Sparks fly with Stokes
It wasn't long ago that UConn was well on its way to yet another convincing victory. Coach Geno Auriemma was sitting comfortably on the bench and, other than making the occasional substitution, was pretty much done coaching for the day.
Then Auriemma suddenly rose from his seat and bellowed, "Shoot it!" in the direction of senior center Kiah Stokes.
There are things Auriemma loves about Stokes, the 6-foot-3 senior from Marion, Iowa. He loves her easy-going personality off the court. He loves that she is a first-rate student who had a 4.0 GPA during the recently completed fall semester. From the basketball side of things, he loves her natural shot-blocking abilities and the way she attacks the offensive glass. However, there is one part of Stokes' game that annoys Auriemma to no end.
Stokes' aggressiveness on the defensive end does not carry over to the other facet of the game.
Stokes is set to play in her 124th career game when second-ranked UConn visits Central Florida today (7 p.m., SNY), but only once has she attempted 10 shots in a game. She ranks fourth on UConn's career list with a 59.1 field goal percentage.
When Auriemma hollered at Stokes to take a wide-open perimeter jumper, the shot was right on target. Unless he screams at Stokes on every possession, he knows being a shoot-first, ask-questions-later type of player is just not who she is.
"Kiah Stokes is going to come off the bench, she is going to block shots and play defense and offensive rebound," Auriemma said. "We know that, and that is why her minutes have been somewhat consistent."
Stokes actually began the season as a starter. But after the loss at Stanford in the second game of the season, Morgan Tuck was inserted into the starting five.
When the Huskies traveled to Estero, Florida, to play three games in three days in the Gulf Coast Showcase, Stokes pulled down 23 rebounds and blocked 11 shots. The next time out, she ripped down 18 rebounds and blocked four shots in an impressive road win against rival Notre Dame.
Stokes has blocked at least six shots in each of her last four games. With 73 blocks in 17 games, she is on pace to shatter the Huskies' single-season record of 131 set by Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo in 1993-94.
"That is my role," Stokes said. "That is one thing I take personally. We help each other on defense and it helps us become a better defensive team, but personally it is one thing I love to do. I love to block shots and I think that is what keeps me going."
Still, she is being asked to do more. There was a feeling that Stokes' offensive impact would increase following the graduation of Stefanie Dolson. But she is only averaging one additional field-goal attempt and one more point per game.
"Ever since I have been here, he has done that," Stokes said. "You can't take wild shots, you have to do what is in the offense, but I have to keep looking to score instead of looking to pass."