Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bent continues to make the grade at UConn

A few weeks ago All-American Katie Lou Samuelson was answering questions about her freshmen teammates and without any prodding Molly Bent's name came up.

"Freshman year is a lot of tests and trials, some people are really good," Samuelson said. "Molly Bent never had an issue, she knew how to figure everything out but people that don't, it is kind of a test run. You definitely learn quickly because our coaches give us designated study hall times and make sure we are on top of that because academics are extremely important, that comes first and we have to figure out that. You don't want your academics to affect your on-court (performance) because if you aren't going to take care of what you need to in the classroom, you aren't going to get on the court."

Bent certainly made Samuelson sound like she knows what she is talking about when the sophomore guard joined senior guard Kia Nurse among the UConn student-athletes being honored for attaining a 4.0 grade-point average in the most recent fall or spring semesters.

Bent drew interest from Ivy League schools when she was at Tabor Academy so her impressive work in the classroom shouldn't be a surprise.

"I am a bit of a nerd, my parents never had to get on me for doing my homework or anything like that," Bent said. "They had to get on me for getting too stressed out about it. I went to Tabor and you lived on campus so it was kind of like a college feel where you had to learn to manage your time in that sense that you have to manage my time in basketball and in school. The hardest part that is new is missing classes (because of road trips) but Ellen (Tripp) out academic adviser is great and as long as you communicate well with your teachers, they are pretty understanding."

How strong of a student is Bent? Well, she still groans when she thinks of the English class she took as a freshman. She slacked off so much she earned a dreaded grade of A-minus.

"The A-minuses are killing me," Bent said. "It is freshman English and I took a higher English course last year and I did well so it has to keep me motivated."

As Bent mentioned, the traveling has made things a bit more challenging. Certainly she won't be the only Husky to get some academic work done during the trip to South Carolina.

"It is tough getting on the plane at 9 or 10 o'clock knowing that you have some work to do, but it time management, try to get as much done as you can before you leave, try to get ahead so you don't have to worry too much about it," Bent said. "You've got to motivate yourself to get it done on the plane, try not to fall asleep, try not to watch Netflix or anything and bang it out."

Bent, the daughter of two teachers, is majoring in math and is considering becoming a teacher as well. She intends to add a minor, likely either in economics or statistics to "see if that will bring me anywhere else, I have no idea to be honest with you."

On the court, Bent is trying to make an impact when she has been given a chance. She is shooting much better than she did as a freshman but has already committed more turnovers than she did all of last season. She knows that many of those turnovers are a result of indecision especially when she has an open shot.

"I've never been too concerned with points," Bent said. "I've always had that in me  that at times I over penetrate and pass too much in the lane. For me a lot of my scoring opportunities in high school came out of transition game so I was very comfortable in that sense just because for the most part I was bigger, faster, stronger than most of the people on the floor and I could just run by them and I had a really strong motor. When you are not that you have to really excel in the half court and really slow things down. For me that has really been the toughest part and just trying to get better at it. 

"I have good days/bad days, good games/bad games, you just have to try to take it one game at a time and if you have a bad game, come back in practice to try and make up for it. If you have a bad practice or bad play, you have to come back and try not to have too many bad plays in a row."

Saturday, January 27, 2018

UConn puts on a show for sellout crowd

Since the formation of the American Athletic Conference, one team has been in a one-possession game with UConn in the final minute. That took place on Feb. 18 in New Orleans as UConn held on for a 63-60 victory. Apparently those memories were still fresh in the minds of the Huskies veteran players as they landed punch after punch in the 98-45 dismantling of Tulane today.

Where do I start?

Well, since my advance was on Tulane senior guard Kolby Morgan having UConn's attention after games with 22 and 19 points against the Huskies last season, let's start there. Morgan finished 1 for 10 from the field as she had two points and four turnovers in 30 minutes. Kia Nurse spent the most time guarding the 2,000-point career scorer and to say she was fired up about this assignment would be an understatement. It looked like Nurse wanted to make sure Morgan couldn't even touch the ball with the off the ball defense she was playing. Crystal Dangerfield chased Morgan around quite often as well while fellow starters Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson switching on her when the primary defender got caught up in screens. The Huskies also sprung traps when Morgan would get the ball resulting in plenty of early Tulane turnovers as UConn had 36 points off turnovers, its second highest total this season.

However, by game's end, much of the talk was about the offense as UConn narrowly missed setting a program record for field-goal percentage in a game. How close was the 72.2 mark to a record, well if Katie Lou Samuelson had held onto the ball instead of firing up a desperation heave at the end of the second quarter, a record would have been set. Or, if Lexi Gordon's basket had counted instead being negated by a traveling call, a new mark would now stand. UConn was 13 for 14 from the floor in the third quarter and they weren't all layups either as the Huskies matched Radford for the best FG mark in a game by a Division I women's basketball team this season. You would have to go back to Wyoming's 2010 game against Air Force to find a better mark.

Here are some more numbers:

In the last three games UConn has outscored its last three opponents 156-58 in points in the paint, 100-31 in points off turnovers and 107-32 in bench points. Oh, as the Huskies improved to 91-0 in conference play since the formation of the American Athletic Conference (counting the postseason tournaments), in 48 of those games the Huskies have at least twice as many points as their opponent.

This is the 29th time including 25th straight season that UConn has won 20 games in a season and the 11th time the Huskies opened 20-0. Speaking of the 20-game mark, I went back through the last 15 seasons and this team has the second-highest field-goal percentage (53.8), made 3-pointers (167), 3-point percentage (40.8), field-goals attempted (1,319) through 20 games.

It was also the 200th home sellout in program history. The first was on Feb. 20, 1993 against Stanford. That was also the first UConn game I ever covered. Geno Auriemma was asked about the crowd after the game and he took the opportunity to voice his displeasure on the cost of parking at UConn home games.

"It is a proven fact that if we play games at an accessible time that our fans will come out. This is one of the few days when I got here, I parked in the garage and I am pissed off that is cost $12 to park in the garage," Auriemma said. "Whoever is charging $12 for these people to park in the garage should be ashamed of themselves, it is disgraceful so for them to come out here and not only come to the game pretty much knowing that we are going to win and then staying to the end of the game... This makes no sense but our fans are unique from fans around the country.

"I think you have to give them a reason to come and if you do they will. Playing games on the afternoon on the weekends is the winning ticket, it is beyond me why we don't have more of those. There should never be a Saturday night game ever again, every game should be Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon, I am a big proponent of that. We have a bunch of game at the XL Center coming up and I think we are going to have huge crowds for that as well. I am proud of our fans and I am happy for them that our kids put on a great show today. I remind our players all the time that when people pay to watch you play, you have an obligation to make sure that they didn't just pay to see something that they could go down to the playground and watch somebody do."

Auriemma chose his words a little more carefully when asked to comment on whether reports of the NCAA investigating the UConn men's basketball program negatively impacts the UConn brand.

"Until somebody tells me what it is and what exactly happened I don't have any comment or any thought on it because I have no idea what it is," Auriemma said. "I am like everybody else probably, hoping that it takes care of itself and everything works out. The interesting thing is 10,000 people came to the game today and I'll bet not one of them cared too much about what was going on. If we continue to put a put a good product on the floor, on the field I think we will be OK. I think people will respond more so to how we play than what is going on until we have something concrete to deal with."

At halftime patients from the Connecticut Children's Medical Center were recognized along with nurse Heather Buck, yes the same Heather Buck who used to play at UConn. The UConn players got to know the patients during visits to the hospital making for an emotional greeting.

"We got to hang out with those kids in the hospital and they recognized us and of course we recognized them so that was really special," UConn senior forward Gabby Williams said. "It shows that we can have more of an impact than just on the court."

I also asked Katie Lou Samuelson for her reaction to her former AAU coach Russ Davis hiring her sister Karlie to be an assistant coach at NAIA powerhouse Vanguard.

"She is a great coach for me at least and she is definitely going to do a great job and hopefully in the future get more opportunities,' Samuelson said.

Karlie Samuelson nearly made the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks as an undrafted free agent and Katie Lou said Karlie will be heading to training camp with the Sparks this year.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wrapping up an eventful trip to Memphis

The first thing I can say about today's 93-36 win over Memphis is how much I love 1 p.m. games especially road games.  There's no need to check to time to make sure I can make all of my deadlines and with UConn with a schedule to catch a flight home, I found myself back in my hotel room by 4:30 p.m. local time. I understand an early afternoon mid-week game is hardly wonderful for people who work for a living and I'm sure quite a few people who normally tune into the game simply could not do so today. If I had a regret it is that I had a chance to book an early evening flight home and I simply couldn't take that risk.

As for the game, when I arrived at Roane Fieldhouse the UConn team on the court stretching and among those getting ready for the game was Katie Lou Samuelson. She had missed the last game due to her troublesome left ankle but it was clear that as pre-game drills continued that Samuelson would be back in action.

She was off target on some 3-pointers, shots that she normally would make but she moved well up and down the floor and had a pretty solid 17-point effort.

"We just took it day by day and I expected to play after taking a couple of days off, I practiced some yesterday and I was ready to go," Samuelson said. "I wanted to play as hard as I can and I feel pretty good. It usually takes something to irritate it or do something to it."

It's been quite the season already for Samuelson. She missed four games earlier in the season because of an ankle injury and when she hurt her ankle again in a game against Tulsa, hearing UConn coach Geno Auriemma say that the injury did not look good was a cause for concern.

All the talk after the game wasn't limited to Samuelson's ankle. She is still showing the impact of the elbow to her left eye against Texas. It looks like a blood vessel burst as well as her eye was blood red. That led to a hilarious quote from Samuelson when I asked her what the reaction on campus is to her walking around with a black eye.

"People were staring a lot and I decided to wear sunglasses for a while, people were staring at me when I was wearing sunglasses in 20 degree weather with clouds everywhere so I don't know what is the better situation," Samuelson said. "I don't know which is better because the first day of classes my eye was actually swollen shut and I had to stand up in front of the class and talk to them and it was like, 'hey guys' and everybody was laughing."

Speaking of comical moments, the local media had an interest in speaking to Tennessee native Crystal  Dangerfield. When the questions turned to the shin splints she is dealing with, she seemed kind of bummed when stating that she hasn't been able to practice. I said that I would think not having to endure Auriemma's challenging practices might not be the worst thing in the world. Dangerfield chuckled and said, "I actually like practice."

As for the painful shin splits, Dangerfield said, "It is starting to feel better and I will keep working with Janelle (Francisco, UConn's athletic trainer) to figure out what the next step is."

Dangerfield said the treatments and rest has been working and the pain is beginning to subside.

Auriemma said he will continue to look to limit the minutes for senior Gabby Williams who is dealing with an issue with her hip and today was one of those days. Auriemma also said he liked what he saw from freshman Megan Walker. Walker did not score until the fourth quarter but even if Walker didn't make a shot in the fourth quarter when all five starters sat on the bench with the Huskies up 75-22, Auriemma would have been encouraged by what Walker accomplished.

"She didn't shoot the ball as well as she did Sunday but I try to tell players don't ever confuse shooting the ball well with playing well," Auriemma said. "I hear that all the time that somebody made a lot of shots that they played a great game.They just made a lot of shots so to me playing well ... She is starting to understand what playing well constitutes at Connecticut. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how many points you score. I like the look she has right now for the first time in a long time, she looks like she has things where she wants them, she is not searching as much."

One aspect that didn't get much attention in the press conference is Kia Nurse's defense on Memphis senior guard Brea Elmore. Elmore was left open for an early 3-pointer and that seemed to catch Nurse's attention as she turned up the intensity. Watching Nurse's off the ball defense when she makes it a real chore just for the player she is guarding to touch the ball is something to behold.

Things are tough for Elmore and the Tigers who are down to six healthy players and after a solid start, things got away from them.

My coverage did not begin with today's game. Yesterday I made the drive from Memphis to Little Rock, Arkansas to see UConn signee Christyn Williams in action. The game was not exactly a barn burner. I didn't keep a running tabulation but I believe Williams' Central Arkansas Christian team ripped off 46 straight points en route to the 55-14 victory.

I had Williams for 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, five steals and a blocked shot in just 14:54 as she did not play in the fourth quarter and was taken out early in the second and third quarter.

My favorite play from Williams came when she had a chance to take an open 3-pointer in the third quarter but passed to a teammate. When the shot went up, Williams was en route to the basket and in one motion grabbed the rebound and scored.

More is coming in my interview with Williams but after the game I asked Geno Auriemma for his thoughts on the No. 1 rated recruit in this year's senior class.

"She is good with the ball in her hands, she just has fun playing basketball, enjoys the game," Auriemma said. "Ever since the first time I saw her play, I liked the presence she has on the court. She's one of those players that when you see her and you are around her, you go, 'now I can see what everybody is talking about.'"

One of the things Williams said is that this CAC team is the best one she's been a part of so I asked Auriemma how important it was to Williams to end her senior season with a state title.

"They lost last year and I know she wasn't too happy about," Auriemma said. "I think they might have lost on a missed block out on a free throw so she's make it a priority to finish her career to get back to the state championship game and I think she's been great for her team. She is a great leader, really unselfish and a great teammate. It is easy to see why everybody loves her."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

UConn game up next for high scoring New Haven product

Unless Tonya Cardoza lands a commitment from another New Haven area prospect, I would say that my itinerary the day before UConn's games at Temple will go back to normal.

In each of the last four seasons I would get into Philadelphia early enough to catch up with New Haven's Tanaya Atkinson since she was a double-digit scorer beginning with her freshman season.

Now Atkinson is so much more. She will head into today's game against No. 1 UConn leading the American Athletic Conference in scoring (23.1 points per game) and rebounding (10.0) so naturally a story on the former Career High star served as my advance.

Atkinson is one of Division I women's basketball players hailing from Connecticut to average at least 10 points per game. Not only is Atkinson the top scorer among Connecticut natives but fellow New Haven native Alissa Alston's 14.6 scoring average is tied for the second best mark.

Here's a list of the top Division I women's basketball scorers hailing from Connecticut

Alissa Alston JR Ole Miss (New Haven)        14.6 PPG, 19 steals, team leading 76 assists, 87 free throw attempts
Tanaya Atkinson SR Temple (New Haven)        23.1 PPG, 10 RPG, 49 assists, 23 steals
Shaquana Edwards FR LaSalle (Hartford)        8.6 PPG, 51 assists, 22 steals, 23 3-pointers
Tiana England FR St. John's (Stamford)        10.7 PPG, 109 assists, 23 steals       
Carly Fabbri SR Quinnipiac (Stratford)        8.6 PPG, 79 assists, 39 steals, 29 3-pointers
Maura Fitzpatrick JR Marist (Cheshire)        10.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 48 assists, 23 steals, 9 blocked shots
Janelle Harrison, SR Hartford (Cromwell)    11.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 46 steals
Abby Laszewski SO Wisconsin (Hartford)        7.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 20 blocks
Sadie Edwards SR USC (Meriden)            14.2 PPG, 41 assists, 23 steals
Sydney Lowery, FR Boston College (Shelton)    7.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 10 steals, team-leading 51 free throw attempts
India Pagan FR Stony Brook (New London)        5.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG
Pika Rodriguez, FR Pitt (Hartford)        5.6 PPG, 24 3-pointers, 44.1 3-point percentage
Sarah Veilleux JR Saint Joseph's (Hebron)    14.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 31 assists, 33 3-pointers, 45.2 3-point percentage
Alyssa Velles SR Saint Peter's (Franklin)    8.1 PPG, 3.2 rebounds, 40 3-pointers
Corrine Williams, SR BU (Bloomfield)        9.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 37 assists, 21 steals, 13 blocked shots

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Former UConn assistant Cardoza weighs in on Geno Auriemma's "disgraceful" comment

In each of the last four seasons I've made it over to McGonigle Hall the day before Temple was hosting UConn so I could catch up with New Haven's Tanaya Atkinson. With Atkinson leading the American Athletic Conference in scoring and rebounding, she is going to be the focus of my advance for tomorrow's game.

While I was there, I had a few minutes with Temple coach and former UConn assistant coach Tonya Cardoza and of course I asked her about her thoughts on Geno Auriemma's assertion that Thursday's game against Tulsa was the most disgraceful effort he's seen in his time coaching at UConn.

At first Cardoza joked that if she pretended that she didn't hear about his remarks she wouldn't have to answer questions about it which drew a laugh out of UConn legend Sue Bird who is part of tomorrow's announce team.

"As coaches you get frustrated with what you see and what your players aren't doing at this point in the season. I am sure they are 17/18 games in too and when your team is not getting better and growing where you think they should, it is frustrating," Cardoza said. "I am sure he exaggerated a little bit but it is frustration on his end. He is trying to get perfect, he wants his players to be great and whenever they fall short of that, he is frustrated with that.

"I hope they (UConn's freshmen) all play tomorrow, I hope he does what he did with Tulsa but plays them for 40 minutes and maybe the score ...

"He needs his bench. Everybody else around the country, the teams they are going to be facing are a little deeper. Obviously those guys can go for 40 minutes but those guys on the bench, they have to start stepping up in order for them to get to where they want to go."

Cardoza worked with some of UConn's best and most versatile players during her time on Auriemma's staff. The fact that Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams, Katie Lou Samuelson and Azura' Stevens can play multiple positions is perhaps the first thing that stands out when she breaks down film of this UConn squad.

"They all can play any or every position so when we are going over the scouting report, you don't know what position the guy is going to be in," Cardoza said. "The point guard could be switched with Stevens and playing that spot so their versatility is what makes them really good, the fact that they can switch on anything on defense, anybody can start the break and it just makes them very difficult for anybody to guard them."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Geno Auriemma rips his team's effort after win over Tulsa

This is my 16th season as the New Haven Register's primary UConn women's basketball beat writer and if I were to rank the most annoyed I've seen Geno Auriemma after a game, it would be hard to top tonight's reaction.

Where do I start?

Auriemma said the fans should get their money back for having to sit through that and it was one of the most disgraceful effort from his time during his time with the Huskies and this came after an 18-point win.

"It doesn't bother me," Auriemma said. "I am beyond bothered, I see it every single day, some days we just hide it better than others. Give Tulsa all the credit in the world, they made shots, they were able to take the ball where we wanted to take it. We won because we have All-Americans and they don't, that is the bottom line.

"There are no more messages. I don't have a message for my team and even if I did, they wouldn't listen anyway. We got a team that does what they want to do when they want to do it how they want to do it and if they don't feel like it, they don't do it plain and simple."

The thing about Auriemma is that before he says anything to the media, he has said it to his players. The question is will the Huskies have an extra jump in their step when UConn travels to meet a struggling Temple squad on Sunday. I would say the chances of that happening being quite high,

UConn senior guard Kia Nurse did not want to share what the message was to the team after the game. Auriemma's response on the message was, "there are no more messages. I don't have a message for my team and even if I did, they wouldn't listen anyway. We got a team that does what they want to do when they want to do it how they want to do it and if they don't feel like it, they don't do it plain and simple."

UConn led 26-11 at the end of the first quarter as Napheesa Collier had 10 of her 19 points. When the second quarter started, he had a lineup consisting of Molly Bent, Mikayla Coombs, Kyla Irwin, Azura' Stevens and Megan Walker. Bent, Coombs and Walker played all 10 minutes in the quarter. The only starter to see playing time in the quarter was Collier who he summoned when he appeared to be unhappy with Stevens' defensive effort.

Tulsa and UConn managed the score 16 points each in the quarter. Stevens (seven points), Collier (five) and Walker (four) accounted for all of the Huskies' points. Walker's points all came from the foul line as Bent, Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Irwin and Walker were 0 for 9 from the field in the quarter.

"You are trying to save them from themselves, this is what they do every day in practice and trying to not expose them on the court so I am trying to help them," Auriemma said.

It would be stunning if there wasn't one rather fired up UConn team ready to take the court against Temple. However, it's uncertain if all of them will be able to take the court.

Katie Lou Samuelson was able to play today despite a black eye as a result of a elbow from a Texas player on Monday however she did not finish the game. Samuelson injured her ankle in the third quarter.

"The way she came off the court, it wouldn't surprise me if she doesn't play Sunday but we will know more tomorrow," Auriemma said.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

UConn signees Nelson-Ododa, Williams to play in the McDonald's All-American Game

It seems like just yesterday when I took the train to New York to catch up with the four future Huskies (Willnett Crockett, Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Nicole Wolff) who played in the inaugural girls game at the McDonald's All-American Game.

The rosters for the 17th girls game were just announced this afternoon and with Olivia Nelson-Ododa set to play for the East and Christyn Williams to suit up for the West, this will mark the 11th time more than one future Husky has been selected to play in the game.

After a long run in Chicago, the game will be played in Atlanta which has to be sweet for Nelson-Ododa since Phillips Arena is only about 50 miles from Winder-Barrow High School.

The game is set for Mar. 28 with the girls game scheduled for 5 p.m. and airing on ESPN2.

Talented, physical Texas team pushes UConn to the brink

Katie Lou Samuelson's shiner served as living proof of the tussle her UConn women's basketball team just emerged from with the NCAA Division I women's basketball record road winning streak still intact - barely.

"I think it looks pretty," Samuelson said with a laugh.

The Huskies' leading scorer was talking about the bruise that made it difficult for her to keep her left eye open and not the frenetic 40 minutes that had just elapsed.

There were times when I had flashbacks to last season's loss to Mississippi State watching UConn struggle to get into a flow offensively. Napheesa Collier and Kia Nurse combined for just 10 field-goal attempts and misfired on half of them against Mississippi State. They also combined for two assists and four turnovers in 71 combined minutes. Last night in 76 minutes they were 5 of 10 from the field with one assist and five turnovers. The similarities don't end there

In the Final Four loss the Huskies lost the offensive rebounding battle 14-6 and it was 14-5 against the Longhorns. UConn was 7 of 15 from 3-point range vs. Mississippi State and 6 of 15 versus Texas. UConn gave up 21 more field goal attempts against the Bulldogs and 14 more against the Longhorns. There were just four steals and four fast-break points in the Final Four loss with two steals and two fast-break points last night.

The difference was that UConn found a way to win this game although a loss would not have been the worst thing to ever happen as it would have been put to good use by the UConn coaching staff.

"We always want to put ourselves in these situations and get this opportunity," Samuelson said. "It know it is rare that we do but we are glad we got that test because we also have a couple of more games that are really going to test us so we want to do that as many times as we can before we got into tournament play."

Samuelson deserved kudos for scoring 19 points, many after she took an elbow to her eye that resulted in the aforementioned black eye. However, down the stretch the leading roles were assumed by a couple of players who had little or no impact on last year's season-ending loss.

Crystal Dangerfield, then a freshman, didn't play for the final 5:26 of the fourth quarter and the entire overtime while Azura' Stevens was sitting out after transferring from Duke.

In the fourth quarter Stevens had eight points, two rebounds and a blocked shot. Dangerfield had a couple of assists and hit two foul shots with 8 seconds to play to give the Huskies the four-point lead.

Texas coach Karen Aston said that Stevens' play was the key to the victory while UConn's Geno Auriemma said proclaimed that, "she made so many big plays today. I would be here over the next half hour if I went over every play I think had a big impact. I do say to our team all the time that one particular play doesn't lose you a game but you make one play when you have to, it wins you the game."

UConn was down by eight with 2 minutes left in the first half when Dangerfield drilled a 3-pointer and after Nurse's fast-break layup pulled UConn within a point, Dangerfield stole the inbounds pass eventually leading to Williams setting up Collier for a layup just before the first half ended.

"We just made a couple of plays down the the stretch and did just enough to win the game," Auriemma said. "They are a really difficult team to play against especially here. We are undersized at so many positions and they just manhandled us in the first half. I felt we did a much better job in the second half, rebounded better and were more aggressive. I felt like we made just enough plays to win the game.

"I wish we had 15 of these (a season), I wish we had two of these a week. It would be a lot of fun for our players and would be a lot of fun for me too."

There will be a game at South Carolina, the defending national champions, on Feb. 1 and a home game against No. 2 Louisville on Feb. 12 but unless South Florida plays its way back into the top 25 poll, there won't be another ranked opponent on UConn's schedule until the NCAA tournament.

This was UConn's seventh straight true road win against a top 10 team in the Associated Press which is a program record but following the game both coaches were asked variations on the "is UConn vulnerable" question.

"I definitely don't feel like you are vulnerable when you can score at every position," Texas coach Karen Aston said.

Auriemma addressed an inquiry about whether this is a great UConn team.

"Great for what is going on in the country right now but great but our standards? Not quite, not yet. Maybe, maybe down the road but they've got a ways to go to catch up to some of the more recent teams."

Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, a team with length in the post and the discipline on both ends of the court to prevent UConn from scoring with regularity in transition could pose the greatest threat. Certainly Collier and Williams will need to continue to work to become offensive options against taller front lines and these next couple of months will be key for another bench player or two to emerge.

As for Texas, I was anticipating big games from guards Ariel Atkins, Lashann Higgs and Brooke McCarty and they did not disappoint. I was not expecting Jatarie White and Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau to combine for 25 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots. They played against UConn while they were at South Carolina and Vanderbilt respectively and in three previous games versus UConn, they didn't come close to reaching those numbers.

"We've run into these guys in the past and they are way, way better than they were back then," Auriemma said. "They are good and they made shots and they made the shots we gave them. We said we want them to take those shots and they made them and that is what you are going to have to be able to do. We are not going to take everything away so credit to them, they made shots."

White finished with 18 points (on 8 of 12 shooting) and six rebounds in 28 minutes. She showed range on her jumper and came up with four offensive rebounds.

"I am comfortable with my teammates practicing with them and getting my reps up," said White, who had four points, one rebound, no blocked shots in 13 minutes in the two games against UConn when she played at South Carolina. "I think going out and getting those first couple of rebounds are important, not necessarily scoring but getting myself into the groove making sure I know that my teammates are going to knock down shots but if they don't being able to get in that position of getting the rebound."

Sunday, January 14, 2018

UConn set for another showcase event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Beginning with the program-changing win over Tennessee in 1995, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the UConn women's basketball team would play in a high-profile game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

For 19 straight years the Huskies had games scheduled on that day but the last time the Huskies had a game scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was on Jan. 21, 2013 when the Huskies dispatched No. 4 Duke  79-49. That will change on Monday when UConn plays at No. 7 Texas.

Obviously facing a top 10 team that is very capable of punching a ticket to the 2018 Final Four and doing so on the road makes for a special evening but add in the added significance of the date the game is being played on and it should make for an emergy-charged and emotional event.

"It is exciting that we have the opportunity to do that," UConn senior forward Gabby Williams said. "(Fans) are going to get the day off so they can come see us and celebrate the holiday with us."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma has said in the past that Williams is probably his team's most socially aware player. She's involved with organizations on campus and has said being a strong, black woman is of paramount importance to her so I asked her after Saturday's Houston game if playing on that day had added significance to her.

"Definitely, he paved the way so we have the opportunity to have fans even go to college and be an inspiration for a lot of youth," Williams said.

TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANEWhen it came time to request players to be interviewed after the Houston game, I didn't hesitate in naming Crystal Dangerfield and Gabby Williams since they had four steals each to lead UConn to a season high 21 steals in the 60-point victory. There was one more person I requested to interview and that was associate head coach Chris Dailey who just a couple days earlier was one of the 10 finalists for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2018.

Dailey has made her share of trips to Knoxville, Tennessee where the WBHOF is located as the Huskies played seven road games against Tennessee 1996-2006 posting a 4-3 record. Auriemma as well as Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Kara Wolters were all inducted into the Hall of Fame. Dailey will find out next month if her next trip to Knoxville will be so she can be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Always great trips," Dailey said. "The environment was always a lot of fun down there, I was down there last year for Kara's induction so I hadn't there for a long time but I love Calhoun's the restaurant right there.

"I am speechless which is hard to believe, I know. There are so many people who are qualified and should be recognized that I don't know how they could actually limit them. It says more about our program, the people I work with and the players than it does about me."

Dailey and former Tennessee assistant coach Mickie DeMoss are both finalists. Certainly if you ask any of the players who were at Tennessee when DeMoss was a trusted assistant coach for iconic Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt they will tell you the honor is well deserved and perhaps long overdue. The UConn players feel the same way about Dailey.

"I think everybody is really excited and really enjoying it. Of course we all feel like she deserves it so it is another moment we all get to smile at," Williams said.

SWEET HOMECOMINGFreshman Lexi Gordon is the second player from the state of Texas to suit up for UConn so perhaps it was fitting that her first career 3-pointer at UConn came in her first game in her native state.
Gordon missed on 3-point tries against California, Duquesne, Memphis and was 0 for 2 against East Carolina before she connected from long distance with 50 seconds remaining in Saturday's 95-35 win.

"We were excited," Williams said. "It is another moment where everyone gets to contribute, we get excited. She gets so excited for us every time one of us hits a 3 so it is cool to return it."

LEARNING CONTINUES FOR FRESHMANAuriemma said he was encouraged by what he saw from sophomore Kyla Irwin (a career-high eight points as well as two rebounds in 11 minutes) and Gordon (three points, two rebounds in five minutes). It was more of a struggle for freshmen Mikayla Coombs and Megan Walker, who combined to miss all three of their field-goal attempts although they combined for four rebounds, two assists and four steals in 28 minutes.

Coombs was the first freshman off the bench and she led all the freshmen with 17 minutes played. If she can continue to play with a confident mindset, minutes are there for her.

"That has never really been a part of my game," Coombs said of her tentative style of play earlier in the season. "When I catch the ball I usually attack at all times but when I came in, should I attack, should I pass? That constant thinking led me to make more mistakes. Now that I have been here, Coach has said you have to get confident in yourself. I feel more confident so when I catch it, I am (aggressive) so it just feels right.

"He is constantly pushing you, he doesn't put you in a box he is constantly telling you to spread out and use your talents and he hear him yelling all the time attack, attack, attack I am finally gaining that confidence. I feel like if I don't attack, he is going to get (upset) so you might as well do it."

Walker is also dealing with growing pains. Other than the two games she missed due to illness, the three minutes she played against UCF was a season low. She didn't get into the game against Houston until the third quarter.

It should be noted that some of her best play has come against ranked opponents and especially top five teams as she combined for 16 points and nine rebounds in wins over UCLA and Notre Dame.

Texas was very much involved in Walker's recruitment right up to the point when she committed to UConn. Aston was one of the coaches at ESPN headquarters for NCAA women's basketball media day and I asked her then about her thoughts on Walker.

"She is a winner, you can start with that, she wins and I think that goes back to the mentality," Aston said. "You have to get people who are used to winning and you get back to that X factor, the extra push you get when you win championships whether it is high school, club, whatever, there is the extra mile you go when you win championships so I would start with that Megan is a winner and second  One of the things you look at when you see those programs recruit is can you match their offensive production and their versatility. She is a very versatile player who can play multiple positions and that seems to be where you struggle with playing against UConn in particular is that he can move his players around and mmismatch them whenever he feels like mismatching them because they are so versatile."

Saturday, January 13, 2018

UConn piling up the assists

Just out of curiosity, I looked up UConn's games through the first 15 games dating back to the 2003-04 season (UConn's game notes in its online archives either don't go back further than that or don't include season stats in the notes).

What I found was pretty interesting. UConn currently has 328 assists in its first 14 games this season. The Huskies had 329 through 15 games during the 2012-13 season, 336 in 2008-09 and 342 in 2007-08. I would expect the Huskies to top that mark by the time today's game at Houston is over. I did check on the 2001-02 season and that year the Huskies had 350 assists through 15 games so that is the number the Huskies are chasing. UConn did average more than 22 assists per game during the 1994-95 season and I regret not researching that season the last time I was at Gampel Pavilion.

When I mentioned this statistical nugget to UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, he was a bit surprised.

The Huskies are currently shooting 53.1 percent from the field which is the fourth-best mark in the last 15 seasons and if they make 12 3-pointers today, it would give them the most through 15 games dating back to 2003-04. Assuming the Huskies score at least 66 points today, they will have the highest scoring average through 15 games over these previous 15 seasons.

If there is an area where this year's team is failing to stack up, it is in the free throw department. Unless the Huskies make a living at the line today, the Huskies could finish with the fewest free throws made and attempted at this point of the season dating back to 2003-04.

"That is one thing I have been complaining about, we don't shoot enough free throws," Auriemma said.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Espinoza-Huinter to transfer out of UConn

Andra Espinoza-Hunter has been a regular at UConn games dating back to the days when her Ossining (N.Y.) High School teammate Saniya Chong was being recruited by the Huskies.

As it turns out, she probably made it to more UConn games when Chong was playing than when she was a part of four-member freshman class.

Espinoza-Hunter, who hasn't played for the Huskies since a Dec. 22 game against Duquesne in Toronto, has decided to transfer according to a release by UConn.

Espinoza-Hunter was taking part in practice that the media attended before the Memphis game on Dec. 31 but was not at that Dec. 31 contest was one of the four that she missed. UConn coach Geno Auriemma was asked about her status multiple times in the last couple of weeks and he said he expected a resolution soon. Well, that resolution is here.

"I have enjoyed getting to know Andi and her family,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a release.  “Everyone at UConn wishes Andi all the best as she continues her college career elsewhere."

Espinoza-Hunter was the second of the four UConn freshmen to get into the game in UConn's season-opening win over Stanford making her collegiate debut with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter. In the next game, she would play the entire fourth quarter as she had an assist and steal in a win over California. In the 97-72 win over Maryland on Nov. 19, Espinoza-Hunter would register her career highs with six points and 14 minutes. She would top that scoring output with eight points in seven minutes against Michigan State on Nov. 25. In her last three appearances, Espinoza-Hunter did not score and had one steal in 14 minutes in wins over DePaul, Oklahoma and Duquesne.

She returned to campus when the team recovened after the Christmas break and took part in practice on Dec. 29. However, she was not with the team two days later when the Huskies hosted Memphis. She didn't travel with the team when UConn played at East Carolina and South Florida and once again was not with the squad in Tuesday's win at UCF.

Espinoza-Hunter burst onto the scene when she was a key player on the Chong-led Ossining (N.Y.) High School team that won the New York Section 1 AA titles in 2012 and 2013 when Espinoza-Hunter was in seventh and eighth grade. After three seasons at Blair Academy where she was a member of three Mid-Atlantic Prep League and three state championship teams, she returned to Ossining as a senior. Espinoza-Hunter averaged 36.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3 steals a game to lead Ossining to another Section 1 AA championship.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

4 UConn players on Wooden Award watch list

UConn has four of the 25 players on the watch list for the Wooden Award which was announced today.

The Huskies are represented by returning starters Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams.with eight other players on teams that UConn has either faced or will face during the regular season.

The list of candidates will be cut to 20 and placed on a national ballot. The Wooden Award All-American team will be announced around the time that the regional finals in the NCAA tournament are played.

Kristine Anigwe California 6-4 Jr. C/F
Ariel Atkins Texas 5-11 Sr. G
Monique Billings UCLA 6-4 Sr. F
Kalani Brown Baylor 6-7 Jr. C
Lexie Brown Duke  5-9 Sr. G
Jordin Canada UCLA 5-6 Sr. G
Chennedy Carter Texas A&M 5-7 Fr. G
Napheesa Collier Connecticut 6-1 Jr. F
Sophie Cunningham Missouri 6-1 Jr. G
Asia Durr Louisville 5-10 Jr. G
Katelynn Flaherty Michigan 5-7 Sr. G
Megan Gustafson Iowa 6-3 Jr. F
Sabrina Ionescu Oregon 5-11 Soph. G
Brooke McCarty Texas 5-4 Sr. G
Teaira McCowan Mississippi State 6-7 Jr. C
Kelsey Mitchell Ohio State 5-8 Sr. G
Jaime Nared Tennessee 6-2 Sr. G/F
Kia Nurse Connecticut 6-0 Sr. G
Arike Ogunbowale Notre Dame 5-8 Jr. G
Mercedes Russell Tennessee 6-6 Sr. C
Katie Lou Samuelson Connecticut 6-3 Jr. G/F
Shakayla Thomas Florida State 5-11 Sr. F
Victoria Vivians Mississippi State 6-1 Sr. G
Gabby Williams Connecticut 5-11 Sr. F
A'ja Wilson South Carolina 6-5 Sr. F

Also, UConn signees Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams are among 25 players on the watch list for the Naismith girls basketball player of the year award.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Presenting the best of Geno Auriemma from UConn-UCF postgame press conference

If I've learned nothing else in the nearly 20 years I've been covering the UConn women's basketball program it is when Geno Auriemma doesn't like what he sees from his team, just press the record button and let him vent.

Last year was a perfect example as Auriemma was in rare form thanks to a less than stellar offensive performance in the first half before pulling away for the 80-44 win over UCF.

Here are some of his best hits of what he had to say to us which I am sure is the watered down version of his message of his players.

"It would be great if we could call every school and (say) this is how we want to play, this is way we want you to play because this is the fun way for us to play. They (UCF) do whatever they have to do to be successful, they want to win the game so they have to do what they think they have to do to win the game and I would do the exact same thing. We didn't handle it great, we had a little chip on our shoulder towards the officials. I think our players thought the officials didn't do a good enough job of helping the UConn players look really good. Some of the players on the team think it is the officials' job to help them be really good. We are incapable of making a layup if there is anybody in the lane with us so I am sending out word to the supervisor of officials to tell the officials and I want them to get the memo that according to my players, a couple of them, their (the officials') jobs is to make sure that UConn players are not defended, nobody gets in their way, nobody tries to block their shots and if they do, the officials are supposed to tell them that is not allowed. Once we got that (stuff) cleared away at halftime, everything was pretty good

"Kesha (UCF assistant coach Nykesha Sales) was here and she reminded me when I used to be a really good coach when I could actually get guys to do exactly what I wanted them to do and if they didn't do it, I just screamed at them for 40 minutes until they did. Those days are over obviously so you have to say it a different way, you have to do certain things. It took the whole timeout to get some of our players to understand the way that this game was going to be played and to embrace the way it is played, if you want to be a great team you have to be able to win every which way once we got that squared away, we were good to go."

"All the things that Azura' does for us that are great offensively which is what? Everything. She moves without the ball, she takes up space, she has great footwork in the lane, she has become a pretty good passer, she is a huge target. The offense is so easy for her and she is not even making outside shots so when those start going in she is as good an offensive player as there is in the league or in the country maybe. However, we said, 'let's keep it under 40 and she gave up the next six points on layups and fouls so we have the only 6-6 kid who is unguardable in college basketball and we have the only 6-6 kid in college basketball who can't guard (anybody).

"They went some place, I sent Crocodile Dundee to Florida to find them, I couldn't find them. One of our problems with our guys on our bench, especially our freshmen, they are incapable of having three good days in a row, it is just not possible and until they do, they are not going to play. They looked really good when they came in. What is kind of a big takeaway tonight, those last six minutes were pretty good. Nobody closed their eyes and said this is a nightmare. I was shocked.

"I did use what happened to them in the football game as an analogy. I said do you realize that the two kids who played quarterback last night, last year they were doing the same thing you were doing so this year one kid at halftime, the best coach ever to coach college football walked in and said get ready. The guy is 18 years old so in front of 80,000 and 100,000 million watching those two guys put on a show, they are your age. I can't get you guys four minutes in a basketball game, something is wrong with that picture so until you guys start being less afraid... You need to pay more attention to what other people do in the world. The kid threw the pass to win the national championship and even if he had overthrown it, it didn't matter because it took a lot of guts to throw that pass. Even if the kid would have dropped it wouldn't matter. The kid was wide open, he actually ran a great route. Guys are not afraid no matter what age they are, you guys are afraid and as long as you act like that, you aren't going to play. Not that you don't have the ability to play, not that you don't have the talent all that other stuff."

Monday, January 08, 2018

Another record winning streak on the line

When UConn lost to Mississippi State in the 2017 Final Four, one of the comments UConn coach Geno Auriemma made was being relieved that his players won't have to answer any more winning streak questions.

Well ...

If UConn beats UCF on Tuesday night, the Huskies will become the first NCAA Division I women's basketball team to win 100 consecutive regular-season games.

I did some checking on this over the last week or so and used some of my research for Saturday's game story when the Huskies dispatching South Florida 100-49.

In nine of the 13 games this season, the Huskies have not trailed and two other times they were down for 20 and 51 seconds. The other two games saw the Huskies down for an eternity against DePaul or 67 seconds if you'd rather have the raw data and then came the Notre Dame contest. During the previous 99 regular-season wins, that was the only time the Huskies trailed for more time than they led as UConn trailed for more than 25 1/2 minutes in that contest.

Here's the breakdown of the longest stretches that UConn played from behind during this streak

Notre Dame 25:19 (12-3-2017)
USF 17:12 (2-29-2016)
Florida State 12:37 (11-14-2016)
Tulane 12:11 (2-27-2016)
USF 11:21 (3-7-2016)
Texas 9:41 (12-4-2016)
Notre Dame 8:59 (12-6-2014)
Houston 8:53 (1-8-2016)
USF 7:12 (1-10-2016)
Louisville 7:09 (3-3-2014)