Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, February 26, 2018

UConn seniors Nurse, Williams continue their winning ways

Time will tell what will transpire during the remainder of their basketball careers for UConn seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams but it will be hard the trifecta they just completed.

The Huskies finished undefeated in the regular season during the duo's sophomore, junior and senior campaigns. The third straight perfect regular season was clinched with the 82-53 win over South Florida.

"There are goals for each and every season so I think going undefeated is something that not a lot of teams get to do in their lifetime or in their career," Nurse said. "We are fortunate to have done it as many times as we have and that was just a testament to the coaches and what they do with us each and every year."

Nurse and Williams were honored before their final regular season game with Williams getting the additional bonus of seeing her No. 15 become part of the Huskies of Honor. When they left the court together with 3:34 to play, chants of "thank you seniors" could be heard. They combined for 28 points as UConn improved to 141-2 since their arrival.

"We realized, OK cool we accomplished that goal and we are onto the next now,' Williams said. "It wasn't easy for us with integrating six players, having to travel as much as we traveled it was really difficult so it just means more that we are here.

"You look at last year, it was so easy for us that when it got hard, we didn't know what to do. Now that we have been in situations when it is hard, we will now will know how to handle it so it will be good for us going into the tournament."

Williams had 18 points and nine assists while Nurse finished with 10 points marking the 49th time they scored in double figures in the same game.

"It is always incredible to have a night like tonght, to celebrate the last four years but to do it with your best friend makes it special," Nurse said.

UConn won't play again until Sunday. The winner of the Memphis/Tulane game on Saturday will meet the Huskies in the third of four quarterfinals at the American Athletic Conference tournament. A win by UConn would give the Huskies a chance to improve to 100-0 in conference play (counting the AAC tourney) since the formation of the league in Monday's semifinals.

Here's the breakdown of the tournament seeds
1. UConn
2. USF
3. UCF
4. Cincinnati
5. Houston
6. Wichita
7. ECU
8. Memphis
9. Tulane
10. SMU
11. Temple
12. Tulsa

Also, New Haven native Tanaya Atkinson won the scoring champion in all games at 21 points per game moving by USF's Kitija Laksa on the final day.

UConn's Samuelson, Williams among Naismith Trophy semifinalists

UConn teammates Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams are among 10 players named semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy.

Samuelson, one of four juniors to make the list, leads UConn in scoring with an average of 18.5 points per game. She leads the nation with a 3-point shooting percentage of 49.3.

Williams, the reigning national defensive player of the year, leads UConn with 218 rebounds, 143 assists and 72 steals.

Four finalists will be announced on March 16 with the winner being named on March 31.

Here's a list of semifinalists

Kalani Brown Jr. C Baylor Big 12
Jordin Canada Sr. G UCLA Pac-12
Asia Durr Jr. G Louisville ACC
Sabrina Ionescu So. G Oregon Pac-12
Kelsey Mitchell Sr. G Ohio State Big Ten
Arike Ogunbowale Jr. G Notre Dame ACC
Katie Lou Samuelson Jr. G/F UCONN AAC
Victoria Vivians Sr. G Mississippi State SEC
Gabby Williams Sr. F UCONN AAC
A'ja Wilson Sr. F South Carolina SEC

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Individual statistics don't define UConn seniors

There's so much more to UConn seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams than simply reciting their statistics over the last four seasons but I will still proceed with that task.

Nurse will move into sole possession of sixth place in UConn history when she makes her 136th career start against USF on Monday night. She is also ninth with 247 made 3-pointers, when she hits her 250th career 3, she will join Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Bria Hartley and Renee Montgomery as the only Huskies with at least 250 career 3-pointers and free throws made. Williams is fourth in program history with 958 rebounds, seventh with 290 steals and 10th with 302 offensive rebounds. She joins Maya Moore as the only UConn players with at least 900 rebounds and 250 steals. Williams could also tie the UConn and Division I women's basketball record for wins by a player with 150 currently held by Maya Moore and Moriah Jefferson. Williams is 140-1 (she did not play in the loss to Stanford as a freshman) and if the Huskies were to win the American Athletic Conference tournament and NCAA titles, she could finish with a record of 150-1.

It's hard to think about one of them without the other so here are some other numbers to consider:
They have combined for 3,053 points and only 12 sets of UConn classmates have combined for at least 3,000 career points (teammates Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson are also on that list)
They have combined for 465 steals, the second best total for a pair of UConn classmates and their 859 assists rank sixth among UConn classmates.

UConn's Senior Night festivities are set to begin at 6:37 p.m. and will air live on the UConn women's basketball team's Facebook page.

A win would mark the 10th time in program history (and third straight) that the Huskies would enter the postseason undefeated. UConn has clinched its fifth straight AAC regular season title and receives a bye into the quarterfinals. UConn will meet the winner of the 8/9 game in the third of four quarterfinal games at 6:30 p.m. a week from today in a game airing on ESPNU.

Although one game remains for all 12 conference teams, it is too early to determine who will be in that 8/9 game.

Here's my very unofficial breakdown with the top seven spots seemingly easy to decipher.
1. UConn
2. USF
3. UCF
4. Cincinnati/Houston winner
5. Cincinnati/Houston loser
6. Wichita with win or ECU loss/ECU with win and Wichita loss
7. Wichita/ECU

Currently there are three teams tied with 4-11 records in AAC play and two of them play on Monday so the winner of the SMU/Tulane game will land in the 8/9 game. If Memphis beats Temple, the Tigers would also be in the 8/9 game. If Temple beats Memphis and Tulane beats SMU, things could be interesting since there would be a three-way tie at 4-12 with Temple, Memphis and SMU. Temple and SMU split with Memphis losing its only game to both SMU and Temple knocking Memphis out of that tiebreaking scenario. I believe the next tiebreaker would be strength of victory and but Temple and SMU would both have wins against Tulsa, Memphis, ECU and each other so somebody smarter than me would have to figure out who gets the No. 9 seed and who finishes 10th.

The AAC tournament begins on Saturday with four games

Friday, February 23, 2018

Samuelson continues to deliver on the biggest stages

It is that time of the year when coaches start kicking the promotional campaigns of their best players into high gear.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, when asked, hasn't been shy in declaring that Katie Lou Samuelson is as good a candidate as anybody else for the national player of the year. He asked recently who has done more, especially in the big games, this season than Samuelson. It was probably a rhetorical question but I took it as a challenge.

I went through the who's who of women's college basketball and came up with a statistical breakdown of how the nation's top players have fared against teams ranked in the top 10. A player needed to appear in at least three games against top 10 teams to be on this list. I listed the players alphabetically and also included field goal attempts per 40 minutes and assist/turnover ratio, a couple of categories often overlooked when crunching stats. A couple of under the radar players whose numbers impressed me were Marie Gulich of Oregon State and Brooke McCarty of Texas who join Samuelson as the only players on the list below to be shooting at least 50 percent from the field with a positive assist/turnover ratio while Maryland's Kaila Charles is the only player to average at least 30 points per game against top 10 teams although her team's struggles down the stretch will hurt her All-American campaign.

Here you go
Player, School                          G MIN PPG REB AST STL BLK FG 3PT  FT   FG/40 A/TO
Monique Billings, UCLA          4 37.5  21.0   8.8    1.5    1.0    1.3   52.5  0.0  66.7 16.3      6/8
Kalani Brown, Baylor                3 33.0 22.3  10.3   1.3     1.0    0.3   61.9  ---- 83.3 17.0     4/8
Lexie Brown, Duke                    4 36.8 14.0   4.3    3.0     2.2   0.0    37.7  37.5 87.5 14.4 12/11
Jordin Canada, UCLA                4 40.0 20.0   2.5    9.0     2.8   0.0    39.7  41.4 82.3 17.0 36/16
Kaila Charles, Maryland            3 32.0 30.7   9.7   1.0      1.7   1.7    61.1  66.7 84.6  22.5  3/7
Sophie Cunningham, Missouri  3 33.3 21.7   5.7    3.0     0.0   0.7    56.8  38.5 71.4  17.6  9/15
Asia Durr, Louisville                 5 35.8 28.0   3.0    2.2     0.4   0.0    48.6  48.1 100  23.5 11/7
Marie Gulich, Oregon State      4 38.8 18.3   9.8    3.0     2.3   0.3     55.4  ---- 84.2  14.5 12/9
Myisha Hines-Allen, Louisville 5 35.4 17.6 13.2  2.0      0.6   0.6     56.9  66.7 57.1  16.2 10/18
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon            3 39.3 15.3    3.0   6.7     1.7   0.0    34.1  29.4 84.6  14.9 20/7
Brooke McCarty, Texas             5 34.8 20.6   4.4   3.6      0.6   0.2     53.9  51.7 85.7  17.5 18/6
Teaira McCowan, Miss. State    3 36.7 18.7  19.0   0.3     0.3   3.3     60.5  ----  83.3  13.8 1/9
Brittany McPhee, Stanford         4 32.8 20.0    6.3  1.3     1.5   1.0     44.0  16.7 69.2  22.9 5/7
Arike Ogwunbowale, N.Dame   5 35.4 16.8   5.6   2.4    1.4    0.0     40.4  28.6 75.0  20.1 12/9
Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn    5 34.8 20.4   5.0  1.8     1.4   0.6      52.2  41.4 81.8  15.9 9/7
Victoria Vivians, Miss. State      3 35.3 26.0    6.0  1.0    1.7    0.3     45.3  50.0 84.6  24.2 3/3
A'ja Wilson, South Carolina       3 38.7 24.3  13.0  2.0    1.0    3.7     44.8   0.0 75.0  20.0 6/12

I also posted the numbers of UConn's other returning starters with Napheesa Collier probably putting up the best overall numbers in that group and better than some of those listed above
Napheesa Collier, UConn          6 32.8 14.3  6.0    3.3    3.3    1.7          50.8 46.2 85.7 12.4 20/11
Kia Nurse, UConn                     6 36.2 11.3  3.2    2.2    0.3    0.3          44.7 39.1 81.0  8.7 13/10
Gabby Williams, UConn            6 29.5  9.3  10.5  4.5    1.5    0.3          48.0  0.0 72.7  11.3 27/17

Thursday, February 22, 2018

UConn's Kia Nurse earns Academic All-District honors once again

UConn senior guard Kia Nurse earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors for the third straight season.

Nurse, recently honored for attaining a 4.0 grade-point average in one of the two most recently completed semesters, is third on the Huskies in scoring with an average of 14.7 points per game. She is one of three Division I women's players who is averaging at least one made 3-pointer and two free throws per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the foul line.

Nurse, who has a 3.55 GPA in her time at UConn, earned third team Academic All-American recognition as a junior. Leigh Curl, Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Maya Moore are the only UConn players to be first team Academic All-Americans something that Nurse is eligible for.

Quinnipiac senior guard Carly Fabbri, who carries a 3.89 GPA, joined Nurse among the eight players selected to the District I team which includes all of New England and New York.

Nurse is one of three Canadian players among the three District I honorees joining Albany's Mackenzie Trpcic and Erika Steeves of Brown. University of New Haven junior guard Alexandria Kerr was named to the Division II District 1 team.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

UConn puts on a show for faithful fans

When Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams were freshmen, the Huskies played six games at the XL Center as they did in each of their four seasons. However, one major change has been the number of people who have turned out for this year's games in Hartford.

With a crowd of 13,110 (it actually looked like more than that were in attendance), UConn averaged 12,458 fans in its six games in Hartford this season. As a point of reference, the Huskies only had one home game to draw more than that in the previous three seasons.

"I think it has been crazy how good attendance has been for XL games and how great our fans have been every single game," UConn junior guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson said. "It seems like every game there has been a little more each time so we want to make sure we go out and play as hard as we can especially today being the last XL game, we wanted to play as hard as we could."

Mission accomplished.

UConn rolled to the 106-45 win over Temple enabling seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams to finish their careers 24-0 at the XL Center.  Nurse had 16 points and Williams 10 marking the 10th time they both scored in double figures at the XL Center. Williams finished with 298 career points in Hartford and Nurse has 274 as she missed last season's game against Temple.

It was also worth noting that UConn matched a season high with 39 bench points, something that was also accomplished in the first game against Temple.

UConn matched its season high with 39 bench points which was also accomplished in an earlier win over Temple. Azura'  Stevens had 11 points, Megan Walker 10 while Batouly Camara had her best scoring game of the season with eight points and Kyla Irwin chipped in with seven points.

"I thought this was one of Z (Stevens) better games, she got a lot of things accomplished today and same thing with that second group," Auriemma said. "This is one of the few times when we really played well as a unit with that second group. It is good that kids come to practice every day, they work really hard and you want them have some confidence, have some fun playing the game and it looked like they were having some fun at the end of the game."

The UConn coaches have been working with Stevens to keep her closer to the basket which is something she did for most of the time she was in there against the Owls.

"Credit to CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey)," Stevens said. "We have been doing a lot of extra work with getting some moves around the basket, that has helped me a lot and just my teammates being patient with me, continuing to get me the ball because I have not been as consistent down there, they still trust me and fed me the ball."

It was a tough afternoon for Atkinson, the former Career High star who came into the game as the leading scorer in the AAC. Atkinson was 2 for 12 from the floor as she had five points and two rebounds as Williams made her work for everything.

"She just has a motor that doesn't stop," Williams said of Atkinson. "She is a little undersized but she is big, strong, athletic, she is quick and has a really aggressive mindset and that makes her dangerous."

UConn hits the road to face Tulane and SMU before returning home to meet South Florida in the final regular season game for Nurse and Williams. By that time the Huskies figure to have wrapped up their fifth straight AAC regular-season title.

There could be an interested spectator at that game as Ezi Magbegor, a 6-foot-4 forward from Australia who was the rookie of the year in National Women's Basketball League, is expected to visit UConn and be at the USF game.

Friday, February 16, 2018

97.9 FM to become new home of UConn football, basketball

When the UConn football team begins the 2018 season, it will be a new era for radio coverage of UConn athletics.

After three decades of UConn games being broadcast on WTIC, it was announced that  IMG has agreed to a 10-year partnership with iHeartMedia and 97.9 ESPN.

No decision has been made on whether Joe D'Ambrosio will remain the voice of the UConn football and men's basketball programs and Bob Joyce will continue to call the UConn women's basketball games.

On a conference call that just recently concluded, the participants side stepped questions about the future of UConn's current radio teams.

It will be business as usual for the basketball programs as well as the men's hockey program until their seasons are over.

UConn AD David Benedict compared the move to what happened when the regional television partnership for the women's basketball program was awarded to SNY after a successful run on CPTV. It should be noted that a change in play by play personnel took place when the games began airing on SNY although time will tell if that is the case this time.

WPOP will serve as the fall back station in case of a conflict, something that is currently handled by 96.5 FM. While the move will leave the UConn radio network without a New Haven presence.

Here is the release

IMG today announced a transformative 10-year, multimillion-dollar partnership with iHeartMedia and 97.9 ESPN, Hartford’s Sport Station, to serve as the Home of the UConn Huskies.

97.9 ESPN will become the new home for the UConn-IMG Radio Network beginning in the 2018-19 academic year. Following the conclusion of the current UConn athletic seasons, it will serve as the exclusive terrestrial radio home for UConn Athletics airing regular season and post-season play-by-play for football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s hockey. Additionally, iHeartMedia plans to broadcast select UConn Olympic sports contests.

“Our new relationship with iHeartMedia and 97.9 ESPN provides UConn Athletics with a powerful reach and the prospect of building an extensive affiliate network throughout the state and the Northeast,” director of athletics David Benedict said.  “Our new partnership with a dedicated sports platform hosted by the most powerful sports and media company in the country, will offer fans and listeners more opportunities to interact with our teams and coaches.”

The relationship between the UConn-IMG Radio Network and 97.9 ESPN will also include pre- and post-game shows as well as the UConn Women’s Basketball Coach’s Radio Show with Geno Auriemma, the UConn Men’s Basketball Coach's Radio Show with Kevin Ollie, UConn Football Coach’s Radio Show with Randy Edsall, and the UConn Hockey Coach’s Radio Show with Michael Cavanaugh.

“This partnership joins three iconic brands,” said Steve Honeycomb, Region President for iHeartMedia. “Having UConn sports on iHeartMedia’s 97.9 ESPN has been our long term goal.  This is the perfect partnership and offers even more entertaining programming for UConn Nation.”
In the event of conflicting game schedules, iHeartMedia will broadcast UConn Athletics events on an affiliate station. IMG also provides fans a variety of ways to follow UConn Athletics audio broadcasts including on their mobile device with the Tunein App and on satellite radio via partnerships with Sirius/XM radio.

iHeartMedia the leading media outlet in the Hartford market with multiple platforms, including its broadcast stations; live events; data; and its digital businesses and platforms, including mobile, social and its own iHeartRadio,  the free all-in-one digital music, podcasting and live streaming radio service – with more than 1.7 billion app downloads and 110 million registered users.

“We couldn't be happier about teaming up with the University of Connecticut Athletics and finally having UConn sports on our station,” said Ben Darnell, Program Director for 97.9 ESPN.

No decisions have been made related to on-air talent for UConn Athletics broadcasts on iHeartMedia Hartford.

IMG is the exclusive multimedia rights holder for UConn Athletics.
About iHeartMedia Hartford

iHeartMedia Hartford owns and operates WKSS-FM, WHCN-FM, WWYZ-FM, WUCS-FM, WPOP-AM, and is part of iHeartMedia. With over a quarter of a billion monthly listeners in the U.S. and over 129 million social followers, iHeartMedia has the largest national reach of any radio or television outlet in America. As the leader in multiplatform connections, it also serves over 150 local markets through 858 owned radio stations, and the company’s radio stations and content can be heard on AM/FM, HD digital radio, satellite radio, on the Internet at and on the company’s radio station websites, on the iHeartRadio mobile app, in enhanced auto dashes, on tablets, wearables and smartphones, and on gaming consoles.

 iHeartRadio, iHeartMedia’s digital radio platform, is the fastest growing digital audio service in the U.S. and offers users thousands of live radio stations, personalized custom artist stations created by just one song or seed artist and the top podcasts and personalities. With over 1.7 billion downloads, iHeartRadio reached 110 million registered users faster than any other radio or digital music service.
 iHeartMedia’s platforms include radio broadcasting, online, mobile, digital and social media, podcasts, personalities and influencers, live concerts and events, syndication, music research services and independent media representation. iHeartMedia is a division of iHeartMedia, Inc. (PINK: IHRT). Visit for more company information.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Another member of Nurse family chasing Olympic glory

Once again, a member of the Nurse family is thriving at the Olympics.

Current UConn guard Kia Nurse was Canada's leading scorer at the 2016 Olympic women's basketball tournament as she had 25 points in a win over Serbia followed by 14 against Senegal to help Canada reach the quarterfinals.

Last night it was her cousin Sarah Nurse who scored what proved the game-winning goal as Canada edged the United States 2-1 in the women's hockey tournament.

After Monday's win over Louisville, I asked Kia if she's been able to catch the Olympic hockey games.

"Trying to watch a little more than I have been," Nurse said. "It is incredible, we love supporting one another and for Sarah this is beyond the most incredible honor being able to play for your country in the pinnacle for everything. I look at her snapchats and try to see if the Olympic village is different between Rio and there so it is fun kind of comparing it. I am super excited and I am sure she will be more than likely be the first Nurse to come home with an Olympic medal."

Sarah Nurse had 15 game-winning goals during her four seasons at Wisconsin helping the Badgers to the NCAA title game as a senior. Nurse's 15 postseason goals are the third most in program history. After being held scoreless in Canada's first two games, she scored with a sweet finish to put Canada up 2-0.

The U.S. and Canada have secured spots in Monday's semifinals and could meet in the gold medal game a week from today.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Bench delivers in latest UConn win

With the way UConn's star players performed in yesterday's 81-point win over Wichita State, it might be easy to overlook what happened when starters Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams as well as top reserve Azura' Stevens were all on the bench.

This was the 17th time this season that UConn had a stretch in a game without their top six players on the court. Not only was the 6:26 stretch the longest of the season but with a combination of UConn's "second six" of Molly Bent, Batouly Camara, Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Kyla Irwin and Megan Walker outscoring Wichita 13-4, it was the largest scoring surplus when UConn didn't have one of its top six players on the court topping the six-point edge against USF.

"They weren't forcing anything and that is why they did so well," Williams said. "I think the last few games I think they got riled up and trying to make plays that the normally don't make and now they all did what they are good at."

It was a far cry from the seven turnovers in 3:55 against DePaul or the five straight turnovers committed against Tulane. Playing just under 45 1/2 minutes without one of its six core players heading into the Wichita State game, the Huskies were outscored by 18 points and committed 29 turnovers.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with what he saw for most of the time they were out on the court together.

"There wasn't much of a drop off," Auriemma said. "We started a certain way and we sustained it pretty much the whole game which is not always easy to do when you have a big lead like that. Once you get a big lead, it affects them obviously and I am sure everybody on the other team is hoping we start missing. We kept making them and players we were bringing off the bench added a lot so it kept intensifying."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dangerfield makes immediate impact in return to UConn's lineup

About 90 minutes before today's game against Wichita State, I headed out on the court to see how Crystal Dangerfield was moving around in the warmups. While I was shooting a video, she was standing out of bounds and perfectly lofted the ball over the basket and watched as it dropped through the net. I thought to myself that she might have a hard time topping that play once the game got going. Was I wrong or what?

In the early stages of today's near record blowout of Wichita State, UConn was in the midst of a clinic of how to run transition offense when Dangerfield deftly delivered a behind the back feed to Katie Lou Samuelson for one rather artistic scoring play.

"I saw that there was only one person back so I was like, 'why not,'" Dangerfield said. "I think something like that, it throws the other team off so they had to call that timeout."

The basket was part of a performance when the Huskies outscored Wichita State 52-0 in points off turnovers. I went back through the archives and as long as UConn included points off turnovers in its game notes, I couldn't find a game with that many points off turnovers dating back to the 2004-05 season. UConn also recorded season highs with 70 points in the paint and 25 fast-break points. You figured the Huskies would get out in transition early and often after managing a season-low two fast-break points the last time out against UCF. Still, this was an eye opening effort.

UConn fell two points shy of the program record for points in a game in the 124-43 win and the margin of victory was also the second highest total at UConn. It looked like the Huskies would let a single game record for field goal percentage.

"I don't know that is came out of the other day, maybe it did, maybe we just needed to recharge our batteries but the combination of our defense creating a lot of opportunities when we didn't have Crystal the other day we were reluctant to really stretch our defense out, we didn't want to do even more so it was one less body," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Today I think we felt a little more comfortable extending ourselves defensively and it paid off and we made shots.

"There wasn't much of a drop off. We started a certain way and we sustained it pretty much the whole game which is not always easy to do when you have a big lead like that. Once you get a big lead, it affects them obviously and I am sure everybody on the other team is hoping we start missing. We kept making them and players we were bringing off the bench added a lot so it kept intensifying."

Napheesa Collier led the offensive onslaught with 26 points and had four of the Huskies' 21 steals. Katie Lou Samuelson became the eighth UConn player to make 250 career 3-pointers. She hit five of them en route to 22 points and nine assists. Gabby Williams flirted with another triple double with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 21 minutes. Kia Nurse had 14 points moving by Moriah Jefferson and Cathy Bochain to move into 21st place on UConn's career scoring list. Azura' Stevens made all seven of her shots as she had 16 points in 14 minutes.

However, all eyes were on Dangerfield who missed the last two games as the UConn medical staff felt she would benefit from resting to get the issues with shin splints under control.

"It is always frustrating sitting out but now I am just focusing on having fun," Dangerfield said. "This game was really fun.

"I do feel a difference but at the same time, it is going to be what it is going to be because once you go out there and run around, it is always going to come back. It is not like it is pounding every single time but I feel it but I am taking care of it."

Dangerfield finished with nine points, two rebounds, four assists and three steals in 19 minutes as she was on a restricted minutes count something that doesn't figure to be the case when the Huskies play Louisville on Monday night.

"You can't underestimate the impact she has on your team because what she can do with the ball in her hands, she can go wherever she wants with it and she is very creative," Auriemma said. "She is like a great soccer player that sees things one or two passes ahead. She is really smart and she can go places that nobody else on our team can. The difference was evident right away, she set the tone as did that whole group in that first quarter and it carried over from there."


Monday, February 05, 2018

4 UConn players named to Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list

UConn's returning starters Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams were named to the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list.

Collier is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game to go with 68 assists, 39 steals and 45 blocked shots.

Nurse is averaging 15.8 points, has 64 assists and is the national leader in 3-point percentage (50.0).

Samuelson leads UConn in scoring contributing 17.2 points per game and is one of three Huskies with at least 40 3-pointers.

Williams is averaging 10.6 points per game, leads the Huskies with 172 rebounds, 109 assists and 56 steals.

Here's the list of candidates
Kristine Anigwe California  6-4 Jr. C/F
Ariel Atkins Texas 5-11 Sr. G
Kalani Brown Baylor 6-7 Jr. C
Lexie Brown Duke 5-9 Sr. G
Jordin Canada UCLA 5-6 Sr. 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 5-10 Soph. G
Teaira McCowan Mississippi State 6-7 Jr. C
Kelsey Mitchell Ohio State 5-8 Sr. G
Kia Nurse Connecticut 6-0 Sr. G
Arike Ogunbowale Notre Dame 5-8 Jr. G
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

Friday, February 02, 2018

Gabby Williams puts on a show in UConn's win over South Carolina

The best way to describe the opening few minutes was that Gabby Williams was doing Gabby Williams. Call it going to Gabby mode or it being Gabby time but for a player known to open eyes with her incredible athleticism but even by her standards, what she did was spectacular. I may be showing my age and people raised in the age of CD players and ipods might not understand this but it was almost like Williams was playing the game at 78 RPMs while the South Carolina players were stuck at 33 RPMs as she was tipping balls and defending so many different players.

She started the game on All-American A'ja Wilson, who is six inches taller but it wasn't loing before she was out on top pressuring the ball, she would also make it out to make life difficult for the Gamecocks' wing players.

"My man to man matchup was Wilson but whenever we were in zone, I like to get up and pressure and it is just how we run things," Williams said.

I'm sure even when the UConn coaches were drawing up the defensive game plan, there's no way to fully anticipate the impact Williams would have. She had season highs with six offensive rebounds and 14 total rebounds. I'd say there were five or six of those rebounds that made my jaw drop. It wasn't just that Williams was soaring to get rebounds, I've seen that before but it was the way she was just ripping the ball away from the taller South Carolina players in better position to secure the rebound. More than once I thought to myself, 'how did she come down with that one." That played a major role in UConn having 16 fast-break points with just five steals which is no easy task.

The timing was ironic because a few hours before the game, the most recent WNBA mock draft compiled by Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberrg with input from the league's coaches and general managers was released. Williams was slotted in as the No. 4 pick even though she is 5-foot-11 who scores the majority of her points within a shadow of the basket. Her world class jumping ability (she finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials in the high jump as a 15-year-old) allows her to thrive even though she typically gives up inches to the players she guards and fights for rebounds against. She needs nine rebounds to move by Swin Cash and into 10th place on UConn's career list. She's already in eighth place on the career steals list. Maya Moore is the only Husky to rank in the top 10 in both categories.

Williams has made her name by not just being more athletic than her competition but also making the hustle plays.

"At that point, the talent level is almost the same so it comes down to those hustle plays, it comes down to who is tougher, who is mentally stronger and physically stronger," Williams said.

"We don't want to rely on our talent because that can only get you so far, you saw what happened last year. We have to be a team that has edge, gets every 50-50 ball, gets every tough rebound, is boxing out because those are the things that win games."

Knowing how competitive Williams is, I'm fairly confident that she worked overtime to add range on her jump shot. However, she hasn't made nearly as many deep jumpers as I thought she would. She had a couple of those on Thursday including what I estimated to be an 18 footer which is certainly something she'll need at the next level.

"It's a mental thing and realize that in big games we need it," Williams said. "It was wide open, I was that open and I had to shoot it."

Thursday, February 01, 2018

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson poses unique challenge for UConn defense

UConn has certainly shown that it is capable of slowing down or even shutting down the best player on opposing teams.

Stanford's Brittany McPhee is averaging 16 points per game but she finished with nine against the Huskies while going 3 of 12 from the field. UCLA's star point guard Jordin Canada was 5 of 16 shooting the ball. Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young combine for 34 points per game (actually 33.9) on 45-percent shooting but they had 30 points while missing 21 of their 30 field goal attempts. It's been a similar story in American Athletic Conference play as South Florida's Kitija Laksa was 0 for 11 from the field and Tulane's 2,000-point scorer Kolby Morgan was 1 for 10.

Tonight the Huskies will face off against perhaps the best player in the country in A'ja Wilson. All the aforementioned players are guards and/or wing players as seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams played key roles in limiting their impact. It will be interesting to see how the Huskies handle the 6-foot-5 Wilson.

A year ago Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier went toe to toe with Wilson and 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates. Wilson and Coates combined for 27 points, 20 rebounds and five assists which sounds pretty good until you realize that Williams and Collier finished with 44 points, 23 rebounds, four assists and five steals.

I'm curious to see the defensive strategy used by the Huskies. Missouri opted to crowd the paint and when Wilson got the ball in the low post, to just surround her with four players daring her to get the ball to one of her teammates. I don't think the Huskies will go down that road even though the Gamecocks' best 3-point shooter (Lindsey Spann) is out tonight according to South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. The other players who have attempted at least one 3-pointer per game are shooting between 24.4-36.2 percent. My hunch is that the Huskies will do what they can to limit the 3-point looks while still throwing a second player at Wilson. It also bears watching if the Huskies use a zone especially when Azura' Stevens and/or Megan Walker are in the game which was standard operating procedure earlier in the season. The 6-foot-6 Stevens has the ability to match up with Wilson even if Geno Auriemma is constantly criticizing her defensive effectiveness.

Staley said in yesterday's press conference that there won't be a repeat of a season ago when she instructed her time to run time off the shot clock to limit the number of UConn possessions.  

"We did a little something different last year, we took the air out of the ball and tried to limit the amount of possessions UConn got," Staley said. "This year, we are just going to play our style of play. If we can pressure the ball, disrupt a little bit, take our time and execute offensiveyly and see where that leaves us. Our crowd, we are expecting a big crowd and hopefully we can get energized by what they are bringing into the building."

A number that jumps out from last year's meeting is that the Huskies were 4 of 17 from 3-point range. I'd be surprised if that happens again considering that Nurse leads all women's Division I players in 3-point field goal percentage (50.5) and Katie Lou Samuelson is fifth at 46.3 percent. Crystal Dangerfield is sitting at 47.6 percent which would rank third but she has made 39 3-pointers in 20 game and players need to make at least two per game to be listed among the national leaders.

READY TO JOIN THE CLUBA total of 20 UConn products have been taken in the first round since 2001 and in five seasons (including an incredible three in a row) more than one former Husky has gone in the opening round. It is certainly looking like those trends with continue.

Doug Feinberg, the Associated Press' national women's basketball writer, has been polling WNBA general managers and/or coaches to put together mock drafts. Version No. 2 came out today with Williams slotted in at No. 4 to Chicago and Kia Nurse going 10th overall to New York.

Wilson is once again the predicted No. 1 overall pick where she would be on the receiving ends of passes from former UConn star Moriah Jefferson followed by Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and former North Carolina and Tennessee star Diamond DeShields. The Connecticut Sun picks ninth and after Nurse was the projected pick in the first mock draft, now it is Ariel Atkins of Texas in that slot.

This time UConn's opponent dealing with distractions heading into key game

It's not unusual for an off the court story to have a life of its own when UConn heads into a highly anticipated game. However, usually it is something Geno Auriemma has said or done that creates all the buzz.

Heading into tonight's UConn/South Carolina game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is the one thrust into the spotlight after Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said in an interview with KTGR Radio in Columbia, Missouri that Staley promoted an atmosphere that he termed as unhealthy in a heated game between Missouri and South Carolina which featured two ejections, more than a few elbows thrown and a hard-earned South Carolina victory over one of the teams to beat the defending national champions this season.

I arrived in South Carolina early enough that I could make it to the media availability with Staley as well as All-American A'ja Wilson in addition to sophomore guard Tyasha Harris. After that concluded, South Carolina AD Ray Tanner stepped to the podium and offer an impassioned defense of Staley.

"I am extremely proud of what Coach Staley has meant to this program and she has meant just as much off the floor as well as her young women who play, their impact in this community and her foundation,' Tanner said. "To know Dawn Staley and to have a comment that many of you read about, it is extremely confusing.

"She is responsible for this program and I would say that she gets an A-plus in the way she runs this program and what she has done here so when it came out in a negative light, it was very disappointing."

Tanner responded to a question about the resolution he would like to see in this matter.

"We all have opinions. The thing with me is that Coach Staley is comfortable with where it goes and she is comfortable with where we end up with the next few hours, the next couple of days and that is the most important thing for me. I do believe a retraction is necessary from Jim Sterk's comments."

Before Tanner met with the media, Staley gave the following statement, "the accusations are serious and false and they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts and that is all I am going to say about it."

She actually had a little more to say about it. She was asked about being able to juggle the aftermath of the Missouri mess with the upcoming game against UConn. I typically only record the answers and press pause when questions are being asked in a press conference since I don't need to transcribe the questions. I wish I had played record in this situation to see if the question was as poorly worded and frankly as silly as I remember it being as it was being asked. Basically it was something along the lines of whether it is hard to focus on a game against UConn, the 11-time national champions and unanimous No. 1 team in both national polls because of the uproar from Sterk's comments. It made me think back to the 30 for 30 on the 1983 North Carolina State men's basketball team's improbable run to the national title when one of their players recalled his incredulous response when he was asked if his team was overconfident going into an upcoming matchup with the legendary Ralph Sampson and his Virginia squad. There certainly are issues for Staley to be dealing with right now but having her team ready and focused to play the Huskies is not one of them.

"I am a master at it," Staley said of her multitasking ability. "Any time you have to deal with distractions, you deal with them and prioritize. The priority right now is UConn and that has been my focus. Did I lose a little sleep last night? Yes, obviously but there is another game to be played and I am responsible for 12 individuals who want to beat UConn so I have to get my mind right to help them get ready to try to win this game."

When I was over at Colonial Life Arena, I was told that the only tickets remaining are student tickets so it is certainly looking like a packed house will be waiting for the Huskies. The apparel shop across the street from the arena has a sign outside promoting the t-shirts they will be distributing as part of the "White Out." Something tells me that a few more eyes than normal will be on the fans in this game from security personnel.

Speaking of the fans, Staley didn't hold back in expressing her appreciation for them.

"They are loyal, they are passionate, they understand basketball, they understand how to act in the stands and if I could uproot them and put them in every basketball arena, every coach that represents that particular fan base would be tremendously proud of what they bring to the table," Staley said. "I stand by our fans, I stand by what they represent, I stand by how they cheer, I stand by every single thing they bring to the building because it is appropriate and it is well within the game rules."