It has all been building to this for 6-foot-2 freshman forward Morgan Tuck this season. There has been that pesky bone bruise in her right knee that limited her production. There was that mental battle that she was waging within herself to stop over-thinking things and just let her natural ability take over when she is on the court.
Tuck’s knee has been feeling better lately. Her mind is right too. And Monday night against No. 1 Baylor, she proved again why her upside is so high by delivering 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes off the bench.
“I’ve been telling you guys since Oct. 15 that Morgan, other than Stefanie (Dolson), is our best inside player,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s a shame that her injuries have kept her from playing. I think she’s the healthiest that she’s been all year, and the kid is a good basketball player. For her to play like that in this game under those circumstances, I thought she was terrific. And she’s going to get better. She’s going to get a lot better. She’s not afraid. The kid just plays basketball. She doesn’t worry about anything. She just goes and plays the game.
“She took a couple quick shots, but other than that I thought she was great. I really do. She was great. I’d like to go to her more offensively. We came out of one timeout and we went right to her and she got a bucket. She doesn’t shy away from big moments.’’
Tuck was UConn’s second-leading scorer in the second half against the Lady Bears with nine points in 16 minutes. (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 13 points). She hit a turn-around jumper to give the Huskies a 31-30 lead with 18:46 left in the game. She put back her own miss to give the Huskies a 50-49 lead with 10:13 left. And trailing 65-58, she made a 3-pointer with 6:00 left to key a 7-0 run.
UConn needed another post presence aside from Dolson to step forward. And Tuck responded.
“I just have to thank my teammates and Coach for getting on me, telling the people that come off the bench that we need to have a spark,’’ Tuck said “And I’ve definitely been trying to have the right mindset coming off. I think before when I was struggling for a long time it was just the mentality. And now I just kind of try not to think about it. I just try to go out and just focus on doing anything and everything I can to help.’’
Tuck is averaging 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in 25.5 minutes the last two games. She has played at least 20 minutes in back-to-back games for the first time since opening the season with 22 against the College of Charleston Nov. 11 and 21 at Texas A&M Nov. 18.
“She’s a solid kid, a solid player, and she’s got a lot of talent,’’ Auriemma said. “And she’s got a great head for the game. And that’s a lot for a freshman. That’s a lot.’’
As if you even needed further proof of how dependable Dolson has become, here is what she did against Baylor Monday: 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks in 40 minutes. She was the only player to play every minute of the game.