The Huskies were looking for a spark tonight against Stanford. And they found one in reserve center Kiah Stokes. Yes, the same Kiah Stokes that has been in and out Geno Auriemma’s doghouse her entire career.
In the biggest game of the season to date, Stokes provided UConn with nine points (4-of-4 FG), four rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 22 minutes in a 75-56 win over Stanford in the NCAA national semifinals. Standing at her locker following the game, she was feeling pretty good about herself. And she had every right to be.
“I think it’s a big step for me, personally,’’ Stokes said. “I know my teammates got a little more confidence in me today. And I know the coaches, they expect that from me. They’re like, `You can do this every day if you wanted to.’ So it’s good to know that they’re still sticking with me, my teammates are still sticking with me. But it’s one thing I’ve just got to do it again in practice tomorrow and then in the game Tuesday (against Notre Dame).’’
It was the most points that Stokes had scored since finishing with 10 against Houston Jan. 7. She had scored 13 points in the last seven games combined.
Stokes had a free throw and scored off a move in the lane during a 12-2 run to end the first half. She later scored on a putback and a layup on back-to-back possessions in the second half to give the Huskies a 67-52 lead with 3:24 left.
“Kiah’s really stepped up this tournament,’’ senior Stefanie Dolson said. “Every weekend and then this one, especially. She came in and did exactly what we need from her. Rebounding. She posted up. Got great shots in there. And really was such a spark for us.’’
“Kiah came in and was a monster,’’ sophomore Breanna Stewart said. “She was making post moves. Guarding Chiney (Ogwumike). Getting rebounds, blocks. And that’s the kind of contribution we need from her.’’
Stokes is averaging 3.4 points (7-of-11 FG), 6.6 rebounds in 17.6 minutes in the NCAA tournament as UConn’s lone reserve that is seeing quality playing time.
“I think it helps build her confidence,’’ senior Bria Hartley said. “Kiah has so much potential and she can be a really great player. But when her confidence is up there she plays her best. And I’m glad she had it right now so going into this national championship game I know we can depend on her.’’