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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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.


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