacan High School to its third straight Virginia 4A title.

UConn recruiting targets Aliyah Boston and Christyn Williams were the state players of the year in Massachusetts and Arkansas respectively while the Connecticut winner McKenna Dale of E.O. Smith who has committed to Brown.

It is the second Gatorade state player of the year honor for Walker and Williams, who announced via her Twitter account yesterday that UConn joins Baylor, Notre Dame, Tennessee and UCLA are her five finalists.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Who's up next for UConn?

We are just a day away from finding out the path the UConn women's basketball team will need to take in its quest for an unprecedented fifth straight national title.

There are some decisions for the selection committee to deal with especially in the Pac-12 where the top teams took turns knocking each other off. The NCAA/ESPN women's tournament loves its story lines and they haven't exactly hidden that fact with the way brackets have been set up in the past so seeing Stanford being sent to Bridgeport as the No. 2 seed would not surprise me since it would set up the Samuelson vs. Samuelson matchup in the regional final if the seeds hold true to form. Of course, in the past teams winning their conference tournament often get rewarded in the seeding process so could Stanford be kept close to home by being the No. 2 seed in Stockton? One factor hurting Stanford is a 6-5 mark against top 50 RPI squads

I am also curious to see how the committee looks at the resumes of the Texas, Louisville and UCLA, teams with six games against top 10 RPI teams and either 13 or 14 games with top 50 RPIs. Then there is North Carolina State, a team with a 2-0 record against top 10 RPI teams but three losses to teams outside the top 100 (good luck trying to make sense of their resume).

Most of the interest will be focused on the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds with seemingly UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Baylor expected to be No. 1 seeds. At first I wondered whether Baylor's loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament would knock the Lady Bears out of the first line but they have a significant advantage over other potential No. 1 seed with nine wins against teams with top 25 RPIs and 12 wins against teams with top 50 RPIs.

Just looking at the numbers and Maryland would seem like the natural fit as the No. 2 in UConn's regional with one game against a top 10 RPI team (a loss to UConn), a 1-2 record against teams with top 25 RPIs (easily the lowest total among teams in contention to be among the top 8 seeds). However, in the past the committee has rewarded teams which won both the regular season and tournament titles and Maryland did both (tying Ohio State for the regular-season title)

                               Top Top Top Outside
                               10   25   50    100
UConn                   5-0  13-0 16-0 13-0
Notre Dame           3-1   9-2 12-3 10-0
South Carolina      2-2    9-2 11-4 14-0
Baylor                   0-1    9-2 12-3 13-0
Mississippi State   0-2    4-4 11-4 12-0
Stanford                1-2    3-3  6-5  15-0
Oregon State         2-1    5-2  7-3  13-1
Maryland               0-1   1-2  5-2  18-0
Duke                      1-3   7-4  9-4  16-1
Florida State          1-2   5-5  8-5  14-0
Washington           0-3   1-4  5-4  18-0
Louisville              0-6   4-7  7-7  14-0
Ohio State             1-3   2-4  4-5  16-0
Texas                    2-4   4-6  7-7  11-0
UCLA                   2-4   3-5  8-5  13-1
Miami                   1-5   3-8  3-8  16-0
DePaul                  0-3   2-3  4-7  16-0
NC State               2-0   2-4  4-5  15-3
Kentucky              1-4   3-5  5-9  13-1

The picture appears to be much clearer in trying to predict which team draws UConn in the first round especially with the results in the conference finals in the last two days with teams with RPIs in the 200s falling in the title games.

Had Bryant won the NEC title, it would have made sense for Bulldogs to be sent to Storrs and that would have made for quite the homecoming for Mansfield native Morgan Olander, the younger sister of Tyler Olander who was a member of two national championship teams with the UConn men's basketball program.

Now I would guess that newly-crowned Big South Tournament champion UNC Asheville figures to have the lowest RPI of the 64 teams in the bracket. The Bulldogs finished seventh in the conference with the No. 28 conference RPI during the regular season. It should be noted that in past years the selection committee hasn't followed the RPI numbers for the No. 16 seeds so while seeing UNC Asheville in Storrs would make the most sense to me although the committee could keep UNC Asheville closer to home by having them play at South Carolina or Duke in the subregional.

In the last 10 years three SWAC, three America East and two NEC teams have been sent to face UConn in the first round. I can't see NEC champion Robert Morris being picked as the No. 16 seed in UConn's bracket for two years in a row. America East champion Albany will not be a 16th seed leaving either SWAC champion Texas Southern or MEAC champ Hampton as most likely options based on RPIs and conference RPIs if UNC Asheville doesn't come here. It would be easy for Hampton to draw Duke and Texas Southern to square off with Baylor and if I were the one picking this field, that is the direction I would head.

Friday, March 10, 2017

UConn signee Coombs, Walker deliver perfect conclusions to high school careers

It was a day that UConn incoming freshmen Mikalya Coombs and Megan Walker won't soon forget.

The two future Huskies played starring roles as their teams rallied from double-digit deficits to lead their teams to state titles.

Mikayla Coombs had 17 points, nine rebounds and two steals as her Wesleyan School team rallied from a 17-point deficit in the first half to win the Georgia Class A Private School title with a 51-48 win over Holy Innocents.

Coombs had 10 points in a 12-2 Wesleyan run in the second quarter which cut the deficit to seven points heading into the locker room at halftime. In the third quarter she had five points in a span of 14 seconds to tie the game at 41.

Fellow senior Natalie Armstrong finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds as Wesleyan won its 12th state title since 2002. For the seniors it was the second title in the last three seasons but Coombs missed that 2015 championship game as she suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season.

Holy Innocents' was responsible for eight of Wesleyan's 16 losses in the last three seasons including one in the 2016 state final.

She finishes her career as Wesleyan's seventh all-time leading scorer with 1,338 points, was seventh in rebounding (642) and blocked shots (93) and eighth in steals (318).

Walker finished with 35 points doing much of her damage at the free-throw line where she was 15 for 24. She also had 11 rebounds, six blocked shots and five steals. Walker had 18 points in the fourth quarter including the go-ahead basket with 14 seconds left to play. She finishes her career tied with Angela Mickens for 27th on Virginia's list of career scorers.

Coombs and Walker will both be playing in the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games.

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