Morgan Tuck now stands out with the best of them at UConn. Story by Rich Elliott.
By Rich Elliott
STORRS – There is no women’s college basketball player in the country that casts a longer shadow than UConn senior star Breanna Stewart. There is no question that she is the top talent in the nation or that she will be a member of the U.S. Olympic team in the future.
A shadow of this magnitude might blanket some teammates, denying them the opportunity to be viewed by those outside of the program as being a truly elite player. Senior point guard Moriah Jefferson has solidified her spot on that prestigious list, earning All-American honors last season.
Following Saturday’s performance against No. 3 Notre Dame before a sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion and a national television audience, red-shirt junior Morgan Tuck left little doubt that she too makes the cut. She delivered 21 points, seven rebounds and a career-high eight assists to power the top-ranked Huskies to a 91-81 win in the Jimmy V Classic.
``People that I talk to that’s one of the first things they bring up that they love Morgan Tuck,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``And you talk to anybody that knows anything about basketball whether it’s college, pro, anybody that watches her play they all know what the value is. I think what she did last year everybody knows. At least they should know anyway. If they don’t they’re not paying attention.’’
Tuck, who also set career-highs in made free throws (nine) and free throws attempted (13) in the game, averaged career-highs of 14.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as UConn captured its third straight national championship. She said that she feels that she is a better player this season. And it showed against the Irish.
With the Huskies struggling to distances themselves from Notre Dame, it was Tuck who took the lead in the second half. Behind 10 points from Tuck, they outscored the Irish 27-13 in the third quarter to open a 72-56 lead.
``Morgan’s just somebody that we can count on every day, every night,’’ Auriemma said. ``She’s nothing flashy, nothing spectacular. She just does all the little things that help you win games. That’s the best way I can describe Morgan, and it’s been like that since her first year here. She’s not great at anything, but she’s good at everything. And she’s really good at winning games.’’
Overall, Tuck scored a team-high five points (5-for-6 FTs) during a pivotal 17-0 run that spanned the final 3:46 of the third quarter and the opening 56 seconds of the fourth quarter. She also added one assist, two defensive rebounds and a blocked shot during UConn’s surge.
``She’s incredible,” Jefferson said. ``She’s like a bull down there. You get her the ball, and she’s going after you. She got to the free throw line a lot for us and knocked in a couple big free throws and she finished well around the rim.
``She means everything (to the team). She’s the calm, composed piece that we need out on the floor. And she’s always there for us.’’
Stewart led the Huskies with 28 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. She has posted two straight doubles-doubles and has three in the last four games.
Jefferson added 14 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals. Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson finished with 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
UConn (6-0) has won five straight games against the Irish (7-1). The teams have met in the NCAA tournament final in each of the past two years, including the Huskies’ 63-53 win in Tampa last season.
``We always want to beat Notre Dame,’’ said Tuck, who committed one turnover in 36 minutes. ``Just like they always want to beat us just because it’s one of the biggest rivalries in women’s basketball. So there always is that motivation to try to play your best game against Notre Dame. It’s good to know that I had an impact. But I think as a team a lot of us stepped up and a lot of us made big plays.’’
Freshman Marina Mabrey scored 21 of her 23 points in the first half to lead Notre Dame, who was without sophomore forward Brianna Turner (shoulder) and junior forward Taya Reimer (Achilles). Graduate student Madison Cable contributed 17 points.
With a host of talented players making an impact on the game, Irish coach Muffet McGraw expressed her admiration for Tuck after UConn had won its 12th straight game against a Top 5 opponent.
``I thought she hurt us. I thought she was the difference in the game,’’ McGraw said. ``You expect Stewart’s going to get what she got. But to have Morgan Tuck come in with eight assists and only one turnover, 21 points, got to the free throw line, did everything that she needed to do. I thought she was probably the X-factor for them. I thought she really played well. I’ve always admired her game.’’