By Carl Adamec
Kiah Stokes scored two of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s points Sunday in its 81-50 win over Texas A&M at Reed Arena in College Station.
But a rebound here, a blocked shot there, and a layup along the line somewhere added up for Stokes and earned her praise from her coach and teammates. In 16 minutes against the Aggies, the 6-foot-3 sophomore reserve had seven rebounds and three blocks while clogging the lane defensively.
“Kiah Stokes was great today,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There are things that Kiah can do that if she does those things every day, she has a huge impact on our team. You see how long she is, so it’s hard to shoot over her. She’s long enough that she can get the rebounds that some other people can’t get to when she puts her mind to it.
“I would say it’s Kiah’s best effort since Oct. 15.”
Stokes had her ups and downs as a freshman. Rehabilitation for surgery to repair a torn tendon in her right foot took up much of her offseason. Her performance against College of Charleston a week earlier in the regular season opener wasn’t anything to write home to Iowa about.
But the only reason she didn’t get more playing time Sunday was that starter Stefanie Dolson (24 points) was enjoying a career day.
“Kiah did awesome,” Dolson said. “She’s been doing well in practice and it definitely showed in the game just because I think she had a different mindset. There was one time where there was a ball on the ground and she went after it. Normally, she kind of just would jog over to it. But she really went after it and she went after it on the defensive end. She had three blocks, which is awesome. She just had an aggressiveness that I don’t think she’s had in the beginning of the season. It’s definitely good and I hope she can keep it up.”
Auriemma agreed Stokes had a good week of practice leading up to the game.
“There’s been a difference. Absolutely,” he said. “It’s not a mystery in our program. If you come to practice and you work really hard and you make some improvements in your game, you do some things, you play a lot. We’re not as complicated as people think.”
Stokes’ next chance for the No. 2-Huskies will come in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands when they play three games in three days. UConn will take on Wake Forest on Thursday (6 p.m.), Marist on Friday (8:15 p.m.), and 14th-ranked Purdue on Saturday (8:15 p.m.). All three games will be televised by SNY.
All-America guard Bria Hartley missed her second straight game Sunday but Auriemma believes her return is near. Hartley participated in some drills at practice Friday and Saturday and also did some fullcourt work without facing a defense.
“She fell down three times, tripped over her own foot, and threw the ball away seven times. So she’s working her way close to normal,” Auriemma said. “She said it felt better. So Tuesday we’ll see how she feels and then we’ll get her to do more if we can. And then if she feels OK Wednesday morning she’ll do more on Wednesday. So every day, depending on how she feels, we’re going to get her to do more.”
UConn’s freshman class of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck has some Huskies’ fans recalling the days of “TASSK” — the Class of 2002 led by Sue Bird and Swin Cash.
They do have one thing in common. Bird’s class played the second game of its career against Arkansas, coached by Gary Blair. The current freshmen played their second game Sunday against Blair-coached Texas A&M.
“Remember, I was the one that gave those three the nickname ‘The Law Firm,’ ” Blair said in reference to the frontline of Cash, Asjha Jones, and Tamika Williams.
Cash had 20 points and Williams 14 in the Huskies’ 100-64 win over Arkansas on Nov. 14, 1998 in San Jose, Calif. On Sunday, the freshmen combined for 21 points and 14 rebounds in their first road game with the first 20 minutes being a huge struggle.
“The first half was on us,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “It shouldn’t have taken the whole half to get them on board and we shouldn’t have to rely on the coaches. If it happens again, the upperclassmen have to take control.”