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A Healthy Chong Means Good Things For Huskies

POSTED January 08, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

This story is sponsored by Jim Pescatore Home Improvement.

HARTFORD – This season has been anything but easy for UConn junior guard Saniya Chong. IT Band Syndrome has caused significant pain in her right knee, forcing her to miss extensive practice time and three games.

There have been days where Chong has seen signs of promise that her ailment, which is caused by overuse of the thigh and knee, is under control. There have been others where the pain is so severe that she is unable to walk.

Through it all, Chong has attempted to remain as positive as possible, spending ample time working with team athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle. Chong’s performance in practice has been impressive lately as the two seemingly have established an effective rehabilitation program. So, too, has her performance in games.

Chong established season-highs of 18 points, four rebounds, four assists and 29 minutes Wednesday to help the top-ranked Huskies roll past Tulsa 95-35 before 8,515 at the XL Center. She added two steals and committed just one turnover.

``It was a huge step,’’ said Chong, who started in place of injured All-American point guard Moriah Jefferson. ``Because of my injury it was little shaky here and there in the beginning. But I think me and Rosie have been working together really hard and we’ve been improving each and every day. So just coming out here (Wednesday) and playing really hard it felt great.’’        

Jefferson missed the first game of her career due to a right hamstring injury sustained in practice Jan. 1. She had started the last 90 games for UConn (12-0, 2-0 AAC) and had appeared in the first 129 games since joining the program in 2012.

Jefferson exhibited no signs of discomfort while participating in pregame warm-ups Wednesday. UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that barring a setback he believes that she will play at Houston Friday.

``We’ll see (today) in practice,’’ Auriemma said. ``I’m not thinking one way or the other about (today). I’m pretty positive she’s going to go on Friday unless I see something different (today) or at shootaround Friday. But my guess is she’s going to go on Friday. But, again, I’ll know more (today) after practice.’’

Morgan Tuck added 18 points (7-for-11 FG), five rebounds and two assists for the Huskies. Katie Lou Samuelson had 14 points (4-for-6 3-pointers), four rebounds and five assists, while Breanna Stewart had 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks.

Napheesa Collier finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Gabby Williams had nine points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Chong had seven points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 16 minutes in the first half as UConn built a 49-18 lead. She then single-handedly outscored Tulsa 8-7 in the third quarter.

Chong, making her seventh career start, made back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of 1:52 in the quarter during what was a 20-0 run by the Huskies.

Overall, Chong was 6-for-11 shooting from the field (4-for-8 3-pointers).

``I felt really excited knowing I had to step in and take Mo’s place,’’ Chong said. ``She does everything on the court – her offense, her defense. So I knew coming out and playing her role I couldn’t be her, but I had to go out there give it my all and contribute to the team.’’

Said Tuck: ``I think it kind of builds up her confidence. And she’s been doing really, really well in practice so for it to translate to the game it means a lot.’’

Chong is averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 25.5 minutes in the last two games after being forced to sit out three games. She produced 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes in her return at Cincinnati Dec. 30.

The hope is that with Ragle’s help Chong will continue to progress from the perspective of her health as the season moves along. Less pain has yielded more results for Chong, something that will only benefit the Huskies.

``Saniya putting the ball in the basket has never been an issue,’’ Auriemma said. ``She can shoot it. She finishes around the basket. She’s a really, really good offensive player. It’s good that in addition to that she’s tried to do some other things on the other end of the floor, which we need her to do to help our team. You talk about Moriah being out of the game that’s a lot of defensive pressure that we don’t have out there. So I’m happy for her. It’s not easy to come out and play when you haven’t practiced a lot this year and you haven’t played a lot of game minutes. So I’m thrilled for her. It’s great.’’

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