Stokes Bounces Back

STORRS, Conn. - "Everything is a learning opportunity and hopefully you take advantage of those opportunities when they come along." Those were the words of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma when asked about freshman center Kiah Stokes after Monday night's thrashing of North Carolina.

Stokes did not play for the Huskies Saturday against Villanova. It's safe to say that was the "learning opportunity" Auriemma referred to. And it's safe to say the message was all about the effort required to earn playing time.

The benching had an obvious impact on the freshman from Marion, Iowa.

"Yes I understand it," Stokes said when asked Monday night about the reason behind Auriemma's decision to bench her. "I mean, he only does it because he knows that I can be so much better than how I'm showing him, so it's a compliment kind of. But it's also a step saying I need to get going."

And she did get going. In just 14 minutes of she notched a career high in scoring (11 points) and matched her best in rebounding with 11. Back on Nov. 25 she had recorded nine points and 11 rebounds against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Against North Carolina, she played six productive minutes in the first half, scoring six points and grabbing two defensive rebounds. That earned her more time in the second half and Stokes finished 5 of 7 from the floor and made it to the free throw line, where she went 1-for-2. Three of her 11 rebounds came on the offensive end and she also added two blocks and a steal in the 86-35 victory for No. 3 UConn – the worst loss in program history for the Tar Heels.

UConn's center position is in the capable hands of starter Stefanie Dolson, who averages 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. But there is an obvious need for depth and consistency from the reserves, especially Dolson gets in foul trouble. When Stokes puts together an effort like she did against North Carolina, the Huskies become a better team.

"She would mean a lot [to the team]," senior guard Tiffany Hayes said. "She would be a big asset. She's definitely one now, but I think she could blossom into something much more if she continues to be a threat like that consistently."

Sophomore guard Bria Hartley agreed.

"I think [Stokes] did a great job," Hartley said. "I just think she just needs to come out and be more consistent for us. You see what she's capable of and what she can do for the team if she just keeps this mindset that she is going to keep working."

Of course, Stokes came to UConn with all the credentials. She was the Iowa Gatorade State Player of the Year, and a McDonald's and Parade Magazine All-American.

"Kiah has certain skills that she can bring to the game and those skills are going to help our team," Auriemma said. "But those skills are never going to be on display unless you have a certain mental approach to the game. And then you're just another kid that has some skills if you don't know how to apply it."

That mental approach is required at UConn. The Huskies play in the physical Big East Conference and they play a tough non-conference schedule. That's why Auriemma demands the most of his players –both mentally and physically – day in and day out.

"In high school, I was never pushed to use my full ability," Stokes said. "Coming here you never know what to expect and when I got here it was a huge wake up call. They do everything so much harder and so much faster.

"It took a while to get used to. I'm still not fully adjusted. But I am getting better every day."

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