STORRS - Molly Bent’s first impression on the UConn women’s basketball team came on the second offensive possession of her career when she took an outlet pass and fired a perfect lead to a sprinting Napheesa Collier for a layup.
A national TV audience and a crowd of 4,753 inside the Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Florida, saw it. One soul, though, missed it - the person doing the game statistics at Florida State, who gave the assist to Saniya Chong.
In a way, it summed up Bent’s freshman season. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma put it, never had he seen a player work so hard and get so little reward out of it.
As the 5-foot-9 guard prepares for second year with the Huskies, she has a foundation for success. But she knows she must build confidence in herself and trust with her coaches and teammates to get meaningful minutes on what could be UConn’s deepest roster in years.
“There were definitely highs and lows, for me personally and for the team,” Bent said. “When I look back, I think ahead about having that confidence to go out on the court and play the way that I know how to play. I don’t want to worry about making mistakes. I don’t want to worry about whether I’m doing the right thing or not. I need to play free and trust my instincts.
“I have to be better at things on the court, obviously. But a big part of things will be mental, staying engaged and making the right decisions. I don’t want to be overwhelmed and get ahead of myself. I need to be composed. The coaches told me not to over-think things. Where someone might have to look at game film or something like that, for me they want me to get back to having fun playing like I did in high school. Just be myself.”
Bent played in 31 games as a freshman, averaging 1.0 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 9.3 minutes.
While the Centerville, Massachusetts, native started the season by getting some key minutes in the games against Florida State and Baylor, her playing time in those key spots soon diminished. In the NCAA Tournament, she did not get in until the final five minutes of any game. And she could only watch as UConn saw its four-year reign as national champion and record 111-game winning streak end with an overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four in Dallas.
“It was different at different moments in the season,” Bent said. “You definitely had your frustrating moments personally with yourself knowing that you could do so much better than you were. But it was definitely a learning experience the whole way through. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. There is so much to basketball that I didn’t even know coming in. I wouldn’t have traded the year. I learned a lot, I had a lot of fun and now hopefully I can apply what I learned to be better this year.”
Her playing time may depend on it.
Forwards Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara are eligible after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. But the players who will be competing with Bent for minutes are the four freshmen - guards Mikayla Coombs and Andra Espinoza-Hunter and wings Lexi Gordon and Megan Walker. The edge she has is experience.
“Sophomores know that there’s so much more to it than making a basket or making the right pass,” Bent said. “You have to have incredible energy and be a great teammate. Knowing how that works, you don’t have to worry about making sure that you call out everyone’s name, am I cheering for everyone, because it’s engrained in you already. Knowing that, you can focus more on the basketball part.
“It’s definitely crucial getting that confidence from having been here for a year. You know how things work, you know what to expect. With that you hope confidence comes and you have the ability to make the right play.”
On UConn’s tour of Italy that saw it go 3-1 in a series of exhibition games, Bent averaged 2.3 points. She started the opener against the Netherlands national team while Kia Nurse was traveling from Argentina to Rome after taking part in the FIBA AmeriCup 2017.
The Huskies are scheduled to spend a second day in Venice today before flying home on Wednesday.
Bent earned Dean’s List honors in her first two semesters at UConn. But while a pair of on-court runs ended for the Huskies last March, an off-the-court one ended for Bent in May.
For the first time since the first of her three years at Tabor Academy (which followed two perfect years at Barnstable High), she did not get all A’s on her transcript during the spring semester.
“What happened? English happened,” Bent said with a shake of the head. “I’m a little bitter. I got a B-plus in a freshman English course. I’m thinking about being a math major so that writing side is not my forte.”
She got back on her run of A’s during the five-week summer school session that lasted through June.
The fall semester begins next Monday. Then it’s preseason workuts to prepare for the start of official practice in mid-October. The regular season opener against Stanford at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, is Nov. 12.
For Bent, it’s a second chance to make a first impression.
Tuck headed to Israel
Left knee surgery last year cost Morgan Tuck to opportunity to play overseas following her rookie season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.
While the former UConn All-American missed 12 games earlier this summer with a knee contusion, she is healthy now and will be playing this winter. She has signed a contract with Elitzur Maclaren Holon in Israel.
“You go through your agent, so it isn’t much work on my part,” Tuck said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity.
“It definitely would have been nice to have played last offseason. But sometimes it works out that way. Last offseason was great and I had a great time. But now I’m expected to be able to go play.”
Tuck is averaging 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.3 minutes over 17 games for the Sun (19-10), who defeated the Phoenix Mercury 94-66 on Sunday.
The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native missed most of her sophomore season at UConn to have surgery that replaced missing cartilage in her right knee. Her surgery a year ago was to repair torn cartilage in her left knee.
She earned All-America honors as a senior and was the No. 3 pick overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft behind UConn teammates Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson after helping the Huskies to an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship.
“Physically I feel good,” Tuck said. “We’re winning and we’re in the playoffs. That’s huge for our program. Right now it’s important for me to make sure that I’m playing the way I know how to play and that I am doing all I can to help the team.”
The Sun host Chong and the Dallas Wings on Wednesday.