Geno Auriemma has successfully handicapped the odds which determine the connection between good practice habits and game performance.
“You know, I’ve heard it 100 times that there are some players who just game players,” Auriemma said. “Well, you know what? Those are the players who are unbelievably talented. And if they never practiced they would be good players.
“But for most [players], what they accomplish in practice is what they will do in games. When you practice well every day, you either are building confidence or proving you are not any good.
“I have found that to be true 99.9 percent of the time since I’ve been a coach.”
That brings us to junior Kiah Stokes, who now, and for the remainder of her career at UConn, will be vitally important to the success of the program.
Her role as one of UConn’s primary posts continues Tuesday when the No. 1 Huskies (21-0, 8-0) play Temple (10-9, 4-4) at McGonigle Hall at 7. UConn defeated the Owls, 80-36, in Bridgeport on Jan. 11.
When UConn announced Saturday sophomore Morgan Tuck would have season-ending surgery on her right knee, it signaled the ascension of Stokes into the post limelight.
“We have six, seven, maybe eight players now,” Tuck said. “We all have to come ready to play every day. Morgan’s injury is just one more reason for me to step up for the team.”
No longer will Stokes, 6-foot-4, be allowed to be an accessory piece, although she has moved away from that this season with her rebounding and blocked shots (53).
Now, she is a critical piece. And next year, after Stefanie Dolson graduates, she will be an indispensable piece for two big reasons.
“I understand that is the case,” Stokes said. “We are praying for the best for Morgan. We are hoping she will be back 100 percent next year. She’s a great asset and we want her back as quickly as possible.”
Tuck’s surgery will require six months of rest before she is able to resume serious physical activity. And even when she does, there is no way to predict how successful the complicated procedure to transplant cartilage will work.
“That’s why you cross your fingers and hope that it works,” Auriemma said. “All you can is hope that it comes out the way she wants it to come out.
“We went through similar situations with Shea Ralph. You have an idea about what’s going to happen after th surgery and the next thing you know, its one surgery and then another and another. All you can is trust in the process.”
Even if Tuck is fine, UConn will have only three post players next season if high school senior A’ja Wilson, the top-ranked 6-4 All-American from South Carolina, decides not to attend.
And that will leave little room for error, inconsistency or laziness, even from a program loaded from small forward to guard.
So the importance of Stokes will be unmistakable.
But UConn needs to see more consistency from Stokes, particularly in practice where he work has fluctuated.
“I would agree that I used to be inconsistent in practice because if it started off poorly I would just figure it was going to be a bad day,” Stokes said. “But if it was good, it was going to be a good day. … One mistake should not bring you down. That has been my focus this year. If I make a mistake, I might be upset for maybe 10 seconds, but I try to get right back into the flow.
“It’s nice to know that people [her team] needs me.”
What makes it even more important is that Auriemma knows that Stokes takes time to get into the flow of games. And good work in practice will help build the confidence in her to bridge the gaps.
“Kiah has been great for the last month, and she has been consistent, which has been her biggest problem. She has put together many games where she has been very productive,” Auriemma said.
“But she doesn’t get a lot of minutes and she takes a long time to get going. But more than ever we are going to need her to be successful.”
Auriemma has often expressed frustration with Stokes about the way she practices.
“I have a hard time figuring out what makes certain players play one way during one day and another way [the other], what their mindset is this week, what it is next week,” Auriemma said. “I just know that some of the great players we’ve had in the program are the same way all the time. If Kiah has decided over the last few weeks that this is way she wants to be, god bless her, I would be very happy for her.
“But why she made it [the determination] I have no idea. She is practicing better, but that is what happens when you play very well.