UConn's Tuck making most of return to court

TAMPA, Fla. -- UConn forward Morgan Tuck spent last season doing more than just perfecting her cheering skills. She was keeping a keen eye on all the things that she knew she would be doing for UConn this season.

But ... hey, she did pretty well in the cheerleader department, too. And that's worth noting, because it shows how team-committed Tuck was even during the toughest time for her individually. The 6-foot-2 Tuck kept a sunny attitude and encouraged others while she redshirted last season, playing just eight games because of knee issues.

"Now, to really be making a difference and contributing a lot, it's the best feeling," Tuck said after a 24-point, nine-rebound performance Sunday in an 81-58 victory over Maryland in the national semifinals. "It was rough last year; I hate sitting out and watching. But by the time we got to the Final Four, I really wanted to play but I'd been out for a while. So I was trying to use it as a learning experience and be there for my teammates.

"Just because I couldn't play that doesn't mean I had to be by myself. They won a championship, and I still won one, too. I was trying to do whatever I could for them."

Surely, that encouragement from Tuck was appreciated. But the Huskies are a lot happier now having her out on court as part of their "you-can't-stop-all-five-of-us" attack.

"To have someone like Morgan in there with me, it's so difficult for defenses to guard us," Breanna Stewart said. "Because we're both able to go inside-out. If you're a team with one big, solid post, how are you supposed to defend one of us on the perimeter? That's what we want to do, is create matchup nightmares."

Here's the thing, though. The 6-4 Stewart could be teammates with four citizens from Munchkinland and still be a matchup nightmare all by herself. Put her on the floor with Tuck, and surround them with Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kia Nurse? Yikes.

For opponents, if only it were a nightmare, because you can wake up from that.

"She took us inside, she took us out," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said of Tuck. "She was able to score. She showed a really high IQ."

Tuck is from Bolingbrook High in greater Chicago, the same school as Tennessee players Ariel Massengale and Nia Moore. The prep teammates would have faced off Sunday had Tennessee been able to get past Maryland in the Spokane Regional final. Instead, Tuck took the Terps to school.

In her freshman season, Tuck averaged 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds. Then she redshirt last season. This season, she has been terrific -- averaging 14.2 points and 5.5 rebounds coming into the Final Four -- but didn't get All-America honors. Which Geno Auriemma said he "understood." Well, kind of.

"I understand there's a lot of really good players in the country. ... You can only reward our team so much for what we did," Auriemma said. "The three that they've picked to be All-American, I thought deserved it.

"There's a lot of practices during the course of the season where if you came in there, you would think Tuck was national player of the year. And not having played last year, she wasn't in the conversation at the beginning of the season of who the top players in the country are. But a lot of the kids have made first-team All-American that wish they were playing Tuesday night. So it all works out."

In some ways, the fact that Tuck wasn't on the WBCA's 10-member All-American team -- Stewart, Mosqueda-Lewis and Jefferson were -- has worked to the Huskies' benefit. When you've beaten your 2015 tournament foes by an average of 37.4 points -- and have lost one game in the past two seasons -- it's pretty hard to find something to make you feel slighted. The idea that Tuck is overlooked nationally can be the Huskies' little motivational chip on their shoulder.

As if they need it, right? Tuck doesn't seem bothered by this at all. On the big stage of the Final Four on Sunday, she totally killed it. And there's no worry she won't be on the All-American radar for next season.

"I was just grateful to be here, because I couldn't do it last year," Tuck said. "You want to be an All-American; if you're not striving to be an All-American, it's kind of, 'What are you striving for?' But I have lots of time to get that."