Sept. 25, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - With the University of Connecticut women's basketball season opener just a month and a half away, Husky fans are undoubtedly excited for what the 2013-14 season will hold in store for the defending national champions. While UConn's team looks again like a national powerhouse on paper, many college basketball fans outside of the state of Connecticut may not realize how special this year's team can be. One of the Huskies' most underrated players, sophomore forward Morgan Tuck, has the toolset and drive to break out onto the national stage in her second year under head coach Geno Auriemma.
Tuck, a Bolingbrook, Ill. native, quietly had an impressive freshman campaign for UConn, despite battling through a left knee injury for most of the season. The 6-2 forward averaged 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 15.8 minutes in 35 games for the Huskies, making starts in the two final regular season contests. She pulled down the fifth-most offensive rebounds on the team and scored a career-best 18 points in the Huskies' NCAA First Round victory over Idaho.
Tuck sported a large knee brace for the majority of the 2012-13, and at times throughout the season looked noticeably hobbled. Although the sophomore was clearly limited by her injury, she has made significant strides in the offseason to get her health on track.
"I think I'm definitely 100%," said Tuck. "The knee that was bothering me last year doesn't bother me anymore. It feels good. I think going into the season knowing I'm 100% is going to help me mentally. I'm excited to be able to play carefree. I think there were times last year where I didn't play the way I wanted to because of the injury."
Even with the bulkly brace, Tuck showed Connecticut fans a wide range of versatility on the court. She connected on 13 three-point field goals throughout the season, showing no fear in stepping behind the arc. Even as a bigger player, Tuck wanted to give her teammates an added dimension to the offense.
"It gives us more weapons on offense," she said. "A lot of girls on this team can play multiple positions and I think that's what really makes us hard to defend. Teams have to know that we can come at them with different looks. I think the coaches try to make us as versatile as possible. I think it brings a different aspect to our team in that if someone is hurt or sick, then one of us can step into that position and have success."
"She brings a lot to our team," said fellow sophomore Moriah Jefferson. "She can create mismatches on both offense and defense because of her ability to step back and take a three. I think sometimes other teams struggle to guard her and she's smart enough to know when to take advantage of what the defense is giving her."
Tuck's relationship with Jefferson and Breanna Stewart was one of the more crucial storylines of the Huskies' championship run. The trio of freshman, all who came to Connecticut with lofty expectations, experienced the ups-and-downs of collegiate athletics together. The bond that was forged helped propel them to the top of their class, and gave them the confidence needed to contribute to the national championship.
"It was very important," Tuck said of having two other freshmen on the team. "We were all going through the same thing. I think when you have someone there that you can talk to and relate to, it makes you much more comfortable. I know that it really helped me get through some of the lows of the season."
Just months after the Huskies celebrated their title in Hartford, Conn., the three met up on the hardwood again as teammates for the USA in the U-19 World Championship games. On July 28th, The United States downed France 61-28 to win their fifth-straight FIBA U19 World Championship in Lithuania. For Tuck, it marked the second straight U-19 gold medal she earned in the last three years, after winning in 2011.
"That was a really great experience," Tuck said on her time at the Championship games. "This was my second time playing U-19 and I think this was a different experience. Last time out I was one of the youngest and this time I was one of the oldest. It was really cool to look back and see how much I've grown in the past two years. I feel like I have learned so much."
The sophomore is no stranger to winning as she has experienced an unprecedented amount of success on the court since her days as a high school player. As a high school junior in 2010-11, she averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent from the field and 75.7 percent from the free throw line as Bolingbrook posted a 29-2 record, its third straight Illinois Class 4A state title. She has four total gold medals, earning championships for the U-17 and U-18 United States teams, and she has earned a national championship in her first year as a Husky. For Tuck, the motivation to stay at the top is what drives her play.
"That's the reason I came to Connecticut. I don't think you come to this school without having the intent to win a national championship. To get that title in my first year really opens my eyes to what is possible for this team. It's awesome to be a part of."
With seven national championships since 2000, Connecticut has established itself as one of the premier and most decorated programs in the country. Tuck is a rare talent that fits into UConn's system and has the skillset to help lead UConn back to national glory in the spring.