Freshman post player Kiah Stokes is averaging 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes. Only Lauren Engeln (7.8) and Michala Johnson (5.7) are averaging fewer minutes off the bench for the Huskies this season
Stokes has played a combined 30 minutes in the last four games. And prior to playing 16 minutes at the College of Charleston Dec. 21, she endured a three-game stretch where she played a combined 14 minutes against No. 8 Texas A&M (9), Seton Hall (4) and No. 1 Baylor (1).
Stokes said that she felt she had taken a step back in her progression. But she feels that the time that she spent at home at Christmastime will help her get back on track.
“Going home I just tried to clear my mind,’’ Stokes said. “And then coming out this week I’ve just got to try to get better every single day. I talked my dad a little bit. But mostly it was like get away from everything and try to enjoy the time while I had it because being here basketball is a year round thing or it’s the only thing when you’re here. So going home it was definitely a break from that. And I think you need a break every now and then. And for a couple days it was the perfect amount.’’
Stokes said being a student-athlete at UConn is the hardest thing she has ever had to do.
“I think I just need to be more aggressive offensively and defensively,’’ Stokes said. “Heather (Buck’s) been playing more minutes because they’re looking for a rebounder and that’s what she does. And she’s been getting amazing rebounds. So I’ve just got to get more rebounds, try to block more shots. Just be more aggressive all-around.’’
Auriemma was adamant that the key to Stokes’ improvement is her ability to compete in practice. At this point her level of intensity wavers too much on a daily basis.
“She has to compete,’’ Auriemma said. “She has to come to practice every day and compete. And right now, she doesn’t do that on a regular basis. If you say, `Well, on a scale of 1-10, how competitive is she on a regular basis?’ Three. And that just doesn’t get it. And every once in a while she’ll get up to five and it’ll look like she’s Hakeem Olajuwon just by being at five. And she knows this. I’m not saying anything that she doesn’t already know. You either do that or you don’t play, which is unfortunate because that’s an area where we need bodies.’’
Unlike in the past when players responded after being benched or having their minutes cut, Auriemma is not sure that that tactic serves as motivation for players now.
“I don’t know what motivates anybody any more,’’ Auriemma said. “I used to think that people were so prideful, people were so intent on getting my minutes, making sure that I play, making sure I contribute. And I use Shea Ralph as a perfect example. When I benched her, just for a half, forget a whole game… I benched Shea Ralph for a half, and I knew somebody was going to get their (butt) beat that day. I just was hoping it wouldn’t be me. I knew somehow, some way, somebody was going to pay for that, and it ended up being the other team in the second half. But I knew if I didn’t play her the whole game, something bad would’ve happened at practice the next day. I probably would not have come to practice. I would be fearing for my life. But today’s kids, I think they just go, `Uh, whatever.’’’