When Azura Stevens transferred to UConn from Duke, it didn’t appear to be the most amicable separation. Not long after the move was announced, Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie spoke with Duke’s student-run newspaper and seemed to take exception to Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma taking Stevens.
“When have you known Connecticut to take transfers? They took two this year. They took Azura and [Batouly Camara] from Kentucky. Make sure you look at this stuff from a deep point of view, because why is [Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma] doing that? You know why he’s doing that? Because talent is down. And he wants to continue to win. Obviously, they’re great.
“But really? Is that what we’re about now, I’m going to take transfers? That was the neat thing they used to have. Connecticut wasn’t a transfer school. Now, even if they win it, who cares? I can’t even understand it because he’s such a good coach and it’s such a great program.”
But during the pre-game press conferences on Friday at the Times Union Center in Albany, McCallie disputed those comments, claiming she never made them and was “completely” misquoted.
“I did not make those remarks,” McCallie said. “That’s what the media wrote.”
Regardless of whether they were said or not, Auriemma wasn’t too worked up over them anyways.
“I don’t think the comments she made were — in any way — derogatory or anti-Connecticut or anti-Azura. I never took them that way,” he said. “I think what she was saying had some validity to that. I this she was saying it’s unusual for a team like Connecticut to have someone transfer in and it’s true.”
Now, two seasons after the Raleigh, NC native left her program, McCallie is impressed with how much Stevens has grown as a player.
“I’m very proud of Azura and what she’s done is amazing,” McCallie said. “She’s just worked hard on her game. What I can see from film is her inside game and what she’s doing now in terms of paint points and paint opportunities is very significant, not to mention her defensive presence.
“She’s a very special player and it’s hard to be new in any program. It’s hard to be new in program of such great stature.”
While the coaches were busy reflecting on Stevens’ journey to the Albany Regional, the Huskies’ players were more focused on the game ahead.
“It’s just going to be like any other game, preparing the same and they’re in the way of what we’re going to want to do,” Stevens said. “We’re going to approach it like any other team.”
While at Duke, Stevens only crossed paths with UConn once when the Blue Devils visited the XL Center on Dec. 29, 2014. Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams were the sole members of the roster on the team then and the latter played just six minutes. For the rest of the team, they’ve only ever known Stevens as a member of the Huskies.
“She’s a part of our team as far as we’re concerned,” junior Katie Lou Samuelson said. “I’ve never played against her on Duke before so since I’ve been here she’s been apart of UConn.”
The topic has certainly come up frequently for Stevens but she’s handled it the right way, something certainly not lost on her teammates.
“She’s not gonna say anything. She’s not going to incriminate himself,” sophomore Crystal Dangerfield said. “She’s been taking the high road with everything. She just wants to play basketball.”
In response, they want to make sure Stevens knows they have her back.
“It’s UConn vs. Duke, it’s not [Azura] vs Duke,” Williams said. “I feel bad she has to answer all these questions about it because I’m not sure it makes it any easier. I’m sure it’s already difficult enough. But it’s going to be UConn vs Duke tomorrow.”
While Stevens hasn’t said anything publicly about the match-up, it’s difficult to see how she’s really feeling about the game. However, her coach isn’t too worried about it.
“I think she’s been gone from there. This is her second year out,” Auriemma said. “My message was simply this: I don’t think they’re going to feel bad if they beat us and you’re going to do whatever you need to do to help us win. There’s plenty of time for all the other stuff but not when the game starts.”
But just in case, Auriemma wanted to give her a little extra motivation.
“I said, ‘Hey, they’ve been really good since you left, so maybe they’re happy you left.’”