My Advance Story On UConn-Maryland

by Categorized: Brenda Frese, Geno Auriemma, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Kiah Stokes, UConn women's basketball Date:

Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t stop to offer UConn junior Kiah Stokes the ultimate compliment.
“Yes, pretty much every day it happens,” Stokes said Wednesday.
Friends and acquaintances tell her about the athletic gifts and frame she was given; tall and angular, strong broad shoulders and long arms. Stokes is, on every imaginable genetic blueprint, is built to be a basketball player.
“Back to my freshman year, Coach Auriemma even said to me, “Kiah, you have the best [athletic body] from the head down,” Stokes said. “My head is the part that has gotten away a bit.”
It happens. Not every player rolls out high school and into the highlight reel. Sometimes it takes time. And it always takes patience.
But now, for UConn and for Stokes, the time has come to put the pieces together.
Friday, UConn begins a new phase of a young season. It plays No. 8 Maryland (2-0) Friday, a difficult, physical team, without two of its most imposing, physical players.
All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who set a UConn single-season record with 118 three-pointers last season, is out indefinitely with a nervc contusion in her right elbow. She suffered in the injury in a fall in the first two minutes of the win over Stanford on Monday.
“The first person I yelled to was Rosie [athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle] because Rosie’s like God here when it comes to injuries,’’ said Mosqueda-Lewis. “Once Rosie got out there she was telling me, `Calm down. It’s alright. Just try to stabilize your arm. Just keep it as close as you want. It’s alright. Just breathe and if you want to cry you can.’
“But Rosie definitely helped me while I was out there, helped me calm down a lot.’’
Sophomore Morgan Tuck is out 4 to 6 weeks after arthroscopic surgery to her right knee. It is a knee that has been bothering her for a year, one that felt better over the summer and then began troubling her again once the season resumed.
Tuck knew before the Stanford game that surgery was coming. So she didn’t allow herself to think about the opportunity she was missing for more playing time when Mosqueda-Lewis went down. The point had already been muted.
“I wish I could be out there helping my team, I don’t know who wouldn’t want to but with the injury [to Mosqueda-Lewis]. “But I still think I am going to be pretty good.”
Auriemma said Wednesday he not yet decided who will start on Friday, Sunday at Penn State or beyond. But now with only seven players (and two walk-ons) his choices are limited to Stokes, junior guard Brianna Banks and freshman guard Saniya Chong.
“I think it might be just situational,’’ said Auriemma. “Let’s see who we’re playing. Let’s see what the match-ups could be like. There’s no advantage or disadvantage no matter which way we go. It’s not like we’re putting in somebody who was a starter and played great. Or somebody that’s just automatic like Kaleena was as a freshman.
“So no matter what we do, it’ll be a huge adjustment for us. But we’ll be a better team for this down the road.’’
Friday’s challenge will be for the front court where Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas roams. The 6-2 swing is a likely WNBA lottery pick and a defense challenge for anyone. The Terps are play the game in a hard-shell way and the Huskies are prepare for it.
But Stokes already has eight blocks in two games. And she scored 10 points with 13 rebounds against Stanford. Her time is here.
“I will talk to her about it [before Friday] and ask her, ‘Where are you going from here,’” said Auriemma. “Is she going to what she did Monday or let the opportunity pass, If she adds to it, well, it changes everything for us and we will be able to withstand this all. I would think by the time you are a junior [at UConn], you can handle this.”
Stokes says it’s all about not being afraid to fail and learning to trust her instincts.
“In the past, when things didn’t go well, I would become easily frustrated,” Stokes said. “Now I am trying to step out of my comfort zone, be more confident in what I am trying to accomplish.”
What is even more confusing is that Stokes says her demeanor off the floor is very different that what people see on it.
“I don’t get that about myself,” said Stokes. “Off the court, I am very competitive. I hate to lose. I am so different. But when I get into a game, it just seems like I don’t want to make a mistake and that hurts me. I was never like that in high school [Marion, Iowa].
“I know I can do these things. It’s just up to me to do them. And it’s now or never for me, basically.”

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