By JOHN ALTAVILLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
6:29 PM EST, November 14, 2013
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn't stop to offer UConn junior Kiah Stokes the ultimate compliment.
"Yes, pretty much every day it happens," Stokes said Wednesday.
Friends and acquaintances tell her about the athletic gifts and body she was given: broad shoulders and long arms. Stokes is, on every imaginable blueprint, built to be a basketball player.
"Back to my freshman year, Coach [Geno] Auriemma even said to me, "Kiah, you have the best [athletic body] from the head down," Stokes said. "My head is the part that has gotten away a bit."
It happens. Not every player rolls out of high school and into the highlight reel.
But now, the time has come for Stokes to put the pieces together.
UConn, without two of its most imposing physical players, begins a new phase of a young season Friday when it plays No. 8 Maryland (2-0).
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, an All-American who set the UConn record with 118 three-pointers last season, is out indefinitely with a bruise in her right elbow. She was injured in a fall in the win over Stanford on Monday.
"The first person I yelled to was [athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle] because Rosie's like God here when it comes to injuries,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Once Rosie got out there she was telling me, 'Calm down. It's all right. Just try to stabilize your arm. Just keep it as close as you want. Just breathe and if you want to cry you can.'
"But Rosie definitely helped me while I was out there, helped me calm down a lot.''
On top of that, sophomore Morgan Tuck is out four to six weeks after arthroscopic surgery to her right knee.
Tuck knew before the Stanford game that surgery was coming. So she didn't allow herself to think about the opportunity for more playing time when Mosqueda-Lewis went down.
"I wish I could be out there helping my team," Tuck said. "But I still think I am going to be pretty good."
Auriemma said he has not decided who will start Friday, Sunday at Penn State or beyond. But with only seven players (and two walk-ons) his choices are limited to Stokes, junior guard Brianna Banks and freshman guard Saniya Chong.
"I think it might be just situational," Auriemma said. "Let's see who we're playing. Let's see what the matchups could be like. There's no advantage or disadvantage no matter which way we go. It's not like we're putting in somebody who was a starter and played great. Or somebody that's just automatic like Kaleena was as a freshman.
"So no matter what we do, it'll be a huge adjustment for us. But we'll be a better team for this down the road."
Friday's challenge will be for the frontcourt, where Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas roams. The 6-2 swing is a likely WNBA lottery pick and a challenge for anyone. The Terps play the game in a hard-shell way and the Huskies are prepared for it.
But Stokes already has eight blocks in two games, and she scored 10 points with 13 rebounds against Stanford.
"I will talk to her about it and ask her, 'Where are you going from here?'" Auriemma said. "Is she going to do what she did Monday or let the opportunity pass? If she adds to it, well, it changes everything for us and we will be able to withstand this. I would think by the time you are a junior, you can handle this."
Stokes said it's all about not being afraid to fail and learning to trust her instincts.
"In the past, when things didn't go well, I would become easily frustrated," Stokes said. "Now I am trying to step out of my comfort zone, be more confident in what I am trying to accomplish."
What is even more confusing is that Stokes said her demeanor off the floor is different from what people see on it.
"I don't get that about myself," Stokes said. "Off the court, I am very competitive. I hate to lose. I am so different. But when I get into a game, it just seems like I don't want to make a mistake and that hurts me. I was never like that in high school [in Marion, Iowa]."
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