BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Batouly Camara hasn't recorded a point, rebound, or blocked shot for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team this season as she sits out due to NCAA transfer rules.
But the 6-foot-2 forward from New York City fulfills her role in practice, working to improve her game and helping her teammates get better. So far, so good.
"It's been extremely rewarding," Camara said. "I've learned so much this year. The most important part for me has been to stay focused so that I can help the team anyway that I can. I come in every day with a role and I want to execute that role. When I'm in practice, I'm challenged. Am I getting better every day? Am I helping the team get better every day? What am I doing to get better? What else can I do? That's kept me motivated.
"It's hard sometimes. We all have our game-day workouts but they have a game to play and we (her and fellow transfer Azura Stevens) work out. I'm just proud of them watching them execute and improve the way they have throughout the season."
Top-seeded UConn (34-0 and winner of 109 straight games) takes part in its 24th consecutive NCAA tournament Sweet 16 on Saturday when it takes on No. 4 UCLA in a Bridgeport Regional semifinal game at Webster Bank Arena.
Camara joined the Huskies last May after spending her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. She'll have three years of eligibility remaining starting in 2017-18.
She averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor to help the Wildcats advance to the Sweet 16 before falling to Washington. Her best game was in a loss at South Carolina when had a career-high 14 points to go along with nine rebounds against the Gamecocks' talented frontline that includes All-American A'ja Wilson.
Camara didn't face Wilson when South Windsor visited on Feb. 13, but she has her work cut out for her in practice facing All-America candidates Napheesa Collier, Gabby Williams, and Katie Lou Samuelson on a daily basis.
"It's great, because practices are set up in a way that we are all held accountable," Camara said. "We're all expected to do well and we have that pressure of executing whatever needs to be done. I laugh sometimes because I think, 'Oh my gosh, they are on us so much now, we can only imagine what next year is going to be like when we're playing in the games?' But we have that expectation that if we mess up, it affects the team. They make sure that we know we're a part of everything.
"The experience I've gotten has made me a better player. In our offense, we do a lot of read and react. Then on defense, I have to work against that. We take one thing away and they have another option. It's nice to see how that works when great players like Lou and Kia (Nurse) and Gabby are executing it."
The player in Camara knows having a year of practice in coach Geno Auriemma's system will have her ahead of the game when next season's workouts begin.
The competitor in Camara, though, admits that it's tough to watch her teammates in action.
"The hardest part has been being able to put myself in their shoes," Camara said. "I'll watch and think, 'What am I going to do in that spot? How am I going to react?' Then there's just the desire to play. It's tough to go to practice and that's all you have. But that's when you have to show what you have."
And when they're struggling?
"You just want to do something to help," Camara said. "The way I try to help is maybe just pick their brains, give them a couple pointers if I notice something watching the game. They are very open to listening. So if I see something, I let them know, and that's a way to be helpful."
Camara knows she has an important offseason ahead of her. She wants to have a more consistent jump shot and be a reliable defender and rebounder that Auriemma can trust with a game on the line.
She admits she was counting the days to her first game which will be in next November. But for now it's about the Huskies' run towards a fifth consecutive national championship.
"I just want to enjoy every moment of what this team is doing," Camara said. "You don't want to rush things. You want to see this process through. My chance will come. My time will come."
As Auriemma wrapped up his press conference Friday, he opened his sweatsuit top to show a Quinnipiac t-shirt. Quinnipiac, the No. 12 seed in the Stockton (California) Regional, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time with wins over fifth-seeded Marquette and fourth-seeded and host Miami-Florida.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament champions from Hamden, Connecticut, face No. 1 South Carolina Saturday in the regional semifinals.
"I wouldn't want to be in their bracket," Auriemma said. "They remind me of our '91 team. I watched them play the other day (against Miami). There was about eight minutes left in the game and I was saying, 'I think they're going to win.' I couldn't believe it and everyone in the place was going nuts. I thought, 'Oh my God, this is like 1991 replaying itself.' "
Quinnipiac is coached by Tricia Fabbri. Auriemma has known Fabbri since her playing days at Fairfield (1988-91) when the Huskies and Stags played on an annual basis.
"And Trish, that potty-mouth coach of theirs," Auriemma said with a smile. "If I ever said some of the stuff she said I would get crucified. I told her that, too. A Catholic school girl like her, she should be ashamed of herself."
Out in Stockton, Fabbri knew that Auriemma was wearing the Quinnipiac t-shirt.
"Geno has been such a mentor for me going way back," Fabbri said at her press conference. "He helped me in this process, get a job at Quinnipiac a long, long time ago, 22 years ago. But really just a gold standard, a great guy, and then he was so excited. He reached out as soon as we won, and so complimentary of what we were able to accomplish over the weekend.
"The fact that he is wearing our shirt in support of our team in this tournament at this time, just so thankful, and very grateful for his support and UConn women's basketball's support of Quinnipiac's women's basketball, and the two teams in Connecticut here representing women's basketball in the Sweet 16."
FUTURE DUCK DYNASTY?
Auriemma was disappointed for fellow American Athletic Conference member Temple and Owls' coach Tonya Cardoza when Oregon pulled out a 71-70 first-round win at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday. He also wasn't surprised when the 10th-seeded Ducks took out No. 2 Duke Monday 74-65 to reach their first Sweet 16. Oregon faces third-seeded Maryland in the first Bridgeport Regional semifinal Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
"I told everybody that would listen when Oregon hired Kelly Graves that they are going to dominate the Pac-12 in a couple years," Auriemma said. "I'm not surprised they are as good as they are with the freshmen they have and those freshmen (Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu) made some great plays."
"We finished sixth so we're not dominating anyone yet," Graves said with a laugh. "But I think we've laid the foundation to build something really special."
Hebard is the Ducks' leading scorer (14.9) and rebounder (8.7). Ionescu is second in scoring (14.4) and rebounding (6.6) and tops in assists (5.6). The Walnut Creek, California, native has four triple-doubles this season. For perspective, Williams' triple-double at East Carolina for UConn on Jan. 24 was the fifth in Huskies' history.
Samuelson won gold medals with Ionescu with USA Basketball's 2013 U-16 and 2014 U-17 national teams.
"Sabrina is one of the most passionate players in the game," Samuelson said. "She loves playing basketball, she loves making big plays and stepping up in those moments. She stepped into that role at Oregon right out of high school and she's been playing great."
Graves agrees with UConn's sophomore guard.
"That's what sets Sabrina apart, her competitive spirit," Graves said. "There's no one else you want at the free-throw line at the end of a close game. She lives for those moments, she really does. When she's shooting free throws at Washington to win the game, everyone knew she was going to make them. That's who she is."
While Graves, in his third season at Oregon, has the Ducks in the Sweet 16 for the first time and in the tournament for the first time since 2005, he has been in this spot before. He led Gonzaga to two regional semifinals showings and an Elite Eight berth in 2011 behind guard Courtney Vandersloot.
Oregon isn't satisfied with just a Sweet 16 slot.
"I don't think they know better and they are all driven," Graves said. "The league has prepared them for this moment. We won't have a happy-to-be-here attitude. Our kids believe they can win and that's what we'll play for."
WEST COAST TRIP
As reported by SNYUConn.com last Sunday, UConn will face Nevada in Reno as a homecoming game for Sparks, Nevada, native Williams next season. The Wolf Pack announced Thursday that the game will be played Nov. 28 at the Lawlor Events Center.
Williams' family has strong ties to Nevada basketball. Her father, Matt, played for the men's basketball program from 1988-91 and her sister, Kayla, played for the women's program from 2008-12.
"Coach Auriemma and his staff have built a dynasty at UConn and the game will obviously be a tremendous challenge for our student-athletes," Nevada senior associate athletic director Rhonda Bennett said in a statement. "The Wolf Pack has a special relationship with the Williams family with Matt and Kayla having played for the Silver and Blue, and it will be great for our Wolf Pack fans and community to get the chance to welcome Gabby back and see her play in person at Lawlor Events Center."
The contest will be part of a three-game journey out west. The Huskies will open the trip against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 21 and then face Michigan State in the Phil Knight Invitational in Eugene, Oregon, on Nov. 25, before heading to Nevada.