Stefanie Dolson needed some help inside last season. Kelly Faris did her best, playing power forward at 5-foot-11. But there was only so much she could be asked to provide in the paint. And Kiah Stokes, a 6-3 center, was much too inconsistent for UConn coach Geno Auriemma to rely on during her freshmen season.
Stokes maintained throughout the off-season, though, that she had changed. She was going to bring a better attitude to practice. She vowed that she was going to work harder and she was determined to make an impact for the Huskies.
Against No. 16 Texas A&M today. Stokes was true to her word. She finished with two points and game-highs of seven rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes off the bench.
“Kiah Stokes was great today,’’ Auriemma said. “I mean, golly. She was great. She was really, really, really good.
“There’s things that Kiah can do that if she does those things every day then she has a huge impact on our team. You see how long she is. So it’s hard to shoot over her. So you’ve got another defender that’s a little bit different than Stefanie, but a little more experienced than I hope than Breanna Stewart. So you’ve got another defender that they have to shoot over. 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. And, again, Breanna Stewart, Kiah Stokes, Morgan Tuck … Those guys just need to be solid. They don’t have to be great. Stefanie needs to be great. Kelly needs to be great. Caroline (Doty) … Those guys need to be great because they have the ability to do that. And today I would say it’s Kiah’s best effort since Oct. 15.’’
Stokes had three rebounds and two blocks in five minutes in the first half as the Huskies built a 40-28 lead at halftime.
Auriemma also said that he has noticed a difference in Stokes in practice lately.
“The last week, yeah, I’ve noticed it,’’ Auriemma said. “There’s been a difference. Absolutely. 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.’’
Said Dolson: “Kiah did awesome. She’s been doing well in practice and it definitely showed in (today’s) game just because I think she had a different mindset. There was one (play) 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 kind of keep it up.’’