espnW: Women's College Basketball

Is Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell The Coolest Coach In College Hoops?

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

He's the school's all-time winningest women's basketball coach. He has led Kentucky to three Elite Eights and a school-record five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, all while maintaining a 100 percent graduation rate.

And even in a state that is synonymous with basketball, none of that is what Matthew Mitchell is most known for in the Bluegrass. Five years ago, Mitchell received a tip from an assistant coach. "If you do this dance, we'll get this recruit," the assistant said.

The assistant was suggesting that Mitchell dance in front of a sold-out Rupp Arena at Kentucky's "Big Blue Madness," the unofficial start of the Wildcats' men's and women's basketball seasons. Mitchell danced, but he didn't get the recruit he wanted.

The initial recruiting whiff hasn't stopped Mitchell from doing bigger and better dances each year since. To fully appreciate Mitchell's annual tradition, one must understand the magnitude of the Madness event in Kentucky and how much work goes into the dances.

Last month, 760 tents were reported on Kentucky's campus during a three-day camp-out for tickets to this year's event (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET Friday). A lot of eyeballs will be watching as Mitchell's team and coach John Calipari's highly touted men's squad are introduced to the Big Blue Nation. Mitchell will once again take full advantage of the spotlight to promote his team.

Mitchell says that he didn't expect the fans to respond to his dances the way they have. "I didn't think anything about the fans," Mitchell said, "but I thought recruits would like it. I was surprised by the reaction from our fans."

Fans might love Mitchell's routines, but his players are the coach's toughest critics. "Everyone on the team is a better dancer than Coach Mitchell," senior guard Bria Goss said.

"I'm not a good dancer, but I'm not sure I'd be on board with Bria on that," Mitchell said.

Kentucky's dance team coach, Dawn Walters, has worked with Mitchell to improve his dance skills. The seniors on the dance team also take part in the tradition with their own roles in the dance.

Despite the hard work and praise from fans, Mitchell doesn't take much credit for his performances. "The dances themselves are really bad, but Kentucky puts their resources into it," Mitchell said. "Our marketing department puts up with a lot of nonsense and does a great job. I really appreciate them."

Mitchell has performed the "Dougie," MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." What does Mitchell have planned for this year? Tune in Friday night to find out. Coverage of Midnight Madness events from across the country will be live on ESPNU from 6-9 p.m. ET.

Excitement building for fall

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
DukeCourtesy of Duke AthleticsThe Duke basketball team has been enjoying the more relaxed pace of summer school in Durham.

Well, I'm back in Durham and college/student-athlete life as I know it is in full swing. Summer school is back in session and the whole team is finally together again staying busy with class, camp and workouts.

It’s hard for me to believe I’m a sophomore already. It seems like just yesterday I was a little freshman, finding my way around campus and terrified of being on my own for the first time. Guess I can't use the “freshman moments’’ excuse anymore. But now it’s a year later, I’m healthy, and I feel like a seasoned veteran ready to make the most of my first year back on the court.

When most people think of summer school, it’s usually followed by a groan, but it really isn’t that bad. Summer school is a relaxing period of time compared with the fall session. It's a time when the whole team can work out without the distractions that come with the craziness of a full class load and basketball season combined. My summer in Durham has been really productive and fun so far. We work out every day, sometimes twice a day, doing either a basketball workout, conditioning/agilities, weights or “pick up.” We also get in the gym on our own time to take extra shots and run.

Our coaches are out recruiting a lot during the summer, so Coach Will, our strength and conditioning coach, spends a lot of time helping us get in the best shape we can for the season. He helps us set customized goals to work toward throughout the summer.

Workouts are tough, but it seems like the overall disliked workout this year is the track. In just a few weeks we have the 1.5 mile test where guards have to get under 10:30 and posts under 10:45. Sprinting isn’t my specialty, but endurance running is. Unlike my teammates, I actually enjoy the track workouts. Last week I managed to get the mile and a half in 9:10. So I’m hoping to go for the record of nine minutes.

We’ve also stayed busy with camps. We've already had three camps and we have a few clinics coming up next week, too. The 'Lil Hoopers' camp has been my favorite so far. Although those youngsters can wear you out in about 15 minutes, they're just so dang cute.

Every year at camp we have a lip sync contest and this year the freshmen excelled. Azura Stevens, Erin Mathias, Lynee Belton and Sierra Calhoun performed a flawless choreographed dance to the Cheetah girls song “Cheetahlicious.” Sierra and Lynee owned the stage and Erin and Azura’s remarkable Nae Nae’s helped the freshmen bring home the first-place prize.

During the weekends we’re free to do as we please. The July 4th weekend, the team and I spent the day at the rock quarry, which was a lot of fun. We jumped off the cliff into the water and hung out in the water on our floaties and noodles. Afterward we headed to Ka'lia Johnson and Elizabeth Williams’ for a delicious cookout prepared by the seniors and hung by the pool. I ended the night perfectly by going to the Durham Bulls baseball game to watch fireworks.

In a few weeks we will head home for a short break. During that time I plan to go visit my long-lost friend Tricia Liston in Minnesota for a few days and catch a Lynx game. Then I’m heading back to Kentucky for my older sister Rachel's wedding. Lots of exciting days ahead.

I’m really looking forward to this upcoming basketball season. The freshman class plus our new transfer, Mercedes Riggs, are a hard-working group that will help contribute a lot this year. It’s been a long time coming since I’ve been able to suit up and hit the floor. I think we have a special squad that can do some damage, so words can’t describe my excitement!

Go Duke!

Ready for whatever future holds

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
Ruth RileyJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesRuth Riley won an NCAA title in 2001 and was a two-time WNBA champ with the Detroit Shock.

“Do you play ball?”

It’s a question I have heard most of my life, so when the waiter in the Atlanta airport posed it to me, I gave him my default answer: "Yes."

It was the follow-up question that, for the first time, made my retirement a reality. When he asked what team I played for, I was about to respond with the name of my previous WNBA team, as I had for the last 13 years, but then I realized that it was May 5, and while my Dream teammates were in their second day of training camp, I was actually on my way to a summit in New York. I was completely at peace with my decision to end my professional basketball career -- injuries had inhibited me from playing the last few years at the level I wanted to compete at. What I was not prepared for was how to answer the question differently: "No, I do not play ball."

My faith has gratefully allowed me to live a balanced life, so I can now walk away from the game I love without a crisis of identity. My sport did not define me as an individual; rather, it has simply been one of the contributing factors in shaping my life thus far. Knowing that allows me to reflect on my career with a sense of gratitude for all the amazing memories, and it gives me a sense of excitement for what is next.

Most people think of rest and relaxation when the issue of retirement comes up, but for me, it is quite the opposite. Granted, they also think of people in the later years of their lives and not 34-year-olds! Originally I thought I would have a little downtime to enjoy my first summer off since middle school, but my personality does not allow me to sit still for long. From attending various conferences, going to the Congo on an upcoming State Department trip and then starting the Executive MBA program back at Notre Dame, I have successfully scheduled almost every day this summer -- it’s just that for the first time, very few of them will be spent on a basketball court.

One of the most surprising things about retirement thus far has been how humbling it is. As a professional athlete, I have successfully competed at the highest level of my field while my fellow Notre Dame classmates have been working their way up the corporate ladder. When our playing careers are over, as athletes, we literally have to start over. Of course we have the intangible skill sets that one learns through sport, but as for exact transferable work experience, there is no direct path -- we are left with a significant learning curve. There are very few fields of employment where the window of opportunity is so finite. Could you imagine CEOs forced to find a completely different field only a few years after they reach the pinnacle of their profession?

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Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesRuth Riley played in 387 career WNBA games, averaging 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds over 13 seasons.

This past weekend I was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) by the Jaycees. It was an incredible honor, especially after meeting the other nine nominees and learning about the amazing list of former recipients ranging from Elvis to past U.S. presidents! As a professional athlete, I am used to doing a lot of evaluation and preparation, but contemplating my acceptance speech caused me many moments of introspection. This award did not rest solely on the surface of “what” I have done, it went deeper to “who” I am and the “why” of my accomplishments.

Through my travels around the world, I noticed that besides our obvious physical needs, the one thing that I believe unites us as mankind is our quest for purpose and the desire for our lives to have meaning. My purpose has always been seen, understood and lived out through the lens of my faith. From there I began to learn and gain confidence in the fact that I have been given a unique set of talents and abilities and that if I choose to, there would always be opportunities for me to use them to make a meaningful contribution to this world! One of the greatest lessons I have learned was that while I liked to think of myself as a “good person,” my life would get swallowed up in a certain level of busyness unless I approached “doing good” with a similar act of preparation that I did with my basketball career. For most of us, our default mode of life exhibits an unfortunate disconnect between our actions and our intentions. I recognized that I needed to prioritize my time so that I was not just an athlete with “good intentions,” but rather one where there was evidence of them in how I lived out my life.

While my “purpose” answered a little bit of the “who” question, the second concept -- the “why question” -- kept surfacing as I contemplated my life, and to that I concluded my actions are largely a result of “gratitude.” I was overwhelmed with a sense of thankfulness to all the coaches, teachers, mentors, friends, teammates, fans and family members who have shaped and influenced my life along the way! Living a life of gratitude to me simply means living with my hands open, ready for the constant flow of giving and receiving, equally grateful for both what I have been given and for what I am able to give.

While I might now have a different answer to the most common question in my life, the answer to the question “what’s next?” is still unclear. Yes, I will be starting grad school in the fall, and I am excited to be just a student for the first time since elementary school, and I look forward to being back closer to my family. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to utilize the platform of basketball for social good as a NBA/WNBA Cares Ambassador, a spokesperson for Nothing But Nets and No Kid Hungry, and I will certainly carry on my other humanitarian efforts. My passion to secure sustainability and to define and grow our league, as well as to empower our players with knowledge and resources through player development programs, will undoubtedly be something I continue to work on. I will of course be taking on the role of a fan, cheering on Dev, Skylar, Kayla, and my former WNBA teammates and friends!

The TOYA award is one of the most unique awards I have ever received, because it was not just commending what I have accomplished, it is also an affirmation of the work they think I will continue to do with my life. I left the ceremony filled with mixed emotions, aware that we never truly arrive in life, but simply transition from one stage to the next, and regardless of age or occupation, opportunity always lies before us! With fondness and gratitude, I close this chapter of my life and turn the page with excitement and anticipation of what the next phase of life entails.

An intense, whirlwind year

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Becca GreenwellDuke PhotographyAfter redshirting her freshman year, Becca Greenwell can't wait to get into action next season.

DURHAM, N.C. -- In three short weeks, I'll be headed back home to Kentucky after completing my freshman year here as a Blue Devil. Time sure flies, and it's been a whirlwind year, to put it mildly.

Looking back, I can honestly say I was like a deer in the headlights when I first stepped onto campus last summer. I've had a lot of "freshman moments," that's for sure! But I can also say I've grown a lot, as a player, as a student and as a person. College life is a lot of things -- great and sometimes not so great. Being a student-athlete is truly a full-time job. It's intense, even grueling at times, but it's a privilege I certainly don't take for granted. Mostly, though, it's an experience I know I will take with me for the rest if my life.

The season obviously didn't end as we had hoped, but we still have so much to be proud of. Although there were a few bumps in the road with injuries, I feel like we accomplished a lot and definitely made a lot of good memories. I'm going to miss my seniors next year most of all. It's going to be sad without them around, but they were an awesome group to learn from and did a great job in preparing me for next season.

Redshirting wasn't easy for me, but it was most definitely the right decision. I feel confident that I am more physically and mentally prepared than ever to play at this level now. Only practicing and not playing certainly wasn't the most fun, but it was definitely worth it and I'm happy to say I survived the season.

I can't even explain how eager I am to play next season. I've taken a lot in watching from the bench this year and I've learned some valuable lessons from my teammates.

It's never too early to start preparing for next season, and our team has already started the grind. We got a week off after the season ended, but basketball never truly ends at this level. We have conditioning, individual workouts and weights all throughout the week in preparation for next season. If we want to be the best, we have to keep our hands on the ball and stay strong. Summer break will be no different. Hopefully I can fit in some friends and family time, but I know I'll be spending a fair share of my "break" in the gym and on the hardwood.

Thanks for all your support this season, and we look forward to seeing you again in Cameron for the 2014-15 season.

Saluting our amazing seniors

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Maryland Baseball University of Maryland Maryland coach Brenda Frese told her team to soak in every bit of the Final Four experience, Chloe Pavlech says.

Words can't even describe how it felt to experience the Final Four with our amazing seniors.

Coach B [Brenda Frese] said in the locker room after our loss to Notre Dame that they have done more than anyone can imagine for our program. To be able to be one of the last four teams standing, and for us all to get there together, was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Coach B always wants us to savor every moment and experience, and we live that every day. As soon as we pulled up to our hotel, we took in the cool signage with our logos and the welcome party, not to mention the send-off we got from our fans in College Park. We all took in every moment of the salute and just tried to soak it all up. We had so much fun and it only felt right that Alyssa [Thomas], Alicia [DeVaughn], Katie [Rutan], Essence [Townsend] and Sequoia [Austin] got to experience it all.

I wanted to give myself a few days before I wrote this last blog. We are so proud of our run to the Final Four, but of course it takes you a day or so to recover from everything! If you think about it, out of the 64 teams that make the NCAA tournament, there's only one that will end the season with a high and there's only one team that will end the postseason undefeated. I think it's truly amazing that UConn finished this season 40-0, and credit to Notre Dame for almost having a perfect season, especially since the ACC is so competitive.

I was so sad after our game versus Notre Dame because I realized it was the last time I would have a chance to play with our seniors. I cried because I realized we won't ever have a season together again. I feel like I'm not only losing great teammates, but I'm losing my big sisters, and with some of them, I feel like I'm losing a mom (LOL).

When I first got to campus they cooked for me, they taught me how to do laundry and they were all my protectors. They're such a special group. It's hard to imagine not seeing them every day. I'll be an upperclassman, so now I'll have to help take care of the freshmen and lookout for the sophomores. It's really hard to imagine college without them, but I feel so lucky to have them in my life and to have had two years with them.

A double-double for UConn?

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
Diana Taurasi and Emeka OkaforGetty Images, AP PhotoDiana Taurasi and Emeka Okafor brought back-to-back days of joy to Connecticut fans in April of 2004 when both the men's and women's basketball teams won NCAA championships.

Phase 1 of the plan starts with tonight's tipoff at 9:10, ET in Arlington, Texas. That's when Connecticut will officially start looking to do what only Connecticut has done before -- win the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments in the same season. The cast of characters for 2014 – Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier, Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson – are at the top of our minds and on the tips of our tongues, so let’s rewind to 2004, when UConn pulled off the only basketball double in NCAA history.

The Connecticut men, led by coach Jim Calhoun, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon in 2004, were the preseason No. 1 and entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed. The Huskies rolled into the Final Four in San Antonio with a pair of 17-point wins, a 16-point win and a 20-point win. In the semifinals, Connecticut (33-6) beat Duke 79-78 before topping Georgia Tech 82-73 in the final to win the second national championship in program history.

The Connecticut women, led by coach Geno Auriemma, Diana Taurasi and Jessica Moore, entered the 2004 NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed after losing to Boston College in the Big East tournament. After a test from UC Santa Barbara in the Sweet 16, Connecticut (31-4) rolled by Minnesota 67-58 in the national semifinals and Tennessee 70-61 in the final in New Orleans to win its third straight national championship. "Right now I don't think there is one single person in Connecticut that isn't unbelievably proud of our two basketball programs," Auriemma said at the time.

Tonight, the Connecticut men (31-8) go for their fourth national championship against Kentucky; on Tuesday the women (39-0) go for their record ninth national title against undefeated Notre Dame.

Good cheer spreads in Storrs

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
Cody MilardoCody MilardoCody Milardo, left, joins in on the Storrs celebration Sunday night as the women's basketball team kept its perfect season alive.

Cody Milardo is a senior at UConn and has been on the men's and women's track beat for the past two years for the student newspaper, The Daily Campus.

STORRS, Conn -- Experiencing a national championship as a student is a rare occurrence, no matter what university you attend. As a senior at the University of Connecticut, my classmates and I have been privileged to already go through a successful national championship run of the women’s basketball team a year ago, and campus is abuzz about the prospects of an undefeated season capped by a second consecutive championship.

“I have been a UConn fan my entire life,” senior bio-chemistry major Ashley Tran said. “Both of my parents went to UConn and my older brother went to UConn, too. So I guess I have UConn in my blood. We are used to success with the women’s team and Geno [Auriemma] is amazing, but the joy of winning a championship never gets old. It’s such a thrill every year.”

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Cody MilardoIt didn't matter to the fans at the Connecticut Student Union theater that they weren't actually in Nashville.

Hundreds of students joined Tran in the Student Union theater on campus Sunday night to watch the Huskies top Stanford 75-56 in the national semifinal, and they were not disappointed.

Familiar chants of “Let’s go Huskies!” and “U-C-O-N-N, UConn, UConn, UConn!” filled the small confines of the theater. As if they were actually in Nashville attending the game, students raised their hands during free throws and stood while clapping until the first basket of each half, which have always been Husky traditions.

When UConn trailed for a large portion of the first half, the crowd was getting a bit anxious, but when the Huskies went on their run at the end of the half, as they so often do, the energy as well as the decibel level picked up.

“Even though we were down, I never had any doubts about the outcome of the game,” junior Christine Butler said following the win. “Some people were starting to get nervous, but I have been to almost every home game for the women this year and I know how great they are. We are undefeated for a reason.”

Now the Huskies head to the ultimate game of the season against the Irish of Notre Dame. The excitement about a tilt against our old rival for the national championship has been talked about at Storrs since the bracket was released 20 days ago, and now it is finally a reality. The past few seasons have all included Notre Dame-UConn dogfights, and Tuesday night figures to be no exception with physical, hard-nosed play. That game will be shown on big-screen projectors in Gampel Pavilion, UConn’s on-campus arena, which is a much larger venue than the Student Union theater. Thousands of students are expected to attend, just as they will Monday night for the men’s championship game.

After leading the loudest UConn chant of the night, freshman Kerry Matteson expressed his emotions following the game.

“It just had to be Notre Dame; there couldn’t be a more fitting team to face with the championship on the line,” Matteson said. “We have a history with each other that’s just as bitter as the rivalry we used to have with Tennessee. Being a freshman, it’s just such an incredible experience to have both the men’s and women’s team in the championship game in the same year.”

I’d say Matteson summed up most students’ feelings pretty well. It’s UConn vs. Notre Dame for the national championship in a game where one team will get its first and only loss of the season, while the other will be crowned champions to top off an undefeated season. It sure will be fun.

Irish fans ready for next test

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
Samantha ZubaSamantha ZubaSamantha Zuba, third from right, watches the Notre Dame-Maryland game Sunday night with some friends in a student lounge.

Samantha Zuba is a junior at Notre Dame and an assistant managing editor of the student newspaper, The Observer.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It almost seemed like a regular Sunday night on Notre Dame’s campus, even though the Irish women were playing in the Final Four -- but that is exactly what made the gameday atmosphere on campus interesting.

In the LaFortune Student Center, students sat at tables and in booths at Burger King working on homework, as usual. But every television had the Notre Dame-Maryland game on, and students constantly glanced up to check in on the score of the game. A campus security officer stopped to watch the game and expressed her support for the Irish with quiet but intense cheers as she stood near a table of students turned away from their laptops to watch the game.

The girls at the table next to her had all turned their backs on their homework to face their chairs toward the television. It can be difficult -- and sometimes nearly impossible -- to drag students’ attention away from their laptops, especially as we speed toward final week. We obviously need to study or distract ourselves from studying by flipping through Facebook photos.

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Samantha ZubaEven with finals on the horizon, eyes were often focused on TVs - not laptops -- at the Notre Dame student center.

So what really struck me was how many people took time out of their academic lives for a sporting event that wasn’t football. There are two large flat-screen televisions in the main lobby of LaFortune, and instead of passing through quickly on their way to Starbucks or Subway, students paused to watch the game, if only for a few moments to see that the Irish were winning and cheer with their friends. Some plopped down in armchairs to join the dedicated groups huddled around the televisions.

Before I visited LaFortune, I watched the first half of the game in one of the men’s dorms on campus. All of Notre Dame’s dorms are single-sex, and I was curious to see if the men on campus had interest in the game, too.

My guy friends were all sitting in their floor’s common lounge, talking about how they hoped the Irish would make the championship game, and guys in the center lounges on other floors also had the game on. I thought it was pretty neat that a group of men had all chosen to sit down and watch the women’s basketball game, and I was even happier when they started talking about how talented guards Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride are.

As far as women’s sports have come, many extraordinary female athletes still don’t receive the respect they deserve. Female athletes have the potential to be role models for both men and women, and in many ways, the Irish women’s basketball team proves that on our campus.

Men and women alike respect Muffet McGraw’s extraordinary success as a head coach, and anyone can appreciate the skill of players like Loyd and McBride. Former guard Skylar Diggins belongs in that category as well. When the game cameras panned to show Diggins in the crowd, you could tell everyone in the room respected how well she played basketball as well as what she accomplished at Notre Dame.

Given the lopsided 87-61 score, there was no raucous celebration as the clock ran down and the Irish remained undefeated. Instead, fans reacted with quiet, proud satisfaction and excitement for the upcoming championship game. The reaction reflected Notre Dame’s response to losing forward Natalie Achonwa: stoic, determined, ready to adapt and head to the next challenge.

Overall, watching campus watch the Irish on Sunday gave me hope for the future of women’s basketball. After the game, as I put the finishing touches on my blog, my friends flipped to a baseball game. But one of the guys, a player on the women’s practice team, made sure we tuned back in to women’s basketball because of the UConn-Stanford game and most importantly because McGraw would be interviewed at halftime. When everyone started chatting loudly, he turned up the volume so we could all hear Coach McGraw, and cheered when she gave a shout-out to the practice squad.

One thing is for sure — Notre Dame knows that this is an important group of women.

It's a great time to be a Husky

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
Ryan Boatright, Stephanie DolsonAP PhotosThe UConn men punched their ticket with a win over Michigan State, and the women followed with a win over Texas A&M.

There’s no better feeling right now then being a Husky after our men won last Sunday and we won Monday. We’re both at the Final Four! I’ve been a part of this once before when Bria Hartley and I were freshmen, but this year being seniors and our men making such an incredible run brings it to a whole other level of excitement.

You should have seen how ecstatic we were when our men beat Michigan State. We were all in our hotel rooms, and as the time started to run out all you heard was us screaming and running out to the hallway jumping on each other. People looked at us like we were crazy, but we didn’t care at all.

When I was a freshman, it was a feeling of happiness, but this year after they won, I almost felt more like a proud mom. Don’t ask me why, but I was just so proud that I almost started crying … and, yes, I said crying.

Breanna Stewart started making fun of me, though, so I stopped and continued to scream. I think it’s because over the years, we’ve all grown closer together. When I first met Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey, we were all freshmen, didn’t really know each other and didn’t talk to each other much -- a few casual “hi” and “byes” -- but now we see each other all the time and have so much fun when we do.

Bazz and I always joke with each other that we would probably be married in another life if he were taller or I were shorter. Niels is a riot to talk to because he’s from Germany, so I’m not going to lie, I can’t always tell what he’s saying! And Tyler and I are always talking about his family because his mom and I are like best friends, so I love catching up with him and I know Bria feels the same way about these guys, too.

Sometimes when we’re together we’ll even reminisce about freshman summer and how awkward it is, but now … look at us. We’ve led our teams to Final Fours and, hopefully, national championships!

So today it’s their game day and I wish them the best of luck. No matter what happens I know they’ll leave it all out on the court, but obviously we’re hoping they kick some Gator butt -- like they have before!

Majoring in chemistry

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Maryland BasketballUniversity of Maryland The Terrapins loved their Louisville Regional trophy so much they gave it a name: Regina.

It's amazing how much our team has grown over the last month.

I just remember walking out of the ACC tournament so frustrated because we knew we were better than a loss. It's crazy how things can change, and it's even crazier how hard it is to beat a team with a strong bond and great chemistry like we have. Chemistry can't be forced, and chemistry can't be created. It just happens. In order to shine together you have to grind together.

The two weeks before NCAA tournament were the hardest weeks of my career -- all because of practice. Our coaches did whatever they could to make it as hard on us as possible. We knew in order to survive we had to come together and rely on each other. No one could have gotten through practice alone.

The KFC Yum! Center is the loudest arena on the road I've ever been to. I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. It was a sea of red, so we tried to imagine that they were all cheering for us. Even when we were up by 10, we knew we couldn't be content. And when Shoni Schimmel hit two back-to-back 3's, we knew the game wasn't over.

When the buzzer went off, we had an unbelievable celebration. I haven't cut down a net since my senior of high school, and I forgot how amazing it feels. I also forgot how to cut it, but luckily I wasn't the first one up the ladder. We named our NCAA regional champion trophy Regina, which is short for regional champions.

We didn't get back to College Park until 4 a.m., so the only postgame celebration was sleep! Unfortunately, for me I had class at 8 a.m. It's funny how after an all-time high moment like that you have no problem getting up!

We decided to plan a pep rally at our student union but it was focused around the concept of making me "Vine famous." Basically we created a "super Vine" which was a bunch of the students behind the team yelling. It's hard to explain so check out the vine below.


Back in the day: Breanna Stewart

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2

Morgan Tuck, Breanna StewartAP Photo/Jessica HillBreanna Stewart (right), first met UConn teammate Morgan Tuck at an Under-16 national team training camp.

In our new espnW series, elite athletes look back with a memory from their rookie days.

The first time I went to tryouts for the Under-16 national team I was really nervous. I was only 14 and I’d never gone to a training camp like that before. We were staying in these dorms in Colorado Springs for four days of tryouts, followed by training camp.

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AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, FileBreanna Stewart (right) counts Morgan Tuck (left) as one of her closest friends.

Though we were busy -- we had double sessions, with practice in the morning and then late practice in the evenings -- we had time in the middle to kill! Usually we’d just hang out around the dorms or take naps. But one day instead of napping we started messing around with the rolling chairs in our rooms.

It was pretty much the majority of the team -- me, Elizabeth Williams, Morgan Tuck and Jordan Adams -- and we started racing side by side down the hallways on these rolly chairs. Well, the hallways weren’t that big, and we were all competitive types trying to go faster and faster. It was all good fun until Elizabeth crashed into the side of the wall with her chair and totally wiped out.

I’m pretty sure a video was on Facebook at some point in time. Thankfully she was OK, though the coaches would definitely not have been happy if they’d found out -- obviously we were there to prepare to win a gold medal!

But there’s nothing like some off-the-court teammate shenanigans to help with team bonding. That trip was the first time I ever met Morgan, and now we’re teammates at the University of Connecticut and I consider her one of my closest friends.

A lot of good came out of season

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
Iowa State women's basketballAP Photo/Nati HarnikIowa State fell to Florida State 55-44 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

It is understood that at the end of the basketball season there will only be one team standing. Being on the other end of the stick is something that is really hard to swallow.

Being a freshman, I wasn’t sure what to expect when the season came to an unwanted end. You take moments to reflect, but at the same time it’s right back on the grind getting ready to roll for the upcoming year. Things automatically change, you are now older, seniors leave, new freshmen come in and new goals are put into place.

It’s upsetting losing, but one feeling I wasn’t able to shake quickly was one revolving around what coach Bill Fennelly has been stressing all year. Every day, every game, every practice he preached about embracing the process with no excuses and no regrets.

The “process,” aka our season, absolutely flew by. We had our highs and lows, grew close and shared moments we won’t ever forget. It was the last part, “no regrets,” that struck me hard. With three great seniors leaving -- Hallie Christofferson, Ashley Hagedorn and Elly Arganbright -- you think of everything you needed to do better to keep their season going as long as possible.

With only three years left to play in an Iowa State jersey, it all struck me in such a weird way. I thought non-stop about games – the what ifs, should ofs, could ofs -- and nothing changes the outcome. I realized that all that needs to change is the mindset going into next year. And now when coach gives his speech again, I will have a completely different perspective on embracing the process with no regrets.

This was such an amazing year at Iowa State. The relationships we all built throughout the season are something special. The moments on planes, hotels or just sitting around with one another are ones we will always cherish. There was a lot of good that came out of this season, and a lot learned. It makes me that much more excited to see what the upcoming seasons have in store for our Iowa State team!

Last, but certainly not least, I really have to thank the incredible fan base at Iowa State for their amazing support. It is truly special to be able to play in front of you in Hilton Coliseum.

Watch: Lucas, Penn St. off to Cali

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29

Penn State star Maggie Lucas takes you to California with the Nittany Lions as they prepare for their Sweet 16 appearance in the women’s NCAA tournament.

Excited to be back at Stanford

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
Chiney OgwumikeAP Photo/Nati HarnikAfter two wins on the road in Iowa, Stanford returns home to play Penn State on Sunday in the Sweet 16.

The NCAA tournament is so sweet! We are so excited to play in the Sweet 16. If you asked me two weeks ago, I would not have envisioned spending my 22nd birthday in Iowa. But we were off to Ames and got two great wins against South Dakota and Florida State. Now we are back at Stanford for regionals.

Not only are we excited to share this experience with our fans, we have plenty of previous Stanford women's basketball players returning as well. Of course, my big sis Nnemkadi Ogwumike will be in attendance. But also look out for Lindy La Rocque, Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Sarah Boothe and Ros Gold-Onwude!

If there is one thing I know for sure, Nerd Nation will be rolling deep. But at the end of the day, each one of our players has to “bring it.’’ Bring our defensive energy. Bring our offensive aggressiveness. But most of all, bring out the best in each other.

From here on out, the season is a fight to the finish. And each possession, we've got to bring our A game. Go Stanford!

Looking forward to Nebraska

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
Stefanie DolsonAP Photo/Nati HarnikThe Sweet 16 has taken UConn to the regional in Lincoln, Neb., this year.

So we made it to the Sweet 16, and the past few years, regionals have been fairly close to home -- Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Bridgeport -- but now Nebraska. Although I’m not the biggest fan of flying and traveling, mainly because I’m so big and even charter planes aren’t very large, basketball has given my teammates and I the opportunity to visit some pretty cool places. During my college career alone, I’ve gotten to go to quite a few U.S. states, Italy and St. Thomas, and as a part of USA basketball, I visited Chile as well.

[+] EnlargeDolson/Dailey
AP Photo/Jessica HillAssociate head coach Chris Dailey keeps the team entertained on trips with trivia games and crazy stories.

As much as I love playing home games in front of our crowd in Gampel, away games have their perks. We travel, which means long bus and plane rides, where we play what we like to call “cut-throat” Uno. It doesn’t matter that we’re teammates, during this game no one looks out for each other, and Morgan Tuck usually ends up with the entire deck. Another one of our favorites used to be Catch Phrase; Heather (Buck) always brought it on the bus rides, and it usually would have us dying laughing at someone because of their description that didn’t make sense.

Another thing I love about away trips is our associate head coach Chris Dailey. She always has something fun planned, whether it’s a walk outside to explore the city, or a trivia game before pregame to see how much we know about the state we’re in or just crazy stories she tells about being around coach all the time. The team is usually making fun of the game CD creates, but when we’re doing it, we get super competitive and want to win no matter how ridiculous it seems. Oh, and Stewie always wins, whereas I never win! It gets annoying.

The last thing I love about these trips are the dinners. We get to go to some nice places for dinner as a team and they’re always so much fun, not to mention we eat a ton of amazing food. I’ve gotten to try different fish, like swordfish and tuna, and in Texas I ordered escargot! I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly love it either … it was interesting.

But when you’re constantly traveling, you don’t always get to just sit down with the entire team and reminisce, so we do at dinner. That’s why I love them so much and I know my teammates would agree.

So, that being said, I’m looking forward to experiencing Nebraska and seeing what CD has planned for us, and playing in the Sweet 16 and hopefully the Elite Eight.