No. 1 UConn escapes Tulane with 101st straight win

Tulane guard Kayla Manuirirangi (5) screens Connecticut guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson as guard Kolby Morgan last year in New Orleans.

Associated Press file photo

Kolby Morgan doesn't want to get blinded by her personal goals.

As Morgan enters her senior season of Tulane women's basketball, she is 626 points shy of breaking Grace Daly's career-leading 2,259 point total. That appears reachable, as Morgan scored 632 (19.2 ppg) as a junior last season.

“It would be mean achieving a big goal,” said Morgan, a shooting guard who is in sixth place on the Tulane scoring list with 1,634 points. “It would be a big accomplishment for me. I've worked hard for it.”

However, although coach Lisa Stockton's Green Wave needs Morgan to continue to be its big-time scorer, her leadership will be needed just as much. Unlike last season, when point guard Leslie Vorpahl and Morgan entered the season as All-American Athletic Conference players, this season Morgan will have to go without Vorpahl, the team's vocal leader, and is the team's only returning all-conference player.

The Wave has three freshmen, a junior-college transfer and four promising juniors who playd a lot last season and are looking to take the next step. Morgan has to show the way, which appears challenging.

“In practices, I'm more vocal, but I've always been the leader by example — grab a key rebound, get a key stop on defense, drive for a big basket, get a put-back,” she said. “I've seen that I will need to be patient, and I'm not close to that just yet. You just want to win so bad.”

For the third consecutive season, Morgan's role will change with the Wave. After averaging 12.2 points as a freshman starter and becoming the first player in the program's history to be selected all-conference, she was asked to score more as a sophomore. She averaged 17.2 points that season.

Center Chinwe Duru and power forward Tierra Jones were graduated after that season. Morgan was asked to rebound more, and she averaged a team-leading 5.5 per game, in addition to being the AAC's fourth-leading scorer. And, she was a strong defender, always taking on opponents' the top perimeter player.

“After a real good freshman year, the pressure was on her as a sophomore,” Stockton said. “But she took all the things we gave her into the summer, developed her game and had a even better sophomore year.

“Right before her junior year, she did the same thing and had one of the best single seasons of a player I've coached. Now, she's put herself in position to have an even better year.”

Morgan's role will change again somewhat in her final go-round. This season, she will play more at point guard while sophomore Kayla Manuirirangi and freshman Kaila Anderson mature and develop.

Morgan said she doesn't think it will take away from her scoring. Rather, it will help it.

“If I get more assists, it will get other people involved, so the help-side (defense) won't be as packed,” she said. “My goal is to become a complete player, and developing as a passer and making more assists is part of that.”

And, it will be excellent training for her future. Vorpahl is playing professional in Romania. Morgan is sure to play pro ball, barring injury. She looks upward, puts her hands to her heart and says she would “love” to play in the WNBA, but “will play wherever.”

At 5-foot-8, point guard or a spot as a combo guard playing the point as well as shooting guard likely is her ticket to the pros, where shooting guards are often 6 feet or taller.

Morgan said her thoughts are not that far ahead, however. She was selected second-team all-conference in the preseason coaches' poll, and Tulane, which was fifth in conference play last season, was picked to finish sixth.

“They picked SMU ahead of us, and we've beaten them every time,” she said. “But my thoughts are with this team, which I think can do well. This team has a swagger. It's the most athletic team I've been on here, and it's the tallest.”

Stockton said she won't choose her starting five until next week, but center Ksenija Madzarevic is 6-5, center/power forward Harlynn Wyatt 6-2 and guard/small forward Tene Thompson is 5-11. Sierra Cheatham, a 6-foot freshman guard from Houston, certainly will be in the mix, if not a starter.

“We have length, and we need to focus on defense,” Morgan said,. “That length should help us be better defensively and bounding. The offense will be the easy part. If we play good defense, we'll get baskets on the break.”

Stockton said she doesn't “want to put that on her” as far as Morgan becoming the program's career-leading scorer, saying having to average more than 20 points a game is a lot. However, of the five players ahead of her on the list, Daly averaged that figure her senior year, and Stacy Gaudet, at No. 2, scored 21.4 and 21.8 her final two years. Carmen Jones at No. 3 averaged 24.6 as a senior and No. 4 Keisha Johnson 20.1.

Morgan has definitely trended to average that amount, and as the only big-time scorer on the team, the Green Wave likely will need her to do it.