Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Six UConn players named to Naismith watch list

It's not unusual to see four or even five UConn players named to national player of the year watch lists but six, yes six, Huskies are among 50 players on the watch list for the Naismith Trophy - Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson, Azura' Stevens and Gabby Williams.

Collier, a 6-foot-1 junior forward and the American Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year, is averaging 14 points, 7.3 rebounds and is second on the 6-0 Huskies with 20 assists, 18 steals and eight blocked shots.

Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard, is averaging 14 points and 2 steals per game while registering a team-best 31 assists (with just 10 turnovers).

Nurse, a 6-foot senior guard, had 27 points in last night's win over Nevada as she was 8 for 8 from 3-point range. She is averaging 16.2 points per game with 19 assists. She leads UConn with 17 3-pointers and is ninth among Division I players with a 58.6 3-point shooting percentage.

Samuelson has missed that last 4 1/2 games with a left foot injury but the 6-foot-3 junior wing's scoring average of 16.5 is tops on the Huskies. She also had five rebounds, three assists and four steals at the time of her injury.

Stevens, a 6-foot-6 junior forward/center, leads UConn with an average of 9.5 rebounds per game and with 10 blocked shots. She is averaging 14.2 points per game with 20 assists and eight steals.

Williams a 5-foot-11 senior forward, is averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. She leads the team with 19 steals and a field-goal percentage of 59.3 and also has 19 assists.

Also, 14 other candidates are on teams that UConn will face in the regular season led by the Notre Dame quartet of Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard and Jackie Young meaning that Sunday's UConn/Notre Dame showdown features 10 of the 50 candidates.

Here are the candidates
Kristine Anigwe Jr. C/F California
Ariel Atkins Sr. G Texas
Kenisha Bell Jr. G Minnesota
Monique Billings Sr. F UCLA
Allazia Blockton Jr. G Marquette
Lexie Brown Sr. G Duke
Kalani Brown Jr. C Baylor
Tyra Buss Sr. G Indiana
Jordin Canada Sr. G UCLA
Kaila Charles So. G Maryland
Napheesa Collier Jr. F UConn
Sophie Cunningham Jr. G Missouri
Crystal Dangerfield So. G UConn
Asia Durr Jr. G Louisville
Katelynn Flaherty Sr. G Michigan
Rebecca Greenwell Sr. G Duke
Marie Gulich Sr. C Oregon State
Megan Gustafson Jr. F Iowa
Linnae Harper Sr. G Ohio State
Ruthy Hebard So. F Oregon
Chanette Hicks Jr. G Virginia Tech
Myisha Hines-Allen Sr. F Louisville
Sabrina Ionescu So. G Oregon
Kaylee Jensen Sr. C Oklahoma State
Jackie Kemph Sr. G Saint Louis
Kitija Laksa Jr. F USF
Marina Mabrey Jr. G Notre Dame
Tynice Martin Jr. G West Virginia
Stephanie Mavunga Sr. F Ohio State
Brooke McCarty Sr. G Texas
Teaira McCowan Jr. C Mississippi State
Brittany McPhee Sr. G Stanford
Kelsey Mitchell Sr. G Ohio State
Teana Muldrow Sr. F West Virginia
Jaime Nared Sr. G Tennessee
Kia Nurse Sr. G UConn
Arike Ogunbowale Jr. G Notre Dame
Caliya Robinson Jr. F Georgia
Mercedes Russell Sr. C Tennessee
Katie Lou Samuelson Jr. G/F UConn
Jessica Shepard Jr. F Notre Dame
Azura' Stevens Jr. F UConn
Tianna Tarter Sr. G ETSU
Shakayla Thomas Sr. F Florida State
Victoria Vivians Sr. G Mississippi State
Morgan Williams Sr. G Mississippi State
Danni Williams Jr. G Texas A&M
Gabby Williams Sr. F UConn
A’ja Wilson Sr. F South Carolina
Jackie Young So. G Notre Dame

Collier, Nurse, Samuelson and Williams were also among the 30 players named to the watch list for the Wade Trophy.

USA Today released its 20-player preseason high school All-American team.

UConn signees Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams and Class of 2019 recruiting target Samantha Brunelle were all named to the team.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One day left in UConn's marathon road trip

In a few hours the UConn women's basketball team will step onto the court at the Lawlor Events Center so All-American forward Gabby Williams gets to play a game only about 5-10 minutes from where she grew up.

It will wrap up one of the longest road trips in program history with games in three different states and a week and a half living out of hotels. UConn is accustomed to traveling but typically there will be one or two stops on the way. Some are hard to believe. Before I started covering the team, the Huskies opened the season with a game in Knoxville, Tennessee, five days later they were in Honolulu for three games and a week later had two games in Virginia. I still remember flying from Louisiana to Syracuse for two games in a three-day span back in 2001. There was that two-week stretch in 2008 with a game in New York followed by three in Mexico and one in South Carolina. However, when it comes to being on the road without returning home, this current trip could take the cake.

"This one is so long, so many games, so much hotels, busses and trains but I think we have done a good job of maintaining and understanding that each game is another road game," UConn senior guard Kia Nurse said. "It is like we are on the road for one day or two days and having the focus come out of that."

The memories to come out of tonight's game will last a lifetime just like the game at Colgate for Breanna Stewart's homecoming and the one next month in Toronto held in Nurse's honor. There's already been things that have happened on the trip that will resonate for years to come.

There was Megan Walker coming off the bench to drop one jumper after another through the net to key UConn's win over a very good UCLA team and Azura' Stevens' incredible performance against Michigan State at the home of the University of Oregon as part of the Phil Knight Invitational. But not all the memories happened on the court.

The players are still giddy when recalling the chance to pose with photos with NBA legend Kobe Bryant after the UCLA game.

"It was great to have Kobe come and take a picture with us in the locker room, it was a surreal moment," Stevens said. "It is fun to have a moment like that."

UConn left the fun and sun of Los Angeles to fly to Oregon a day or two early because of the festivities planned by Nike as part of the PK80 event. There were a couple of two-hour commutes between Portland and Eugene so they could practice for the game while take part in the promotional part of the PK80 event. The 20 teams (16 men's programs and four women's teams) gathered to listen to Nike co-founder Phil Knight speak and by all accounts, the extra time traveling to Portland for that event proved worthwhile.

"Having the reception there with every other team, sitting in the stands and listening to Phil Knight answer questions about the company, how he got to where he was today it was a lot of fun to be around all of that," Nurse said.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, a winner of 11 national titles and two Olympic gold medals as a head coach, isn't often star struck but he admitted that there's always something a little special when he is in Knight's company. 

"I think all my trips up here have been somewhat enriching for me or enlightening in some ways, educational in some ways," Auriemma said. "Every time I come up here I learn something that I didn't know. I have  been with the Nike family for 30 years and every time I am in that company I find something out that I didn't know or uncover something that makes you shake your head. To be a part of the event, to see the other teams that are here and the other coaches that are here and what Nike means to basketball and what Phil Knight means to ... It is pretty amazing that one guy is so synonymous with a global brand like that because there are probably other global brands that are just as big and you say, 'who's the guy? Who's the woman (in charge)?' They would go, 'I don't know.' But he is such an iconic figure that any time you are around you get to see a different side that you didn't know existed."

When UConn comes home, all that is waiting is a game against a Notre Dame team fresh off a win over reigning national champion South Carolina although the Huskies will have a few days to recover and get used to life back in Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

UConn's Geno Auriemma continues to educate his players

Geno Auriemma is first and foremost a teacher. His ability to teach the game of basketball has taken him to heights that he never envisioned reaching. However, when Auriemma takes his UConn women's basketball team on the road, he never forgets that his players are college students and he wants to broaden their horizons.

There was that time back in 1999 when a trip to play Oklahoma included a trip to the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial a few months before memorial honoring the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was formally dedicated. A similar experience came on the team's first trip to New York City after the terroristic attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. When the team heads overseas as it did this summer, there is as much time built in for sightseeing as for basketball.

Well, this time Auriemma's teaching did center around the game of basketball.

There is not a basketball coach who Auriemma respects more than the late, great John Wooden. He cringed when people tried to compare his program to what Wooden accomplished, something that happened when the Huskies twice surpassed the 88-game winning streak of Wooden's UCLA teams. He did not want to say anything to detract from the remarkable accomplishments Wooden had during his team at UCLA.

When his team got to play at Pauley Pavilion for the first time since that wild 113-102 affair in 1998, he made sure his players understand the significance of the building they were playing at.

"It is a really gorgeous building and everything that UCLA is, we were driving around campus today seeing kids walking around with UCLA sweatshirts and t-shirts," Auriemma said. "It is just an iconic trademark. I am sure you go all over the world and say UCLA and they immediately know it is a basketball shrine, you say Pauley Pavilion anywhere in the building and they know what it is.

"UCLA is one of the best schools in America, sometimes it gets overshadowed by the UCLA name and basketball tradition that they have so to be able to walk into this building, the logo is still the same, to look up and see the banners to see the names on the jerseys that have been retired, it is a special place and I don't think there is any place in America for college that has the significance that this place has, This place has a history that I don't think any other college campus can match."

STAR POWERLos Angeles sporting events bring out some A-listers whether it is baseball, basketball, football, hockey ... Last night was no different. NBA legend Kobe Bryant attended the game with his family and sat underneath one of the baskets. Donovan McNabb, the uncle of UConn senior guard Kia Nurse, was also in attendance.

While the players have gotten to chat with McNabb before, they received an unexpected bonus of having Bryant come into their locker room after the win over UCLA

"Lou (All-American Katie Lou Samuelson) is kind of close to Kobe so we knew he was coming to the game beforehand," UConn freshman Megan Walker said. "We saw him sitting over there so she (Kobe's daughter) wanted to meet us and talk to us. We talked to Kobe a little bit after so it was good."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Samuelson won't play during upcoming UConn road trip

This season features plenty of homecoming games for UConn's star players. However,the first one isn't going down as originally planned.

All-American Katie Lou Samuelson grew up in Huntington Beach, California about an hour's drive from the UCLA campus but when the Huskies play at UCLA on Tuesday, a foot injury will keep Samuelson from playing.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that x-rays came back negative so there are no fractures in her injured left foot but she will not play against UCLA, Michigan State or Nevada.

"Incredibly frustrating for her, I am sure," Auriemma said. "The injury is frustrating itself but to then be injured when you are going home to play in front of your family and friends, I know she is really upset about it but there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it. There is nothing that you can do now, all you can do is make the most of it.

"It is a shame. I told her there is an opportunity for her to learn more about basketball watching these next two weeks of basketball than she has learned in the two years she has been playing here and all of her previous years playing because when you sit there and you know you aren't going to play, you start to see things you never saw before so there is a chance she can come back better than she already is."

Perhaps Samuelson could return for the Dec. 3 showdown with Notre Dame at the XL Center or the game at DePaul on Dec. 8. If not, the Huskies don't play for about a week and a half after that.

"I never believe anything the doctors say because I always assume the worst so if they say it is going to be a week to two weeks, I go, 'it is going to be a month,'" Auriemma said. "I am a pessimist, I want to be happily surprised when she comes back earlier. They are saying now it could be two weeks, could be less, could be more but I just know she is not playing this week and who knows. I am not counting on her today and the next three games for sure.

"No fractures or anything like that, there's a lot of swelling but the x-rays looks good."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

UConn's Auriemma thankful for his pioneering Hall of Famer

Rebecca Lobo stood on the court that began the journey from talented local girl to nationally-recognized basketball ambassador and made her latest moment in the sun about everybody but herself.

Her brief remarks to the 8,103 fans in attendance at Gampel Pavilion for last night's 82-47 victory over nationally ranked Cal were quick to credit her coaches, teammates and the Husky faithful for helping her become the first UConn player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Then she turned the spotlight onto the UConn legends who followed her to Storrs.

"You are going to have to make room because there are going to be a lot more women's basketball players going into the Hall of Fame," Lobo said before her Hall of Fame banner was unveiled.

Lobo was a national player of the year in college who led the Huskies to the first of their record national titles, she was one of the faces when the WNBA was launched. When a knee injury shortened her promising professional career, she remained connected with the game as a highly respected commentator for ESPN. Some of the people she works with on ESPN's coverage of women's basketball made sure they were at Gampel for her special night even though not even one eyebrow would have been raised had they not made an appearance.

It didn't take much prodding for UConn coach Geno Auriemma to reflect on Lobo's impact on the program, in his life and on the sport.

"The longer you are in this, the more you realize how fortunate you really are to have gotten to know some of these people that I have been fortunate enough to get to know," Auriemma said. "We had dinner (Thursday) night and talked about a lot of things from the beginning to the end. All of sudden, a 17-year-old kid that you recruited is enshrined in a place reserved for the greatest basketball people of all time and she is a part of that. It is hard to think back and say, 'I knew this was going to happen' but at the same time I am not surprised one bit that it happened.

"She is just a unique woman who has qualities that you don't find very often in people. A lot of people have some of Rebecca's qualities but very few if any people that I have ever met have all the qualities that Rebecca has. She is a great person, a great ambassador, a great mom, a great wife, a great daughter, a great sister. She's got every box, she is a professional, she has every single box checked of what you want accomplished in life."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Samuelson injured in UConn's home opener

There was a lot to like about UConn's victory over No. 20 in its home opener. Six different players scored in double figures for the Huskies and the defense played by seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse on Cal's 6-foot-4 offensive dynamo Kristine Anigwe was impressive to say the least.

However, the biggest news to come out of the 82-47 victory was that All-American Katie Lou Samuelson left the game with what was called a mid-foot sprain by UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Samuelson will have x-rays on her left foot, the same one she injured as a freshman forcing her to miss the national championship game. Her status for Sunday's game against No. 15 Maryland is yet to be determined.

"According to Janelle (Francisco, UConn's athletic trainer), it's something called a mid-foot sprain so we will find out more tomorrow, get some x-rays and make sure nothing is broken and then we will see after tomorrow."

Samuelson, who was wearing a protective walking boot following the game, wasn't available to speak to the media but her teammates said she was in good spirits after the game.

"She wasn't too down which I was happy about because she takes that stuff really personally and it really does affect her, she showed that she is still here for us and that shows a lot that he  is not going to sit there and feel bad for herself," Williams said.

Samuelson came into the game needing one 3-pointer to hit the 200 mark. She missed all four of her shots from behind the 3-point line and wasn't particularly close on any of them. However, she found different ways to score. The play she was hurt on came on a strong cut which likely would have resulted in an opportunity for a three-point play. But she fell to the ground awkwardly after being fouled by Cal's Mikayla Cowling with 4:02 left in the second quarter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Geno Auriemma dishes on newly signed recruiting class

When Christyn Williams called UConn coach Geno Auriemma to let him know she was planning to become a Husky, it wasn't a stunning revelation. However, Auriemma admitted he wasn't sure which way Olivia Nelson-Ododa was leaning before she committed to the Huskies on Monday.

"You never know about recruiting," Auriemma said. "I remember the very first time I sat down and watched her play, I thought this kid plays really hard, she is really competitive and she has incredible athletic ability. There are a lot of things that she does well, then when you meet these kids, sometimes it makes you question (if you want to continue to recruit them) and other times it just adds to it. She is one of the nicest kids we have been involved with in recruiting - both of these kids her and Christyn,

"I know Olivia hasn't played, it's been a little while since she played (as a result of a knee injury). She is a little bit like Azura' as a person, laid back kind of easy going, nice kid and just a really talented kid. She is not a 'stick them in the low post and forget about them' player, she is a basketball player. Needless to say we were pretty excited when we got her."

UConn entered the early signing period with no commitments but with the No. 1 rated player in the ESPN rankings (Williams) and in the All-Star Girls Report ratings (Nelson-Ododa), the Huskies are challenging Baylor for the top recruiting class.

The Huskies never look at a ton of kids, they are very selective in the way they recruit but this year it seemed like they were involved with fewer recruits than ever.

"We take kind of a different approach to recruiting," Auriemma said. "We try to identify pretty on what we are looking for and then when we find it, we spend all our time and energy on those kids. If it is one, two or three we go in believing we are going to get the kids we think work hard enough and fit what we want. You roll the dice and you might come up empty but that is the chance we might take. We've been in that situation a lot of times. People said what was your Plan B back in 1991 with Rebecca Lobo? We didn't have a Plan B. What was your Plan B with Stewie, Tuck and Moriah? We didn't have a Plan B, those are the guys we want. Who would your shooter be if you didn't get Lou or Pheesa? I don't know, those are the two guys we wanted and we got them so there are years when you come up empty but we have gotten pretty much what we need more times than not."

Auriemma appreciated the low maintenance  way that Nelson-Ododa handled her recruiting process.

"It wasn't the normal recruiting scenario," Auriemma said. "She is not your typical kid who wants to have 20 schools involved so she can get 20 phone calls and then put out on social media that I am being recruited by 20 schools and when signing day comes, I am going to have 20 different hats and I will pick one out, I am going to post it on all the message boards and let everybody know that I am taking my talents to this particular school. You couldn't get a hold of Olivia for weeks and weeks and weeks you couldn't get a hold of her which was fine with me, apparently it was fine with her and fine with her mom but this wasn't one of those, we have to call them three times every day, we have to text them or be on instant message an all that other nonsense that I don't even know anything else about, she was unusual in recruiting and because of that I don't think anybody really knew where you stood.

"This was old fashioned, when she came up on campus that is when I felt like, CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) did and the rest of the coaching staff felt like we are going to get her just because of the way it evolved when she was on campus. The other kids by the time they come on campus, you know but not with this kid."

Before suffering a season-ending knee injury as a junior, Nelson-Ododa's high school team faced the teams that current UConn freshmen Mikayla Coombs and Megan Walker were on in a tournament in South Carolina.

"She is aggressive and around the basket, she is really talented, she hustles and on defense she will get the blocks," Coombs said. "We've always been in the same (age) group but we were never close. Once she came here, we were able to bond a little bit."

Coombs in thrilled to have another Georgia product coming to UConn.

"They always made fun of me because of how I talk so she will be able to advocate for me that this is how people talk in Georgia so I am excited," Coombs said

The 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa will give the Huskies some needed size. Azura' Stevens is 6-foot-6 and she could return for her senior season, Katie Lou Samuelson is 6-foot-3 but she tends to play on the wing.

Auriemma has said that it can be challenging landing commitments from players in the 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 range.

"There are so few of them anymore, it used to be that there are a couple of choose from and now there aren't very many. You watch college basketball today and do you see any of them who are any good? I don't too many that are any good. I look out there and see a lot of 6-4. 6-5 kids that you go, wow they are really, really good. We've had our share, we probably gotten more than most, you don't have a lot to choose from., If you do get one, it is not like there are seven others  who went to seven other schools, if you got one or two, there's a pretty good chance you were one of the schools to get one so that is a little bit different."

It should be no surprise to hear that Nelson-Ododa and Williams were named to the preseason watch list for the Naismith high school player of the year.

UConn announces details on free shuttle

UConn announced that a pair of shuttles will run before and after every basketball game at Gampel Pavilion beginning with tomorrow night's UConn women's home opener against California.

Here are the details:
The Gameday Shuttle will start running 90 minutes before each game and will run continuously until approximately 90 minutes after each game ends. Fans can catch the shuttle every 20 minutes or so outside the Nash-Zimmer Transportation Center (23 Royce Circle, Storrs) and will be dropped off at the Alumni Bus Stop on Hillside Road on campus.

UConn Transportation will run a second shuttle between F-Lot on the north side of campus and the Werth Family Champions Center. Find route maps and additional information about both the F-Lot and Storrs Center Gameday Shuttles at under “Fan Zone.”

“We are very pleased and appreciative that UConn has implemented a shuttle for our Storrs Center visitors to take to Gampel for a basketball game,” said Mansfield Downtown Partnership Executive Director Cynthia van Zelm. “This is a great service for visitors who want to make a night of it with dinner before or after a game, bringing additional vital traffic to our businesses.”

“I am thrilled that UConn Transportation has agreed to offer free shuttles to our fans during basketball Gamedays in Storrs,” Director of Athletics David Benedict said. “We are always looking for ways to enhance the fan experience, and I’m thankful UConn Nation can take advantage of this option to help alleviate traffic congestion around Gampel.”

Parking is available in the Storrs Center Garage, which is free for the first two hours and $1 per hour thereafter, with a daily maximum charge of $8.
For a list of dining options in Storrs Center, please visit

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Olivia Nelson-Ododa commits to UConn

Several hours after Christyn Williams, the No. 1 player in the ESPN's Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, committed to play for the 11-time national championship UConn women's basketball team, the Huskies' Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma admitted, "it's a weird recruiting year."

Thanks to Williams' commitment and the news that Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the No. 5 player in the ESPN rankings and No. 1 by the All-Star Girls Report, would join Williams in a star-studded recruiting class, it is also a special recruiting year for Auriemma and his staff.

Although the 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa announced her commitment at a ceremony at Winder-Barrow High School which is located about an hour outside of Atlanta, she called Auriemma Monday to inform her of her intentions.

"I don't think he expected it," Nelson-Ododa said with a laugh. "I was on the speaker phone with my parents and when we called him. We started to talk in the beginning and I said, 'Coach I am going to cut to the chase, I want to play for your program and want to play for UConn.' He took it really well so he was really excited about it."

The 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa picked UConn over Duke, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina and Stanford. It was her recent visit to UConn that sold her on the Huskies.

"My visit when I went up there, I realized how much of a family atmosphere it was," Nelson-Ododa said. "It had a great balance of not only athletics but academics and that is exactly what I was looking for, I am looking forward to developing relationships with the coaches and the entire staff."

Nelson-Ododa was averaging 16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The most serious aspect of the injury was a dislocated kneecap. She led Winder-Barrow to the Georgia AAAAA final as a sophomore when she averaged 17 points and 3.5 blocked shots per game highlighted by a 29-point game in the state semifinals. Nelson-Ododa, who had 13 points and 19 rebounds in the state final, spearheaded a remarkable run by Winder-Barrow which was making its first state playoff appearance since 1994.

Nelson-Ododa said she has been fully cleared to practice and will play in her first game this weekend as she looks to lead Winder-Barrow to a state title.

"This is the best team we've had in the four years I have been here so it is definitely a lot of expectations on us," Nelson-Ododa said. "Each day we come into practice we are focused and we have the mentality that the ring is our goal so we are working towards that."

Nelson-Ododa, who at one time was the top ranked player in the Class of 2018 by ESPN and is currently the No. 1 player on the All-Star Girls Report rankings, played on U.S. U-17 team along with UConn signee Christyn Williams. Nelson-Ododa was the team's leading scorer with 84 points in seven games (one more than Williams), was second on the team with 66 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.

"She is an amazing player, has such a high basketball IQ and she is somebody I would like to play with," Nelson-Ododa said of Williams. "She is a great person off the court, any time I can talk to her about anything and I hit her up about basketball. I think we have a relationship not just on the court but off the court too. She was excited because she was the only one to commit so far so when I told her, she was really excited and happy to hear that news."

Matt Huddleston, who coached Nelson-Ododa with the powerhouse Georgia Metros AAU program, believes that Nelson-Ododa and Williams could form an impressive duo at the next level.

"Both are extreme competitors, they chose the program partially because you have leadership in the program both from the coach and player standpoint, everything is a competition and they will go there together looking to do something really special."

Nelson also has some familiarity with the game of current UConn freshmen Mikayla Coombs and Megan Walker as her Winder-Barrow squad faced off with Coombs' Wesleyan School and Walker's Monacan High School teams at the 2016 Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational. Nelson-Ododa had 27 points and seven rebounds in Winder-Barrow's 65-60 win while Coombs led Wesleyan with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Walker had 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a 54-49 win in the championship game two days later. Nelson-Ododa had 16 points, 22 rebounds and two blocked shots.

"Playing against Mikayla's team, I never played against her today, she is so quick and is a hard person to guard and so is Megan," Nelson-Ododa said. "Playing against them, I think that is a good indicator of how they are going to be able to play at UConn and how we are all going to be able to play together and I am really looking forward to it."

Nelson-Ododa came out of the Georgia Metros AAU program which produced UConn's all-time leading scorer Maya Moore.

Huddleston coached both Moore and Nelson-Ododa with the Metros and sees plenty of similarities in the intangibles they bring to the court as well as their impressive work off the court as Nelson-Ododa has a 4.0 grade-point average.

"She is unique player build wise, her height and athleticism have always been (her strength)," Huddleston said. "I met her several years ago  sat down with her, her parents and myself and kind of set out a plan. Olivia's goal was to try to improve as far as she could. It was all about maximizing her ability. Not everybody is willing to put in the time to perfect the little things. It is hard to find kids with natural gifts who are willing to push themselves that little extra. Maya Moore came through our program and was very lucky to work with her, I think she shares a lot of unique qualities that Maya does when it comes to effort, work ethic and getting to be a team-first person. What she will bring there outside of her athleticism is a willingness to work hard and be a part of what Geno's done a great job and that is building a program that doesn't let anybody slack off."

Huddleston recalls Moore writing down her goals before she became a multiple NCAA, Olympic and WNBA champion and Nelson-Ododa has done the same thing.

"She sat down and we have written out some goals and scripted out what the path was, probably a few days before the injury there was already a plan in place for her, high school, prepare for national team trials," Huddleston said. "She is an extremely optimistic kid, she sought out the most aggressive surgery but also one that would give her the opportunity to come back."

Nelson-Ododa attended Moore's basketball camp in Atlanta a couple years ago.

"I got to see first hand how much of a leader she is and how she is so successful not only in my AAU program but at UConn so she is somebody I definitely like to look up to," Nelson-Ododa said.

Her ties to WNBA players don't end there. Her brother Alonzo, a former player at Richmond and Pittsburgh, married former WNBA first-round pick Dearica Hamby of the San Antonio Stars who will now play in Las Vegas.

"She went through the college recruiting process too and was able to watch some of her games," Nelson-Ododa said. "It is really cool to see the distinction between college basketball and pro level basketball, the difference in those levels so she has been able to give me advice and mentor me through this process."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

UConn honored with its own set of bobbleheads

Figured I would pass on an email I received about the UConn women's basketball program being honored with its own bobblehead at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

Here is the release

MILWAUKEE, Wi., November 14, 2017 – – This morning, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled a limited edition bobblehead commemorating the University of Connecticut’s 11 Women’s Basketball NCAA Division 1 National Championships. The bobbleheads, which are individually numbered to just 216, are only available in the National Bobblehead HOF and Museum’s Online Store. This is the first bobblehead commemorating UConn’s record-breaking 11 National Championships.

The bobblehead features UConn’s mascot, Jonathan the Husky, on a University of Connecticut logo base. Jonathan is holding two replica National Championship trophies with nine additional replica trophies on the base. A commemorative backing lists the years of Connecticut’s National Championships. The officially licensed bobbleheads, which just arrived, cost $40 each plus flat rate shipping of $8.

UConn is one of the most storied program in all of college sports, with the Huskies winning 11 National Championships since 1995. Connecticut, which has been led by head coach Geno Auriemma in each of the championship seasons, captured the Women’s Division 1 title in 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The team has finished the season undefeated in six of the eleven championship seasons.

"This bobblehead is the perfect way for UConn fans to commemorate the school’s 11 historic championships,” said Phil Sklar, Co-Founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. “These will be cherished collectibles that celebrate the tremendous success of the Huskies’ program.”

Last year, the National Bobblehead HOF and Museum started a series of bobbleheads commemorating college basketball teams that have won National Championships. The Connecticut Huskies Men’s Basketball program, which has won five National Championships, was included in the series, and a limited number of those bobbleheads are available for sale.

The bobbleheads were produced exclusively for the National Bobblehead HOF by Forever Collectibles and are officially licensed.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Top prospect Christyn Williams picks UConn

Christyn Williams ended the suspense when the top-rated player in the Class of 2018 when she committed to UConn.

Williams, joined by her parents at a ceremony at Central Arkansas Christian, made the decision with flair having three person walk out with UConn sweatshirts on accompanied by a Husky as she made it official that she was picking UConn over her other finalist, South Carolina.

On an interview with ESPN, she said "I want to be legendary."

This is the second straight year that UConn landed the top player in the country on November 10 as that was when current freshman Megan Walker committed to the Huskies.

Since 2006 UConn has secured a commitment from the top player in the ESPN rankings eight times and been a finalist on three other occasions.

Williams averaged double-doubles as a freshman and sophomore and as a junior she averaged 26.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game.

She was the only player with remaining high school eligibility on the silver-medal winning U.S. team at the FIBA U19 World Cup. She averaged 3.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game. UConn's Walker and Crystal Dangerfield were members of that team while UConn freshman Lexi Gordon is Williams' former AAU teammate.

At her signing press conference, Williams said that Dangerfield is the player she is most eager to play with at UConn.

UConn had a commitment from the No. 2 rated player in the class but 6-foot-5 Texas native Charli Collier decommitted from UConn and signed with Texas.

The Huskies are in the running to land No. 5 rated prospect Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 post out of Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Ga.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Pretty quiet on UConn recruiting front - for now

This has been a rather interesting recruiting year at UConn.

With a commitment from a player many consider as the top post player in the Class of 2018 as well as in strong position to land the best player in the class, the Huskies weren't involved with many top prospects.

They did look at Aquira DeCosta and NaLyssa Smith, who have both committed to Baylor but things never got too serious. Very, very early in the process the Huskies looked at Maryland commit Olivia Owens.

However, with the early signing period underway, UConn doesn't have a commitment after Charli Collier decommitted from UConn and is set to be a headliner in the Texas recruiting class. I don't anticipate it being that way for much longer.

Christyn Williams, the No. 1 ranked player by ESPN and No. 4 by Prospects Nation, will announce whether she will commit to UConn or South Carolina on Friday.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the No. 5 player in the ESPN rankings and No. 7 by Prospects Nation, is planning to make her announcement at her high school as is Williams. I reached out to Nelson-Ododa's high school coach and Kimberly Garren said, "there has not been a date set yet, but we will be doing something at school when she does."

This time of the year is always an interesting one. College coaches are prohibited from commenting due to NCAA regulations, players have answered the same old recruiting questions enough so while I do have Williams' contact information from an interview I did with her over the summer, she's got enough to deal with right now than a call from me. So who would be a good person to talk to about this process? Well, Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Megan Walker, the top-ranked player in her class, announcing her commitment to play at UConn. After UConn's preseason win over Ashland, I asked Walker what advice she would give to players preparing to make their college decision known over the next several days.

"Make sure it is the right decision for you, I wouldn't listen to any outside advice," Walker said. "You are going to be the one so you should be happy in your decision, just prepare as hard as you can for college and it is a whole different level

"It relieves a weight off of your chest and you can just play, have fun but then it is opening a new chapter."

Something tells me that regardless of what happens in the next eight days, the next recruiting cycle will be significantly more hectic for the UConn coaches. The Huskies have already done quite a bit of work in the recruitment of Aliyah Boston, the top scorer and rebounder on the U.S. U-16 national team, and Samantha Brunelle, who was tied for second in scoring on the U-16 squad. I always view the recruiting process in two-year cycles as a small recruiting class in one year is almost always followed by a monster class so stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

UConn trio named to Associated Press preseason All-American team

One year after having no UConn women's basketball players named the five-member Associated Press preseason team, the Huskies led the way with the trio of Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams joining South Carolina's A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State on the squad.

The voting was hardly a surprise considering that all five players were among 10 selected to the 2016-17 Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American team announced during the Final Four. The only other players with remaining eligibility on that squad were Baylor's Kalani Brown and Brianna Turner of Notre Dame, who will be sidelined this season as she continues to recover from the knee injury she suffered in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

This is the first time three teammates were named to the AP preseason team.

Collier was UConn's leading scorer, averaging 20.4 points per game and contributed a team-best 9.1 rebounds per game and also led the 36-1 Huskies with 77 blocked shots. Samuelson averaged 20.2 points per contest and her 119 3-pointers were two shy of UConn's single-season record set by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis during the 2014-15 season. Williams averaged 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and led UConn with 190 assists and 100 steals.

Duke transfer Azura' Stevens, eligible this season after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign, was among the other players to receive at least one vote from the national panel.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Letter from "solid citizen" Napheesa Collier special for national team coach

A Hall of Fame player and the head coach of the reigning national championship team, Dawn Staley certainly has received her share of mail over the years. However, one letter than landed on her desk not long after Staley's first training camp at the U.S. Senior Women's National Team head coach really touched her heart.

UConn junior forward Napheesa Collier was one of five current college players who accepted invitations to take part in the national team camp. Staley had coached Collier with the U-18 national team in 2014 and on the FIBA U19 World Championship squad in 2015 so knew what kind of player and person that Collier was. Or so she thought.

"Napheesa I've had a number of opportunities to coach her on USA Basketball teams and a solid citizen," Staley said on Thursday at NCAA women's basketball media day at ESPN. "I've never received a thank you card from any player that I've coached but did that and that shows the true character of a person when they can do something like that. I love coaching Napheesa, just having all of them there I thought was a great thing."

Among those in attendance at media day was fellow national team training camp attendees Asia Durr of Louisville and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina.

Durr's summer also included a stint as the leading scorer for the U.S. team at U23 Four National Tournament when the U.S. posted wins over Australia, Canada and Japan. Collier was one of four UConn players who took part in the U23 training camp but with UConn embarking on a trip to Italy, they Huskies weren't available to play in the tournament. Still, Durr's roommate at the U.S. Olympic Training Center was none other than Collier.

Durr admits that through her previous USA Basketball experiences, she knew Katie Lou Samuelson better than Collier before her time at the U23 camp.

"Napheesa I met her in high school in the Jordan Brand game but didn't talk that much," Durr said. "We roomed together in Colorado so we got a chance to bond. She is a great person as well."

As enjoyable as it was winning another gold medal with USA Basketball with the U23 squad, Durr admitted to heading out to California for the national team camp was an entirely different experience.

"As a person and as a player I got the chance to be around a lot of really great players, it prepared me well especially going out to Santa Barbara and dealing with people who have been playing for 10-12 years," Durr said. "I think that was a great experience and I am trying to take that back to school.

"Sue Bird was somebody, the starting point guard for the national team. I got the chance to speak with her and have my coach (Jeff Walz) out there was really cool as well."

Speaking of having her coach out at the national team camp, that is something Wilson enjoyed as well. She joked that Staley wasn't raising her voice in her direction as much as she does during the college season. There was also a rather comical aspect of the camp when it came time to break into groups for positional skill work.

"I always laugh because when we went into post/perimeter (position groups) I was the only player who didn't go to UConn," Wilson said with a laugh. "I was like, 'sorry guys.' Everybody was looking around and saying A'ja is the only one because there's Kiah Stokes, Stefanie Dolson, Stewie and all of them down there so I am like, 'hey guys.'

"It was a fun experience being out there with the pros. You see how fast paced the game is and how everyone there, you see that their basketball IQ is through the roof. That is something I took and hopefully bring back to South Carolina is knowing that even on water breaks they run, tight huddles and just little things that can make such a huge difference. That is something I am going to bring back to South Carolina, we are going to have tight huddles, we are going to make sure we get through every drill and not slack off."

Wilson is no stranger to Collier and Samuelson through her previous USA Basketball experiences and of course the annual non-conference matchups between South Carolina and UConn.

"They are great players, great to be around," Wilson said. "Katie Lou, we always laugh, I don't even know why but we just kind of this relationship where we just laugh. It is always great seeing them at national camps or at USA teams, they are great people and great players so well so I always like playing with them."

Staley believes it was beneficial not only incorporating college players but younger professionals into the national camp experience.

"It was a great experience for them and me," Staley said. "As you can see the current roster on our national team, they are getting up in age so we have to come in and get some younger players ready to compete at that level."

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

UConn's Williams glad migraine issues are behind her

Gabby Williams has no idea how or why she started having issues with migraine headaches but she is thrilled that she can refer to the migraines in the past tense.

The senior All-American forward was forced to sit out a few practices but she was able to return in practice in time to play in last night's exhibition win over Fort Hays State.

"When I came back I think I was out for a week and a half, I felt out of rhythm, I missed some of the offense we put in," Williams said. "It was weird. We thought it was a concussion but I never got hit so I didn't see how it was a concussion. We have no idea how it came but I am glad it is gone now."

Williams said she had to spend additional time in a dark room, no watching TV and as little time as possible spent on her phone. She said eating chocolate is one of the things that is said to help so with Williams dealing with migraines around Halloween, it's about as close as you can get for perfect timing for a migraine.

Most of the recent news surrounding the Notre Dame program hasn't been exactly positive with star post player Bruanna Turner out for the season as she continues to rehab from the knee injury she suffered in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Then came the news that senior guard Mychal Johnson recently tore her ACL leaving the Fighting Irish without four of the players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game during the 2016-17 season when you factor in Lindsay Allen's graduation and Erin Boley's transfer to Oregon.

Well, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw finally received some good news as yesterday it was announced that Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard is eligible to play immediately after receiving a waiver from the NCAA.

Shepard was the leading scorer and rebounder at Nebraska in each of the last two seasons. While McGraw doesn't expect Shepard to score as much as she did in her two seasons at Nebraska with all the other offensive options returning, she will give Notre Dame some needed size to replace Turner.

"It was a long process," McGraw said. "We were waiting to hear but so excited to have her. She brings experience, she is a great player. She is very talented, really versatile, she can score in a lot of different ways. She can face up and is a great passer, she can rebound and is really strong around the basket so a lot of good stuff and we need all of it."

McGraw said that Shepard is the first undergraduate transfer at Notre Dame during her time there. She said that Turner could be at 100 percent by January or February. However, the decision was already made to keep her out this season.

Texas coach Karen Aston said sophomore forward Joyner Holmes, who is not enrolled at Texas for the fall semester, has done everything she needed to and is set to be enrolled in the second semester. Looking at the academic calendar on the school's official site, the final day for exams in the fall semester is Dec. 20 meaning she should be able to come back for the Big 12 opener at Oklahoma on Dec. 28 and will certainly be back by the time Texas hosts UConn on Jan. 15. Even with Holmes out of the lineup, Texas was picked second behind UConn in the preseason Associated Press poll.

South Carolina's national player of the year A'ja Wilson was among the six players at today's NCAA media day at ESPN and I probably spent as much time interviewing her as I did for any non-UConn player in the event's history.

Among the topics I brought up was her reaction to Quinnipiac's memorable run to the Sweet 16 before the clock struck midnight for the Cinderella Bobcats thanks to South Carolina's emphatic 100-58 victory.

"I remember we were watching them playing and saying, 'dang, they are really doing this,'" Wilson said. "That just goes to show how great the (sport) is and how we are growing. That is March, that is the beauty of March, there is always that one Cinderella team. I think our guys' team were the Quinnipiac on the men's side but just to see those teams do those things just goes to show they were a great team ad if you trust and believe in something, you can go after it. Seeing them in Stockton, we were looking around like, 'are these the underdogs, they are really coming at us right now.' They had their crew, their band so it was a lot of fun seeing them playing and make history like that."

Wilson said that perhaps she will tune into the WNBA Draft lottery on Nov. 13 but she won't plan her day around it. She has had conversations with former teammates Tifffany Mitchell and Alisha Gray 

It was a great group of players at this year's media day. I've always enjoyed talking to Wilson dating back to when she was being recruited by UConn. Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu gave me some tremendous quotes about the story I wrote for tomorrow's paper focusing in on Breanna Stewart's recent posting on the Players' Tribune where she revealed she was sexually abused as a child and also how Stewart's action serve as a reminder of the platform a star like Stewart (and those in attendance at ESPN) have to make a difference in the world.

Gabby Williams was her typical quote machine, Louisville's Asia Durr was also a pleasure to talk to. I never got around to interviewing Mississippi State's Morgan William or Kalani Brown of Baylor but it was a well run and productive morning spent at ESPN. It's nice when the people running the media day go out of their way to make players available to the print media. It was a far cry from what transpired at American Athletic Conference media days when no time was specifically budgeted for people like me to interview players. Thankfully UConn made their players available for multiple hours and I did manage to get some of the other players from other teams I wanted to talk to but it wasn't easy. I'm not sure exactly when I will be done transcribing everything from today (especially since I haven't finished listening to the interviews for my football advance) but it was certainly worth the journey even if I did get stuck in multiple traffic jams on I-84 this morning.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Would UConn's Geno Auriemma be OK with one of his players taking a knee

Let's just call it the game after the game.

I've been covering Geno Auriemma's UConn team since the late 1990s and the stuff we get from him after press conferences are just a reporter's dream. Some of it is even on the record.

His press conference ended with Auriemma being asked about Breanna Stewart, who led the Huskies to four straight national titles, and her decision to pen an online essay about being sexually abused as a kid.

I wanted to ask him about how the time his players are at UConn helps them get ready to become ambassadors for the sport after they graduate. You see the philanthropic work Tina Charles does now and think back to when she first arrived at UConn and what an amazing transformation. Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson and Diana Taurasi have gone public with the fact that they are gay not to bring attention to themselves but to give a platform to an issue.

"You'd like to think that everybody gets an opportunity to express who they are, what they believe in and feel comfortable doing that," Auriemma said. "We live in an era, an age that more so than ever that it is conducive to that. A lot of the older players, when a lot of them were in college it wasn't as easy. People weren't as accepting, weren't as understanding as they are today and it is not until you grow up and you realize this is what I want to do, this is how I am going to live my life from here on in.

"The fact that they feel strongly about things is important, we talk about a lot of things, lots of issues come up on our team. An issue of what has been happening around the country the last couple of years with you take something as divisive as police brutality and can't deny the clear evidence that it certainly is a tremendous bias against people of color and to ignore it is to go along with the status quo. We spend a lot of time, 'how do you feel about that? How do you feel about what is going on in the NFL?' Everybody gets an opportunity for the most part, the young kids are a little too young maybe but as you get to be juniors and seniors, they think about it a lot. We ask them a lot of questions about that sort of stuff. Just because nobody is out there during the national anthem taking a knee doesn't mean that they don't have strong feelings about what is going on because they do."

That led to me asking Auriemma if he would have a problem if one of his players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem as NFL players have been doing.

"I don't know how I would feel about that because we talk to them about it," Auriemma said. "I would want there to be an actual action that represents that this is what I am going to do. There are a lot of different opinions on that, we have a platform to let everybody know this is how I feel. Everybody already knows, anybody with a conscience feels that way. I think it has been done, it has been brought to everybody's attention. Enough? No. Has anything been done about it until it became not about police brutality anymore, it became about has been tweeted from the White House. Then it changed the dialogue completely and it made it worse. Now you have two issues you are trying to grapple win. One, can we get that under control and treat everybody the same and 2) can we get people stop doing things to stop throwing gasoline on the fire. I think that probably infuriates people, takes it to a whole other level beyond what was happening in Ferguson, Minneapolis, Baltimore...

"We live in a world that if you are not careful, every time you pick up the paper, every time you watch TV, every time you go on the internet you have another reason to take a knee. If we aren't careful, we are going to live our lives on our knees because we are pissed off with everything that we see, everything we hear. At some point something has to come out that makes you feel pretty good about what people are doing instead of all the stuff that is constantly being thrown out there."