With the official start of summer just two days away and the UConn women’s basketball team some two months removed from a perfect 40-0 season that was capped off by their second consecutive National Championship, it’s time to look back and take a peek at what lies ahead for the program.
The postseason was hardly a time to rest on the program’s laurels. The women made their joint trip to the White House ten days ago with the men’s team to meet President Obama for the Championship accolades. Senior center Stefanie Dolson vowed not to repeat last season’s bunny ears fun at the President’s expense, but did inadvertently steal the show on her own when a she took a near tumble off the riser during the photo shoot.
It was the fourth visit to the White House for Geno Auriemma’s team since the 2008-2009 season.
Last month junior guard Brianna Banks announced her decision to transfer from the University, citing a desire to play her senior season closer to home. The depth chart may have been a reality check for Banks as well with the emergence of freshman Saniya Chong, along with Moriah Jefferson cementing her spot as the starting point guard and the deadeye shooting of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Factor in the signing of four guards in November and the writing was on the wall for Banks.
UConn also announced that Big East Rookie of the Year, 6’5” center Natalie Butler, of Georgetown is transferring to Storrs. As a freshman, Butler was fifth in the nation in rebounding at 13.3 per game, while adding 13.9 ppg. Twice she hauled in 20 boards for the Hoyas. She will sit out the 2014-2015 season and have three years of eligibility left. Butler should be one third of a formidable frontcourt along with Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck in the 2015-2016 campaign.
What’s new in the AAC
If change is constant, then the American Athletic Conference is the poster child for that change. Gone are Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) as the Conference expands to eleven teams with the addition of East Carolina University, Tulsa and Tulane.
The regular season schedule format has also changed, with each school playing a home and home with eight of the ten teams and single games, one home and one away, with the remaining two. The following season each team will continue to play the same home and home schedule while flipping the remaining two. The Huskies will travel to UCF this season and host Houston while hosting the Knights the following season and paying a visit to the Cougars.
Seniors and freshman
Auriemma said good-bye to two pivotal fixtures in his lineup with the graduation of Dolson and guard Bria Hartley. Dolson was taken sixth overall in the WNBA Draft in April by the Washington Mystics with Hartley taken seventh by the Seattle Storm before being traded to the Mystics to join Dolson.
The two were the 28th and 29th Huskies to be taken in the draft since its inception in 1997 and the 14th and 15th players to be taken in the first round.
Hoping to carry on the legacy, UConn signed four freshmen back in November, 5’10” Sadie Edwards, 6’0” Courtney Ekmark, 6’0” Kia Nurse and 5’11” Gabby Williams. All four are listed as guards, but come in with a variety of skills and physical attributes.
Edwards, from Meriden, CT, spent her freshman year playing for Mercy High School, transferring to Brooklyn for her sophomore year, before finishing her final two years at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Listed by ESPN as the 17th best senior, she averaged 15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 6.2 apg and 2.5 steals in her final year. In addition to wearing the number fourteen, Hartley is one of her favorite players and the scouting reports define her game as being similar to that of Hartley’s with both the dribble drive and pull up jumper.
Phoenix, Arizona product Courtney Ekmark, #31 on the ESPN list, has been called the best pure shooting senior in the country. If she lives up to the billing, UConn will be lethal from downtown with MKL, Chong and Ekmark.
Also making the cross-country trek to Storrs will be fourteenth ranked Gabby Williams of Sparks, Nevada. Scouting reports describe her as an ultra-athletic explosive guard, conjuring images of another Moriah Jefferson. Unfortunately the injury bug has thrown up red flags with injuries to the same right knee in January 2013 and again this past January, ending her senior season after thirteen games.
Rounding the recruiting class is 33rd ranked Canadian Kia Nurse, a terrific transition player with great court vision and a superb one on one offensive attack. Lacking is a consistent perimeter game which she’ll need to develop once defenses look to keep her out of the paint.
Auriemma returns a tournament tested team as the Huskies will look to go back to back to back and make it an even ten National Championships. The Huskies hope that Mosqueda-Lewis’ injury plagued season was a one year affair and that she caps off what should be a terrific senior season cutting down the nets in her swan song. Jefferson will again be running the show as she continues to combine her natural physical talent with the poise needed from the point. Kiah Stokes, along with Morgan Tuck, will have big shoes to fill at the front court. Tuck is returning from knee surgery and Stokes needs to develop the consistency that’s been missing through the first three years of her career. With transfer of Banks, Chong will take on a greater role and it will be a wait and see to see which of the freshmen step up. The Huskies will miss Dolson in the middle and Hartley’s offensive skills but with return of the best player in the land in Stewart, the Huskies should be right in the mix when the Women’s Final Four convenes in Tampa, Florida next April.