When Azura Stevens announced on April 1 that she was going to leave the Duke University women's basketball team, she said, "I feel it would be best for my basketball career to go in a different direction."
She was not fooling around. And that direction has taken her north to the home of the four-time reigning national champions.
UConn announced Saturday that Stevens, a 6-foot-6 wing from Raleigh, North Carolina, will transfer to the school. She will sit out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules and have two years of eligibility remaining, starting in 2017-18.
"Words can't express how excited I am to have this opportunity to be part of the UConn family," Stevens said in a statement. "I appreciate the hospitality that my teammates and coaches showed to me this weekend. I am eager to start my new journey with the Huskies and can't wait to get back up to Storrs this summer! Go Huskies!"
She is the second transfer coach Geno Auriemma has accepted in the last 24 months. Center Natalie Butler came to UConn from Georgetown two years ago.
"We don't usually get involved in transfer situations but this particular one was intriguing," Auriemma said. "Getting the chance to speak with Azura and having her on campus to meet with the coaches and the players really convinced us and her that this was the right place for her going forward. We are excited and anxious to get Azura up here and start summer school and look forward to her being a part of our team."
As an honorable mention AP All-American as a sophomore, Stevens averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals on the season. Her scoring average ranked second in the ACC, while her rebounds and 14 double-doubles led the league. She was also a two-time all-ACC selection.
The Stevens decision means UConn has three scholarships remaining for the high school recruiting Class of 2017.
When Azura Stevens announced on April 1 that she was going to leave the Duke University women's basketball team, she said, "I feel it would be best for my basketball career to go in a different direction."
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- There were 30 former University of Connecticut women's basketball players on the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 5 celebrating the Huskies' latest national championship with the current squad.
Kelly Faris, who grew up about 10 minutes away in the Indianapolis suburb of Plainfield, was not one of them. She was away playing for her club team in Austria.
So close, yet so far.
In a way, it's been the story of Faris' life since she left UConn in 2013 for the WNBA. After winning the final game of her season six times in eight tries in high school and college, including two NCAA titles with the Huskies, the 25-year-old guard has not seen the postseason in her first three years with the Connecticut Sun.
"It's been different and very frustrating to say the least," Faris said Thursday during the Sun's media day at Mohegan Sun Arena. "I was pretty fortunate before. But it gives us something to work for. We're going to take it a day at a time, a game at a time. Hopefully, we've made some good changes that are going to get us there."
The biggest change is at the top as Curt Miller has replaced Anne Donovan's as the Sun's coach. Connecticut also picked up three of the top six players taken in the 2016 draft, including Faris' former teammate Morgan Tuck.
The Sun open the preseason schedule next Wednesday against the Chicago Sky here and the regular season at Chicago on May 14.
"There's always a little bit of pressure, but if you over-think, well, that's the end," Faris said. "You never know what's will happen but you have to just come out and play."
Faris, the Sun's first-round draft pick in 2013, averaged 2.9 points on 31.0 percent shooting from the floor and 1.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes over 32 games with nine starts a summer ago. She had a career-high of 12 points at Chicago on July 12.
But Connecticut finished 15-19, three games out of playoff spot. After the season, Donovan resigned after three straight years without a postseason berth in her tenure.
"It wasn't what I wanted it to be," Faris said of her 2015 campaign. "I wanted to contribute more than I did the past three seasons, really. But I look at it as a challenge every single year. I'm not going to dwell on it and think. 'Oh, poor me.' It's up to me to give whoever it is coaching me the feeling that they have to have me on the floor. That's my challenge."
That will be Miller, a former college coach at Bowling Green and Indiana who served as an assistant to Brian Agler with the Los Angeles Sparks a year ago.
"He's an Indiana guy, too, so I met with him before I went overseas," Faris said. "We spoke a little. It's an adjustment, an adjustment for us and an adjustment for him. Everything is new. It's all good so far."
Faris spent just over three months playing for Post SV Wien in Austria, arriving back in the United States just 10 days ago before heading here for training camp.
"Our team was the 'Flying Foxes.' That was great," Faris said with a laugh.
"But it was a good opportunity to work on a lot of different things. I've been trying to work on my offensive game and my ballhandling and I still have a long way to go. I want to make sure I'm comfortable with the ball under pressure and also when I have it to make the right decisions as far as shot selection and being willing to take shots."
The Sun list 17 players on their training camp roster and that group must be down to 12 by opening day. Among the newcomers Faris could be battling with for a spot are second-round draft choice Jamie Weisner out of Oregon State, third-round pick Aliyyah Handford out of St. John's, and free-agent addition Jennifer O'Neill out of Kentucky.
It won't be easy, but Faris believes she's a better player now than went the Sun went their separate ways after last season.
"I have more confidence to take certain shots and to be willing to take those shots," Faris said. "That's what people are looking for from me."
And while Faris wasn't in Indianapolis on April 5, she was watching her alma mater and former coach Geno Auriemma and teammates Tuck, Breanna Stewart, and Moriah Jefferson make history from Austria.
The Huskies defeated Syracuse 82-51 for an unprecedented fourth straight national championship and record 11th overall.
"I stayed up until 5 in the morning to watch it until the very end," Faris said. "It's so fun to watch them. I miss it, every time I watch them I miss it. But I was so happy for them and for the seniors, who were freshmen my senior year. They deserved it and they got what they set out to get."
Faris will now work to be sure another Sun season doesn't set before the playoffs.
Tags: Carl Adamec
Breanna Stewart helped the University of Connecticut women's basketball team capture an unprecedented four straight national championships.
Now Stewart can help a pair of fellow former Huskies match an Olympic record in the sport with four gold medals.
Stewart, who reached her goal of winning four NCAA titles earlier this month, was named Wednesday morning to the United States Olympic Team that will compete in the Games set for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro. The 21-year-old forward is the youngest player on the roster and one of five ex-Huskies on the 12-player squad. Women's national team director Carol Callan informed the players of their inclusion prior to the announcement.
"When I saw that Carol was calling, I had a mini-heart attack," Stewart said. "I'm like, 'What's going to happen? I don't know. I don't know.' Then I answered it and when she congratulated me, it was, I was speechless. I did not know what to say. I was so excited about the opportunity to play this summer in Rio."
Joining Stewart on the team's Connecticut connections are guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who will each be seeking their record-tying fourth gold medal, along with forwards Tina Charles and Maya Moore, who will be going for their second Olympic gold. Team USA will be coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma.
Rounding out the club, which is seeking the Americans' sixth consecutive gold medal, are guard Lindsay Whalen, forwards Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne, and Angel McCoughtry, and centers Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner.
The one surprising omission was former Tennessee star and two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Candace Parker, who was a member 2008 and 2012 teams. Former UConn All-American center Stefanie Dolson was also a finalist.
"Obviously it's always incredibly difficult to try to identify 12 players from a group of so many great players," Auriemma said. "The committee had a really difficult job this year because it's the first time in a long time that a lot more than 12 players could easily have been named to the team. But the 12 that were named are a great combination of Olympic gold-medal experience, multiple gold medal winners and great leaders.
"There is also an influx of young players, which not only is going to be a great benefit to us this year, but I think it will set the stage going forward in two years for the world championships and then in four years in Tokyo. They will be the future of the USA Basketball women's national team."
Stewart was the No. 1 pick overall by the Seattle Storm in this month's WNBA Draft. Coincidentally, the other UConn Olympians were also taken with the first selection of the draft -- Bird (2002, Seattle), Taurasi (2004, Phoenix Mercury), Charles (2010, Connecticut Sun), and Moore (2011, Minnesota Lynx).
The North Syracuse, New York, native averaged 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists with a plus-2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and 3.4 blocked shots as a senior in sweeping Player of the Year honors for the third straight year, leading the Huskies (38-0) to the program's record 11th national championship overall. She was the first player to be the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Final Four four times.
She's won five gold medals with USA Basketball youth teams starting in 2009, another gold at the 2014 FIBA world championships, and a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.
"It's kind of crazy to think that I've been able to play for USA Basketball every single summer since, or at some point during the year, from when I was 14 till now," Stewart said. "I'm not sure when I actually knew when I might have a chance at this, but I would say probably when I was just getting done with high school. I was a senior in high school and began to realize that this is something that I wanted to make a part of my summer every single year and I want to continue that. As I grew as a player I wanted to continue to grow at the highest levels."
Bird, who will be 36 in October, is making her fourth straight Olympic appearance. She already owns the record for most world championship medals.
She and Taurasi, as well as Catchings, could tie the mark shared by Naismith Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards of four Olympic golds.
"This means a lot. In some ways it has even more meaning than the first three," Bird said. "Mainly I think it's because that when you are young the tendency is to take things for granted and you just think these things are going to happen year after year or every four years. But now that I am older I see that I am really lucky, really lucky to be here, and I'm really excited and honored. I'm just looking forward to it."
Like Stewart, Taurasi -- who will be 34 in June -- was named to her first Olympic team the same year she wrapped up her career in Storrs.
"It's always a great time whenever we are on the same team," Bird said. "And the same for Coach Auriemma. It's not often that you get to play for your college coach again. It's the biggest stage, so it's pretty exciting to be with both of them."
Charles, a former WNBA MVP with the Sun and entering her third season with the New York Liberty, has been a national team mainstay since leaving UConn in 2010.
"It's a blessing to be one of the 12," Charles said. "I don't take anything for granted. I respect all of the finalists who were in the pool. There's a lot of great talent, and it could've gone either way.
"I know Coach Auriemma's system and what he expects out of his players. I know what is expected of me. I'll try to do that to the best of my ability."
Moore has led Minnesota to three WNBA titles in five years since leaving UConn. She is also a former WNBA MVP and played for the senior national team for the first time when she was still with the Huskies.
Bird, Taurasi, and Moore are among nine players to own NCAA and WNBA titles as well as world championships and Olympic gold medals.
Stewart will go for the third leg of that grand slam with Team USA and will team with Bird and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to take a shot at a WNBA title in Seattle.
She's on quite a run.
"It's definitely been a great year," Stewart said. "I've had a lot of great things happen throughout my career. But when you look at this and when you look at the opportunity to be able to go to the Olympics, that was my biggest goal in basketball. So much has happened - winning a fourth national championship, getting drafted, going to the Storm, and now this - it's really amazing. I can't wait to get going and see what happens."
UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse is expected to take part in the Games with Team Canada. The Hamilton, Ontario, native was the MVP of the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament that clinched the Canadians' spot in Rio.
Tags: Carl Adamec
UConn coach Kevin Ollie is interested in the Lakers' coaching opening, a source close to the situation told SNY.tv.
"Of course he is interested," the source said. "He is from Crenshaw."
Ollie, 43, spent four years at Crenshaw High School in L.A., where he played basketball.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com initially listed Ollie along with several others as possible candidates to replace Byron Scott. The others include Luke Walton, Jeff Van Gundy and Villanova's Jay Wright, among others.
The source told SNY.tv that Ollie -- who led UConn to the 2014 NCAA championship -- would want at least some involvement in player personnel decisions with the Lakers.
"He's gotta be involved in player personnel decisions," the source said. "Mitch Kupchak has to be willing to involve him in player personnel. He has to have a say-so in that."
As we reported last year, Ollie was linked to the opening with the Oklahoma City Thunder at least in part because of his relationship with Kevin Durant, who becomes a free agent this summer.
"I think he's going to test the waters but at the end of the day, Oklahoma City is something dear to his heart," Ollie told HoopsHype.com of Durant. "So it's going to take a team to really, really do a good job to get him to leave OKC. You try to put yourself in the best position possible, see all the oportunities out there. I know he's going to make a decision with his heart. I know he's gonna do that, choose the best situation for his family, the best position to win a championship. And OKC has a great team, I know he loves Russell Westbrook, I know he loves playing in front of the Thunder fans, so it's going to take a team to do a great recruiting job to get him away from OKC."
The Lakers also are in position for a top-3 pick in the NBA Draft and could land LSU's Ben Simmons or Duke's Brandon Ingram.
Ollie said it would take something "very special" to lure him away from UConn.
Tags: Adam Zagoria
Napheesa Collier didn't have time for the pain during her freshman season with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
But after helping the Huskies to a perfect season and an unprecedented fourth straight national championship, the time for her to get better has come.
Collier had surgery Friday at the UConn Health Center in Farmington to repair a torn labrum in her right hip, the team announced on Twitter. The injury originally occurred during individual workouts in the preseason.
There was a "bigger tear than what they thought but [Dr. Michael Joyce] fixed the bone protrusion and repaired the labrum," a post on Collier's Facebook page said.
Collier, a 6-foot-1 forward from St. Peters, Missouri, played in all 38 games as a rookie. She averaged 6.8 points on 53.3 percent shooting from the floor and 91.7 percent shooting from the foul line, along with 5.2 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. Her 1.2 blocked shots ranked sixth in the American Athletic Conference.
She was named to the AAC All-Freshman team in March and was a two-time AAC Freshman of the Week.
In six NCAA tournament games, Collier averaged 8.3 points on 55.6 percent shooting from the floor, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.8 blocked shots.
She matched her season high with 14 points against Robert Morris in the first round. In the championship game on April 5 against Syracuse University in Indianapolis, she had six points - including two baskets to stymie an Orange rally late in the third quarter - and five rebounds off the bench of an 82-51 win that gave the Huskies theirs record 11th national title.
Collier came to UConn from Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis. She was a two-time Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and 2015 McDonald's All-American as she led IWA to three straight state titles.
Gabby Williams had cut down her piece of the net and walked off the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse less than an hour before, but the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's sophomore forward couldn't wait till next year.
"We're going to get back in the gym right away," Williams said. "Our seniors have left a legacy and we want to keep that legacy going. We'll have a goal and we'll get after it."
Led by senior All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck, the Huskies won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship and 11th overall on April 5 by defeating Syracuse 82-51 in Indianapolis. Almost overlooked in their historic achievement was the completion of a sixth perfect season.
They finished the year 38-0 and are 122-1 in their last 123 games. All 122 wins were by double figures. UConn trailed just twice in the second half all season (Maryland on Dec. 28, South Florida on Feb. 29) and was behind for 1:44 out of 240 minutes in the NCAA tournament.
And with the exception of a four-minute stretch in the third quarter when Syracuse scored 16 unanswered points to cut a 33-point deficit to 17, the Huskies had their A-game going.
"It wasn't that much different than a normal NCAA game or a NCAA Final Four game that they've been in," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards . "The only small difference we talked about was this is what you wanted from day one. You said this is what you wanted, that you wanted to be in position to do this. And now here we are. We're in a position to do this. Yet, the only way that we're going to do it is all the things that got us here are.
"There was a time during the huddle when Syracuse went on that run of theirs where we talked about that you can't stumble into the history books. Like if you're going to do this, you need to do it the right way. You need to break through the finish line, not stumble across it. This is what they live for. They really do. And that's why I tried to make it so it was a great honor for them to have this opportunity."
Jefferson, Stewart, Tuck, and Briana Pulido graduate. Eight players -- including starters Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson -- can return. Three high school seniors -- Crystal Dangerfield, Kyla Irwin, and Molly Bent -- come in this summer.
But let's take a last look back on the ones that made the successful 2015-16 season possible.
What can you say about Stewart that hasn't already been said? The North Syracuse, New York, native leaves front and center as the best player in the college game today and in the middle of the debate of the best college player in NCAA history. She wase the first player taken in the 2016 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm and she's hopeful that an Olympic bid will come her way this summer. If not, there's 2020 and beyond. She did everything for the Huskies during the regular season and was even better in the postseason. The record says it all.
What can you say about Jefferson that hasn't already been said? Few players at UConn have raised their level of play from Day 1 of her freshman year to cutting down the net after her finale more than the Glenn Heights, Texas, native, who was taken as the second overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Stars. A "nightmare" was Auriemma's description of her game as a rookie when it was a matter of going fast, faster, and fastest. Soon the only people having nightmares were opponents. She became a good 3-pointer shooter, a better passer, a great defender, and a master at controlling tempo. She may be the most difficult one to replace.
What can you say about Tuck that hasn't already been said? A solid player and citizen through a career that was held back only by problems with her right knee that caused her to have two surgeries and miss all but eight games in 2014. She rebounded with two All-American seasons, though she gets credit officially for only one but that was enough for her to join her classmates in the Huskies of Honor. She was UConn's "rock" -- a term for players of the past such as Jamelle Elliott. She chose to move on to the WNBA instead of one more college season and was the third ovrerall pick of the draft by the Connecticut Sun. The time was right.
It would have been easy for UConn to dribble out the clock against Syracuse. But Auriemma called one last play and Saniya Chong found Pulido, whose jumper from the baseline found nothing but net and was one for the ages. The former walk-on grew into the kind of teammate and person the Huskies love having and was rewarded with a scholarship for her final season. Hopefully, in a few years, we'll be calling her not Polly but Dr. Pulido, as she plans to go to medical school.
A 12-point lead against Maryland on Dec. 28 was down to four and the Huskies' hold on the game was getting away. But Chong stepped up and hit a 3-pointer to stymie the Terrapins and keep UConn perfect. With the IT Band Syndrome in her right knee behind her, Chong was heading in the right direction. But soon it headed south for the junior guard and Auriemma lost confidence in her for the third straight postseason. With Jefferson's departure, there's an opening at point guard or the starting off-guard if Nurse is moved to the point. It's now or never.
Memo to any high school athletic director that may have a girls basketball coaching opening in 2017: Take a look at Lawlor. The Ansonia native already acts like a coach on the sidelines and is sometimes more animated than Auriemma. Ask any of her teammates -- she knows exactly what she's doing and there's a reason she gives the talk in the team's huddle after the starting lineup is introduced. Like Pulido, Lawlor was given a scholarship before last season. It's a great investment.
The star of Team Canada's charge to Pan American Games gold and 2016 Olympic Games qualification last summer would be the first to tell you her sophomore season was up and down. But when March rolled around she was rock solid and proved why she retained Auriemma's trust throughout her tough times. Her work ethic and determination is unmatched among her teammates. She will be a leader her last two years and will take on a bigger role in the Huskies' offense next season. She's capable. Another offseason of international play will only strengthen her.
Her numbers from her freshman to sophomores seasons are rather similar. But make no mistake that Williams was different in her second year at UConn. She was a player, not just an athlete, and was a constant source of energy and gave the Huskies the boost off the bench to continue to push the pace of play they wanted. A guard in high school who moved to forward here out of necessity, she showed confidence on her jumper from 15 feet and in and may push it out past the 3-point line next season. She'll continue to be fun to watch.
Throughout her redshirt year after her transfer from Georgetown, the UConn coaches and players praised Butler for her work on and off the floor. But a thumb injury in October set her back and sidelined her past Christmas. There were some flashes of the game that made her the 2014 Big East Freshman of the Year but many more struggles. She never found a niche. Maybe having another year in the UConn system was what she needed. Make no mistakes, the Huskies need her next year.
There's no question Ekmark looked more comfortable on the floor and became a better player as a sophomore. But any chance of breaking into the rotation for meaningful minutes ended with the emergence of Samuelson. Can she improve enough to make a case for herself as a 3-point shooting specialist or an extra guard? The Dean's List student has the smarts for the game but needs to turn them into action.
KATIE LOU SAMUELSON
She came 3,000 miles to become the best player she could be and win national championships. Samuelson made good progress in achieving her first goal and played a big role in the Huskies getting her the second goal. No freshman performed better at the higher level in the big games of March and April. The broken bone in her left foot suffered in the national semifinal against Oregon State is a setback going forward. But she's already shown she can be more than a 3-point shooter and continue expansion of her game will turn her into an All-American candidate, as soon as next year.
Her teammates call her a "ball magnet" and Collier has a knack of being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing. If you're seeking an early candidate for the 2017 American Athletic Conference Most Improved Player award winner, the St. Peters, Missouri, native deserves a look. A year of experience and a summer of getting stronger will make her a key contributor to any bid the Huskies make for a 10th straight Final Four appearance. Like Samuelson, UConn is counting on her star to rise.
University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma is back home.
Auriemma was hospitalized Saturday after getting off a plane at Bradley International Airport because he was not feeling well.
UConn released this statement Tuesday: "UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma returned home from the hospital on Tuesday morning. He is feeling better and enjoying some time with his family. Coach Auriemma and his family wish to express their appreciation and gratitude to everyone for their thoughts and prayers."
Auriemma, 62, was not at UConn's national championship parade in Hartford April 10 and also missed an on-campus event the following and Husky Day at the state capitol in Hartford last Wednesday. He did make an appaearance at Thursday's WNBA Draft at Mohegan Sun Arena when Huskies' seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck were the top three selections.
The 2006 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee led UConn to its unprecedented fourth straight and 11th overall NCAA title on April 5 when the Huskies defeated Syracuse 82-51 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It was also UConn's record sixth unbeaten season.
In 31 years, Auriemma has compiled a 955-134 record and is winning percentage of .877 is No. 1 all time in the sport. He was the consensus 2016 national Coach of the Year and was named the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for the third straight year.
Tags: Carl Adamec
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
The school released a statement saying the 62-year-old Auriemma had boarded a plane Saturday morning at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, but decided to deplane because he was not feeling well.
The school says he was taken to a hospital for observation and is resting comfortably.
The Hall of Fame coach guided the Huskies to an unprecedented 11th national title this month. But, he missed the victory parade in Hartford last weekend and did not accompany the team when it was honored by lawmakers at the state Capitol this week, because he was feeling ill.
He attended the WNBA draft Thursday, but did not speak with reporters.
Auriemma is 955-134 in 31 seasons at UConn.
© 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press
University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma is resting comfortably after being hospitalized Saturday.
UConn released the following statement: "After boarding a plane at Bradley International Airport on Saturday morning, UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma decided to deplane because he was not feeling well. Coach Auriemma had been ill for the last several days and was brought to the hospital for observation where he is resting comfortably. The University will have no further comment on this matter and we ask that people please respect the Auriemma family's privacy."
Auriemma, 62, was not at UConn's national championship parade in Hartford last Sunday and also missed an on-campus event Monday. He was at Thursday's WNBA Draft at Mohegan Sun Arena when Huskies' seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck were the top three selections.
The 2006 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee led UConn to its unprecedented fourth straight and 11th overall NCAA title on April 5 when the Huskies defeated Syracuse 82-51 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It was also UConn's record sixth unbeaten season.
In 31 years, Auriemma has compiled a 955-134 record and is winning percentage of .877 is No. 1 all time in the sport. He was the consensus 2016 national Coach of the Year and was named the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for the third straight year.
RIZZOTTI NAMED COACH AT GW
Former UConn All-American Jennifer Rizzotti resigned Friday after 17 seasons as coach of the University of Hartford to take the same position at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"This opportunity at GW is a perfect fit both personally and professionally," Rizzotti said in a statement. "GW women's basketball has an outstanding tradition of excellence and I'm confident that will continue to grow as we move forward. Having spent the last 17 years coaching at Hartford, where we enjoyed considerable success, I have seen what it takes to reach the next level and I'm excited to do that at GW."
Rizzotti compiled a 316-200 record at Hartford. She led the Hawks to their first six NCAA Tournament appearances, twice reaching the second round, and four WNIT berths. They won nine America East regular-season or tournament championships.
She took the Hartford job, her first in coaching, in 1999 while still playing in the WNBA.
"I couldn't be more grateful to former director of athletics Pat Meiser and President Walter Harrison for taking a chance on a 25-year-old kid with no experience so many years ago," Rizzotti said. "I never would have thought it would have turned into something so special for me and my family. I can only hope that I have been able to give to this university, in some small way, all that it has given to me."
Rizzotti was a member of UConn's first national championship team in 1995 and was the Associated Press Player of the Year and Wade Trophy winner in 1996. She was a two-time All-American and still ranks third in assists (637) and third in steals (349) at the school. She coached Stewart and Tuck to gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2010 FIBA U-18 Americas tournament and the 2011 FIBA U-19 world championships. Former Huskies Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were also on those squads.
She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rizzotti replaces Jonathan Tsipis, who left the Colonials last month to take a similar position at Wisconsin. George Washington was 26-7 this past season and won the Atlantic-10 Tournament title before falling to Kansas State in the NCAA first round. The Colonials' top player, center Jonquel Jones, was the sixth overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in Thursday night's WNBA Draft. She was later traded to the Connecticut Sun.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Breanna Stewart showed more emotion in her first 30 minutes as a professional Thursday night than she showed in four years playing for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The No. 1 overall pick by the Seattle Storm in the 2016 WNBA Draft knew teammate Moriah Jefferson had gone second to the San Antonio Stars. When she learned that fellow teammate Morgan Tuck went third to the Connecticut Sun, Stewart slapped the table in front of her with both hands and went, "Yes."
"That's the kind of year we had," Stewart said.
UConn's Big Three made more history as their selection marked the first time the same school had produced the first three picks of any professional league draft.
The Huskies did go 1-2-4-6 in 2002 with Sue Bird (Seattle), Swin Cash (Detroit Shock), Asjha Jones (Washington Mystics), and Tamika Williams (Minnesota Lynx). The Mystics also held the third choice in the draft but selected Oklahoma's Stacey Dales ahead of Jones. Then-Washington consultant Pat Summitt, the coach at UConn's archrival Tennessee, said the decision on Jones and Dales was based on alphabetical order.
"It just goes to show how special a group we are," Stewart said. "When we do something, the three of us, we do it together. We went in as freshmen together. We won four national championships together, now we all got drafted together. Any one of us, Mo, Morgan, could have gone No. 1 in any draft class.
"I might have been more happy for Morgan than being the No. 1 overall. To see her, after all that she's been through, to be with us and for us to go 1-2-3 is picture perfect."
Stewart became the fifth UConn player to be taken No. 1, joining Bird, Diana Taurasi (2004, Phoenix Mercury), Tina Charles (2007, Connecticut), and Maya Moore (2011, Minnesota).
In Seattle, she'll join Bird and former teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. The Storm were 10-24 a year ago, have missed the playoffs in two straight years, and have not had a winning season since 2011. They had two of top three picks a year ago and chose Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd first overall and Mosqueda-Lewis third.
Stewart was joined here by her parents, Brian and Heather, her coach at Cicero-North Syracuse High Eric Smith, and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who missed last Sunday's national championship parade in Hartford due to illness.
"The first thing I said to him was, 'I thought you were going to miss it,' " Stewart said with a smile. "He had seven minutes left to be there. Like my mom was saying, the time has gone by so fast. I had five years with my high school coach and four with Coach Auriemma. Now it's time to start something new.
"The opportunity to play for the Seattle Storm, I'm so excited and looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun there."
"The first thing I said was, 'I thought you were going to miss it,' " Stewart said. "He had seven minutes left to be there. Like my mom was saying, the time has gone by so fast. I had five years with my high school coach and four with Coach Auriemma. Now it's time to start something new."
Jefferson grew up about a four-hour drive from San Antonio in Glenn Heights, Texas. Point guard became a need for the Stars when they lost incumbent Danielle Robinson with an Achilles' injury. The two-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation's top point guard and UConn's all-time leader in assist should fill the ball.
San Antonio was a league-worst 8-26 in 2015.
"So excited to go home to Texas and play in front of my family and friends," Jefferson said. "To do it here in front of all our fans here, is amazing.
"I want to become a great point guard in the league and try to win championships. I want to keep pushing and get better every year."
But like Stewart, Jefferson's biggest smile came out when she heard about the pick behind her.
"I was probably the happiest I was the entire night, happier than I was for myself," Jefferson said. "I know the kind of player Morgan Tuck is and this is exactly what she deserves So I almost came to tears in the back watching her before I even did about my own self."
Tuck, meanwhile, was thrilled for her fellow Huskies.
"I was super-excited for Stewie, super-excited that Mo gets to go home to Texas," Tuck said. "It was great to see to be out there with them and see them live their dream."
While Stewart has been a virtual lock as the No. 1 pick in this draft for years, and Jefferson had emerged over the past year as the likely No. 2, Tuck was the question mark.
It wasn't about the Bolingbrook, Illinois, native's talent, but injury issues. She had no problems in college with her left knee after suffering an ACL tear during the 2009 USA Basketball U-16 trials. But she had two surgeries on her right knee during her sophomore season at UConn that cost her 32 games. She also missed five games this season.
"The injuries and that are part of the game," Tuck said. "That's been a part of my game, having to fight back from injuries. It's made me a better person and better player. I used my time I had to sit out as a learning experience and I think that's helped me."
Connecticut, which missed the playoff in all three seasons under Anne Donovan, has a new coach in Curt Miller and was willing to take the risk.
"We've had a lot of conversations not only with their medical personnel, but with Coach himself and how they managed her minutes in terms of practice," Miller said. "Other than the two weeks that she sat out it really never was a factor of sitting out a game. She's been more comfortable than ever down the stretch of the season without that brace. It's certainly something that we're aware of, but we think that she's got a bright future and it won't be a huge factor.
"Morgan's a winner, first and foremost. There's something to be said about UConn players. They're true professionals. But also Morgan gets a lot of credit about being the leader of that group. Maybe the unheralded one on the floor, but she was the glue and the leader behind the scenes with that crew."
The Sun also selected Minnesota guard Rachel Banham fourth and traded for George Washington center Jonquel Jones, who was the sixth pick overall.
Training camps for WNBA teams open in 10 days.
Tags: Carl Adamec
Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck capped off their college careers in historic fashion, winning a fourth straight national championship.
UConn's trio could be part of another first Thursday night if they are taken with the top three picks in the WNBA draft. No school has ever had three players taken with the first three picks in league history. In fact it's never happened in any of the major sports, according to information provided to the WNBA by the Elias Sports Bureau
The WNBA has had two of the first three players come from the same school on three separate occasions. The closest was in 2002 when the Huskies had players taken first, second, fourth and sixth.
Stewart, the three-time AP Player of the Year, is a lock to go first to Seattle. Jefferson is expected to be taken second by San Antonio. She is from Texas and would fit in well for the Stars, who lost guard Danielle Robinson to an Achilles tendon injury.
While Stewart and Jefferson are almost sure things, Tuck going third is the question mark. The Connecticut Sun have the third and fourth pick and they sure would make a lot of the Connecticut fan base happy by drafting her. >> Read more...
The most exuberant celebration photo of the UConn Huskies' fourth consecutive NCAA Championship was not captured at the final buzzer.
The photo came with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter, when the Huskies had an 80-51 lead over Syracuse. The team's top senior trio, Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, came out of the game about two minutes before the photo. Stewart had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Jefferson had 13 points and five assists. Tuck had 19 points and seven rebounds. It was the last game of their careers, and the seniors could have spent those final seconds embracing. They could have looked at their parents in the stands to mouth, four! Instead, their eyes were locked on fellow senior and former walk-on, Briana Pulido.
Everyone on the UConn bench saw Pulido was open in the corner, an arm's length away from where they watched, crouched and frozen. Pulido fired a long two-pointer with her feet on the arc. Her shot swished in, and the bench erupted. Ponytails flew as the team leaped and screamed.
The most thrilling bucket of the tournament for UConn came from a player who averaged 2.6 minutes a game. They were Pulido's ninth and tenth points of the season. The Huskies won the game, 82-51.
Another championship meant Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck made history as the only players, women or men, to win four titles in college hoops history. It was the second undefeated season they experienced as Huskies, this one ending 38-0. UConn's win streak extended to 75 games. The team finished the season with an average margin of victory of 39.7 points. UConn pummeled everyone.
During the winter slog against opponents who struggled to compete against them, UConn played games within the games, challenged by coach Geno Auriemma during timeouts.
Don't let your opponent shoot anywhere in the paint until the next time out.
Make sure No. 5 doesn't touch the ball.
Show me the footwork you've been working on in the post and go to the rim left-handed.
The Huskies played against the game of basketball to make their performances the most beautiful examples of execution.
Of course, noting UConn's opponents struggled to compete against them is far different than saying UConn's dominance is "bad for the sport." Or worse, UConn is "killing the game." Both were sentiments UConn heard leading up to the Final Four. They are sentiments UConn has heard for years. Being the best doesn't kill a sport. Rather, UConn is the blueprint for others to rise. Oregon State Coach Scott Rueck said it's not UConn's job to play down to the level of other teams.
"I'll be honest, if I were to watch a basketball game, I've told people, I would rather watch UConn than anybody. Men or women," Rueck said. "The way that they transition, the way they share the basketball. The way they defend. I think they set a high bar in every way. They're excellent. And so how can excellence be bad? I've never understood that. I think UConn is inspirational, the way they conduct themselves. And so I think they're nothing but good for the game. I think it's up to the rest of us to rise to that level. And I think any time you have a bar that's that high, that's a positive."
Up 20, Tuck will come off a screen perfectly to dash inside for a lay-up. Up 30, Stewart will block two players during the same possession. Up 40, Jefferson will fling her body out of bounds to save a loose ball. UConn does not jog.
Stewart is the AP Player of the Year for the third time -- a unanimous pick. To witness Stewart's skill packed in a slender body that's all elbows and kneecaps is a treat. Her 7-foot wingspan is longer than Michael Jordan's. She's frequently double-teamed yet barely slowed. She averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in 29 minutes per game this season. Those numbers get even more impressive when you consider Stewart occasionally sat out the fourth quarter in conference games because UConn's leads ballooned to an eye-popping level when Auriemma kept his seniors in.
Auriemma said Stewart could take 20 shots a game and make 18 of them, but that's not what he asks her to do. She draws the defense, because they must guard her, and she kicks it out to a teammate. Bang. They point to her to acknowledge the assist. She smiles back. Stewart averaged 3.9 assists per game this season, the second-most on the team.
When it was time to collect the NCAA championship trophy, Stewart jumped on stage with a thud that shook the legs of the platform. She said "oh man" to no one as she scanned the crowd. For the fourth time, Stewart was the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, a feat no woman or man before her had achieved.
Stewart talked briefly to reporters on the court before cutting down the net, happily answering 18 different versions of the question, "How does it feel?" with the same answer: "It was a perfect ending."
When each player had her piece of twine, the seniors gathered for an extra picture on the ladder. Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck, UConn's All-Americans this season, had Pulido join them in the picture. The walk-on who had the guts to think she could make it on a championship team lifted her twine with the others. There are stars on the team, but they play like a family.
About 25 former UConn players watched the victory. They were on the court postgame for a super-sized team picture that captured decades of success.
It was nearly midnight in Indianapolis, and the players were ready to take the celebration to the locker room. They swarmed Auriemma and dumped confetti on his head. Jefferson mussed his hair. The players grabbed an arm or a leg and carried their coach off the court. The Huskies streamed into the tunnel together to go back to a more intimate area to reflect on history. A fourth straight national championship. Eleven championships total for the program, a new NCAA basketball record.
One of UConn's most famous alumni, Maya Moore, trailed behind the pack, holding something that wasn't hers this time. "Has anyone seen the trophy?" Moore joked, the hardware held securely in her arms.
The players left without it.
Heather Buck, a fan favorite from the first championship in this four-year run, chimed in, "Don't worry. We know how to handle a trophy."
Breanna Stewart was a great player and even better teammate at the University of Connecticut. That didn't end with her final game on April 5 when the Huskies won their unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Stewart will be the No. 1 pick by the Seattle Storm when the 2016 WNBA Draft is held Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun. The three-time national Player of the Year will then walk onto the stage to meet and take pictures with WNBA President Lisa Borders before leaving to do interviews with the media.
But if the North Syracuse, New York, native has her way, she'll wait on her other obligations to find out where her UConn classmates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck will start their WNBA careers.
"I hope I'll be able to watch them get drafted," Stewart said. "I have to see if I can hang out a little bit longer, seeing how we've done this together and now as we go on to the next level."
Stewart may not have to wait around long.
The Huskies' big three hope to make more history on their first day as professionals. No school has produced the top three picks in the draft. UConn went 1-2-4-6 in 2002 with Sue Bird (Seattle), Swin Cash (Detroit Shock), Asjha Jones (Washington Mystics) and Tamika Williams (Minnesota Lynx). Of note, the Mystics also held the third choice in that draft but selected Oklahoma's Stacey Dales ahead of Jones. Then-Washington consultant Pat Summitt, the coach at UConn's archrival Tennessee, said the decision on Jones and Dales was based on alphabetical order.
The San Antonio Stars hold the second pick of the draft Thursday night while the host Sun have picks three and four.
"I don't think there's any chance that Moriah doesn't go two," ESPN analyst and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo said. "If she wasn't on San Antonio's roster, it would be because somehow they traded that No. 2 pick.
"I think (the Sun) will go with Tuck as their big. I really do. To me, Tuck fits their system perfectly if they can complement that with a guard who can really shoot the three."
Among the Sun's options for a shooting guard are Minnesota's Rachel Banham, South Florida's Courtney Williams and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell. If Tuck isn't their choice for frontline help, the Sun could also look at George Washington's Jonquel Jones or Michigan State's Aerial Powers.
Stewart will become the fifth UConn player to be taken No. 1, joining Bird, Diana Taurasi (2004, Phoenix Mercury), Tina Charles (2007, Connecticut) and Maya Moore (2011, Minnesota).
In Seattle, she would join Bird and former teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. That is if the Storm, as expected, hold on to the pick.
"We've had some interesting offers," Seattle coach Jenny Boucek said. "We'll keep taking offers until the last possible minute. But it would take a lot, take a lot."
Stewart averaged 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists with a plus-2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.8 steals and 3.4 blocked shots as a senior in sweeping Player of the Year honors and leading the Huskies (38-0) to the program's record 11th national championship overall.
Seattle was 10-24 a year ago, has missed the playoffs in two straight years, and has not had a winning season since 2011. The Storm had two of top three picks a year ago and chose Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd first overall and Mosqueda-Lewis third.
"Obviously there are going to be adjustments but I want to make an impact," Stewart said. "It's going to be my job now and I'm looking forward to it.
"I do not know much about Seattle, but I've heard it's nice. It definitely excites me. Any time you go to a new place there's a lot to be excited about. Going into the next chapter of my life, of my basketball career, it will be a nice start."
Jefferson averaged 12.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.6 steals as a senior. She finished No. 1 at UConn in assists (659) and second in steals (353). She is a two-time All-American and winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard.
San Antonio was 8-26 in 2015 and the Stars need help more on their frontline than at guard. They have lost point guard Danielle Robinson for the season due to an Achilles' injury. Coach Dan Hughes may not be able to pass on the Glenn Heights, Texas, native.
"Dan Hughes made it clear: For him to trade that pick, somebody would have to overpay for that pick," Lobo said.
Tuck averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 33 games this season in earning All-America honors. The questions surrounding the Bolingbrook, Illinois, native surround her surgically repaired right knee.
She announced the day after UConn's 82-51 win over Syracuse in Indianapolis that she would give up her final year of college eligibility to turn professional. She said she informed UConn coach Geno Auriemma of her decision in mid-March.
"My dream has been to play in the WNBA since I was like in the fourth grade," Tuck said. "So I knew I always wanted to do it. I talked about it with Coach and my parents. I knew that what I came to UConn to achieve, I was able to achieve with my teammates.
"I did want to go out with my class. That was important to me. I don't think you could end college any better than the way we did. So me it was just that I want to go pursue my dream."
Twelve seniors have been invited by the WNBA to attend the draft, which is open to the public. Joining the three Huskies, Banham, Williams, Mitchell, Jones, and Powers are Texas' Imani Boyette, Rutgers' Kahleah Copper, Texas A&M's Courtney Walker and Washington's Talia Walton.
Following Seattle, San Antonio and the Sun (twice) in the first round are the Dallas Wings, Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics, Phoenix, Indiana Fever, Chicago Sky, Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty.
UConn's seniors have done things no class has done before. Can they do it again on Thursday night?
"That would be ... That would just cap off this historic run," Stewart said. "I hope it does happen."
Tags: Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. -- At the University of Connecticut's annual First Night program at Gampel Pavilion in 2010, six women's basketball recruits -- seniors Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes, juniors Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck, and sophomore Diamond DeShields -- got together for a photo.
Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes would sign their letters of intent with the Huskies a month later. At about the same time, Tuck announced her commitment to UConn with Stewart following in January and Jefferson in May of 2011. DeShields would start her career at North Carolina and is now at Tennessee.
While there are great classes, it was the Huskies' trio in the Class of 2016 that made history and set itself apart.
Jefferson, Stewart, and Tuck said farewell to UConn last Tuesday night with the Huskies' 82-51 win over Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, capturing an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship.
"It's about our mindset and how hard we work and how we are really willing to sacrifice whatever for the team," Stewart said. "Our biggest goal for each of us is to have the team win, and I think that is something that makes us really great. We get some of the best players in the country coming out of high school and then we're able to play together so well. I think that is what separates us."
Stewart, a North Syracuse, New York, native, became the first four-time Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and UConn's second three-time national Player of the Year. She also shared the AAU Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. She ranks in the top five at UConn in points, rebounds and blocked shots.
Jefferson, from Glenn Heights, Texas, became a two-time All-American and Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the best point guard in the country, the Dawn Staley Award winner as the best guard and the 2016 WBCA Defensive Player of the Year. She ranks in the top two at UConn in assists, steals and games played.
Tuck, who hails from Bolingbrook, Illinois, joined her classmates as 1,000-point scorers this season and last Wednesday joined them in the Huskies of Honor program on the wall at Gampel Pavilion as a WBCA All-American.
Forget the points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots, though. Here are the numbers they want you to know: an NCAA record 151 wins in four years, the four national championships and Final Four appearances, and the three American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles.
"To play with Morgan and Moriah, it's meant a lot," Stewart said. "Often times you can say they are overlooked or overshadowed, and they deserve to be given as much credit as I'm given. What they have done for this program is unbelievable. I'm extremely happy for Tuck to finally get that All-American nod. For Mo to continue to be successful, to break the record in assists and be second in steals, both of them are leaving their mark on this program."
The trio had gotten to know each other growing up through the AAU circuit and while attending USA Basketball youth teams trials.
A month after the First Night photo was taken, UConn and Maya Moore faced Baylor at the XL Center in Hartford. While the game will be remembered for Moore's performance and Bria Hartley's late heroics that kept what would become a record 90-game winning streak alive, there was more drama in the stands. Sitting together behind the Huskies' bench were Tuck and Stewart.
"We actually really didn't talk much about where we were thinking about going," Tuck said. "For us, we all wanted to make sure we made our decision for us and not what each other was doing. For me, I went to the Baylor game and that kind of sealed the deal for me.
"We both said we really, really liked it, and we really thought this would be the place we went. I think we just still wanted to make sure. I actually told her I would wait and we would go visit other schools, but I didn't wait. I committed before I left."
Stewart's focus, by then, was narrowing. When her father would ask her on occasion what she was thinking about the recruiting process, she admitted that, "I keep coming back to UConn." On Jan. 31, 2011, the family drove to Gampel Pavilion and watched UConn rout her other finalist, Duke. But the decision had been made before the Huskies took the court and she went in to Geno Auriemma's office afterwards to let him know of it.
"I would like to commit if you'll take me," Stewart told the Hall of Fame coach.
Then the attention turned to Jefferson.
"I don't think we really talked much about it," Jefferson said. "You have to make the best decision for yourself. I thought UConn was the best place for me. But the idea of playing with Stewie and Tuck? Yeah, that was pretty exciting."
All three had one goal -- to win four national championships. Only one -- Stewart -- would actually come out and say it.
"It was a mixture of both, having a lot of confidence in myself and knowing who I was coming in with," Stewart said. "Saying what I wanted to do when I was a freshman was kind of a gutsy thing to do. But coming in with Morgan and Moriah, they had the same mindset as me. I just voiced the opinion."
But talk can be cheap and the road wasn't always easy.
Jefferson learned quickly that being Auriemma's point guard is one of the toughest jobs in the sport. Stewart started off strong, hit a lull, then hit a low when she played seven minutes of a loss to Baylor with no points, no rebounds, and no assists. Tuck struggled to find consistency to her game.
The three came on, particularly Stewart, came on strong in the 2013 NCAA tournament. With Stewart as the star and Jefferson and Tuck in key reserve roles, the Huskies reached the Final Four, avenged three earlier losses to Notre Dame with a convincing semifinal win, then routed Louisville for the national championship.
In their final three seasons, they were 116-1 with wins in their last 75 games. As they left the court together for the final time with 1:46 left last Tuesday night, they shared a group hug.
Three people, one goal.
"I think if you guys could see us behind closed doors, you'd probably feel like we are completely different people than what you see here," Jefferson said with a smile. "Morgan is the calm and steady one out here, but she is like crazy and loud and running around. I have all the energy on the court, but they call me the grandma. I'm like, 'Whatever, chilling.' Stewie, she is a whole different type of person. We can't even get into that. I don't know how to explain the stuff she does. It's like random. It's like, 'Who even thinks of that?' She randomly will walk up to me, smack me in the face and start dancing around. I'm like, 'Are you serious?' So I don't know how to explain her at all."
And now they'll leave the Huskies in the hands of their younger teammates.
The Drive for Five is on them.
"That was our job," Stewart said. "As seniors and as leaders we have to make sure we're preparing the rest of the team, the juniors and the underclassmen, for what is to come next year. We are handing the torch down to them if you want to look at it that way. They are going to be just fine.
"Out of respect for us and out of respect for the other players who have played in this program, they are not going to want to let us down. Maybe they don't have as strong of a connection with the older players, but they played with us. They know what we did. They know what we sacrificed, and now the ball is in their hands to take care of that."
The national championship banners and their plaques in the Huskies of Honor will be constant reminders of what they did here. They'll move on but this will always be a place they can call home.
"I hope," Stewart said, "we're remembered as a group who were great leaders, were great teammates and were winners."
Mission accomplished. Take a picture because we may never see a trio like them here again.
Tags: Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. -- It was 70 degrees in her hometown of Huntington Beach, California, on Sunday, but Katie Lou Samuelson never enjoyed being out on a crisp 45-degree afternoon so much.
Samuelson and the University of Connecticut women's basketball team celebrated the 2016 national championship with a parade through the streets of the state capital city and a rally in front of the XL Center. The freshman guard led the crowd estimated at 20,000 in a "UConn, Huskies" chant.
"It's been a lot of fun, lots of support," Samuelson said. "I'm grateful for what we have here and it's really special."
Senior All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson addressed the fans at the XL Center, as did associate head coach Chris Dailey. Coach Geno Auriemma missed the parade due to illness.
"I'm just trying to enjoy my time with this team and this time is going to end shortly," Tuck said. "I'm making the most out of every moment."
The loudest cheers were saved for Stewart, the four-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player and three-time national Player of the Year. She reached her goal of winning four national championships last Tuesday when UConn defeated Syracuse 82-51 in the NCAA final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
She came to UConn saying she wanted to win the four national championships. She did not guarantee them, however. Somehow, as she and the Huskies kept winning titles, the meaning of her originally statement changed.
"You know how it evolved. You know how it evolved," Stewart said with a laugh. "Like, yeah, you have no idea.
"I had a confidence that I wanted to win four national championships. It was never forgotten, that's for sure."
The Huskies finished 38-0 for their sixth perfect season. Only three others -- Texas (1986), Tennessee (1998), and Baylor (2012) - have done it once. The senior class finished 151-5, a record for wins in a four-year span. UConn, which has won 122 of its last 123 games, will take a 75-game winning streak into next season. The NCAA record is 90.
But the Huskies will do so without their Big 3, who are all expected to be first-round selections in Thursday's WNBA Draft.
"There's no more, 'We'll be back next year,' for our senior class," Stewart said. "That makes it hit home. This is the last time we'll see all these UConn fans in their element and it makes you realize all that's happened and it's been a great four years.
"I'm sure I'm going to look back on it in the next couple of months and wish I had another year or two of eligibility. I did my four years and it's time to move on."
Stewart is expected to join Sue Bird (Seattle Storm, 2002), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury, 2004), Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun, 2007), and Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx, 2011) as top overall selections from UConn when the Storm make their pick Thursday.
What would she tell the next high school star that says she wants to win four national championships?
"My advice would be is that you can do the impossible," Stewart said. "People said that it was impossible to win four straight national championships, that it was never going to happen. We did it. It took a lot and it wasn't easy. But we were able to accomplish it."
STEWART SHARES SULLIVAN AWARD
Stewart and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds were named as co-winners of the AAU Sullivan Award Sunday, which is presented by the Amateur Athletic Union to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
They earned the honor from a field of seven finalists that included Alabama's Derrick Henry (football), Nebraska's Mikaela Foecke (volleyball), Brittany Bowe (speedskating), Jordan Burroughs (wrestling), and Simone Biles (gymnastics).
"We are unbelievably honored to call both Keenan and Breanna winners of the 86th AAU Sullivan Award," said Melissa Willis, AAU Sullivan Award national chair. "They represent everything that is good about amateur athletics. They are not only phenomenal athletes, but extraordinary people as well."
Reynolds scored an NCAA-record 88 touchdowns in his four-year career at Navy and finished his career as college football's all-time leader for rushing yards by a quarterback (4,559). He was the 2015 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Stewart was a three-time AAC Player of the Year to go with all her national honors. She finished her career ranked in the top five at UConn in points, rebounds, and blocked shots and is the only player in NCAA history to record 400 assists and 400 blocked shots.
This year marks the second time that two individuals have shared the award (basketball players and twin sisters Coco Miller and Kelly Miller of Georgia won in 1999). The Sullivan Award has been presented since 1930 as a salute to the founder and past president of the Amateur Athletic Union, James E. Sullivan, to an athlete whose outstanding athletic accomplishments are complemented by qualities of leadership, character and sportsmanship.
Tuck said Sunday she informed Auriemma of her decision to pass up her final year of eligibility in mid-March. "He knew that I was in-between and as the season went on I tried not to think about it a whole lot," Tuck said. "Before the NCAA Tournament started I talked to Coach and told him for sure what I was going to do." ... Samuelson said she won't need surgery on the broken bone in her left foot that kept her out of the final game against Syracuse. She does have a doctor's appointment on Tuesday when she'll learn what her next step will be. ... SMU has named Travis Mays, who was an assistant at Texas, as its head coach. He replaces Rhonda Rompola, who retired at season's end.
Tags: Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. - Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck aren't the only members of the University of Connecticut women's basketball program headed to the WNBA.
Veteran UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle has accepted a job in New York, which will include her working with the WNBA's New York Liberty.
Ragle will join the staff of the Hospital for Special Surgery, which specializes in orthopedic surgery and the treatment of rheumatologic conditions.
She has been the athletic trainer for the UConn women's basketball team since 1999 and part of 10 national championship teams.
"Rosie has been everything to me," Tuck said after the Huskies held their victory parade and rally outside the XL Center Sunday. "We've had a very, very close relationship because I've spent so much time in the training room with her. I couldn't have asked for a better athletic trainer. She really knows what to do and how to get you back on the court as soon as possible."
Ragle has also worked with the UConn men's and women's track and field teams, women's volleyball team, the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, and rowing.
She earned a leadership scholarship to Troy University and graduated in 1996 with a degree in exercise science. She was awarded a scholarship to LSU as a graduate assistant and completed her masters degree in sport management in 1998.
She also owns a national championship ring from working with the 1997 LSU women's outdoor track and field team.
Last August, she was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
"I was on a three-year plan," Ragle said last summer. "Originally I was hired to work with track and field, which was a great experience. Then I got moved over to basketball. When you work with a coaching staff like ours and the caliber of athletes we have and national championships just start rolling in, it's kind of hard to leave."
But the time has come.
The Liberty have three UConn graduates on their roster who Ragle worked with in Storrs: Swin Cash, Tina Charles, and Kiah Stokes.
Stewart, Tuck, and Jefferson will learn their WNBA destinations when the draft is held on Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun.
Breanna Stewart wins at everything, right? Wrong.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's senior forward admitted to ESPN on Friday night that she lost in a game of bowling earlier in the day. But she did emerge victorious in everything else this week.
Stewart was named the winner of the 2016 Wooden Award on Friday, completing a sweep of national Player of the Year honors. The North Syracuse, New York, native was also honored by the Associated Press, the Atlanta Tipoff Club (Naismith Trophy), the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (Wade Trophy) and the United States Basketball Writers Association as their Players of the Year.
It's the second straight year Stewart has swept all five national awards. She picked up the AP, USBWA and Naismith Trophy as well in 2014.
Stewart's dream of winning four national championships became reality last Tuesday night as she had 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in UConn's 82-51 historic win over Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
She was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player for the fourth time. No one else has done it three times. She played in 12 postseason events and was selected to the all-tournament team 11 times with the only miss being the 2014 NCAA Lincoln (Nebraska) Regional. She was the MOP in nine of those tourneys.
"You have to admire her," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's got a lot of guts, Stewie does. And you know what we talk about on our team a lot is courage. And it takes a lot of courage sometimes to say certain things and to be able to do certain things. And we've tried to explain to them that old saying that Winston Churchill said, 'Courage is grace under fire. It's not the absence of fear. It's being able to do what you have to do while you're afraid.' I think Stewie has been as good as anybody that's ever played basketball at being able to do exactly what she has to do while being afraid."
The other Wooden Award finalists were UConn senior Moriah Jefferson, Minnesota senior Rachel Banham, Ohio State sophomore Kelsey Mitchell and South Carolina sophomore A'ja Wilson.
Stewart averaged 19.4 points (57.9 percent shooting from the floor, 42.6 percent from 3-point land, 83.6 percent from the foul line), 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists with a plus-2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.8 steals and 3.4 blocked shots. All those statistics ranked in the top 10 of the American Athletic Conference, as she was the league's three-time Player of the Year.
In 152 games, Stewart finished with 2,676 points, 1,179 rebounds, 426 assists, 232 steals and a school-record 414 blocked shots. She is the only player in NCAA history with 400 assists and 400 blocked shots.
"Stewie does some pretty incredible things," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "She makes plays when you're on the court with you where you go, 'Wow, we should probably call a time out right now because I've got to stop for a second and just take that in.' Yeah, the things she does are just so incredible that it might be a while before we find another one like her."
UConn's senior class of Stewart, Jefferson, and fellow All-American Morgan Tuck compiled a 151-5 record, including 35-1 with 33 consecutive wins in the postseason.
Stewart is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick to the Seattle Storm in the 2016 WNBA Draft. The draft is Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, and it is open to the public.
Tags: Carl Adamec
Megan Walker has her own final four.
Walker -- a 6-foot-1 junior wing from Chesterfield, Virginia, and the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2017 -- has narrowed her college list to (in alphabetical order) Connecticut, Notre Dame, Texas, and Virginia. She eliminated Louisville, Maryland, and Tennessee. The updated list was first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday and confirmed by her father, Keith, Thursday.
"They all have great staffs and great academic programs," Keith Walker said in an e-mail.
Megan Walker has scheduled an unofficial visit to UConn for next weekend. It will be her second trip to Storrs, having made the journey to attend the 2014 First Night program. She also took in the Huskies' game against Maryland at New York's Madison Square Garden last Dec. 28.
Her father added that she has tentatively scheduled an official visit to Notre Dame in September and plans trips to Texas and Virginia by early summer.
Walker led Monacan High to a 29-1 record and second straight Virginia Class 4A state title as a junior, averaging 21.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.2 steals. She had a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds in a 93-56 win over William Fleming in the state championship game March 9.
She reached the 1,000-point plateau during the season with a career best of 50 points on Feb. 5 against Cosby, which went on to successfully defend its Class 6A state crown last month.
Walker, who also owns a 3.65 grade point average, was Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year and the Class 4A Player of the Year.
UConn, which won an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship by beating Syracuse 82-51 last Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, has commitments from Class of 2017 players Andra Espinoza-Hunter (5-11 guard, Ossining, New York) and Lexi Gordon (6-0 wing, Fort Worth, Texas). The Huskies still have as many as four scholarships available.
UConn dominates most every single category in the American Athletic Conference statistics but one -- 3-point shooting defense. The Huskies finished fourth behind SMU, Cincinnati, and Tulsa (whose combined record this year was 33-59 including games against each other).
But after DePaul, Notre Dame, and Colgate combined to go 35-for-68 from behind the arc in an eight-day stretch in December, UConn was dead last.
The Huskies' improvement defending the 3-pointer showed at the Final Four as they held Oregon State and Syracuse to a combined 8-for-38 (21.5 percent).
"The beginning of the year it was not pretty," UConn forward Gabby Williams said. "I think anyone will tell you that. But we found a part where we were vulnerable and we worked on it and I think we've gotten a lot better at it. I think as much as it was emphasized in practice and by Coach I think we definitely made it a point to get better at it."
Syracuse had used the long-range shooting to get to its first Final Four but managed only a 2-for-19 effort Tuesday night. Orange senior Brianna Butler, who set a NCAA single-season record for treys had just one in four tries as she was chased around by either Williams, Kia Nurse, or Napheesa Collier.
"The numbers speak for themselves," UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph said. "We spent a lot of time on our defense. We have the players that can play defense. I just think it was a matter of us putting an emphasis on it and on the things that we wanted to take away. It's not fun to go out there and get 13 threes knocked in your face."
UConn led the nation in scoring defense at 48.3 points per game.
Nurse on UConn seniors Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson: "You understand that our seniors have put their blood sweat and tears into this program. It takes a lot mentally and physically out of you. This has to be the most important thing to you, and they have been that way for four years. And then they took on extra responsibility by taking us all under their wings to teach us the same ways. So it is so much fun to have them go out in a way that says thank you from all of us."
Tags: Carl Adamec
INDIANAPOLIS -- The unbeaten University of Connecticut women's basketball team heard players from South Florida, Duquesne, and Oregon State say during the postseason that the Huskies were "beatable" en route to their unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship.
UConn beat the Bulls by 26 in the American Athletic Conference tournament final, the Dukes by a crisp 46 in the NCAA second round -- though they were the only team over 240 minutes in the tourney to have a lead on UConn (for all of 1:44), and the Beavers by 29 in the national semifinals.
There was a group of players at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night, though, that actually could do it. How would a team with Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson, Kalana Greene, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery, and Maya Moore stack up?
The former Huskies were part of a group of about 30 that joined the current team to celebrate the 82-51 win over Syracuse that capped a sixth perfect season.
"The biggest thing that we're able to see with that group of alumni coming back is the fact that, sure, they've had so much success on their individual teams themselves but they want to share this with us," UConn senior Breanna Stewart said. "Just being there and supporting us and wanting to be a part of this, that's why when you come to UConn. It really is a family. Some of them have been out of college for awhile. Some of them have not. But they were just as excited as we were."
In a group photo of the former and current players, all 17 Final Four and 11 national championship teams were represented from Stacey Wetzel, Debbie (Baer) Fiske, and Meghan (Pattyson) Culmo from the 1991 Final Four club, to former champions Jennifer Rizzotti (1995), Svetlana Abrosimiva (2000), Bird (2002), Ann Strother (2003-04), and Caroline Doty (2009-10, 2013).
"It was really cool, because I got to meet a lot of people I hadn't been around yet," UConn senior Morgan Tuck said. "It was great to be around them and see how excited they are for us, and get to spend time to be around people who really made UConn what it is today."
The one common denominator is they were all coached by Geno Auriemma.
"When they show up and you look at them, they all represent something," Auriemma said. "And to me each national championship is represented by people. People. And when I see them, I think back to what they were like when they were in school and how cool it was when they were seniors and they graduated and they won a national championship. Or anytime they won a national championship, I felt like that's their team, that's their special time.
"So to see all of them together ... With those players, it's each individual championship has a story with it and those people represent those stories."
It was almost midnight by the time the former players left the locker room. The celebration, though, was just beginning.
CLIMB TO THE TOP
Katie Lou Samuelson would not be denied.
When it was the freshman guard's turn to cut down a piece of the net following the Huskies' win Tuesday night, Samuelson made her way slowly if not particularly surely with her broken left foot in a walking boot up the ladder.
"They were not going to stop me from doing that," Samuelson said. "I was not going to miss out on that."
But Samuelson, as she did for most of the 37 games she played this season, got the job done. And as difficult as it looked, it still wasn't as hard as having to watch the final game.
"I wanted to be out there so much," Samuelson said. "It was sad that I didn't get the chance to play with the seniors in their last game. But injuries happen all the time and Coach told me that I have to cherish moments and realize there aren't that many opportunities. I'm going to work my hardest to get better and be ready for next season."
Samuelson broke a bone in her left foot while scoring the first basket of the game in Sunday's semifinal win over Oregon State. She took her role as a cheerleader for one night seriously.
Her teammates also kept her involved. Stewart made sure to give her a high five every time she came off the court for a time out.
"The support was what I noticed the most these last two days and what meant the most was my teammates telling me they had my back," Samuelson said. "They were going to step up, each one, with me in mind. It's cool to have that family vibe."
Her family was here as well with older sisters Karlie and Bonnie wearing Husky decals on their faces.
The Huntington Beach, California, native said she still wasn't sure what her rehabilitation will entail. She has time, as there is not a USA Basketball team for her to try out for this summer. She already owns three gold medals from youth international play.
And now she's a national champion.
"It's amazing," Samuelson said. "I put in a lot of work this season and contributed as much as I could. I still feel a big part of this."
UConn (38-0) finished atop the USA Today coaches poll, receiving all 32 first-place votes. The balloting was done after the Final Four. Runnerup Syracuse wasn't second, though. That spot went to Oregon State (32-5), which lost to UConn in the national semifinals. Syracuse (30-8) was third with Baylor (36-2), which Oregon State knocked out in the Dallas Regional final, fourth, and South Carolina (33-2), which fell to Syracuse in the Sweet 16 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fifth. Washington (26-11), which was unranked before the tournament and advanced to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed, placed eighth behind Notre Dame and Texas.
LOVING A PARADE
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that the State of Connecticut, City of Hartford, and the Hartford Business Improvement District will host a victory parade and rally celebration on Sunday in downtown Hartford to congratulate UConn for winning the 2016 national championship. The parade will kick off at 1 p.m. at the state capitol building and will be followed by a victory rally outside of the XL Center at approximately 1:30 p.m.
"The Huskies have dominated women's basketball this entire season and this eleventh national title is simply remarkable," Malloy said in a statement. "Coach Geno Auriemma and the entire UConn women's basketball team have once again made our state extraordinarily proud. On Sunday, we plan to celebrate their success by honoring them with another event to remember."
The parade route will begin at the state capitol building on the corner of Trinity Street and Elm Street. It proceeds north on Trinity Street through the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch, turning right (east) onto Jewell Street, then left (north) onto Trumbull Street, and ending at the intersection of Asylum Street and Trumbull Street, just steps away from where the rally will be held in front of the main entrance of the XL Center.
Tags: Carl Adamec
Disney's Wide World of Sports' basketball complex in Orlando was quiet on a late May day in 2012 when USA Basketball's U-18 and U-17 national teams got together for a scrimmage during a training camp.
But for Rebecca Lobo, the 1995 national Player of the Year on UConn's first national championship club and a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, it was a golden opportunity to watch potentially the Huskies' next star. Breanna Stewart, already a two-time gold medalist at the youth level for USA Basketball and the first high school player since 1975 to represent Team USA at the Pan American Games, would be in action for the U-18 squad just prior to her arrival on the Storrs campus.
The North Syracuse, New York, native would make her first impression that would last.
Lobo noted that Stewart "is going to break my blocked shots record." But the 2010 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee saw so much more.
"It was a whole game and I could see her for 40 minutes," Lobo said while attending the NCAA Final Four here. "I could tell ... But the other thing I remember about it is that she just kind of blended in for most of that scrimmage until the game was on the line. Then she made a couple of spectacular plays, a couple of scores, and a block off the backboard. I could tell that this was a kid that steps up in big moments."
Has anyone done it better at the college level?
Stewart's stated goal of winning four national championships became reality Tuesday night as she had 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in UConn's 82-51 historic win over Syracuse before 14,514 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"Stewie does some pretty incredible things," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "She makes plays when you're on the court with you where you go, 'Wow, we should probably call a time out right now because I've got to stop for a second and just take that in.' Yeah, the things she does are just so incredible that it might be a while before we find another one like her."
Stewart was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player for the fourth time. No one else has done it three times.
She's played in 12 postseason events and was selected to the all-tournament team 11 times with the only miss being the 2014 NCAA Lincoln (Nebraska) Regional. She was the MOP in nine of those tourneys.
UConn's postseason record: 35-1 with 33 consecutive wins.
"I made the biggest jump at the end of my freshman year," Stewart said. "Each year I was able to embrace things being hard. I realized if I worked at a high level, no one would be able to stay with me."
Stewart was on pace for her first career triple-double at halftime as the Huskies (38-0) took a 50-23 lead. She slowed down a bit in the second half but still finished with her fourth double-double in the last five games and her ninth in NCAA tournament play.
And with 1:46 to go, she and classmates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck left the court together for the final time. Following a group hug amongst themselves, there was another with coach Geno Auriemma.
"I was thanking him for what he's done for me," Stewart said. "He helped me to get into the position I'm in today. When I came in as a freshman, I don't know if this would have happened if I had stayed on my own path.
"I would like to see where I would be at if I wasn't playing for Coach Auriemma the past four years. What he has done for me, I will never be able to repay him. I guess you could say I helped him win national championships and that kind of stuff. But he has made me become a great player, sure, but a great person, too, going to levels I never thought I could reach and creating a mentality that I will continue to build on for the rest of my life."
In 152 games, the three-time national Player of the Year finished with 2,676 points, 1,179 rebounds, 426 assists, 232 steals, and, yes, a school record 414 blocked shots.
She broke Lobo's mark of 396 against Robert Morris on March 19 at Gampel Pavilion.
"She had the build of a shot blocker," Lobo said of her first impression. "She's tall and extremely long. She had those arms. But that doesn't make you a shot blocker. She has instincts. She was able to move on the floor and get blocks and still stay out of foul trouble. She understood the spacing necessary. You could just see that she knew how to block shots. Sometimes you see big guys and wonder, 'Why don't they block more shots?' There's a visual part that she's understood even then.
"I could tell she was a great shot blocker. Whether she would get to 400 blocks, I didn't know, but you could tell it was there."
Not only did Stewart reach that plateau in blocked shots, she did so in assists to become the only player in NCAA history in that 400/400 club.
Also, Stewart did not foul out of any of her 152 games in a UConn uniform.
"To block that many shots and not get in foul trouble? I fouled out of a game or two, didn't I?" Lobo said with a laugh. "That's hard to do. But that's one of the reasons I love her game. I love people that can pass. I love people that can block shots. And she's just a kid that's easy to root for because she's this, goofy, fun, awesome person."
On deck for Stewart is the 2016 WNBA Draft to be held at Mohegan Sun Arena on April 14. Barring an upset bigger than if Syracuse had won Tuesday night, she will the first player selected by the Seattle Storm.
But the 21-year-old isn't in a rush.
"I'm not really thinking about all that right now," she said. "The biggest thing I'm focusing on is just enjoying this with my teammates. Sure, if you look in the next couple of weeks, there's a lot going on because the turnaround for the WNBA is so quick. But I'll worry about that when we get back to campus."
How will her game translate to the pro level?
"I think everybody will be anxious to see," Auriemma said. "If you look back at the impact she had in high school and what she did at USA Basketball at every age group, and the impact she's had on the world of college basketball, you would say it might not happen right away like it didn't happen at UConn until the end of her freshman year.
"But I would say that it's a pretty good chance that she's going to do at the next level exactly what she's been doing. Obviously it's going to be more difficult. The team that she'll be playing on is quite different than the one she's playing on here. The players that they're playing against are quite different. The entire life is different. And that takes some getting used to. But I like the fact that if everything holds true and she goes to Seattle that she'll be around some really good people. I know Sue Bird will take great care of her, and Jewell Loyd is a great kid and is going to be a heck of a player. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is up there. They'll help her grow."
After wrapping up things in Storrs over the next few weeks, Stewart will head west.
She'll be gone, but she won't be forgotten.
Tags: Carl Adamec
SNY's Kerith Burke snapped a photo of the already-installed 2016 National Champions sign waiting for the UConn women's basketball team...
A new sign waiting for UConn at the I-84 exit for the university. The M and P in champions are designed as an 11 pic.twitter.com/ZMmk8Mvw0p- Kerith Burke (@KerithBurke) April 6, 2016
INDIANAPOLIS -- Morgan Tuck is headed to the WNBA.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's senior forward said on ESPN Wednesday that she will enter the 2016 WNBA Draft and give up her final year of college eligibility.
A 6-foot-2 forward from Bolingbrook, Illinois, Tuck is projected to be a first-round selection in the draft to be held at Mohegan Sun Arena on April 14.
She averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 33 games this season as the Huskies (38-0) captured their unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night with an 82-51 victory over Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Last month, she was named to the all-American Athletic Conference first team for the second straight season. On Saturday, she was chosen to the 10-member WBCA All-America team and that makes her eligible to join classmates Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson in the Huskies of Honor program on the wall at Gampel Pavilion.
The seniors came off the floor together for the final time with 1:46 remaining Tuesday night.
"It was a great feeling," Tuck said Tuesday night. "It's hard to really explain it, because we have gone through so much with each other over this time being here. It's just great to be able to do it with them. I couldn't ask for anyone better to do it with."
Tuck was named to the AAC, NCAA Regional, and NCAA Final Four all-tournament teams for the second straight year. She had 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists against the Orange.
In 115 career games, she had 1,298 points, 544 rebounds, and 284 assists. She played in just eight games during the 2013-14 season due to two surgeries on her right knee. She missed five games this season with pain in the knee.
In the history of the WNBA Draft, the first three picks have not come from the same school. UConn had selections 1-2-4 in the 2002 Draft with Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Asjha Jones. Their teammate, Tamika Williams, was picked sixth.
FAMILY FEUD AVOIDED
UConn guard Kia Nurse said Monday she was not sure where her aunt -- former Syracuse player Raquel Nurse -- and uncle -- former Syracuse and NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb -- would be sitting for the final game.
But there they were -- in the Syracuse rooting section behind the Orange bench.
"They have to be. They can't be in our section," Kia Nurse said. "They're on the Board of Trustees at Syracuse. They're a big deal there. They're very recognizable and have done a lot for the school. But they were cheering for me. They wore the neutral colors, that's what I wanted."
Nurse concluded a fine postseason with a solid effort at both ends of the floor Tuesday night.
She had nine points and five rebounds before coming out for the only time with 1:23 remaining. She also turned in a strong showing against Syracuse's hot-shooting guards. The Orange had used long-range shooting to get to their first Final Four. But the Huskies and then their often-maligned 3-point defense limited Syracuse to a 2-for-19 effort from behind the arc.
The physical style the Orange used was also up Nurse's alley.
"I took a lot of hits from my brother (Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell) when I was little so that helped a little bit," Nurse said. "But I'm fortunate to have been in positions where the games have been physical so the experience I gained over last summer and last year really helped."
Up next for Nurse -- Team Canada and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
With 28 seconds left, Saniya Chong made a steal and walked the ball up the court with the intent of running out the clock. But coach Geno Auriemma signaled for a play to be run.
Chong got the ball to senior Briana Pulido and the former walk-on buried a jumper from the corner just inside the arc with 11 seconds to go. The UConn fans in the crowd of 14,514 went wild.
"I probably jumped the highest I've jumped all season when she hit that shot," UConn All-American Moriah Jefferson said. "We were so excited for her, and to end the game the way she did, it was great."
And when Syracuse called a time out for a substitution, Pulido ran over to the bench for a hug from Auriemma.
Tuck won the AAC Sportsmanship Award last month. But things got a little testy in the third quarter as she exchanged a shove with Syracuse forward Isabella Slim.
"I didn't say anything. I don't ever talk trash," Tuck said. "Sometimes the game's get intense and this is the most important game of the season. I would call it competitiveness.
"I thought I got fouled, she might have thought she got fouled. Emotions are high at that point in the game. It was when they started to make a little comeback and we had to tighten up and build our lead back."
There were no fouls called and no stoppage of play.
Auriemma reached out to Villanova men's coach Jay Wright before and after the Wildcats' dramatic win over North Carolina in the finale in Houston Monday night: "I talked to Jay a little bit before their game and I sent him something after the game," Auriemma said. "This is an unbelievable time and that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. When people started going, 'Hey, I hope tonight's game just like last night's,' I said, 'No, I don't.' "
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Geno Auriemma considered the duo of sophomore Gabby Williams and freshman Napheesa Collier as a single entity as his University of Connecticut women's basketball team prepared to play for the national championship.
The Huskies could not have made out better on this 2-for-1 deal.
Williams, getting the start in place of the injured Katie Lou Samuelson, played 25 minutes against Syracuse on Tuesday night while Collier saw 15 minutes of action. They were on the floor together for 23 seconds of the fourth quarter.
"And they did exactly what we needed them to do," UConn senior Morgan Tuck said.
Williams and Collier combined for 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists as the Huskies defeated the Orange 82-51 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to win their unprecedented fourth straight national championship.
"It gives you a glimpse of what you're going to see in the future and I'm really proud of Napheesa," Williams said. "She was courageous. Coming off the bench, it can be scary. She had never been on this stage before. I'm so happy she produced the way she did."
Williams made her presence felt with some strong defense as well as finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and three assists.
A year ago in Tampa, she played just 2:20 in the final against Notre Dame and was a non-factor. She promised she would be a different player when she got a second chance Tuesday night.
"I prepared myself better for tonight than last year and I had confidence in myself," Williams said. "I was nervous. I was nervous last year, too. But I think I was courageous this year. That's what Coach talks about a lot. Having courage isn't not having fear, but having fear and overcoming it. Everyone tried to be focused tonight."
UConn scored the first nine points as it led wire-to-wire for the fourth straight NCAA tournament game.
"We try to be tougher. We try to be tougher mentally and physically and that is what makes this program different," Williams said. "Coach always tell us at practice that we're going to work on things until we can't get them wrong anymore. It's those expectations that set us apart."
Collier finished with six points and five rebounds.
It was her first NCAA championship game, but she had played in three Missouri state finals and the gold medal game of the 2015 FIBA U-19 world championships.
"I didn't feel nervous because I knew that the seniors had our backs," Collier said. "Like Coach said, they're an amazing group of girls so we really didn't have anything to worry about. They were going to go out and take care of business."
The Huskies built their lead to 60-27 in the third quarter before a 16-0 Syracuse run cut it to 17.
Collier stopped the drought with a layup off a pass from Tuck and closed out the period with an aggressive drive to the basket to calm the storm.
"I saw them go to trap Morgan and I was open so I called for the ball," Collier said. "The next possession I wanted to attack the basket.
"Having experience in these big games will help us in the future when we don't have those seniors."
Williams and Collier will have to play key roles in any Huskies' drive for five.
"Gabby was in my office last week and she was a little bit emotional talking about next year," Auriemma said. "She goes, 'I know I've got to be ready for next year and that's why I want to play so well now.' I said, 'How about you play well now and let me worry about next year?' "
With more performances like what Williams and Collier gave the Huskies on Tuesday, their outlook appears much brighter.
Tags: Carl Adamec
INDIANAPOLIS -- Breanna Stewart's career with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team ended late Tuesday night.
The legacy she and her classmates left will last forever.
Senior All-Americans Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck reached their goal of a record four straight national championships as the Huskies downed Syracuse 82-51 in the NCAA championship game before a pro-UConn crowd of 14,514 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"This one is more special. This is the top," Stewart said. "Saying you want to win four and then actually getting four it's not an easy thing to do. And it was my senior year. This is the year that's been the most special and the one I've had the most fun with this group of guys."
It's the 11th NCAA title overall for the Huskies (38-0) and their sixth perfect season. They are 11-0 in national championship games.
The senior class finished with a record of 151-5, the most wins in a four-year span in NCAA history, including an even more stunning 35-1 postseason mark. The Huskies have won 75 straight games overall and 33 consecutive games in the postseason.
"They've created an amount of excitement that the game has not seen in a long, long time, if ever," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And they've left an imprint on this game that's going to last a really long time. I think it's a blueprint for kids coming after them that if you want to know how to do it, they showed everybody how to do it. And they did it the right way. They did it together and they did it with people that they love. I'm really, really proud of them."
Stewart was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player for the fourth consecutive year, also a first. No one else has been named three times. She was joined on the all-tournament by Tuck, Jefferson, Syracuse's Brittney Sykes and Washington's Talia Walton.
The North Syracuse, New York, native recorded her fourth double-double in the last five games with 24 points and 10 rebounds, along with six assists. Tuck added 19 points and Jefferson scored 13, while the tandem of Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier combined for 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
"We were really focused getting ready for this game," Stewart said. "I only had 40 minutes of UConn basketball left. I wanted to make sure that I was ready, our team was ready, and we were going to take care of business. There were stretches we kind of lost our minds a little, but we were able to bounce back."
UConn, which had not trailed since falling behind for 1:44 in the early going of its second-round game with Duquesne, led 9-0 Tuesday night on a free throw by Tuck, back-to-back 3-pointers by Stewart and Jefferson, and a hoop by Kia Nurse.
A Jefferson 3 at the buzzer made it 28-13 after one quarter.
"We were prepared," Nurse said. "We knew how they were going to play. We came out with an intensity and focus that we were ready to go. You could tell in the locker room we were ready."
It was 50-23 at halftime and 60-27 with 6:41 left to go in the third quarter.
Syracuse (30-8) then tried to make things interesting as Cornelia Fondren had eight points in a 16-0 run over a 4:04 span that brought the Orange to within 17. But Collier delivered a pair of baskets to make it 64-43 going to the fourth quarter and Syracuse was done.
"They were going to make a run. That's basketball," Nurse said. "We let it go on a little longer than we normally do. But once we got through that we were back on top."
And with 1:46 left, the seniors came out. First there was a group hug between the three and then one with Auriemma.
"It was perfect," Stewart said. To be able to celebrate that with them, to enjoy that with them, to have our fans, friends, and family cheer for us ... We came in together so we might as well walk off the court together."
Fondren had 16 points and Sykes 12 for Syracuse, which advanced past the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time. The Huskies limited the Orange to 2-for-19 shooting from 3-point land. Brianna Butler, the single-season NCAA record holder, had one of them in four tries.
UConn beat its former Big East rival for the 24th straight time and ran its winning streak against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents to 32.
"They're just a great basketball team," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. `"I'm really happy for Breanna Stewart. She came to my camp when she was in ninth grade. I watched her grow up to be the kind of player that she is. She's a great player and just a great kid. And you talk about a kid being that good from Syracuse, that doesn't happen. I give her all the credit. I'm really happy for her and I'm really proud of her and all the things that she's accomplished."
The victory allowed UConn to keep a streak alive where it returns to a city where it lost in the Final Four semifinals and wins the national championship. It also did it in New Orleans, St. Louis and Tampa. Notre Dame defeated the Huskies here in 2011.
UConn will return to Storrs Wednesday and have a celebration on campus. It's something the Huskies have gotten used to over the years.
"I don't know if it's hit us yet since we're still here," Tuck said. "It will tomorrow. It's like a dream.
And that dream will never die.
Tags: Carl Adamec
Breanna Stewart and UConn stand alone. Geno Auriemma, too, after another flawless season by the dominating Huskies.
UConn won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night, capping another perfect season by routing Syracuse 82-51. Until now, only the UCLA men's team had won four in a row in Division I, rolling to seven consecutive championships under John Wooden from 1967-73. With Tuesday's victory, Auriemma passed the Wizard of Westwood with his 11th national title.
"What those 11 championships mean to me is how many great players I've had the opportunity to coach," Auriemma said. "How many great people have come through the program. It doesn't matter whose name is above, or whose name I'm under. As long as I have those players in my memory, I'm good."
Stewart said when she came to campus four years ago that she wanted to win four titles. She delivered on that promise by scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in her final college game.
"It's unbelievable," Stewart said. "That was our goal coming in here once we were freshman and to carry it out and win like this as seniors is unbelievable." >> Read more
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Some things to watch for Tuesday night when UConn meets Syracuse for the national championship:
The Huskies have a really good chance to win a fourth consecutive title, a feat never done before in women's basketball. UConn won three straight titles from 2002-04 and Tennessee did it from 1996-98. If UConn does pull off the victory, Geno Auriemma will win his 11th championship, moving him past UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most in the history of college basketball.
"I'm not going to go and say that we're going to lose," Breanna Stewart said. "To end my college career, to end it with the other seniors, there is no other way that I want that to happen."
Wooden won seven of his 10 titles in a row at UCLA from 1967-73. << Read more
INDIANAPOLIS -- As an eight-year-old living in North Syracuse, New York, Breanna Stewart took a ride downtown with her father in April, 2003, to watch the parade celebrating the Syracuse University men's basketball team's national championship.
And while Stewart loves a parade as much as anyone, the University of Connecticut senior standout does not want a repeat in her hometown later this month.
She's thinking about a four-peat for herself and the Huskies.
Unbeaten UConn goes for its unprecedented fourth straight national championship and 11th overall Tuesday night when it takes on Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tipoff is scheduled for around 8:30 p.m.
"I do have a lot of Syracuse gear," Stewart said with a smile on Monday. "I don't bring it to UConn and you don't see me wearing it on UConn's campus. I've been around the Syracuse program for a while. I've been to games. I went to the camps. I've been in the Carmelo (Anthony practice facility) Center. There are a lot of relationships there.
"It's funny, because I'm still a Syracuse fan. Anytime they're on, I watch them. And because I have the relationships with the players on their team that I have, yeah, I'm cheering for them."
Friendships, though, will go out the window for about two hours Tuesday night. A goal Stewart and her classmates set when they committed to UConn five years ago of wanting to win four national championships can be reached.
It will be the final collegiate game for Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and perhaps Morgan Tuck -- who will announce her decision on whether she'll enter the 2016 WNBA Draft or use her final year of eligibility after the contest. They have 150 wins and three titles. No one has more of either.
Now they can separate themselves.
"It's exciting to know that we're close to our goal and we have one more game to do it," Tuck said. "We've prepared the right way and we've done what we're supposed to do to be here. We have people on our team that have been in this position so it's not hard to use our experience and tell the younger players, 'Yes, it's a big game but you have to play it like it's another game and just leave everything out there.'
"There's always pressure and we put pressure on ourselves. We have high expectations. But that's good pressure. It makes us work harder and play better when you realize that you have to."
The Huskies (37-0) have won 74 straight and 121 of their last 122 games. They are a perfect 10-0 when playing for the national championship.
Coming off an impressive 80-51 semifinal win over Oregon State Sunday, they are also confident they can finish the job with Stewart predicting a victory.
"We've have been talking about this the entire year and throughout my entire career," Stewart said. "When this is the moment that we've prepared for, I'm not going to go and say that we're going to lose. Everyone knows that we want to win this game, that we want this national championship for a number of reasons. It is some people's first, some people's second, some people's third, and it will be our fourth. To end my college career with the other seniors, there is no other way I want that to happen.
"I believe we're going to win. I think if we execute our game plan and do what we're supposed to do, that we're going to be OK."
Syracuse knows for it to pull off the upset that it has to be concerned with Stewart's actions and not her words.
"It definitely can give us a competitive spirit," Syracuse guard Brianna Butler said. "But at the same time she has her right to say that. They've built so much through her times being here. And she's a great player. UConn's a great team and they have a dynasty there. But we just have to go into this game and fight it out and play our game."
And that game has served the Orange well through the postseason.
Syracuse (30-7) advanced to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament final before losing to Notre Dame. The Orange were given the No. 4 seed in the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Regional and beat Army and Albany at the Carrier Dome to reach their first Sweet 16. And the run continued in Sioux Falls as they rallied to stun South Carolina and avenged an earlier loss to Tennessee to get here. They were equally impressive Sunday in downing Washington 80-59 to get to Tuesday night.
UConn dominated Syracuse in their last quarter-century in the Big East together and the Orange haven't defeated the Huskies since ex-coach Marianna Freeman's "We beat somebody" game of Jan. 2, 1996. But only four current Syracuse players -- Butler, Brittney Sykes, Cornelia Fondren, and Taylor Ford -- have played against UConn.
"It's a different cast of characters a different style of play," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They remind me a little bit of DePaul. They just create an environment in the game where if you let your emotions get away from you, it plays right into their hands."
The Orange will shoot a lot of 3-pointers and use full-court pressure to force turnovers and ignite their transition game.
And they are just not happy to be here.
"This is one of those games you have to play with everything you have and understand that this is the one," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "There is no practice on Wednesday. There's no let's get ready for the next game. This is it. And this is what we talk about every day. We talk about winning national championships. We talk about being in this game.
"I know a few people (Sunday) said, 'You guys didn't really celebrate.' It's not our goal just to win that game. Our goal is to win this game. And we understand who we're playing. We understand where we are. Obviously Geno is the best coach in the business and Bre is the best player in the business. What more exciting time than now to play the best."
Syracuse will go with what got it here. UConn, though, will have one change to its lineup. With freshman Katie Lou Samuelson out with a broken foot suffered Sunday, sophomore Gabby Williams will step into the starting lineup.
After Tuesday night, the seniors' time playing for the Huskies will be history. This is their last chance to make some.
"Knowing that no matter what this is the end of the road, the last game, makes it easier because every tournament game leading up to this was win or go home, win or go home, win or go home," Stewart said. "Now we're where we want to be. We're playing in the last game of the season. Now there's one thing left to do."
Tags: Carl Adamec
INDIANAPOLIS -- That Kia Nurse would have her family 100 percent behind her when she and the University of Connecticut women's basketball team play Syracuse for the national championship Tuesday night seems like a slam dunk.
But there is some Orange in the Nurse family.
Nurse's aunt, Raquel, played in 109 consecutive games during her career at Syracuse (1994-98). She still ranks in the top 10 at the school in four statistical categories: assists (third with 530), steals (third with 275), starts (seventh with 109), and minutes played (ninth with 3,554). Her husband and Kia Nurse's uncle, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, is also a Syracuse graduate and played on the men's basketball team as well in college.
"I don't know," Kia Nurse said with a smile when asked who her relatives would be supporting. "Family first, obviously. They'll be rooting for me, for sure. But I see they have to root for their alma mater, too. I understand that."
The sophomore guard did make one request of her aunt and uncle.
"I did tell them to wear neutral colors," Nurse said. "Long as they wear neutral colors, I don't care."
Nurse, who will be the only UConn player to start all 38 games this season, will enter Tuesday night's final averaging 9.3 points and 2.8 assists. She became the fourth UConn player to reach 100 assists on the season (103) when she had five helpers in the national semifinal win over Oregon State.
She had nine points, including a big 3-pointer in the second half in last year's national championship game win over Notre Dame. That experience can only help.
"The nerves are going to be there just because it's the national championship game," Nurse said. "The excitement is always there. We never take any of this stuff for granted. And there's an intense focus knowing that there's one more and you've just got to leave 110 percent on the floor."
After Tuesday night, Nurse will take a short break from the court but she does have a busy and important basketball summer ahead. The Hamilton, Ontario, native will report in May to the first of three Team Canada training camps to be held prior to the 2016 Olympic Games that begin in August in Rio de Janeiro. Nurse helped her country qualify last summer as she was the MVP and the Canadians won gold at the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament in Edmonton.
Team Canada will be part of a six-team Group B in pool play in Rio that will include the five-time defending gold medalist United States, coached by Geno Auriemma. The Canadians and Americans will play on Aug. 12.
"I thought, 'Oh, of course, we're in with the United States,' " Nurse said. "But it's not a bad position to be in. We'll get to play them in the preliminary round and don't really have to cross over with them. That's not a bad thing either."
Of course, she has some important matters to take care of Tuesday night. How much her family is behind her remains to be seen but, remember, a year ago McNabb was spotted celebrating with the Huskies.
"Family first," UConn forward Gabby Williams told Nurse. "I better see Uncle Donnie in the Husky family section."
For the past four months or so now, the Huskies and their fans have been waiting to find out whether Morgan Tuck will use her final year of eligibility at UConn next season or make herself eligible for the 2016 WNBA Draft.
The suspense will end following Tuesday night's national championship game.
"I've talked to the coaches and we're all on the same page," Tuck said. "Hopefully, tomorrow is great and we win and I'll announce my decision."
Tuck reached one of her personal goals Saturday when she was named to the WBCA All-America team and thus is eligible to have her name and number placed in the Huskies of Honor at Gampel Pavilion. She is averaging 13.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 32 games, having missed a total of five games with issues with her right knee. It was her having two surgeries on her right knee two years ago that cost her all but eight games of the 2013-14 season.
The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native has said in the past she could get a head start on her masters degree by staying. But she is also projected to be a first-round pick in the WNBA Draft, which is set for April 14 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"There are not negatives on either side," Tuck said. "If there were, the decision would be much easier."
Morgan Valley watched the UConn-Oregon State game Sunday night with the intensity she was known for during her playing days in Storrs (2000-04). But the three-time national champion wasn't cheering on her alma mater. The first-year University of Washington assistant coach was working on a scouting report in case the east coast and west-coast Huskies were to play Tuesday night.
UConn held up its end. But Washington's 80-59 loss to Syracuse in the second semifinal Sunday night ended Valley's hopes of getting her first ring as a coach. Washington, which was making its first Final Four appearance, finished 26-11.
The Colchester, Vermont, native began her coaching career at UConn as a student-assistant after an injury-plagued playing career ended. Her coaching journey has included stops at Holy Cross, New Hsmpshire, Towson, UMass and Virginia Tech before she joined Mike Neighbors' staff in Seattle before the season.
"I'm a firm believer in everything happens for a reason," Valley said. "So maybe having those injuries ... I saw the game from a different perspective. It was something I wanted to do and it was a blessing in disguise.
"(Neighbors) gave me a call and said, 'Would you be interested?' I knew Seattle was far but I didn't know it was this far. When you actually live out west and you are from the east it's a big difference and transition. It's been great, the coaching staff, the players, it's been a great place to be."
But for how long? A source indicated that Valley was interested in the vacant University of Vermont job. Lori McBride was fired 10 days ago after compiling a 46-134 record in six seasons. But the Catamounts are also involved in a search for a new athletic director as Bob Corran is retiring in three months, so the hiring process for women's basketball seems unclear.
Tuck, who sat out the 2014 national championship game after knee surgery, on what advice she will give freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, who will sit out Tuesday night's final with a broken left foot suffered Sunday night: "I would tell her to encourage her teammates. We have her back no matter what. For me, I know how hard it is to have to miss the most important game of the year. But she's going to come back. It's not the end of the world. She has to focus on the game being played and not, 'Oh, I wish I was out there' or, 'I'm hurt.' That's not going to help. She'll be on the bench and she should want to be the most enthusiastic person on the bench."
STORRS, Conn. (AP) The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees agreed Wednesday to spend $10 million to repair the deteriorating roof and ceiling of the school's Gampel Pavilion basketball arena.
The 10,000-seat dome, which opened in 1990 at a cost of $28 million, has an unusual roof, made up of metal triangular insulated panels wrapped in fabric.
The fabric inside the arena has been fraying and flaking off for several years.
Laura Cruickshank, the school's chief architect and master planner, said the roof has been leaking, leaving the school with few options.
"I actually saw a leak during a basketball game," she said. "It's only going to get worse if we don't fix it."
Because of the unusual design, the school spent months studying how best to accomplish the repairs. Cruickshank said the panels will need to be removed one at a time, lowered to the floor and rewrapped. << Read more
INDIANAPOLIS -- Gabby Williams will never forget the feeling of winning the 2015 national championship. But the 2:20 of the second half she played against Notre Dame in Tampa, which included missing a wide-open layup, isn't one of her favorite memories.
"Thanks for that reminder," the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's sophomore forward said.
Williams will get a second chance on the game's biggest stage Tuesday night when the Huskies go for an unprecedented fourth straight national championship against Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She will join UConn's three senior All-Americans and sophomore Kia Nurse in the starting lineup as a replacement for the injured Katie Lou Samuelson.
Different year, different team, and Williams believes a different player will take the floor against the Orange than the one that faced the Irish.
"I was here last year but it's a different position than I was last year," Williams said. "I feel like I'm attacking this game in a different way than I did a year ago. I know that I'm going to have to play better, I'm going to have to really contribute in order for us to win. Last year, I didn't have to think like that. This year I have to put myself in that mindset that anything can happen and I need to step up."
The start will be Williams' first since UConn (37-0) hosted Memphis on Jan. 30. She has 11 starts on the season -- the first seven games, and four games in late January when senior Morgan Tuck was out with right knee pain.
As a reserve, she's had a knack of giving the Huskies added energy. She is also coming off a solid performance (eight points, five rebounds, and two steals in 15 minutes) in Sunday's national semifinal win over Oregon State.
"Starting's not going to change the things that I do," Williams said. "Usually, coming off of the bench I get to see where we're lacking or where I could help or what's needed this game. I won't have that opportunity tomorrow so I have to get it right away. That's about the only thing different."
Williams is averaging 8.8 points while shooting an American Athletic Conference-leading 63.6 percent from the floor and notching 5.5 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game. She is also sixth in the AAC in steals per game (1.9).
She should aid the Huskies' defensive play against Syracuse's strong perimeter game.
"They have a lot of shooters and quick triggers so they'll shoot it right away," Williams said. "They'll shoot it a lot and then crash the boards. We have to run them off the three-point line and box them out.
"We don't think about it as one person stepping up," she added. "Everyone has to contribute something, a little bit more. It's not one person taking over with Lou out. We're going to need a team effort."
Williams has spent her sophomore season proving that she can be someone coach Geno Auriemma can count on in critical times.
Her teammates trust her.
"I does give us a different look, but Gabby makes a lot of plays," Tuck said.
"Gabby comes in and does some incredible things for us," Nurse added. "One of them is her ability to defend outside the three-point line. And she uses her athleticism and her strengths to the best of her ability."
Williams has played in 75 games at UConn and the Huskies have won them all. Her only miss was a coach's decision in the loss at Stanford. She said afterwards she didn't give Auriemma a reason to play her.
He has one now, and it's an opportunity she's waited a year for.
NAISMITH TROPHY TO STEWART, AURIEMMA
On Monday, for the third day in a row, UConn senior Breanna Stewart picked up a Player of the Year award and it came with some history.
Stewart was honored with the Naismith Trophy for the third straight season. She joins Hall of Famer and former Southern California star Cheryl Miller (1984-86) as the only players to win the award three times. The North Syracuse, New York, native is averaging 19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 3.4 blocked shots entering the final game of her college career.
On Saturday, Stewart was honored by the WBCA and the Associated Press and on Sunday she got the top USBWA award.
Auriemma was named the Naismith Coach of the Year for the seventh time. He was also honored by the WBCA, USBWA, and AP for leading the Huskies to an unbeaten season heading into Tuesday night's finale.
Tags: Carl Adamec
The day before UConn plays in the NCAA Championship game, Katie Lou Samuelson revealed why she'll be unable to play.
Samuelson broke the third metatarsal in her left foot. She felt a pop when she went up for her first layup of the game on Sunday and instantly knew something was off, but Lou explained adrenaline carried her through the 17 minutes she played in the first half of the Final Four.
At halftime, she could no longer hide that she was in pain.
Playing at Banker's Life Fieldhouse means the Huskies have access to the Indiana Pacers' X-Ray machine. A Pacers X-Ray technician scanned Samuelson's foot, and UConn's team doctors confirmed the break.
Sameulson needed a protective boot on her left foot and watched the second half of the game on the bench. Her eyes were wet from crying when she was forced to become a spectator.
Samuelson addressed the heartbreak of not being able to play in the National Championship game after helping the team arrive there.
"It's tough talking about it," she said. "But I'll be out there to support my team."
Gabby Williams will get the start in place of Samuelson when UConn tips off against Syracuse on Tuesday night.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a play that Katie Lou Samuelson may not have made at the start of the season, a strong move to the basket that opened the scoring in the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's 80-51 rout of Oregon State Sunday in the Final Four at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And it was a play that brought her season to an end.
UConn announced early in the second half that Samuelson had suffered a broken bone in her left foot. She came back to the bench for the final 20 minutes late and wearing a walking boot. She will miss Tuesday night's national championship game against Syracuse.
Coach Geno Auriemma said the injury occurred on the drive in the first 40 seconds.
"She said she felt something but didn't really say anything and just continued to play on it," Auriemma said. "It wasn't until late in the first half that we found out that something was wrong. Before the second half, Rosemary Ragle, our athletic trainer, said she had a broken bone and she's out."
The Huntington Beach, California, native had a solid first half with seven points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal, and her rebound hoop gave UConn a 47-26 halftime lead.
Auriemma addressed the situation in the locker room.
"It was a sad reaction," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "But we understood that we had to stay focused the rest of the game and everyone had to step up."
The Huskies were in control the rest of the way. Gabby Williams started the second half in Samuelson's spot and finished with eight points and five rebounds while Napheesa Collier chipped in six points and a pair of blocked shots.
Associate head coach Chris Dailey recalled how an unbeaten UConn team reacted when Shea Ralph tore her left ACL during a 1997 NCAA Tournament first-round game against Lehigh. The Huskies were never the same, losing to Tennessee in the Elite Eight.
"When Shea got hurt, we mishandled that as a staff and as a team worse than anything we've ever done," Dailey said. "We learned from that. We had kids writing 'Shea Ralph' on their shoes as if she died. I was like, 'What is this? She didn't die. She hurt her knee.'
"Someone goes down, the next person has to be ready to stand up. It's the stuff we preach all year. You have to be ready. You don't know when your name will be called, whether because of fouls or injury."
In 37 games, Samuelson averaged 11 points on 49.3 percent shooting from the floor and 83.7 percent shooting from the foul line, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. She had started 22 of the last 23 games with the only miss being on Senior Day. She was named to the American Athletic Conference all-freshman and all-tournament teams.
"Lou knows what she has done for us all season," UConn All-American Moriah Jefferson said. "She's been there. She's not played like a freshman all season. We have one more game and we're going to have her back."
Nurse gave a fist pump, as the sophomore is known to do at times, and let out a "Yeah!" Then, All-American Morgan Tuck, the stoic senior forward, did the exact same thing.
They weren't celebrating the Huskies' win, but an individual accomplishment by senior point guard Jefferson. Nurse's 3-pointer with 1:19 gone allowed Jefferson to tie Diana Taurasi's school record for career assists. The Glenn Height, Texas, native's pass to Tuck for a layup midway through the first quarter gave her the record to herself. She finished with seven assists for a career total of 654 heading into Tuesday night's final.
"I'm really excited about it," Jefferson said. "It's something that you dream about but don't really think about. To have my name as No. 1 means a lot to me."
Nurse noted that Jefferson has been (jokingly) given her a tough time about a couple layups she missed earlier in the tournament that cost her assists. That's why the Hamilton, Ontario, native was happy to lend her support to the new record holder.
"I gave her two 3-pointers tonight, actually, so I'll be getting on her for that," Nurse said with a laugh.
But leave it to two seniors, who have been part of a NCAA-record tying 150 wins, to combine to get Jefferson over the top.
"I was really hoping I would be able to do that," Tuck said. "I'm glad I got it for her."
"Yeah, there you go," Jefferson said with a smile. "That's perfect."
Earlier Sunday, Jefferson picked up her second straight Nancy Lierberman Award, which goes to the nation's top point guard.
"Being a point guard, being a leader are the most important things to me," Jefferson said. "I think that's what the award is all about."
Jefferson joins Sue Bird (2000-02) and Taurasi (2003-04) as multiple winners of the Lieberman from UConn. Renee Montgomery took home the honor in 2009.
For the first time, the Division I, II and III championship games are being held at the same site. While UConn will be playing in the Division I final, the Huskies have connections to the other matchups.
In Division II, Lubbock Christian (34-0) takes on Alaska-Anchorage (38-2). The Lady Chaps' only loss this season came in an exhibition to UConn, 95-39, at the XL Center on Nov. 2. The teams ran into each other at an event here Friday night.
"Luckily we didn't meet them on the court this time," LCU coach Steve Gomez said. "We didn't do a lot of mingling and hanging out. I think some of our girls took pictures with them. We're huge fans of what they did. They started the year off by beating us by 56 points. I appreciate it so much, because it was the best drubbing we have ever taken. It got us off to a good start learning how to compete with the best."
In Division III, Tufts (28-3) faces Thomas More (32-0). The Jumbos are coached by former UConn star and 1995 national champion Carla Berube.
"I'm a product of that environment," Berube said. "A lot of who I am is what I learned in my days at Connecticut. The way I think we defend and the toughness that we bring, you know, that's the way you have to play at Connecticut. So that's the way I want my student-athletes to play from minute one to minute 40. The other day watching Moriah Jefferson diving over a table with 1:40 to go when they're up 60 ... We're never up 60, but I want us to play the same way. There are so many things that I've learned at Connecticut, whether it's off-the-court things that Chris Dailey has taught us to the X's and O's to just the way you play and the way you represent your university, your program and your team at all times."
Tags: Carl Adamec
INDIANAPOLIS -- Breanna Stewart grew up in Syracuse and will play her final game with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team against her hometown university.
Her University of Connecticut women's basketball teammates rose to the occasion for her in a big way to make it possible.
All-American Morgan Tuck had 21 points Sunday as the unbeaten Huskies overcame Stewart's early foul trouble and a first-half injury to freshman Katie Lou Samuelson to wallop Oregon State, 80-51, in the Final Four at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"It was unbelievable," Stewart said. "Everyone was being aggressive, being confident. That's what kind of team we have.
"Now, we're in the last possible game, playing for the national championship. We're this close to what we want to do and now we have to go out and do it."
UConn (37-0) will go for an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship here Tuesday night against former Big East rival Syracuse, which ousted Washington 80-59 in Sunday's second semifinal. It will be the first meeting between the schools since the 2013 Big East tournament semifinals, the Orange's last game in the league before they moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It doesn't really feel like it and everyone is already telling me that it's my last game," UConn All-American Moriah Jefferson said. "I don't feel that way. To me, it's another game. Hopefully, it stays that way until it's over and then I can get a little emotional."
The Huskies' 74th straight win allowed the senior class of Stewart, Jefferson, Tuck to tie the NCAA record for most wins in a four-year span. The trio is 150-5 since arriving in Storrs. UConn's Class of 2011 -- Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon -- was 150-4.
Stewart scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half and added eight rebounds. Jefferson had 10 points and her seven assists moved her past Diana Taurasi into first place on the Huskies' all-time list. She'll look to add to her total of 654 Tuesday night.
But she'll have to do it without Samuelson, who was diagnosed with a broken bone in her left foot at halftime. The Huntington Beach, California, native had a solid first half with seven points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal, and her rebound hoop accounted for the final points of the first half. She also scored the game's first basket on a drive, when the injury occured, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
"She said she felt something but didn't really say anything and just continued to play on it," Auriemma said. "It wasn't until late in the first half that we found out that something was wrong. Before the second half, Rosemary Ragle, our athletic trainer, said she had a broken bone and she's out. We just addressed it with our team real quick and played on."
The Huskies never trailed, scoring the first five points.
Oregon State, making its first Final Four appearance, decided to leave Tuck open on the perimeter and have 6-foot-6 center and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Ruth Hamblin clog the lane. The Huskies were able to isolate Tuck and Hamblin was defenseless.
"With a team like that, you've got to kind of pick your poison," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. "That team made us pay no matter what we did. That's why they are who they are.
"It's a team that shoots 70 percent inside six feet. So what do you want to give up? I thought we could have done a little better job showing a little bit more at Tuck than we did. But you also hope she misses. That's part of the gamble."
What was Tuck's reaction to it?
"I just wanted to do anything I could to help us win," she said. "I just thought I had to make them because I was wide open."
UConn led by 16 before the Beavers (32-5) closed the first quarter on a 9-2 run to pull within 26-17. Oregon State was still within eight when a 14-2 run by the Huskies over the final 5:34 of the half broke it open.
Freshman Napheesa Collier started it with a short jumper, and Tuck followed with a 3-pointer. A Jefferson hoop was answered by Jamie Weisner, but Stewart's only first-half points, and baskets by Gabby Williams, Jefferson, and Samuelson made it 47-26 at halftime.
Oregon State got no closer than 19 and the biggest lead was 34. The final 29-point margin was the largest in national semifinal history.
"We talked about it being a team effort and a team win," Auriemma said "It's one thing to play against a great player because you can gang up on them and figure out a way to get the ball out of their hands if you want to. But to try to beat a really good team that's playing well together, that's difficult to do. So if you're going to win these games, you're not going to be able to come out here and just say, 'OK, Stewie. get it done.' It's not going to happen. Invariably your team has to win these games.
"And that's what happened tonight and we talk about that a lot. Stewie gets so much attention that if you're not careful, some of the other guys on the team might try to be like Stewie, 'Then I'll get more attention.' And that's the world we live in. Luckily our players don't think like that."
Sydney Wiese had 13 points for the Beavers while Hamblin had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Weisner managed just nine as she was hounded by WBCA Defensive Player of the Year Jefferson.
"We tried to not let her get the ball," Jefferson said. "When they get the ball their guards are crafty and they can shoot it. We just tried to play the best we could. I've always taken pride in my defense and I'm going to go out there each and every night and do my best."
Alexis Peterson had 18 points and Brittney Sykes 17 as Syracuse rolled to an easy win. The Orange (30-7) led 43-31 at halftime.
UConn is 10-0 in national championship games. Syracuse had not been to the Sweet 16 before this season.
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At the 7:55 mark in the first quarter, Breanna Stewart picked up her second foul in the Final Four. At halftime, Stewart had only two points. When the unanimous AP Player of the Year didnt have the start she wanted against Oregon State, Stewart complimented her teammates for keeping the offense moving.
"When I was in foul trouble, everyone else stepped up," Stewart said after the Huskies' 80-51 win over the Beavers on Sunday. "I wasnt getting the shots I wanted, and I didn't need to. Other people were making shots and being aggressive.
"You know," Stewart, who scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half, added, "that's why we are the best team in the country. It's not just one person or two people; it's all of us."
Morgan Tuck led the Huskies with 21 points, 16 of them coming in the first half. With Oregon State keeping an extra defender on Stewart or clogging up the paint, Tuck had plenty of open shots. She sank three 3-pointers in the first half.
Now, the Huskies advance to their fourth straight NCAA championship game. UConn is currently undefeated (10-0) when it advances to the title game, and championship No. 11 would be a new NCAA college basketball record.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a cold and quiet day during the semester break on the University of Connecticut campus, but things were heating up inside the Werth Family Champions Center practice facility for the UConn women's basketball team.
The Huskies were preparing for an American Athletic Conference opponent that they knew, deep down, they would beat as long as the bus arrived safely at the arena. But coach Geno Auriemma had postseason intensity and demanded the same from all his players, the seniors to the freshmen.
"We're pretty hard on our guys," Auriemma said. "We're pretty hard on our kids in the middle of January and in the middle of nowhere, and we're playing a game that everybody thinks is meaningless. We demand certain things.
"Then, when you get to this time of the year, hopefully, they don't know any other way of playing."
The Huskies won their four games in the NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional by an average of 44.8 points and all by at least 21. Yet, they know they have to be even better.
UConn's bid for an unprecedented fourth straight national championship continues on Sunday when it takes on Dallas Regional champion Oregon State at 6 p.m. in a Final Four semifinal at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"You wonder, 'We're up 40. Why is he still yelling? Why is he going crazy and everything?' " UConn All-American Morgan Tuck said. "But as you go through the program and you get more postseason experience, you understand why.
"It gets us in the right mindset. We know not to play to the score no matter what it is. It doesn't matter how much we're up by. Coach has the same expectations. So in these games when we have to play hard the whole time, we're used to it."
The Huskies (36-0) have won 73 straight games overall and 120 of their last 121. But even more impressive is their seniors have a postseason record of 33-1, with the only loss coming to Notre Dame in the 2013 Big East tournament final. UConn avenged that loss four weeks later by walloping the Irish in the national semifinals in New Orleans.
It's easy for the seniors to buy into what their Hall of Fame coach is doing. For the rookies, it's a learning experience.
"It's difficult, especially at the beginning," UConn freshman Katie Lou Samuelson said. "I went through a lot of ups and downs during the season and at points it seemed like everything was coming at me. But as you go along, you understand that you have to do everything right. You know that he's doing it for a reason and as you go along you understand why."
What the Huskies' work ethic gives them is the confidence that they can handle any situation at any time.
During their record 22-game tournament winning streak, they've trailed in the second half just twice - to Brigham Young in the 2014 Sweet 16 and to Dayton in the 2015 Elite Eight. They won those games by 19 and 21 points respectively.
"This isn't a time when we get nervous," UConn All-American Breanna Stewart said. "We're fortunate to have been in this position so many times that we know exactly what is going to happen. We have worked hard to be in these situations and we're prepared for these situations. It's when the best players play their best."
The Huskies had their one-hour public workout here late Saturday morning. Samuelson was at the arena but did not take part in drills as she was feeling "under the weather," according to a UConn spokesman. UConn expects her to be ready to play Sunday.
Saturday afternoon was spent picking up awards. Stewart was named the Wade Trophy winner and the Associated Press Player of the Year, and was joined by classmates Tuck and Moriah Jefferson on the WBCA All-America team. Jefferson was also named the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year while Auriemma was voted the AP Coach of the Year.
For Oregon State, it's all brand new.
The Pac-12 champions are in the Final Four for the first time. They won their first regional final by defeating top-seeded Baylor 60-57 in Dallas last Monday.
While they don't have the postseason experience of the Huskies, they have a senior- and junior-laden club with plenty of games under their belts.
"They have a great defensive core," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "They shoot the ball really well and have big guards and have size inside. They have a lot of strengths so it should be a good game for us."
"Obviously we focus on Oregon State," Stewart added. "But for every single game we focus more on ourselves, making sure we're ready and that we're doing what we want to do. It's the same thing going into the Oregon State game. If we're doing everything we can do, it's going to be hard to stop us. I think we are definitely focused. We're in the right mindset. Seeing how excited everyone else is to be here makes us excited. We can't wait to get out there."
All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner, a senior guard, is Oregon State's top scorer and had 37 points in its Sweet 16 win over DePaul. Junior guard Sydney Wiese is the assist leader. Both are solid 3-point shooters. Senior center Ruth Hamblin is averaging a double-double. Senior forward Deven Hunter and junior Gabriella Hanson can do damage if overlooked.
When coach Scott Rueck took over the Beavers' program six years ago, he needed to hold open tryouts to fill out his roster.
Now look at them.
"When we came to Oregon State, it was absolutely overwhelming and daunting," Rueck said. "It was the craziest several months of my life trying to get my bearings and build a team in two months before school started that could compete in the Pac-12.
"Did I ever think we could be here in six years? No way. I didn't have enough knowledge at the time to even predict that this could be possible. But what I found early was that there are incredible people and great basketball players from amazing families looking for what we have. Once you realize that you can align with character and with the amount of talent that's necessary to compete at this level, then those visions and those expectations began to change."
Oregon State started slowly against Baylor but built a nine-point halftime lead. The Bears rallied but Wiese hit free throws in the last 33 seconds to get the Beavers here.
"I think our mindset needs to be the same," Rueck said. "It has to be at possession by possession. This group has been such an incredible job of minimizing extra things."
The Beavers and Huskies have two common opponents -- Notre Dame and DePaul. UConn defeated Notre Dame by 10 and DePaul by 16 in early December. Oregon State lost to the Irish by one in late December and topped the Blue Demons by 12 in the Sweet 16.
And the Bevaers are well aware that the last team to beat UConn came from the Pac-12. Stanford topped the Huskies 88-86 in overtime on Nov. 17, 2014, at Maples Pavilion.
"I remember watching that game last year," Weisner said. "We were rooting very hard for Stanford and it was a very exciting game. Stanford just limited their mistakes and hit big shots down the stretch and shut them down enough on defense to score enough with them.
"We haven't watched that game this year. But it goes to prove anything is possible. This team isn't invincible. They can lose. I think that should give us confidence, but I don't know if we need more confidence. It definitely just shows that they are beatable."
UConn will go with what got it here, riding its three seniors. Auriemma is quick to say Samuelson and Nurse need to rise to the occasion.
March has turned to April and the end is near.
"We know this is the most important time," Tuck said. "This is when we play our best basketball."
And it's what the Huskies have prepared for all season.
Jefferson repeats as Lieberman Award winner
Jefferson became a two-time WBCA All-American on Saturday. On Sunday, the Glenn Heights, Texas, native became a two-time winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award, which goes to the nation's top point guard. She also won it in 2015.
She is the third Huskies' point guard to take home the honor multiple times, joining Sue Bird (2000-02) and Diana Taurasi (2003-04). Renee Montgomery won the award in 2009.
Jefferson is averaging 12.6 points on 55.2 percent shooting from the floor, 5.5 assists, and 2.7 steals. She ranks second all-time at UConn in assists (647), needing one to tie the school record held by Taurasi, and steals (351). She also has 1,509 points.
The other finalists for the 2016 award were Baylor's Niya Johnson, Maryland's Brene Moseley, Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen, and Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Breanna Stewart's third Associated Press Player of the Year award was a first in the 22-season history of the honor.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's senior standout received all 32 votes from the AP voting board, making her the first unanimous selection in the award's history. The announcement was made Saturday at a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Stewart is the also the first player to win the AP honor three times. Other winners from UConn are Rebecca Lobo (1995), Jennifer Rizzotti (1996), Kara Wolters (1997), Sue Bird (2002), Diana Taurasi (2003), Maya Moore (2009, 2011) and Tina Charles (2010).
"I didn't know that all had not been done before and that I was the first," Stewart said. "When you hear you've done something for the first time in women's basketball -- it's been around for awhile -- that's kind of crazy."
UConn's Geno Auriemma was named the AP Coach of the Year for the eighth time and was unusually emotional while accepting the honor.
"I said to him when we hugged, 'I'm the one that's supposed to be crying, not you' " Stewart said with a smile. "Emotions come, and you can't control that. This week has been special for him. It was nice to see, not that he's a stone wall or anything."
"I was so happy about (Morgan) Tuck being an All-American earlier. That was huge. And even to see Coach like that, it makes you realize all the things he's done for you and I'll always remember that."
Stewart is averaging 19.3 points, 0.1 off her career-best, and is on pace for career-highs in rebounds (8.7), assists (4.0), steals (1.9), blocked shots (3.5), field-goal percentage (58.3), 3-point percentage (41.8), and free-throw percentage (82,7). The North Syracuse, New York, native is second all-time at UConn in points (2,636), fourth in rebounds (1,161) and first in blocked shots (411). She is the only player in NCAA history with 400 blocks and 400 assists (413).
Earlier Saturday, Stewart won the Wade Trophy as the WBCA Player of the Year for the second time.
"It's been a great four years, bumpy at times," Stewart said. "You wouldn't trade it for the world."
Auriemma also won the AP award in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009, and 2011. He was named the 2016 WBCA Coach of the Year last month.
He received 16 of 32 votes to outdistance Oregon State's Scott Rueck and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, who got three votes each.
"It's hard to think about anything else except all of the great players that we've had over the years," Auriemma said. "You look back and you're just amazed at how much they've been able to accomplish."
The 62-year-old native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, owns a career record of 953-134 and his winning percentage of .877 is No. 1 in the sport all time. The Huskies have won 30 games in a NCAA record 11 straight seasons including four consecutive 35-win seasons.
Under his leadership, the Huskies have won 10 national championships, appeared in 17 Final Fours, made 23 straight Sweet 16 appearances and earned 28 consecutive NCAA tournament bids. During its time in the Big East, UConn 19 regular season titles and 18 tournament crowns. In three seasons of American Athletic Conference play, the Huskies are 63-0 in sweeping the regular season and tourney championships.
"The longer you're in this game, the more you realize how much people have an impact on you," Auriemma said. "This week has been different for me.
"I just couldn't get the image of my coaches and how unbelievably passionate they are and how hard they work and how year after year after year after year they're relentless. We never talk about … It's almost what we talk about the basketball program at the University of Connecticut being like it's this massive ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean, that it just goes by itself. You don't realize that there's people on it, driving this thing. People making it happen and there's people that year after year after year after year after year are just making this thing work. And I guess it just all caught up to me this week for some reason."
UConn (36-0) takes on Oregon State in the first NCAA Final Four semifinal game here Sunday.
The Huskies have a 114-1 record in Stewart's three Player of the Year seasons. But it's the first time Auriemma has been Coach of the Year since she arrived in Storrs.
"The best thing you can say about that is we're saving our best for last," Stewart said. "It's been the most enjoyable year, the best year so far. Now we want to keep it going for another weekend."
Stewart got her first college basketball scholarship offer from her hometown university Syracuse as a high school freshman. Seven years later, it's possible that she could play her final college game against the Orange.
UConn and Oregon State open national semifinal play Sunday. Game 2 will feature two newcomers to the Final Four -- Syracuse and Washington. The national championship game is Tuesday.
"A lot of people make a big deal out of those choosing to go to UConn and not coming to Syracuse," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "But I'm so happy for that kid. I saw her as a ninth grader and watched her through her whole high school career here. She's an amazing kid, has an amazing family, and she deserves everything that she's getting.
"She's a special kid and she's got a special talent and I'm just really happy for her success and what she's done. You can't have it happen to a better kid and a better person."
Stewart, of course, is in her fourth Final Four and two wins away from her goal of capturing four national championships. Syracuse had not advanced to the Sweet 16 before this season. But the Orange knocked off Army and Albany at the Carrier Dome to get to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, regionals and then stunned top-seeded South Carolina and whipped once-proud Tennessee to gain their spot here.
"How dangerous are they? Just ask all the teams that they've beaten the last couple of weeks," Auriemma said. "They're the kind of team that wins in the NCAA tournament because they're fearless and they make shots. The highest premium there is at this time of the year is teams that can make shots.
"And you don't even want to know where Syracuse's program was before Q took over. That's how far he's come. Where were they? They were someplace that even Syracuse didn't know there was a program."
Stewart has always spoken fondly of Hillsman and the Orange, though there was some disappointment UConn and Syracuse couldn't agree to play a homecoming game for her. The night the Huskies played at Colgate, about an hour away from Syracuse, the Orange entertained Coppin State.
On a personal level, Stewart is thrilled for her former AAU teammate and fellow 2012 McDonald's All-American Brittney Sykes, the Orange's redshirt junior guard.
"Brittney has been through a lot with two ACL surgeries," Stewart said. "She was out for almost two years. The fact they were able to come in and do what they wanted to do, I'm really happy for her and they deserve it."
UConn and Syracuse last met in the 2013 Big East tournament semifinals. The Huskies lead the series 37-12 with 23 straight wins dating back 20 years.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Breanna Stewart was named a WBCA All-American for the third time and the Wade Trophy winner as the WBCA Player of the Year for the second time Saturday.
Moriah Jefferson was named an All-American for the second time and also picked up the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year honor.
But for all their awards, Stewart and Jefferson were even happier for Morgan Tuck. their teammate and classmate with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
Tuck was named to the WBCA All-America team Saturday and made the walk across the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That journey will end with her name and number being placed on the wall in the Huskies of Honor.
"Tuck deserves it. She really deserved it last year," Jefferson said. "Every time she's on the floor she plays like an All-American. I'm so excited she got to go out there and make that walk."
It's the third straight year UConn has had three players on the 10-player WBCA team and the fifth time overall. But it is the first time all three players came from one recruiting class.
"It means everything," Tuck said. "They got in before I did but for all of us to get in and do it together is really special."
Tuck is averaging 13.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting from the floor, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native reached the 1,000-point milestone earlier this season against Maryland at Madison Square Garden. She missed five games with right knee issues.
She learned of her selection earlier this week from coach Geno Auriemma.
"We found out a couple of days ago after we watched film," Tuck said. "I was just really excited and it was a dream come true.
"I didn't try to over-think it. I did what I could, and that was play the best that I could to earn the coaches' votes. It will mean everything to be up there (in the Huskies of Honor) because the best players that have played here are up there. To be a part of that group means a lot."
Tuck will be the second No. 3 on the Gampel Pavilion wall. The first is Diana Taurasi. Tuck chose to wear No. 3 at UConn to honor her older sister, Taylor.
"Diana is the best No. 3 to play here. I can't even compete with her," Tuck said. "But to be up there ... When I decided to wear No. 3 it was for my sister. But I knew it carried a big name in UConn basketball and I wanted to live up to it the best I could and I hope she'll be proud."
Stewart is averaging 19.3 points, 0.1 off her career-best, and is on pace for career-highs in rebounds (8.7), assists (4.0), steals (1.9), blocked shots (3.5), field-goal percentage (58.3), 3-point percentage (41.8) and free throw percentage (82.7). The North Syracuse, New York, native is second all-time at UConn in points (2,636), fourth in rebounds (1,161), and first in blocked shots (411). She is the only player in NCAA history with 400 blocks and 400 assists (413).
The North Syracuse, New York, native joins Maya Moore (four times, 2008-11), Svetlana Abrosimova (1999-2001) and Taurasi (2002-04) as Huskies chosen at least three times.
Jefferson is averaging 12.6 points on 55.2 percent shooting from the floor, 5.5 assists, and 2.7 steals. The Glenn Heights, Texas, native ranks second all-time at UConn in assists (647) and steals (351). She also has 1,509 points. The 2015 Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation's top point guard is a finalist and the favorite to win the 2016 honor.
She is the second UConn player to win the Defensive Player of the Year. Stefanie Dolson took home the 2014 honor.
"They said my name, I was like, 'What?' " Jefferson said. "I'm really excited. Defense is something I take pride in and work hard at every single day. To be recognized for it means a lot to me."
The Huskies will look to continue their bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship when they take on Oregon State on Sunday in a NCAA Final Four semifinal. The UConn-Oregon State winner will face Syracuse or Washington for the title Tuesday night.
"This is one of the last moments we'll have being together on the same team," Jefferson said. "We're excited to be here and have the chance to do what we're doing now."
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UConn's opponent Sunday is Oregon State, a team making its first Final Four appearance in program history.
Six years ago when Scott Rueck took over for Oregon State, the team was in shambles. Rueck inherited only two scholarship players. The previous coach was ousted after a player mutiny. Rueck held open tryouts to build his roster.
Now, as an example of how success can be built in six years, Rueck's team is set to face the Huskies, the No. 1 team in the country.
UConn's long-standing dominance has been a large part of the discussion for women's college basketball heading into the Final Four.
Rueck answered whether UConn's program is the blueprint for building success, or whether they're an example of the need to more parity in the women's game.
"I think it's a combination of that. I think they have always been the blueprint," he said. "I mean, who doesnt want to do what they're doing? We are all striving for that. And so I think parity could happen as we grow. And I think that's what the tournament this year is showing.
"I look at them as an example. I always have. When I was a Division III coach, I was looking at UConn as an example. And we do get TV out west. So I've watched a lot of UConn. I'll be honest, if I were to watch a basketball game, I've told people, I would rather watch UConn than anybody. Men or women. The way that they transition, the way they share the basketball. The way they defend. I think they set a high bar in every way. They're excellent."
"And so how can excellence be bad? I've never understood that. ... And I think UConn is inspirational, the way they conduct themselves. And so I think they're nothing but good for the game. I think it's up to the rest of us to rise to that level. And I think anytime you have a bar that's that high, that's a positive."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier were in fourth grade the last time the University of Connecticut women's basketball team missed out on going to the NCAA Final Four.
For Oregon State, Syracuse or Washington to match the Huskies' record of nine consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances, they would have to appear in every national semifinal through the 2023-24 season. Add an extra year for the remainder of the country.
"It speaks to what the program has done over the last 30 years, how great they have been and the type of people they have had here," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "It's more than just you come in here, you wear the UConn jersey, and you're going to the Final Four. You work for it. The coaches teach you every single day that you have to earn every minute. You have to earn every win. All together, it's just a testament to the tradition of excellence that has been built here."
Top-seeded UConn pushed that Final Four streak to nine with its 86-65 win over No. 2 Texas in the Bridgeport Regional final at sold-out Webster Bank Arena on Monday night. The Huskies (36-0) will look to take the next step towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship Sunday when they take on Dallas Regional champion Oregon State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
UConn (2000-04), LSU (2004-08), Stanford (2008-12), and Notre Dame (2011-15) had runs of five straight Final Four appearances, with the Irish's ending this season with a loss to Stanford in the Sweet 16.
The Huskies' 73rd consecutive win improves their record to 17-5 in Elite Eight contests. They trail only Tennessee (18) in Final Four berths.
"That game is the most difficult game to win," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You're playing against a really good team that really tested us at both ends of the floor and forced our best players to play great. That's exactly what you needs at this time in the tournament. You don't want to be going to the Final Four thinking that games are easy. And this was by no means easy at all.
"I'm excited for our seniors. I've been thinking about it all year long, how I really want it to end. And they say being there is half the battle, right? So some great things can happen next weekend, but you have to be there to make it happen and we did the hard part."
Starting with Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon in 2011, the trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck is the sixth straight UConn senior class to go to the Final Four in each of its four years in Storrs.
"Whenever you have a new team it's hard," Stewart said. "Nothing comes easy. Especially playing for (Auriemma), playing at UConn, nothing is easy. And we had to build that chemistry, to rebuild the chemistry with our entire team, to show the young guys how we do things, to become even better leaders, take on bigger roles. It wasn't easy, but the experience definitely helps."
How difficult did Texas make it for UConn? Jefferson, who pulled within one assist of Diana Taurasi's career record, had ice bags on both legs and ankles after playing 38 minutes.
Included in the seniors' overall record of 149-5 is a 33-1 postseason mark with 31 straight wins.
"This isn't a time when we get nervous," Stewart said. "We're fortunate to have been in this position so many times that we know exactly what is going to happen. We've worked hard to be in these situations, and we are prepared for these situations. It's when the best players play their best."
UConn is the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. But Oregon State knocked out Baylor in Dallas while Syracuse eliminated South Carolina in the Sweet 16. Washington took out Pac-12 nemesis Stanford after the Cardinal ousted Notre Dame. It's the first national semifinal appearance for the Beavers, Orange, and west-coast Huskies.
The east-coast Huskies have made another home at the Final Four, which is why there's still more hard work to do.
Stewart showing CLASS
Stewart picked up another honor Friday as she was selected as the 2015-16 Senior CLASS Award winner for women's basketball. The award, chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I coaches, national basketball media, and fans, is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in Division I women's basketball. To be eligible for the Senior CLASS Award -- an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, a student-athlete must be classified as a senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character and competition.
"Being recognized as the Senior CLASS Award winner is an unbelievable honor because it highlights more than just my on-the-court skills," Stewart said in a statement. "Since I arrived on campus, I've grown in a number of ways, but the biggest one is finding the joy and satisfaction in helping others, whether it is my teammates or people I don't know through various community service activities. Beyond UConn and beyond basketball, I hope one day to create my own non-profit organization, and the Senior CLASS Award is a tremendous milestone and an indication that I'm headed in the right direction."
Stewart is in pursuit of an individualized sport in society degree and was a second-team Academic All-America as a junior.
"Breanna Stewart is one of the most talented women's basketball players ever to compete at the college level," said Erik Miner, executive director for the Senior CLASS Award. "But what's even more amazing about her is that she doesn't just strive to be the best on the court, but also in the classroom and community."
Stewart and Jefferson were named to the Senior CLASS All-American first team as were Oregon State's Ruth Hamblin, Army's Kelsey Minato and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell. Stewart and Jefferson were named to the 10-player United States Basketball Writers Association All-America team Friday.
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STORRS, Conn. -- A poster -- complete with horns, trumpets, a trombone, and a basketball -- publicizing the 1991 NCAA Final Four in New Orleans asked, "Who wants to be in that number?"
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team was the answer from coach Geno Auriemma. Soon, the poster found a home in his Gampel Pavilion office.
"I saw that poster and said that we were going," Auriemma said. "And we did. I believe in fate."
On Thursday, Auriemma and his Huskies traveled to Indianapolis to take part in the program's 17th Final Four. UConn will take on Oregon State Sunday in a national semifinal game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Twenty-five years earlier to the day, he and his team were flying home from New Orleans after a 61-55 loss to Virginia at Lakefront Arena.
"In some ways it actually seems longer than that. In some ways it seems like yesterday," Auriemma said. "It seems longer because a lot of stuff has happened since. But it doesn't seem to be so long ago that we were in Philadelphia."
UConn entered the 1991 NCAA Tournament as the No. 3 seed in the East Regional. The Huskies had won their third straight Big East regular season title and their second league tourney crown in three years.
But they were also 0-2 in NCAA play with home losses to La Salle and Clemson.
This, though, was going to be different.
"There was something about that team," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "You'd look at our roster and you'd think they're not big enough, they're not this, they're not that. But we'd look at them and we knew they could all shoot. We played well together. There was a toughness about them. They knew how to play. It was a special group of players."
UConn received a first-round bye in the 48-team event and Toledo advanced to face the Huskies at Gampel Pavilion.
The Rockets were much like the Huskies in that they were undersized but could put five shooters on the floor. Two free throws by Jane Roman gave Toledo a two-point lead in the see-saw affair in the final minute.
But UConn had Kerry Bascom and a play for her to get the ball inside. The Huskies executed and Bascom scored as she was fouled with 19 seconds left to put her team in front 81-80.
"We figured we'd get it to Kerry because she was going to score," Auriemma said. "And if she got fouled she would make the free throw. She made an unbelievable play. That's who Kerry was. That's who Kerry is.
"Twenty-five years later, if I had to make a list of kids that I would want to take the shot to win the national championship, I don't know where she'd be on the list but she would be high on it."
Toledo had two shots to win it. On the rebound of the second, a foul was called on the Huskies' Wendy Davis as the buzzer sounded. But was the foul before or after the buzzer? Would the Rockets have a one-and-one to win it?
There were no monitors and no video review. Referees Simmie Lavender and Dee Kantner spent five minutes talking with the scorer's table to come up with a decision.
"It was just one of those excruciating moments where you think all kinds of things," Auriemma said. "The whole season is flashing before your eyes. We can't not advance for the third year in a row. I don't think I've ever been happier at Gampel Pavilion when Dee waved her arms and said, 'It's over. Let's get out of here.' That's the best call she's ever made."
The win sent UConn to its first Sweet 16 at the Palestra in Philadelphia against No. 2 seed North Carolina State.
Again, fate seemed on UConn's side.
"There are two things I remember," Dailey said. "When we went to the Palestra and saw our bench, I thought it was an omen because it was the bench we had when our team at Rutgers won the AIAW championship in 1982. Number two, the day of the open practice I saw the N.C. State players leaving with t-shirts that said on the back they were going to the Final Four. I knew we were going to win. I knew it."
The Huskies trailed by seven with 15:47 to go before taking the lead for good with a 16-4 run. Their 82-71 victory sent them into the regional final two days later - Auriemma's 37th birthday - against No. 4 Clemson.
But during practice the day before, Auriemma got upset as his team and kicked the first row of the bench not knowing there was concrete behind it. The players had to hide their faces while laughing as one wondered if he "needed a 'toe' truck."
"Then the next day he couldn't put his shoes on," Dailey said. "It just seemed so many things fell into place for us."
Playing in its first nationally televised game, UConn led by five at halftime and nine in the second half. Clemson rallied and had the ball with about 90 seconds left in a two-possession game.
As Clemson went on offense, legend has it that Dailey said something in frustration and Auriemma turned to ask what was wrong.
"I broke my fingernail," the legend has Dailey saying.
"He probably made that up," Dailey said.
Did Auriemma make that up?
"Let's put it this way. I wouldn't doubt that it happened," Auriemma said. "I just know that in that game, Meghan Pattyson didn't come to meet a pass and there was a turnover and I lost my composure and said some things I shouldn't have said. I had no idea the camera was on my face."
Pattyson (now known as SNY's UConn television analyst Meghan Culmo) made three free throws and Bascom and Davis two each in the final 1:09 and the Huskies became the first Big East team to reach the Final Four with a 60-57 win.
UConn didn't get to the championship game and didn't return to the Final Four for four years.
Through the 2015-16 season there were reminders of 1991, including facing teams coached by former Virginia players Dawn Staley (South Carolina) and Tonya Cardoza (Temple) in a six-day span. Clemson coach Jim Davis retired from his job at Tennessee Tech just last month.
"If you're in anything long enough things have a way of recycling themselves," Auriemma said. "Twenty-five years is a long time. There were coaches in our league that were players back when I was at Virginia. There were players I coached against that have their own teams. I'm recruiting daughters of playing I recruited. A lot happens in 25 years and I'm happy we're still in the mix. There were teams back then that everyone thought were the teams you had to beat and they're no longer in the mix."
The poster from 1991 is still in the mix and in the Huskies' family.
"I have it. I had it framed," Dailey said. "When we moved our offices from Gampel to the Champions Center, I took it home.
"It's still one of my favorite posters of all time. It captured everything about the Final Four and New Orleans. It's always special to look at it."
And it's always special for Auriemma when he looks back, no matter how many Final Fours the Huskies get to.
"I just liked how tough we were," Auriemma said. "Our team was mentally and physically tough and had a tremendous belief in themselves. It was pure joy coaching that team, every minute of every team. I wouldn't mind being in that situation again, because I know how much I enjoyed it."
Tags: Carl Adamec
Katie Lou Samuelson knew she had her work cut out for her, but her toughest task last weekend wasn't playing against Mississippi State and Texas in the NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional at Webster Bank Arena.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's freshman guard spent a late Friday night watching on television as her sister Karlie, a Stanford junior, and the Cardinal faced favored Notre Dame in a Sweet 16 game in Lexington, Kentucky.
"That was difficult," Samuelson said with a laugh. "It was certainly nerve-wracking. I always get horrible when I watch them play. I get so uptight and stressed out. We kept saying, 'We have to go to sleep,' but we couldn't."
Samuelson also learned what life in the UConn family is about. The Huntington Beach, California, native had what she thought would be unlikely support from her roommate for the weekend, senior Moriah Jefferson. It was Stanford, aided by the strong performances of Karlie and Bonnie Samuelson, that handed the Huskies their last loss on Nov. 17, 2014.
"I was cheering for her sister because I do feel like I know her as much as I know Lou and they are so close," Jefferson said. "Her sister was amazing and we were watching and Lou was going crazy. She made some big shots.
"Lou's on this team and her sisters are part of our family. When there's someone in this program that we really care about, their family is our family."
It's a feeling of togetherness that coaches Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey have built at UConn over their 31 years in Storrs.
Players come and go. Family lasts forever.
"When we come here we have a bond that's created and it will go on well beyond our years at Connecticut," UConn senior Breanna Stewart said. "We feel a connection to Karlie and Bonnie through Lou. It's the same thing with Morgan Tuck's sister, Taylor, when she was playing at Illinois or Kiah Stokes' brother, Darius, when he was playing. We were interested to see it because we know how excited Lou was for her and so were we."
Stanford stunned the Irish, 90-84, as Karlie Samuelson scored 20 points, including a banked-in three-pointer with 1:31 left that stymied a Notre Dame comeback bid. But Katie Lou's dream matchup in the national championship game won't happen since Washington defeated the Cardinal 85-76 Sunday in the regional final.
The Huskies (36-0) will try to keep their dream of a fourth straight national championship alive when they take on Oregon State on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Washington and Syracuse will meet in the other semifinal with the title game set for Tuesday.
The UConn family will be out in force behind its own.
"I'm sure there are a lot of places like this," Auriemma said. "I'm sure there are a lot of places that feel the same way. We try to make it so everyone is included. We try to make it that once you come play for us, everything about you is part of who we are. That's the way we've always done it. Obviously we've had some unusual situations where you have other players at other schools. We're a very inclusive group and that helps us be who we are.
"We've had it for awhile. If you recruit a kid, and they and their family buy into it, it's easier to keep that going."
In seven postseason games, Samuelson is averaging 14.4 points on 58.7 percent shooting from the floor along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. The American Athletic Conference all-freshman team pick was also selected to the AAC all-tournament team.
She'll join her sisters as Final Four participants. Bonnie was part of Stanford's 2012 team and was joined by Karlie on the 2014 team that lost to UConn in the national semifinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Katie Lou was in the stands for that game and committed to the Huskies six weeks later.
While she left one family in California, she found another in Storrs.
"Mo showed that to me when we were watching the game together," Samuelson said. "Reacting like she was ... I thought it was funny when Mo would get mad when Karlie didn't get the ball. Mo was like, 'Give it to her right there. I'd give it to her right there.' It's really cool that we have that bond and I'm sure that all of us would feel the same way for anyone on the team that had a brother or sister playing. In my case, it's interesting that it's Stanford and they remember what happened."
The Huskies came into Maples Pavilion some 16 months ago with a 47-game winning streak and led the Cardinal by six with two minutes left. But Bonnie Samuelson's lone assist of the game led to a three-pointer by Amber Orrange with four seconds to go to tie it. Stanford would go on to pull off the 88-86 upset. Bonnie Samuelson finished with 14 points while Karlie Samuelson had eight points and five rebounds while locking up UConn sharpshooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis defensively.
Katie Lou watched from her seat across from the Stanford bench. She had signed her letter of intent five days earlier.
"I was definitely happy for my sisters," Samuelson said. "I felt that they played a great game. I thought overall it was one of the best basketball games that I've ever seen and it was good for women's basketball. As I said, I was really excited for my sisters but there was this feeling that, 'Darn, I wish we would have won.' I know we would be ready to go if we ever got that opportunity to meet them again."
Maybe in the NCAA tournament next year.
Auriemma said after the Huskies' 2015 national championship win that the loss was the best thing that happened to that team. It also doesn't bother him that his current team doesn't have to deal with the circus that would surround a 121-game winning streak.
Who knew it was all in the family?
"Bonnie and Karlie did what they had to do and they both made big plays in that game," Auriemma said.
"But, believe me," he added with a smile, "I didn't feel a part of the Samuelson family when they beat us."
Tags: Carl Adamec
There is one way for a University of Connecticut women's basketball player to be inducted into the Huskies of Honor and that's by being named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-America team.
That's been coach Geno Auriemma's rule since the honors program started in 2006.
Senior stars Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were inducted on Feb. 27. They're hopeful that classmate Morgan Tuck will be eligible to join them on the Gampel Pavilion wall after the 10-player WBCA team is introduced Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Huskies will be at the arena for the announcement as they advanced to the NCAA Final Four with an 86-65 win over Texas Monday night in the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Regional final at Webster Bank Arena. They take on Dallas Regional champion Oregon State in the first national semifinal game Sunday at 6 p.m.
"What I want the coaches (on the WBCA selection committee) to know is that Morgan Tuck is one of the best players in the country," Stewart said. "When the games are the biggest, she performs her best. She might now have huge numbers scoring points and that kind of stuff, but what she does is important."
If there is such a thing as momentum in Tuck's case, it's on the senior forward's side. The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native was among the top 10 players in the Associated Press All-America voting -- ending up on the five-player second team -- and was also selected to the 10-player Wooden Award All-America team. Both were announced Monday.
What will help her candidacy more is UConn (36-0) being in the Final Four again and her strong postseason following a rough February stretch after she missed four games with pain in her right knee. She was named to the American Athletic Conference and NCAA Bridgeport Regional all-tournament teams. In seven postseason games, she is averaging 16.6 points on 60.8 percent shooting from the floor and 88.2 percent shooting from the foul line, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 27.3 minutes. In the Elite Eight win, Tuck had 22 points, three rebounds, and six assists.
"She sometimes gets overlooked, but as you can see what she did tonight, she is one of the best players in the country," Stewart said.
Tuck's season numbers are 13.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting from the floor, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. She reached the 1,000-point milestone earlier this season against Maryland at Madison Square Garden. She is among 15 finalists for the Wade Trophy, which is the WBCA Player of the Year award.
But everyone will have to wait until Saturday to see if a place in the Huskies of Honor will be reserved for her.
"Obviously, Morgan is deserving of that," Stewart said. "But either way she belongs up there. She has done so much for this program. I would like it to change and I think that's something that's going through Coach's mind. Morgan's done a lot for this program and last year she got gypped, there's no other way to look at it. But no matter what the coaches decide, she should be up there."
To be a candidate for WBCA All-America honors, a player must be first named to an all-region team and Tuck (along with Stewart and Jefferson) were named to the 2016 Region 3 squad last week. A school can put only three players into nomination for all-region honors and last year UConn put up Jefferson, Stewart, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. All three were chosen to the 10-player WBCA squad.
To her teammates, it was only a numbers game that kept Tuck from already being on the Gampel Pavilion wall.
"I wouldn't mind if they made a change to it," Jefferson said. "Like Tuck last year, she was definitely an All-American and the only reason she wasn't is that you couldn't have four coming from one team. It would be a good thing to bend the rule sometimes.
"I don't think it has to be that way every single time. But there are great players who have played here in the past who aren't up there and should be."
Auriemma has said in the past that Asjha Jones, one of nine players to win NCAA and WNBA titles along with Olympic and FIBA world championship gold medals, is the best player not on the wall. As a senior, Jones ran into the same predicament Tuck did a year ago as the Huskies nominated Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Diana Taurasi.
Is change in the air?
"The criteria is the criteria," Auriemma said. "That's how they (Stewart and Jefferson) got on there. Nobody asked for them to get on the wall before they made it. The criteria is the criteria until I decide to change it. That's not happening anytime soon.
"I don't want it to change. Then, where do you draw the line? There wouldn't be any room on that wall. I can name you 50 guys that belong on that wall that didn't make All-American. Where do you draw the line? That's how I look at it."
And we'll see what happens Saturday.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Moriah Jefferson isn't much into individual numbers. But with the help of her teammates at the University of Connecticut, the senior All-American point guard is on the verge of securing a spot in the Huskies' record book.
With nine assists in top-seeded UConn's 86-65 win over No. 2 Texas in the NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional final at Webster Bank Arena on Monday, Jefferson pulled within one assist of tying Diana Taurasi's 12-year-old school record of 648.
The Glenn Heights, Texas, native will get the opportunity to move into the top spot Sunday when the Huskies (36-0) take on Oregon State in the Final Four at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"Assists are one of the biggest things that I focus on here," Jefferson said. "I play with some of the best players in the country. So any time I can make sure I'm getting them the ball on time and setting them up for a bucket means a lot to me. If I could come in and set that record in front of all the players that have been here before, it would mean a lot."
Jefferson's assist total Monday night was her best in 22 NCAA tournament games (all wins) and matched her 34-game postseason high (33-1 record) set last year in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals against Cincinnati. In four Bridgeport Regional games, she had 25 assists to just five turnovers.
She also recorded her 1,500th career point and 400th rebound against the Longhorns.
In Saturday's win over Mississippi State, Jefferson moved past 1996 Wade Trophy winner Jennifer Rizzotti into second place in assists and in steals (351) on UConn's all-time list.
"For her to continue to move up the ranks in assists and steals shows what a great point guard she is," UConn All-American Breanna Stewart said.
What are Jefferson's chances to get the two assists she needs to break Taurasi's record Sunday? Well, she's had at least two assists in the last 50 games she's played in.
Jefferson also came up one assist shy of her second double-double Monday night.
When asked if she felt anyone had let her down by blowing an easy shot, she smiled and pointed a finger at freshman Katie Lou Samuelson. The Huskies had a 2-on-1 break in the third quarter. Jefferson's bounce pass found Samuelson but she fumbled the ball out of bounds, though Jefferson was credited with the turnover.
"Katie Lou had that layup on the baseline. Butterfingers," Jefferson said with a laugh. "It's all right. She made a lot of great plays."
Samuelson could hit the shot that gives Jefferson the record Sunday. It's an opportunity all her teammates, particularly her classmates, want.
"It would be great to be on the receiving end of the pass that gets her into the record books," UConn forward Morgan Tuck said. "Every time Mo passes me the ball I will focus on finishing. She definitely deserves to get that record."
Stewart was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player. In the wins over Mississippi State and Texas, she averaged 21.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
The North Syracuse, New York, native was also the MOP in the 2013 regional here as well as a year ago in Albany.
"Being able to kind of start my NCAA tournament career here in Bridgeport as a freshman and finish it here in Bridgeport is kind of cool," Stewart said.
As is UConn tradition, the Huskies did not cut down the nets for the regional title. Another tradition they followed Monday night was messing up the MOP's hair.
Stewart got even with Jefferson in the locker room.
"We had a water fight when we got in here so that's why shirt is soaked," Jefferson said.
Jefferson, Tuck, and Texas' Lashann Higgs and Ariel Atkins rounded out the all-regional team.
- UConn improved to 17-5 in Elite Eight games. The Huskies trail Tennessee by only one for the most Final Four appearances. The Lady Vols haven't been to the national semifinals since 2008, the year UConn started its current run of nine in a row. The Huskies moved past Tennessee in national championships in 2014 and made it 10-8 a year ago.
- UConn improved to 11-1 (12-1 overall) in NCAA tournament play at Webster Bank Arena. Bridgeport will host a 2017 regional as well.
- The Huskies lead the series with Texas 7-0, including 4-0 in tournament play. UConn starts a home-and-home series with the Longhorns next season at Mohegan Sun Arena with the Huskies traveling to Austin in 2017-18.
- UConn had 24 assists on 31 baskets Monday night, but was outrebounded 34-29.
- American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was at the game.