Morgan Tuck: All American without the plaque
TAMPA – If you watch, you know. If you listen to one of those voices be it Geno or ESPN announcers Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson or Maryland coach Brenda Frese and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw or the opposition that gets to battle against her, you know.
You know that Morgan Tuck is no secret. You know that Morgan Tuck is the 4th All-American on a team that has three official All-Americans – Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Mariah Jefferson. You know that Tuck is only not an official All-American because UConn can’t get it all.
How many trophies, awards can you send to Storrs. They’re just about out of wall when it comes to honoring All-Americans. They seemingly own half the gold and silver market with their continual haul of hardware.
Auriemma understands it, Tuck understands it. But the lack of designation is almost irrelevant. Not when all who know, know that it is numbers game. The performance outweighs the plaque.
“I understand, obviously, there’s a lot of really good players in the country, and I understand that you can only – you can only reward our team so much for what we did,’’ said Auriemma early Tuesday morning after Tuck proved to be Maryland’s poison with a 24-point, nine rebound performance that caught the Terrapins unable to cope. “The three they picked to be All-American I thought really deserved it. I thought all three of them had tremendous years. And I think because we have Stewy, Morgan gets overlooked a little bit. And we talked about it after the rewards came out. And she was okay with it.”
The sleek 6-foot-2 forward has had a banner season and a better post-season. The tournament has been terrific Tuck with a 20.6 average on rather eye-popping 44-of-66 shooting while averaging seven rebounds a game.
She is not the first name out of your mouth when it comes to UConn, but it better be one of the first players you figure out how to guard. Notre Dame will have to dig deep into coach Muffet McGraw’s defensive playbook for Tuesday night’s national championship game because they already received a first-hand lesson from Tuck.
Early in the season when the two teams met, the Irish held Stewart at bay only to be torched by Tuck to the tune of 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting and nine rebounds. All of which led to a 76-58 UConnn win. Muffet knows.
“It’s disappointing that the media makes the decision at the beginning of the season about who the best players are going to be,” said McGraw. “I think she is their second best player. I thought the game she had against us, she was the best player. She really did so many great things. She is incredibly overlooked on that team. She is so versatile inside and out.”
“We were not focused on her and she made us pay,” said Notre Dame forward Michaela Mabrey.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese referred to Tuck as the `X-factor’ after watching her drill a couple of 3-pointers and unleash a smooth variety of moves in the low-post that made her so difficult to guard. And it wasn’t just all the time, it was big time.
With Maryland’s defense reducing Mosqueda-Lewis to facilitator (1-of-8 shooting, 7 assists), Tuck took over. Thirteen first half points including a dagger-like 3-pointer to lift UConn’s lead to 44-33 before the half.
Another 3-pointer to start the second half. Long-range is not what you prepare for with Tuck but it is what she can give you. If Stewart is the matchup nightmare with arms like Doc Oct and a skill set without weakness, then Tuck is the bad dream compliment.
A 2012 Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year, this is not a sudden emergence for Tuck. It should be no where did she come from deal. But a devastating knee injury a year ago which shortened her season to just eight games turned attention away. While the Huskies were winning a second straight and ninth overall national title, Tuck was forced to watch.
“It was really hard to watch,” said Tuck. “I was really happy for my teammates but I wanted to be out there.”
Tuck called the ensuing rehab the worst rehab she’s had (6 weeks on crutches). Soniya Chong was her personal helper during the winter and Tuck will tell you to ask Chong about it. But the whole watching experience didn’t lend itself to a wistful what if.
“It helped me, I learned not to take this year for granted,” said Tuck.
Being on the sideline may have also helped Tuck this year because she was off the radar. Back, but how good? And with Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis along with the All-American emergence of Jefferson, Tuck has avoided the spotlight at times and teams like Notre Dame have paid for it.
They know now although how to deal with Tuck in an arsenal of seemingly infinite weapons continues to create problems. Stewart from all over, Mosqueda-Lewis from 3-point land. Jefferson to the hoop and with a new found confidence from 3-point acreage.
But they know they have to find Tuck or find another source of UConn pain. The All-American thing really doesn’t matter a whole lot in the long run. It will come.
“Of course I want to be an All-American, I’m not going to say I wouldn’t want that,” said Tuck. “I still have two years here. I’m happy for teammates especially Moriah. Because she’s worked so hard for two years just to get on that level. Yes I want to get it but I am really excited my teammates got it and that Stewy got the Player of the Year Award.”
The All-American numbers game is what it is and nobody really has a problem with it. Geno will tell you that every kid on the team deserves to be there. But Geno will also tell you this.
“On our team, if people had the opportunity to come to watch our practices, they would think that there’s a lot practices during the course of the season where if you came in there you would think Tuck was the National Player of the Year,” said Auriemma. “Are there 10 better players in the country? I don’t think so.”
Stewy called Tuck’s performance against Maryland `a statement game’ concerning the All-American status. ‘I’m glad she’s on my team,” she added.
Bottom line - those who need to know, know about Morgan Tuck. Those who don’t know have or will find out. She’s got no plaque, but she’s got All-American game.