Charles dominating during senior season
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is no longer being asked if Tina Charles is UConn's most valuable player this season. Now, he's getting questions about whether his senior center is the best he's ever coached.
``I just think she's, right now, playing as well as anybody I've had at Connecticut,'' Auriemma said on Saturday, after top-ranked UConn dismantled No. 3 Notre Dame by 24 points.
That would include players such as Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales.
Charles had 23 points and 13 rebounds against the Irish. Over the past four games, which include wins over No. 14 North Carolina, Marquette, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 6 Duke, she has averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds.
And she's been dominant despite playing an average of just 28 minutes, because the Huskies have blown out their opponents by halftime.
``It comes from me just establishing myself, running the floor hard, my teammates looking for me in transition, just little things like that,'' said Charles, who averaged 17 points by halftime in those contest.
Going into Saturday's game at Villanova, the 6-foot-4 Charles was averaging 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, helping UConn extend its winning streak to 57.
``She just runs the floor so well,'' said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell. ``She pins you in there inside and then we she gets the ball she either scores or gets fouled pretty much every time.''
The scary thing about Charles is that she continues to improve, Auriemma said. A couple of years ago, she would take plays off. She was still a great player, Auriemma said, just not all the time.
``You used to see that once in a while and now you see it every game, throughout the whole game,'' Auriemma said. ``It's been a lot of fun to watch the change in her over the last two years.''
And the accolades have been pouring in.
Charles was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after UConn won its sixth national championship last spring. This week, she received her fourth Big East Player of the Week award, her third in a row.
Last week, she was a factor in the WNBA trade in which the Connecticut Sun gave up All-Star point guard Lindsay Whalen to acquire former UConn star Renee Montgomery and this year's top pick, widely expected to be Charles.
``I'm glad she's on my team,'' said Maya Moore, last year's national player of the year. ``Because Tina is a great basketball player right now, and she can only get better.''
Just how much better? Auriemma said he has no idea.
``At some point you level off,'' he said. ``I don't know where that point is right now for Tina. She certainly hasn't gotten there yet. Maybe next year, or the year after or five years from now. Who knows?''
She already has 1,160 career rebounds and is within a few games of becoming the sixth UConn player to score 2,000 points.
``You can see it in her that she wants to get better and she wants to dominate,'' Moore said.
On Feb. 12, she will become the 12th woman's player to have her name placed in the wall of Gampel Pavilion as a ``Husky of Honor.''
Charles said she's been thinking lately of how little time she has left at UConn, and perhaps that's the reason she's been stepping up her game.
``My days are numbered,'' she said. ``(I think of) just how much this program means to me and just the respect that my teammates have for me just giving me the ball down low, and I'm just finishing with it.''