It’s not surprising when Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut adds a freshman to his starting lineup who proceeds to make an impact. Two years ago it was Breanna Stewart, pictured right, and Moriah Jefferson. This year it’s Kia Nurse, who was named the AAC’s top freshman this year by virtue of her scoring in double figures 20 times, including in her first 10 games as a starter. Nurse is the perfect complement to Jefferson in the back court, given her knack for finding the open player in transition. That’s something she did to perfection as the point guard for the Canadian National team which finished 5th in the FIBA World Championships last year.
“She is not afraid to make mistakes like some freshmen are,” Auriemma told the Hartford Courant earlier this month. “She just plays.”
While UConn is expected to sail through the Albany regional’s opening round (they play Texas at noon Saturday at the Times Union Center), another freshman phenom (or two) might be poised to give them a tougher fight on Monday night. Louisville is the favorite to defeat upstart seventh-seeded Dayton in the 2 p.m. game Saturday in Albany.
Jeff Walz’s Cardinals will be walking onto the court with a pair of freshmen, Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen, in the starting lineup. Moore and Hines-Allen were selected for the ACC’s All-Freshmen starting five, along with Azura Stevens, a guard/forward from Duke, Shakayla Thomas, from Florida State, and the player with the best field goal percentage in the country, Brianna Turner, of Notre Dame.
Hines-Allen has averaged 12.5 points per game in the postseason. Moore led Louisville in scoring during the regular season (13.9 ppg), 3-pointers (52), and free throws (108), and is second in assists (108). She has scored in double digits 23 times this season and recently became the sixth player in school history to score at least 400 points in their freshman campaign.While neither freshman has made anyone forget Shoni Schimmel, they’ve been the 1-2 scoring punch that Louisville has needed to propel them to their fourth Sweet 16 in five years.
“We definitely need their energy and excitement,” said Jeff Walz before the game with Dayton.
As the Sweet Sixteen begins, it will be fun to see what the freshmen phenoms bring to the table.