Kiah Stokes has been one of the most puzzling players UConn coach Geno Auriemma has on his roster. She can looks so dominant at times and then can look so ordinary at times too.
Stokes has often struggled to summon the energy needed to perform at her best. This has infuriated Auriemma, and often left Stokes confined to the bench.
With post players Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart in foul trouble Saturday against Temple, Auriemma turned to Stokes to provide an impact off the bench. She did not disappoint, generating six points (3-of-4), a career-high 18 rebounds and three blocks in a career-high 28 minutes.
“We know two things about Kiah,’’ Auriemma said. “She rebounds the ball and she blocks shots. And when she does those things it never surprises me because she’s really good at those things and she wants to be good at those things and she works hard at those things. If we can get her to be a little more assertive on the offensive end then we’ve really got something going.
“For her to do what she did (Saturday), especially with those guys in foul trouble, she came off the bench and did exactly what people coming off the bench are supposed to do. She gave us a huge lift.’’
Stokes had the most rebounds by a UConn player since Dolson finished with 18 against South Florida Jan. 27, 2012. It was the second straight game that Stokes has reached double figures in rebounding and the fifth time in 16 games this season.
Stokes’ previous season-high had been 13 (twice).
“It was one thing that the coaches have all said, I can rebound well so if I get in the game I need to do that as one thing,’’ Stokes said. “And then hopefully try to be more effective offensively. But if I can rebound that’s what I’ve got to do.
“(I was) mentally just being more aggressive. Knowing that I wasn’t posting up like they want me to so I’ve got to do something else better than I usually do. So I think that was my main focus. And some of the shots you can kind of see where they’re coming off the rim so I just tried to focus on where the misses would be and just try to go get it.’’
Stokes had eight rebounds (three offensive) in 12 minutes in the first half. She then had 10 (four offensive) in 16 minutes in the second half.
Stokes also had a career-high seven offensive rebounds.
“That was really impressive,’’ sophomore Breanna Stewart said. “When I found out she had 18 rebounds I was really happy for her because that’s the type of player she is. I think Kiah has been playing a lot better, and I think as the games continue her confidence will continue to grow. That’s what we need is for her to provide a spark off the bench when she comes in.’’
Said senior Bria Hartley: “That was crazy. I didn’t even know she had 18 rebounds. I think that’s great for her.’’
Stokes played at least 20 minutes for the ninth time this season, reaching double figures in rebounds in five times and averaging 10.7 in these games. In the remaining seven games, she is averaging 5.1 rebounds.
“One of odd things is Kiah Stokes needs a lot of minutes,’’ Auriemma said. “She’s not one of those that’s going to come off the bench and within five minutes you’re going to go, `Wow.’ Now if she was offensively as aggressively as she is with rebounding and blocking shots, it would probably be little bit easier for her. She needs a lot of minutes on the floor, but we have two pretty good post players. So it’s hard to find her the minutes that she needs. So if those guys get in foul trouble or now (Morgan) Tuck didn’t play (Saturday) so you can afford to give her all those minutes. But the same with Brianna Banks, they’re going to have to learn for the rest of the season maybe that as soon as you enter the game in the next four or five minutes, whatever, you’ve got to have an impact immediately. And if we can get to that point we’ll be alright.’’