Tuck looking to put struggles behind her

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Morgan Tuck would love to kick down that freshman wall she seems to be running into, but with her injured right knee it’s not worth the risk.

It’s been seven weeks since the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s rookie forward was diagnosed with a bone bruise in the right knee that kept her out of three games and has limited her in others.

Against Duke last Monday, she played just five minutes and in the second half didn’t get in until 1:36 remained as UConn coach Geno Auriemma shortened his rotation. Her stat line across the board was all zeroes.

Tuck figures to get more of a shot Saturday when the third-ranked Huskies face former player/assistant coach Jamelle Elliott and Cincinnati in Big East action on the road at Fifth Third Arena (8 p.m., SNY).

“We have to contribute to the team,” Tuck said. “It’s not fair to the rest of the players if we’re not doing all we can. We have to make the most of our upcoming opportunities in games and in practice.

“Sometimes you just have to grind it out. I don’t know if there is an exact answer or something to cure it. It’s something that comes with time here and just really focusing on my opportunities.”

In UConn’s first six games, Tuck averaged 10.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per outing. But in her last nine games the numbers are 2.6 points and 2.9 rebounds in 10.9 minutes.

She began having issues with the right knee the first week of December and played limited minutes against Maryland and Penn State. Then after the break for fall semester final exams, she sat out games against Oakland (Mich.) and Hartford.

The Bolingbrook, Ill., native came back for the Stanford game Dec. 29 and two days later at Oregon had 10 points, seven rebounds, and five steals in 27 minutes. After playing six minutes in the loss to Notre Dame, she sat out the game at Georgetown Jan. 9 with pain in the knee. She bounced back with seven points, nine rebounds, and five assists against Marquette two weeks ago, but in the three games since has totaled four points and two rebounds in 25 minutes.

She said the two days off the Huskies took after Monday’s win were helpful. But she also admits to losing some confidence.

“That might be a small part of it, but also the mental part just really hasn’t been there for me,” Tuck said. “Getting over this will put me in better spirits and I’ll be able to produce more.

“I have to have the same mindset. I can’t change because I’m struggling right now. Everyone goes through their struggles and I have to focus on getting out of mine.”

Though she has been limited a bit in practice at times, she won’t use the knee problems as an excuse.

“I don’t think about my knee at all when I’m playing,” Tuck said. “It’s just me not doing what I need to do.

“(Not practicing) makes it a little difficult because I can’t really get into as much of a rhythm with my teammates. But it’s starting to get a little better now that I’ve been in practice consistently.”

In June 2009, Tuck tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the trials for the United States U-16 national team in Colorado Springs. She made the team but did not participate in the FIBA Americas tournament that summer.

So the injuries are not related.

“With the ACL I knew I wouldn’t practice for a couple of months,” Tuck said. “Here, I didn’t have to sit out for weeks at a time. I did get a practice in now and then. It’s frustrating but much better now.

“I think I’m on the road to 100 percent. Hopefully it will keep healing and I won’t have to miss any more practices.”

The Huskies (17-1 overall, 4-1 Big East) could use contributions from Tuck and sophomore Kiah Stokes, who has also missed time with an injury (right shin stress reaction). One of the strengths UConn seemed to have coming into the season was frontcourt depth with Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart, Tuck, and Stokes.

The Duke game was the first time since Dec. 6 all 11 Huskies were healthy and available to play.

“Morgan gives us a completely different look than either Kiah or Stefanie,” Auriemma said. “I want to get those guys in the flow as much as possible going forward.”

With the way the Huskies’ schedule is the next couple of weeks, Auriemma should get that chance.

Following Cincinnati, UConn has three of its next four at home before traveling to Providence and Rutgers. Then it’s No. 1 and defending national champion Baylor at the XL Center in Hartford Feb. 18.

“There are times that Tuck comes in and she does great,” UConn guard Kelly Faris said. “She gives us a lot off the bench.”

The Bearcats had hoped to take a step forward after earning a WNIT berth in Elliott’s third season but it has not happened.

Cincinnati (8-10, 0-5) has dropped five straight and seven of its last eight. The Bearcats are coming off a 51-45 loss to DePaul Tuesday and that followed a road trip that saw them lose by 33 to South Florida and by 39 to Louisville.

Auriemma has never lost (35-0) against teams that had one of his former players or assistant coaches as a head or assistant coach.