Published November 15. 2009 4:00AM
Storrs - At one point in the second half, Heather Buck got an offensive rebound, turned to look outside, then spun, drove, laid the ball in and was fouled, with senior teammates and fellow post players Tina Charles and Kaili McLaren cheering wildly from the bench.
It was something Buck has done a thousand times before, winning two straight Connecticut Gatorade Girls' Basketball Player of the Year awards at Stonington High School. But it wasn't something Buck had done as much recently.
Buck, a 6-foot-3 center/forward for the top-ranked UConn women's basketball team, had a nervous start to what is essentially her freshman season with the program, drawing some criticism from coach Geno Auriemma. Buck redshirted last year after developing mononucleosis early in the season.
Buck's collegiate debut, though, in Saturday's 105-35 season-opener against Northeastern, yielded 12 rebounds in 21 minutes. UConn was playing without McLaren, who had a protective boot on her right foot.
"Today was my first game," Buck said. "I just wanted to go out and play good defense and get some rebounds so I can prove to coach that I can do it, I can step up. … It does make me much more confident going on.
"… Usually I get nervous before games. I felt really good today."
Auriemma called this a starting point for Buck, who played mainly defense in practice last year for UConn.
"It's been a little bit of a rocky road there for Heather in the beginning because the game is just so physical and so fast and she's just not accustomed to that," Auriemma said. "It's gotta start somewhere. Today, on the defensive end, on the rebounding end, she was able to establish herself and do the things you have to do to get started."
Buck had four points, with her first career points coming on a putback with 2:13 remaining in the first half.
Welcome to cow country
Northeastern coach Daynia La-Force Mann, a Brooklyn native, remembers making a recruiting visit to UConn in 1991. That memory came back to her on Saturday before the Huskies' game at Gampel Pavilion.
"We were driving to shootaround today and I saw that red barn," La-Force Mann said. "That was one of the reasons I chose to go to Georgetown. … It wasn't comfortable to me, being a city girl."
UConn's players were then asked if they saw the barn on their recruiting visits.
"Yeah, I did," said Charles, who is from Jamaica, Queens. "It is, I don't know, different."
Auriemma, who hails from Philadelphia, said he didn't see the barn when he came to Connecticut to take the job.
"They brought me in the other way," he said with a laugh, then telling a story of another recruit who bypassed Storrs due to the rural landscape. "… Kids that come up here that make their decision based on that, there's nothing you can do about that."