WALLINGFORD — The defense of Connecticut’s ninth national championship gets its official start Wednesday with the first official practice at the new basketball facility, which is across the street from Gampel Pavilion.
Geno Auriemma, less than two weeks removed from winning the FIBA World Championship in Istanbul, will blow his whistle and greet another fresh group looking to improve upon the perfection (40-0) of last season.
When the Huskies open the season Nov. 14 in California at UC Davis, they will be after their 47th consecutive win with a core built around senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, juniors Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson and four freshmen, led by Kia Nurse, who played for Canada in the World Championship and should be considered a legitimate candidate to start next to Jefferson.
And there is positive news to report regarding forward Morgan Tuck, whose sophomore season was limited to eight games before knee surgery in January. She is “100 percent” and participating in all activities. Tuck was granted a medical hardship year and retains three years of eligibility.
Jefferson returns to practice after missing a week with a hamstring issue. And freshman Gabby Williams, recovering from her second ACL surgery, is close to returning.
“But we don’t know how much she will be able to do Wednesday,” Auriemma said. “Everyone is excited about the freshmen [Williams, Nurse, Sadie Edwards and Courtney Ekmark] except the coaches. I’d be happy if they all just showed us how competitive they are. I don’t think any of them is ready to win a national championship by themselves.”
On Tuesday, Auriemma and Kevin Ollie attended what was billed as an “Evening Of Champions” at the Oakdale Theatre. The two championship coaches took questions from the audience of about 450.
And on Friday at First Night at Gampel, both national championship banners will be raised.
“We deserve it,” Auriemma said. “No one else has done what we’ve done over the years. We deserve everything that comes our way because we’ve worked our butts off for it.”
Auriemma said he took last weekend off, one final respite after the solid month he spent coaching USA Basketball’s gold medal run. But he also felt an obligation to get right back to work knowing his UConn team hadn’t seen him for a long time.
“There’s a lot to catch up on. There’s a lot you want to do,” Auriemma said.
Of course, Auriemma also coached Stewart on the USA Basketball team — she was the only college player on the team — and although she played just 36 minutes in six games, he said the experience was valuable for her.
“She certainly got an education, let’s put it that way,” Auriemma said. “And I don’t mean just in terms of playing internationally, which she has already done many times. But instead of playing up in years [age] by one or two, she was playing, in some cases, up 10 years. And that’s a whole different world.”
Stewart prepared for USA Basketball by doing a lot of one-one-one work this summer with Mosqueda-Lewis. The workouts were designed to help each player improve on shortcomings the coaches have identified. And for Mosqueda-Lewis, a large part of that was improving her physical conditioning.
“She’s had a lot of experience in the past getting herself ready for the start of practice,” Auriemma said. “And people’s bodies change as they get older. They start to understand what they can do and what they can’t do. … It was a long summer. She’s put in a lot of effort and she’s getting things done she struggled to do last year.”
Good stuff at annual photo day. Who’s ready for 2014-15?! pic.twitter.com/1GLHPR6Za5
— UConn Women’s Hoops (@UConnWBB) October 13, 2014