Auriemma Hopes Stokes Builds Off Of First Career Start

UConn coach Geno Auriemma gave sophomore center Kiah Stokes yet another chance to prove herself Saturday at St. John’s. She was awarded her first career start after he learned that Stefanie Dolson could not play due to illness.

Stokes’ day did not start as she hoped it would as committed two turnovers in the first 34 seconds of the game. However, she shook off her slow start and finished with a season-high seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes.

“I found out I was going to start after we came back in the second time during warm-ups,’’ Stokes said. “At first it kind of threw me off. I didn’t expect it. I thought Stef was going to play. I think that’s one thing I need to work on is just being ready to play because you never know. Stef could get sick or hurt and they might need me to step up. But I was definitely nervous when I first came out there, but coming out in the second half I was really determined just to make a bigger impact and influence on the team.

“I think my team needed me to rebound and I tried my best to do that. I had a few key defensive rebounds and if that’s what my team needs that’s what I’m going to try to give to them.’’

Stokes produced four points, three rebounds and one block in nine minutes in the second half. She too played a role in UConn’s success when it switched from man-to-man to a zone defense.

Stokes ultimately helped the Huskies seal the win with a pair of key defensive rebounds and two free throws in the final 44 seconds.

“The coaches were really hounding me to go zone,’’ Auriemma said. “And I don’t really trust our zone that much. We’re not very bright. We make a lot of mistakes and we’re a man-to-man team primarily. But when Kiah and Morgan (Tuck) did get in the game… Because Kiah’s a really good shot blocker and a really good rebounder, and Morgan’s really smart on the wing I thought, `Let’s take a chance.’ And it kind of made the difference. The one thing that happens for you to win games like this is, I think Kiah got fouled and either (assistant coaches) Marisa (Moseley) or Shea (Ralph) said, `Don’t worry about it, she’s a good free throw shooter.’ And she banks in the first one and then the other one hits like nine parts of the rim and the top of the backboard and it goes in. So sometimes it’s just meant to be. But I was happy for her because she has struggled a lot this year. Hopefully this will be an impetus to kind of get her going.’’

Aureimma said that he was encouraged by how Stokes, who is averaging 2.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 12.6 minutes in 15 games this season, performed at practice Sunday and Monday.

“I think the last two days Kiah’s been better,’’ Auriemma said. “She’s been better and I would hope she would be. If she wasn’t I’d be pretty disappointed. But she’s been better.’’