Chong answered the bell for UConn women's basketball, earned recognition

Published on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 20:11
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

BRIDGEPORT - Saniya Chong heard her name announced over the public address system Monday night and had no idea why.

So, as the UConn women’s basketball team’s senior guard celebrated a 90-52 win over Oregon in the NCAA Tournament Bridgeport Regional final at Webster Bank Arena, she turned and asked classmate Tierney Lawlor what was going on.

And the Ansonia native gave Chong the news that she had been selected to the regional all-tournament team, the first such honor of her career.

“I wasn’t paying attention because I was talking to somebody else,” Chong said. “All I heard was my name. I said, ‘T, what was that for?’ She told me and my reaction was like, ‘Wow.’ I was so excited.”

Chong had 11 points, four rebounds, four assists - including the 300th of her career, - and three steals in 35 minutes against the Ducks. She hit two 3-pointers to start a 17-0 first-quarter run that put the Huskies (36-0, winners of 111 straight) in command.

When she came out of the game for the final time with 1:48 left, she received a loud ovation from the sellout crowd of 8,978.

“Saniya’s worked really hard,” said UConn forward Napheesa Collier, the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. “She’s been so consistent, at times the most consistent player on our team. She deserved to hear it from every single person that stood up and cheered for her.”

Chong helped the Huskies set the tone and tempo they wanted and Oregon could not keep up. She did some of her best work after UConn forced miscues as it had a 32-12 advantage in points off turnovers.

“Oregon is a good halfcourt team so we had to push the play in transition,” UConn guard Kia Nurse said. “Saniya is really good at getting out in transition and making plays. When you have all five people that can get up the floor and understand the pace and tempo, it’s a tough matchup.”

Chong has picked up her pace of play yet has remained under control.

“There are very few players that have Saniya’s quickness with the ball in their hands and have the ability to make the plays that she can make,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said “The problem is that unless you have the confidence to make them, it doesn’t how quick you are or how good you are, you won’t make those plays.

“What you are seeing right now is an unbelievably confident Saniya who is able to take advantage of all those skills she has. She is not getting the ball and thinking, ‘Should I go or should I not go?’ She just goes. Everybody goes, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how quick this kid is.’ She has always been this quick but her mind was always, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ There is no hesitation now.”

Chong and Lawlor made their way into the record books Monday night as the victory was the 152nd of their careers. No class has won more in NCAA history. UConn’s Class of 2016 won 151.

It’s a record that may last for awhile. The junior class of Nurse and Gabby Williams won’t be able to match it as the Huskies were 40-0 in Chong’s and Lawlor’s first year and UConn will play a maximum of 38 games next season.

“It’s pretty remarkable but we can’t take all the credit,” Chong said. “The first three years, the girls that I played with that came and went, they get as get the fourth national championship and hopefully we’ll get those two wins.”

The Class of 2017 has had nine teammates who were All-Americans.

The crowd may have also been saying farewell to Chong as she played her last game in Connecticut.

“It’s really bittersweet,” Chong said. “I’ve enjoyed it. This was a good way to say goodbye.”

Grand night

Collier became the seventh UConn sophomore to reach the 1,000-point mark when she hit a jumper with 6:46 left, her final basket in a 28-point performance.

She did not know she had reached four figures until associate head coach Chris Dailey informed her on the bench.

“Pheesa just feels confident every shot is going in,” said guard Katie Lou Samuelson, the sixth UConn sophomore to hit 1,000. “We joke, ‘Why do teams leave her open? She’s going to make every shot.’ If teams are going to continue that, we’re happy because I trust her to make all the shots she takes.”

Collier added 12 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season. She leads the American Athletic Conference in scoring, field-goal percentage, and blocked shots.

She is also the fourth Husky to join the 1,000-point club this season joining Nurse, Williams, and Samuelson.

The only other time UConn had four players get to four figures in a season was in 2005 when Ann Strother, Barbara Turner, Jessica Moore, and Ashley Battle did it.

We meet again

As the starters were introduced and met at center court, Williams was matched up with Oregon freshman and fellow Nevada native Mallory McGwire.

“We both had big smiles on our faces and it’s funny how it worked out,” Williams said.

It was the first time Williams and McGwire played against each other since high school and on a night in 2013 that Williams sustained the first of two ACL tears in her right knee.

The Sparks, Nevada, native had her way with McGwire, from neighboring Reno. Williams finished with 25 points, six rebounds, and four steals in 33 minutes. McGwire had four points, three rebounds, and four assists in 23 minutes.

“It was a little weird because we play really differently than we did in high school,” Williams said. “I was a guard in high school so I didn’t even have to guard her. I’m glad northern Nevada got some really good recognition tonight. I’m glad the folks back home got to see it.”

McGwire got to see it first hand.

“Gabby’s grown so much and being where she is right now is amazing,” McGwire said. “It’s awesome to watch.”

USA memories

Oregon coach Kelly Graves was an assistant to Miami’s Katie Meier with the 2013 USA Basketball U-19 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA world championships. The squad was led by UConn’s Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck.

“It was a pleasure working with them,” Graves said. “And that let me know how special UConn basketball is. Those three, their professionalism, their work ethic, their attitude ... Like when we would get off the bus, Stewie and Morgan would be the first two to grab extra bags. They’d be like, ‘Coach, let us help.’ That doesn’t happen often. But that’s the kind of attitude you have to have and the reason Geno recruited them.

“I think all student-athletes should emulate how they act, how they prepare to play. It’s amazing what they’ve done.”



Posted in Newington Town Crier, General Sports, UConn on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 20:11. Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2017 20:14.