UConn's Buck remains work in progress

UConn center Heather Buck battles Syracuse's Carmen Tyson-Thomas for a rebound in this March 7 photo.
UConn center Heather Buck battles Syracuse's Carmen Tyson-Thomas for a rebound in this March 7 photo. Day file photo

Storrs - Over the summer, Heather Buck looked at a game film from her senior year at Stonington High School in 2008, the last time she was an everyday player. What was different then from now?

"The thing that struck me was I was doing something on every play," said Buck, a redshirt sophomore on this year's UConn women's basketball team and one of only 10 healthy players for the two-time defending national champs.

"? It's so easy to step back and see Tina (Charles) and Maya (Moore) and think, 'they're so good; they'll do something' and just watch them."

So far, Buck, a 6-foot-3 center who has bulked up considerably over the summer, is not where she'd like to be in the preseason. The Huskies play their first exhibition game Nov. 4 against Franklin Pierce and their first game of the regular season Nov. 14 against Holy Cross.

She's not where UConn coach Geno Auriemma would like her to be, either, as he begins the era immediately following the departure of Charles, the national player of the year last season and the WNBA Rookie of the Year for the Connecticut Sun. Auriemma said following Monday's practice at Gampel Pavilion that freshman Stefanie Dolson is probably ahead of Buck as of now.

"I think Heather's worked hard. I think she's made progress, no question," Auriemma said. "(Her teammates) are starting to get on her now. You see how big she is, she'll have five minutes where she does all kinds of things and then she'll catch it and airball a layup.

"She's just so nice. She's the nicest kid in the world, you can't fault her for that."

Usually, when Auriemma means for Buck to be tougher, he makes a joke about her being a nursing major and going to get her opponents a Band-Aid.

The thing is, Buck knows all of this and can take it a little more in stride than she used to.

"He makes fun of everyone," Buck said. "He's going to make fun of me."

Buck said it was sort of a mix of things that made her get away from the confidence and assertiveness she had in high school, partly perhaps due to missing her freshman year with mononucleosis.

"Coach made fun of me again," she said with a smile of arriving as a freshman after setting the all-time scoring record at Stonington and becoming the local girl who made good. "He would say, 'When are you going to stop looking around and being amazed you're here?'"

Buck, who played in her first game for the Huskies a year ago after redshirting, averaged just 6.8 minutes per game, playing in 35 games as the team went 39-0 to reach 78 straight victories. She scored 61 points (1.7 points per game) and had 66 rebounds (1.9 per game).

Buck said while her start to the new season hasn't been the greatest, she's better than she was last year and better than the year before that. And she knows she has to just keep moving, playing defense and rebounding.

"CD (associate coach Chris Dailey) has emphasized to me, as long as I'm going out there and doing all the little things, it's going to help," Buck said. "? I felt like I got a lot done. This summer went well. I just want to go in and make some kind of impact on every play."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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