Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was asked to comment on the significant contribution of UConn’s 6-foot-3 freshman center Kiah Stokes following Monday’s game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. At first, McCallie did not know quite how to answer the question. So she took a look at the final boxscore for some assistance.
When she saw that Stokes had finished with four points had season-highs of 12 rebounds, five blocks and 28 minutes in UConn’s 61-45 victory, McCallie knew exactly what to say.
“Probably the difference maker in the game,’’ McCallie said. “I didn’t realize she corralled 12 rebounds, which is more than anybody on our team. And she’s a sub off the bench. Yeah, she deserves a lot of kudos for that. I didn’t realize that she collected that many.’’
Stokes came through on a night when UConn badly needed her to. Starting center Stefanie Dolson picked up her second foul just three minutes, 56 seconds into the game. UConn coach Geno Auriemma did not hesitate in sending Stokes to the scorers table to take her shot at defending Duke’s talented 6-3 freshman center Elizabeth Williams. And Stokes, who continues to improve, responded.
“That was two pretty good freshmen going at each other,’’ Auriemma said. “I think Elizabeth right now is little more advanced as an offensive player than Kiah is. But it hasn’t been often this year that the coaches were telling me to get Kiah in for defense because she was going to alter shots and rebound the ball. She’s such an athletic individual and she’s got such long reach that something like this is what you expect of her when you see her. But it’s been a little bit difficult getting it out of her. But we keep going to her and keep going to her because we had always hoped that this is there somewhere. It’s just getting it out of her.’’
Stokes got rolling immediately, producing two points, two rebounds and a steal in the first 2:44 she was on the court. It was only the beginning.
Stokes would generate seven rebounds and four blocks in 13 minutes in the second half when UConn took command. She had a key blocked shot on Williams with 8:09 left in the game and Duke looking to cut the Huskies’ lead to 10. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made a 3-pointer 11 seconds later to stake UConn to a 48-33 lead.
“I guess I could be (happy), but I can’t be happy with this one game,’’ Stokes said. “I have to continue to grow from this and continue to play hard every day and get rebounds and block shots. That I know I can do to help my team. Doing anything to help our team is all I can do. And I know that my teammates are gaining a little more trust in me so I’ve got to continue to keep that. I don’t want to let my teammates down, that’s No. 1.’’
Mosqueda-Lewis missed each of her first six shots, including three 3-pointers, in the first half Monday. Auriemma wanted to make sure that she did not get tentative and stop shooting the ball in the second half so he had a talk with her at halftime.
Mosqueda-Lewis heeded Auriemma’s advice. And the first shot she took in the second half was one of the biggest of the game. Her 3-pointer with 16:13 left in the game stopped a run of four straight points by Duke and gave UConn a 37-29 lead.
Mosqueda-Lewis missed one more shot before connecting on a second 3-pointer with 7:58 left that gave the Huskies a 48-33 lead. She finished with six points (2-of-10 FG; 2-of-6 3-pointers), seven rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes.
“I’m always telling her, `You should never be worried about taking a shot,’’’ Auriemma said. “She passed up a couple shots (Monday) too. And that’s what happens. Young kids start missing and they go, `OK, I’m not going to shoot it.’ And I let her know about it at halftime and on the bench. I said, `You’re out there for a reason.’ So hopefully she doesn’t let it bother her. But when you’re a young kid and you know people are counting on you to make shots and you’re not it’s easy to just say, `OK, well I don’t want to hurt the team anymore so I’ll stop shooting.’ But those two she made were huge. No question about it. They were really, really huge.’’
Huskies’ assistant coach Shea Ralph is going to see Saniya Chong, a 5-9 junior guard from Ossining (N.Y.) High, play Tuesday night in New Jersey. Assistant coach Marisa Moseley is leaving on a recruiting trip to California. One of the players she is taking a look at is Karlie Samuelson, a 5-11 junior guard from Edison High.