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    Thursday, March 30, 2023

    NCAA women’s notes: Baylor’s Collen enjoying her return to Connecticut

    Baylor coach Nicki Collen reacts to a call during the second half of the team's game against West Virginia on March 4 in Waco, Texas. (Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

    Storrs — Nicki Collen and Curt Miller both served as Colorado State assistant women’s basketball coaches in 2001. They always said if there was an opportunity for them to work together again, they would welcome that chance.

    “We feel our brains fire similarly,” Collen said of Miller, who became the head coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun in 2016 and immediately hired Collen to be his assistant.

    “Our personalities are oddly very different but how we think is the same. I tended to be the calm to his crazy a lot of the time. You know, I like to say that my job was to stand in the parking lot at Mohegan Sun after the game and explain to the players what he said, not how he said it.”

    Collen returns to Connecticut this weekend as the head coach of the Baylor women’s basketball team. No. 7 Baylor (19-12) will meet No. 10 Alabama (20-10) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Gampel Pavilion (5:30 p.m., ESPN2).

    Following her two-year stint with the Sun, Collen was hired as the head coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

    She calls her time in Connecticut the foundation to where she is now in her career. The Bears, playing in their 19th straight NCAA tournament, earned an at-large bid after losing to Iowa State (74-63) in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 championship.

    “Amazingly, that experience (with the Sun), led to my first head coaching job. Without that, I’m not here,” Collen said Friday.

    “I love being up here. I summered in Connecticut, wintered in Florida. I had the best snowbird life of everyone on my block in Florida. Connecticut in the summer, southwest Florida in the winter. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

    Going back to Indiana

    • Vermont played its second game of the season this year at Indiana, with the game taking place at historic Assembly Hall. The Catamounts lost 86-49 to Indiana, which is now a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s Greenville 2 Region.

    Vermont coach Alisa Kresge, in her fourth season, is hoping that her team can rely on that experience as it takes on No. 2 UConn at 3 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament from Gampel Pavilion, where 11 national championship banners hang from the rafters.

    “We talked about it. Watched those clips,” Kresge said. “One thing that surprised me when I went back and watched it is we really did play loose offensively. We had two Indiana kids that idolized Indiana growing up so I was really nervous how they were going to handle it.

    “Those two, they played like they had something to prove, which is awesome. I’m hoping that we take that same experience into this game because we’ve been there. So in some ways I’m hoping it’s not a culture shock because they have actually been through it.”


    • UConn assistant coach Morgan Valley, previously a member of three national championship teams as a player for the Huskies, is somewhat of a celebrity in Vermont, where she attended high school.

    Said Auriemma, asked by a member of the Vermont media about bringing her back as a member of the UConn staff:

    “She knows the school, she knows our program, she knows the kind of kids we want. She completely buys into the philosophy we have here. Obviously, she played here and played here during some iconic times with legendary players. So her view of the game adds a lot.

    “She is a great human being. That is probably as much of a reason as anything else.”


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