Friday, February 29, 2008

From the In Case You Care department, Charde Houston has removed her extensions. That means she should see a minute more than she did against LSU, which was 10.

Taking to Geno Auriemma, its becoming more evident that any sense of hope that Houston can contribute is quickly evaporating. A few weeks ago, he had said the key to the season will be the play of Tina Charles, Kaili McLaren and Charde Houston. Thursday, Auriemma revised his expectations and said that the burden fell on Charles and McLaren, his two sophomore post players. Just the mention of Houston and Geno looks ready to pull his eyes out.

DePaul would be a great chance for her to get back into the rotation to a degree. The problem is, if she plays well, it now only adds to the frustration.
The Huskies head out to Chicago for a big matchup with DePaul. While DePaul is not ranked and had a bad shooting/coaching night against Rutgers Wednesday (36 3-point attempts/0 free throws), a win for UConn is vital. If they, and the Scarlet Knights win Saturday, it sets up the game Monday for the conference title.

Now, in the event they finish tied, the tie breakers goes through the head-to-head of UConn and Rutgers against the rest of the Big East. Provided UConn doesn't lose to DePaul, the tie breaker lies with West Virginia, who UConn beat and Rutgers did not.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What happened in Baton Rouge was the Huskies grew up. And I know they pulled off this accomplishment last year in comeback fashion, but that was different. That was Renee Montgomery taking over the game and with some help here and there.

Monday night Maya Moore, Kaili McLaren, Tina Charles and Ketia Swanier shared the load. I've said before that what McLaren did against Sylvia Fowles was incredible. But even Charles, who at times seemed scared of Fowles, played inspired in the final 15 minutes or so, not backing down from Fowles and attacking the rim as the best center in the Big East should. Afterwards, Geno Auriemma said he hopes that Charles understands that her misses Monday weren't because Fowles made her miss, it was because Charles allowed herself to miss them. And he's right. How many easy layups didn't fall for her? I can think of three right off the top of my head.

and since McLaren was benched a few weeks back and was told to not take being a Husky for granted, she has played some inspired ball off the bench. It couldn't have been any more significant when you consider that Charde Houston played so poorly that she sat the entire second half and that Brittany Hunter didn't play.

This is what Auriemma had to say about his two post players after the game:
"Kaili and Tina are their own worst enemies. To me, players are generally as good as they want to be if they have some God-given talent. They're as good as they want to be. Kaili sometimes wants to be great; sometimes she just settles for being good, and sometimes she's just OK. (Monday) she played like she wanted to be really good and great at times. And it's not like she did anything tonight that surprised anybody on our team. We've seen her do those things on a regular basis. It's just you got to get that all the time now. That's the bad side of being really good."

Speaking of really good, Moore was again named the conferences top freshman, while DePaul's Allie Quigley was named the top player for the second straight week. You know, Quigley, who was statistically inferior to Moore and who's Blue Demons beat Georgetown by four and lost to Notre Dame by two. Meanwhile, all Moore and the Huskies did was win two games by large margins.

What's the message the Big East is sending? If you are a freshman, no matter how good, you can't be the best player.And you can be a good player on an average team that loses and that trumps the best player on the best team. Well, UConn visits DePaul Saturday. Let's see how that works out for Quigley and company.
If you caught a glimpse of Brittany Hunter on the bench, you might have noticed a bandage-like patch under the brace on her right knee. I initially thought she might have had a cortisone shot, but when I spoke with Geno Auriemma after the game, he said it was one of those 8-hour heat patches like those made by ThermaCare.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The officiating in this game is horrendous. LSU misses a layup and Sylvia Fowles goes over the back of Renee Montgomery, knocking her out of the way in the process. Who is the foul called on? Montgomery.
There was a steal by LSU which Geno Auriemma felt Maya Moore was fouled. He marched onto the court in a rage and was assessed a technical foul at 13:52. After one of the free throws was made and a Fowles jumper, the score was 45-43 UConn. Since then, the Huskies have built the lead to 10 by the time the clock read 11:38.

This is the type of response the Huskies need to show in big games if they want to win a national championship.
If this game is decided by three points or less, remember this play:

Tina Charles backs down Sylvia Fowles for a layup with 16:01 on the clock. LSU goes down the court and a player takes a shot from the right side and misses everything. Fowles grabs the ball, puts it on the floor and lays the ball in with 15:30.

There are two problems here, first is that you can't legally score in 31 seconds without the shot clock resetting. The other is that when Fowles got the ball, the clock was reset to 30 despite the previous shot didn't come close to the rim.

Fowles made the basket and a foul was called on Tina Charles leading to a three-point play.
The fans here as well as LSU coach Van Chancellor have been complaining about how physical UConn has been, but the Tigers have taken 10 free throws to one for the Huskies.

Also, Kaili McLaren is starting the second half over Charde Houston.
Kaili McLaren gets called for a foul that should have gone against Sylvia Fowles at the 6:26 mark and everything begins to fall apart. Fowles has eight points since and the 12-point Huskies lead is just four.
With seven minutes left, McLaren is 6 points on 3-for-4 shooting and six rebounds.
In attendance is former Husky Barbara Turner.
The battle between Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles is a draw through the first eight minutes. Charles has more points, but Fowles has made her presence known defensively. What I've been impressed with -- and if you saw last year's game here, you'd recall -- the job Kaili McLaren is doing is fantastic. McLaren presents a big body that Fowles can't get around or move easily.
Brittany Hunter is not in the starting lineup and will not play. In her place is Charde Houston.
For an arena that's not at better than 90 percent capacity, the crowd is fantastic here. I would argue it is better than either meeting between teams last season or anywhere else for that matter.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My head is spinning a bit right now. The touching Senior Night tribute yesterday is still fresh, and I have to say, it was great to see the fans support Charde Houston, Ketia Swanier, Mel Thomas and Brittany Hunter.

Houston has had two consecutive solid games, something coach Genon Auriemma hopes continues. But it was Thomas who stole the pre-game ceremony, capped by her being introduced with the starters. Once the ball went up, it was all Swanier, all the time. It would have been nice for Hunter to have played, but that's the nature of her right knee.

Anyhow, I am in Baton Rouge preparing for tomorrow night's showdown with LSU. On my way to find some lunch (if you've ever had Wienerschitzel -- the fast food chain -- then you know how good my meal was) I drove over to the campus to see if there was much anticipation. From all accounts, no. It is about 75 degrees and everyone wanted to take in the sun and worry about the game when the time comes.

Meanwhile, there's some good women's games on television here. ESPN had Michigan State-Purdue and now has Texas-Texas A&M, but the one that has my attention is Tennesse holding on with a five-point lead over Mississippi State at the half from Knoxville. Yes, we know how this game will end. I just want to see how it gets there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

St. John's suspended six players -- Kia Wright, Nikki Jo Rotolo, Charisse Curtis, Kristin Moore, Sheree Ledbetter and Recee Mitchell -- have been suspended for today's game for violating an an unspecified team policy.

That leaves the Red Storm with just six players.

This, my friends, will be uglier than expected.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A few notes to hold you over until tomorrow...

UConn assistant coach Jamelle Elliott is in Florida on the recruiting trails and checking in with one of next season's freshman, Tiffany Hayes, of Winter Garden, Fla. Meanwhile, Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey was supposed to be making her way to Texas to check out one of the nation's highly sought-after juniors, Kelsey Bone. Weather has made it tough for the Huskies to visit Bone in the past and this is no different. The snow storm has appeared to left Dailey waiting at the airport in Philadelphia.

Tomorrow's game against St. John's will be the first-ever locally produced UConn game to be broadcast in HD. If you are able to get CPTV in HD, be sure to check it out. Tickets for the game and the senior night presentation before hand, are a hot commodity. There were roughly 300 left as of this afternoon.

Brittany Hunter and Charde Houston didn't practice today, but Geno Auriemma said he expects both to be on the court against the Red Storm. He asked Hunter if she was going to play, considering her right knee makes her day-to-day, and she said she was playing. Houston, on the other hand, took an elbow from Tina Charles that forced one of her upper front teeth into the inside of her lip. Houston said she is OK and didn't need stitches. Recalling the play, Houston said that it took a couple of moments, but the pain increased significantly.

Just an observation -- Stonington High School product Jacquie Fernandes moves much faster in practice than she does in her limited game action. Is this because she knows what the plays are that are being run on both sides in practice or is it a matter of getting into a groove?

Hayes and fellow recruit Elena Delle Donne have been named to this year's McDonald's All-America team. It's a great accomplishment by both, who are expected to have great careers with the Huskies.

Some news that you would all like to hear -- Kalana Greene was shooting free throws today after practice. She would occasionally move in from the line by a few feet and she was getting some decent bend at the knees. Understandably, she isn't as smooth as she was pre -injury, but the fact that she is out there and trying to do things to keep some of her basketball skills fresh can't be seen as anything less that great news.

On the topic of Greene -- and fellow injured teammate, Mel Thomas -- Auriemma said he sometimes sits and imagines what could have been had both stayed healthy. While he won't say as much, you have to believe the coach doubts anyone in the country could have beat the Huskies at full strength. Not that a starting five next year of Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore, Greene and Delle Donne is chopped liver.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What can't Maya Moore do? Moore scored 25 points in the first half and passed Tamika Williams and Tina Charles for sole possession of second on the all-time freshman scoring list. She is now 75 behind Svetlana Abrosimova.

Also, Ketia Swanier has replaced Lorin Dixon in the starting lineup. I think this is a pre-emptive move leading up to Monday's clash with LSU. It's also a way of getting Dixon to relax.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It's really sad how far women's college basketball still has to go before it is treated even close to the same level of men's sports.

I was watching a local newscast from my hotel room in Pittsburgh last night and I was interested in how yesterday's UConn-Pitt game was presented to viewers. This is the rundown of topics the city's NBC affiliate presented in its 11 p.m. newscast:
1. Penguins-Sabres NHL game
2. Daytona 500
3. Look back at Pitt's men's game from Saturday
4. Rutgers/Notre Dame men's basketball
5. Look back at the Duquesne men's basketball team's loss to Richmond

Now maybe I am biased when I shouldn't be, but Pitt does have a nationally ranked team and they played the No. 2 team in the country and it was a "Think Pink" game. After the game, Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said how her goal is to have 6,000 fans a night at a great facility. That may seem simple for fans in Connecticut because there is a long tradition of success, but getting people to care is tough. If the local media doesn't care, then the casual fan will never care, either.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Great effort by the bench today against Pittsburgh. Maya Moore gets two early fouls called on her, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles aren't having any luck with their shots, so you might think that its time to panic. Nope.

Enter Charde Houston, Ketia Swanier, Kaili McLaren and Meghan Gardler. Stats-wise, Gardler's line is a lie. In 11 minutes, it looks like she did nothing. She regularly found the post players with keen passes, she tracked down rebounds and on one play after Swanier was beaten on the fast break by Taneisha Harrison, Gardler came from behind to block the shot.

McLaren hadn't seen the light of day since the loss to Rutgers nearly two weeks ago and showed aggressiveness that I don't recall having seen in some time. She had a lot of phantom fouls called on her or at least calls that most players wouldn't have been called for. But the officiating is a story for another day.

Swanier provided stability that Lorin Dixon didn't give at the point early on and played a balanced, yet opportunistic game. Afterwards, Geno Auriemma said no one has had a tougher three days of practice than Swanier. His senior responded today and he's confident she will carry this into the final weeks of the season.

Houston was strong. She played 28 minutes, the most she had played this season. She also provided offense, which is her strongest skill. When Houston can get on a roll, there aren't many players who can control a game in the manner that she does. She seemed confident during and after the game when she recalled her effort. It can't be overstated how significant Houston is to the team. If she can catch fire, like she did in last season's Big East Tournament (she would have been MVP had UConn beaten Rutgers), no one will beat the Huskies this season.
Geno Auriemma said earlier this week that Kaili McLaren would be back in action today against Pitt. If she plays as hard as Auriemma suspects she will after not playing in two games, don't be shocked if she puts up a 10 and 10 kind of game. I'm interested to see how she matches up with Pitt's Marcedes Walker. Both have similar degrees of quickness, but Walker has proven to be a tough defensive assignment.
New vote!!!! Oh, and let's have some discussion/debate with this one.
Here's hoping that the rest of this trip turns out much better...

I was booked on a pair of Southwest flights, which is new to me as I have never flown them before. And after today, I have no plans to fly them again. I connect in Baltimore and have a 45 minute layover. In the time between flights, I changed terminals, stopped for some food and waited at least 15 minutes at the gate. Meanwhile, Southwest was able to not transfer my luggage to my next flight. Only when I arrive in Pittsburgh just before 10 p.m. did this become known to me.

The rep at the counter said they "think" my bag will arrive Sunday morning but they won't get it to me until around 5 p.m. Hey, doesn't UConn play at 2 p.m.? That's right. I'm told all about the airline's limited liability and how if I need to replace anything, like a suit over 50 bucks, I need to appeal to their corporate office in Dallas.

I get to the hotel and the lady at the front desk -- a Rhode Island native, I come to find out -- hooks me up with a toothbrush, comb, toothpaste, etc. Plus she gives me a bottle of water and cookies. At this point I'm thinking things are looking up.

That is until I decided I was going to meet up with some of my fellow beat writers. I call for a cab and I'm told it will be no more than 20 minutes. 45 minutes after that call, I get a call telling me everyone is calling it a night. By the time I go from the lobby to my room, the cab driver who just pulled up calls. Thanks, buddy. I should have sent him to get my luggage. I'd have it in time for the conference tournament.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Down 21-2? No problem for LSU as it came from behind to knock off No. 1 Tennessee. What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means to beat the Lady Vols, you need a dominant post presence like Sylvia Fowles. Maybe if the Huskies run into them Tina Charles can step up. Next, it means that provided the Huskies win at Pitt Sunday -- which they should -- expect to see UConn back atop both polls next week. And if what LSU didn't put a big red flag next to the Feb. 25 meeting between Huskies and Tigers, I don't know what would have. At that point, LSU might be playing to be the No. 1 team in the country. I suspect they'll be No. 5 come Monday, a jump of two places.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Big East Assistant Commissioner of officiating Barbara Jacobs said that the league, along with the SEC, have absolved the officials of last night's Tennessee-Rutgers game of any wrong doing.

The joint statement reads: “The Big East and SEC conferences have been in communication throughout the day, coordinators of officials for both leagues have spoken to the officials as well as the clock operator. The officials discharged their duties properly and there’s no indication anything improperly was done by anyone involved. There will be no further comment on the issue as the leagues, institutions, coaches and teams look to move forward”

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Huskies dropped from the top spot in today's Associated Press poll. Tennessee has 45 of 50 votes, with the Huskies garnering the other five votes. Of course, tomorrow's ESPN/USA Today poll could look different if Tennessee falls tonight to Rutgers.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

To call the happenings at Walsh Gym odd would be an understatement.

For starters, to set the stage, the gym looks to be what you would expect from an old Catholic League high school game in the 1950s. On one end of the court there is a stage behind the basket. Then throw in the balcony seating.

Then there are no media notes or box scores given out. The reason? The staff is too small.

To top it all off, the Huskies are charged with a technical foul when Meghan Gardler is listed incorrectly in the scorebook. Why? Because the Seton Hall offical scorer used an old roster.

None of this would have happened at a men's game. Sad.
I'm back -- and so are the Huskies, who are looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in 15 years. Seton Hall isn't going to scare anyone, but they are no cakewalk.

Keep an eye on Charde Houston. Geno Auriemma said he didn't mean that he wouldn't play her, as he claimed Tuesday. But with the harsh words directed at her, it will be a test of her committment to the team and herself to see how she responds.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Now that the Huskies have been dealt their first loss, there seems to be some change on the horizon, starting with the second half tonight. Geno Auriemma said that he can't play Charde Houston any longer.

“I can’t play Charde, that‘s the bottom line” he said after the two-point loss Tuesday. “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried. There’s just too many things that happen on the court when she’s out on the court.”

Furthermore, her teammates are turning a new leaf as far as Houston.

"My thought is, it’s kind of true because in big games when we need her and it’s just how things go,” Tina Charles said. “It really hurt me deep inside because I know what she can do. I saw the way she played against Tennessee last year, even though we lost. It hurts us, but coach has to do what coach has to do. It’s his decision.”

She went on to say that the team needs to start confronting its issues before its too late.
The Huskies don't look particularly good, taking bad shots, many of them forced by the Scarlet Knights defense. What may prove a bad omen, UConn not scoring very much, which works to Rutgers' advantage. Part of the problem has been Maya Moore being held scoreless with two fouls over nine minutes. Also, Lorin Dixon is struggling with the Rutgers pressure, which has been impressive at times.

I'm also impressed with the crowd at The RAC. They never get quiet and cheer as if their team is leading at all times. They are what you'd expect from basketball fans in the northeast.
If you are watching the game on television and are a Big East football fan, you may notice someone very familiar.

Pulling cables for CSTV will be Rutgers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood. Underwood apparently enjoys women's basketball and asked to help out a year ago. Football coach Greg Schiano approved Underwood's involvement then and again this year.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

There are those who'd like to think coaches are some sort of protected species, like the bald eagle, where the government needs to step in and make sure they are kept safe from negative conditions.

But there has to be a line. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer was so unhappy with her team that her 3:15 teleconference didn't start until 3:52. And at that, it lasted just eight minutes. Why? Because she would give reporters one word answers.

If there's any wonder why she's not exactly loved, here's a perfect example.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

There was definitely some life, especially from Kaili McLaren and Tina Charles. Geno Auriemma said that McLaren was in need of a confidence boost and that hopefully what she did tonight will serve that purpose.

When asked if she was lacking confidence, McLaren said she was but played it down a bit. Her teammates agree with the coach's assessment.

"I wouldn't say down," McLaren's best friend and roommate Tina Charles said. "She doesn't realize if she would use her body and just overpower anybody."

Sometimes it seems that McLaren is more likely to give you a performance like tonight than you will get a similar game from Charde Houston (who did all of her damage hen the game was not on the line) or that Charles will show up or that Brittany Hunter will play.

Aside from that, the job Ketia Swanier did was solid. Yes, eight of her 17 came almost all at one to close out the first half, but when Renee Montgomery isn't scoring or Maya Moore gets into a funk, that kind of ability -- to shoot from the outside or to drive and create a shot for someone else or to get out on the break, becomes valuable.'s late and I'm the last to leave Gampel Pavilion, so good night and enjoy the Super Bowl. Tuesday's not far off.
The Huskies got the message. After Geno Auriemma complained about the lack of rebounding, particularly on the offensive boards, the Huskies hold a 22-10 edge at the half. On the offensive end, UConn holds a 7-5 advantage. Tina Charles has three of those seven and is having a strong game. She has 12 points, six boards, two blocks, two assists and two steals.
Not that it should come as too much of a surprise, but Brittany Hunter is not playing tonight against Providence. Not a bad move considering the Huskies should easily handle the friars and keeping Hunter for Tuesday's big game at Rutgers (who came from behind to top Pitt today) makes sense.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Who does C. Vivian Stringer think she is? Clearly she thinks she is the women's basketball version of the New York Giants -- except I think she hates football. Although one of her nephews, Corey Stringer, plays for UConn.

Anyway, my point is, who would schedule a teleconference for the same afternoon as the Super Bowl? Really? Not Geno Auriemma, who will be talking to scribes like me on -- get this -- MONDAY!!!!!

Maybe I'm bitter that dear 'ol Vivian (I dropped the "C." because I know her like that -- OK, not really) ruined my Super Bowl Sunday.

There are some similiarities between the Huskies/Patriots and Scarlet Knights/Giants. Some of the obvious: UConn and New England are both undefeated. Tom Brady and Renee Montgomery are excellent quarterbacks for their teams, the Scarlet Knights and Giants are both from New Jersey, Patriots and Huskies are New England's pride, Tom Coughlin and C. Viv both have reputations of being less than loveable, Geno and Bill Belichick are filled with sarcasm. OK, I'm exhausted just thinking about this because not only can this list go on for another day, or if I tried hard enough, until Tuesday's game between teams (the REAL Super Bowl).

Go ahead and leave me your similiarities. I'd give out a prize, but who wants a pat on the back from me?