UConn All-Stars Give The Fans What They Came to See
By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com

UNCASVILLE, CT, July 25, 2009 -- It was the obvious theme going into the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., yet it still didn’t disappoint.

Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Charde Houston and Asjha Jones all came into the festivities expecting to be bombarded with more requests and obligations than are normally associated with All-Star weekend because of their UConn connections. They not only happily obliged with nary a roll of an eye, they took over the weekend and made it something special for their fans from the Nutmeg State who inhabit an area that many consider to be the Mecca of women’s basketball.

“I don’t think there’s a better place to play basketball than Connecticut in the whole country,” said Taurasi. “It’s just unbelievable how much the fans love it. They love every part of it.”

Despite bearing the pressure to put on a good show, the UConn All-Stars came through Saturday. Each of the five former Huskies performed at a high level in an entertaining 130-118 West victory over the East to reward the passion of those that have supported them since they stepped on the campus at Storrs.

“It was a really good showing for Connecticut players,” said Bird. “You couldn’t have written this any better. You couldn’t have made it more perfect.”

The most notable performance of the day was that of Cash, who captured All-Star Game MVP honors. The Seattle forward began the game on fire, scoring eight of her team’s first 15 points. When all was said and done Cash had compiled an All-Star record 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting in 23 minutes of action, while also collecting six rebounds and four assists.

“Swin did great,” said Bird, a Seattle teammate of Cash’s and fellow West All-Star starter. “She was consistent, played hard, made some nice moves and obviously had a lot of points. She was definitely the star of the game.”

Bird, who along with Cash and Jones won titles in 2000 and 2002 while at UConn, put up some gaudy stats of her own Saturday. The veteran guard set an All-Star mark by dishing out 10 assists, topping the old record of nine set by Taurasi in 2007. Bird also ended the game with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three, and grabbed five rebounds.

Then there was Taurasi, who helped lead the Huskies to three straight titles from 2002-04. The Phoenix star came off the bench to score 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go along with four boards and four assists in the West’s win.

And how about Houston, who admitted after the game that she was nervous about her first All-Star experience? Well, the precocious Minnesota Lynx forward didn’t show it on the court. The second-year pro went for 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while totaling six rebounds and three steals.

“It was kind of like the very first time we played Tennessee while I was at UConn,” said Houston. “I had crazy butterflies. But once you get a feel for it and you get used to it then they go away.”

Jones, who was the only UConn alum in the game playing for the East, didn’t quite compare with the other four on the stat sheet, but did turn in a solid game considering her style of play really isn’t conducive to an All-Star Game. The host Sun’s lone representative finished with six points, four boards and six assists.

Numbers aside, a couple of the more memorable moments in the game occurred when West coach Dan Hughes inserted all four of the UConn players on his roster into the contest. Hughes initially implemented it for the first 1:26 of the second quarter with veteran Lauren Jackson filling out the five, then again for a more sizable chunk of time in the third quarter -- the final 5:46 -- with Tina Thompson playing the middle.

But there was more to it than just the novelty of four UConn players getting together on the court. The foursome took it as an opportunity to relive their days as Huskies.

“We were running UConn plays,” said Bird. “I’m not even joking.”

“We used to do that flash to the elbow and backdoor cut and we actually got it,” said Cash. “We all were just laughing. We didn’t even care if we were going to make the basket. It was the fact that we were running the action. Dee was like, ‘Coach, Coach, we have something for you.’ He got a kick out of it too.”

Cash, Taurasi and Bird as well as Jones were all teammates at one point while at UConn, with all four being part of the Huskies' undefeated season in 2002, but Houston’s time in Storrs came after they all had left so taking part in this All-Star experience had extra meaning for her.

“I’ve never been on the floor with those players,” said Houston. “They were gone when I got to UConn. Knowing that they are the ones responsible for paving the way and winning the national championships and putting UConn on the map it was such a great feeling to be out there playing with them.”

But the UConn theme wasn’t reserved to just the players on the court. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was also on hand to take part in a ceremony that honored the U.S. Olympic team, which he will coach in 2012. Also in attendance was former Husky great Rebecca Lobo, who on Saturday was named as an inductee into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame for the Class of 2010.

And, of course, you can’t forget about the UConn fans and basketball followers in general from the state of Connecticut, whose infectious enthusiasm and appreciation for the game created a great atmosphere for an All-Star Game that will remembered for years to come.

From L-R, Charde Houston, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi all played significant roles for the Western Conference in the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images