MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Morgan Tuck celebrated a birthday Monday. But before turning 24, the former UConn All-American and Connecticut Sun forward turned the clock back in Seattle last week.
The first time Tuck and Breanna Stewart played a game together was for the United States national team was at the 2010 FIBA U-17 world championships. They were together again a week ago - along with fellow former Huskies Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tiffany Hayes, and Stefanie Dolson - as the USA senior national team faced China in an exhibition game at KeyArena. It was the first time Tuck - who was a late replacement to the 12-player roster after Elena Delle Donne withdrew with a neck injury - and Stewart were teammates since UConn routed Syracuse in the 2016 NCAA national championship game in Indianapolis.
Of course, their team won as the Americans topped China 83-46.
“Even though it was just an exhibition game it was cool to have that uniform on and to say I was playing for the United States national team,” Tuck said Wed-nesday. “To play with Stewie again was so cool, but I also got to play with Sue and Diana and Tiffany and Stef and it was fun to be out there with them.
“Being out there with Sue and Diana was different, just being from UConn. I know they weren’t the first great players from the program, but they are the greats. They are among the greatest to ever play the game. To have a chance to be out there with them, to learn from them, to interact with them, it was awesome.”
After the national team mini-camp and exhibition, Tuck headed here to begin her third season with the WNBA’s Sun.
There’s no drop-off in her excitement level. The Sun finished last season 21-13 and advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2012. With another year of experience, they are expected to make a run at the franchise’s first WNBA title, and Tuck wants to play a key role in that.
“I have to be consistent, I want to show that I can consistently be an impact player,” Tuck said. “That’s my goal. I don’t want to be just a role player and be along for the ride. I want to make an impact and be confident. My confidence has been a struggle for me as a professional player. I need to go out there and do the things I know how to do and do them consistently to help us win games.”
The 6-foot-2 forward from Bolingbrook, Illinois, was the third overall pick by the Sun in the 2016 WNBA Draft after she, Stewart, and Moriah Jefferson led UConn to an unprecedented four consecutive national championships.
She played in 26 games as a rookie but missed the final eight with a knee injury. She got off to a strong start - averaging double figures points in her five games - before another knee injury sidelined her for 12 games. After scoring 59 points in those first five games, she scored 59 points in her last 12 regular season outings. In the Sun’s playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena against the Phoenix Mercury, she played just 3:39 and had three points and a rebound in an 88-83 loss.
“They’ve been, just kind of off,” Tuck said of her first two WNBA seasons. “My rookie year was OK and then I had an injury. Last year I got off to a good start and when I came back from injury it was terrible. I go back to I have to be consistent. I liked the way I started last year so I want to go back to that and keep it going.”
Last fall, Tuck went overseas for the first time and averaged 29.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in 26 games for Shaanxi Tianze in China. When that season ended in mid-January, she returned to the United States, did two USA Basketball mini-camps, and rested and prepared for the summer season.
“It was really different in China but I will definitely go back if the opportunity presents itself,” Tuck said. “Then I had a good break since the season in China is so short. I got to travel around and enjoy life a little bit. But what was important to me is that I didn’t have to sit out any games and that’s the first time that’s happened in awhile. So I got here rested and feeling good and I hope that continues here.”
Among the things she worked on in China was handling the ball more on the perimeter.
“I wasn’t able to be just a post player there. I had to bring the ball up, I had to play the wing, I had to play everything,” Tuck said. “I want to be able to make plays and feel good whether I’m at the 3 or the 4.”
While Tuck was home, she also watched her alma mater in action. That included the Huskies’ 91-89 overtime loss to Notre Dame in the national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio, on March 30. It was the second straight year UConn entered the Final Four unbeaten but fell short of reaching the title game on a buzzer-beating basket.
It was just another reminder of how difficult it was for Tuck, Stewart, and Jefferson to do what they did during their days in Storrs.
“I think people realize more how hard it was, but our fans were really spoiled when we were there,” Tuck said. “They’ve lost two games in the last two years and it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ They’ve been tough ones to lose but they’ve lost two games. They’ve played great but had this hump in the national semifinal game they couldn’t get over. But winning the national championship isn’t easy. We don’t think, ‘We’re at UConn so we’ll win the national championship.’ It doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot. I just wish people would appreciate what they’ve done.
“It was hard watching Notre Dame win it. We were in the Big East with them my freshman year when the rivalry was really big and they beat us three times before we finally got them at the Final Four. For me, I just didn’t want Notre Dame to win. I’m not going to lie. To watch the way the game ended, and it to be to Notre Dame, it sucked.”
The Sun will open their preseason schedule with a two-day, four-team event at Mohegan Sun Arena. They will take on Los Angeles on Monday, and Dallas on Tuesday. Both games start at 7 p.m. New York will be the fourth team here and will play Dallas Monday and LA Tuesday with those games tipping off at 5 p.m.
The Sun open the regular season Sunday May 20 at the Mohegan Sun at 1 p.m. against the Las Vegas Aces, formerly the San Antonio Stars.