<
>

UConn's Hunter says she's ready to contribute

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut has been cautious this season
with center Brittany Hunter and her surgically rebuilt right knee.

When it's sore, she sits. When it's not, she plays.

The junior transfer from Duke has missed 11 games and seen
limited action in the others. But after playing nine minutes and
scoring 10 points during a 92-49 win over Villanova on Saturday,
Hunter says she's ready to make a bigger contribution as the
third-ranked Huskies head into the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

"I feel like the next 10 games I'll be fine," Hunter said
Saturday. "I'm glad if I did have to sit out that it was then and
now I feel like, OK I can just go back to the way I was going, get
on my course again and just play."

Of course, the Huskies will play only 10 more if they make it to
the national title game. Hunter could provide needed depth for that
run. Without her, UConn uses just seven players, six of whom
average more than 20 minutes a game.

Hunter spent the most time on the court Saturday since playing
18 minutes against DePaul on Jan. 24. She was 5-for-6 from the field
and had four rebounds.

The top player in the nation coming out of high school, Hunter
had surgery in 2004 to replace the lateral meniscus in her right
knee. She sat out that season after transferring from Duke to UConn
and has been battling soreness in the knee ever since. In November,
she aggravated the injury, but opted against any surgery until at
least after the season.

In 17 games, she's averaging 7.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Hunter said she's been trying to stay in shape, lifting weights
and riding a stationary bike. She understands her situation, and
just wants to be ready when the team needs her.

With Hunter unable to go for long stretches, UConn has turned to
freshman Tina Charles, and she has responded.

Charles has averaged 13 points and nine rebounds, and has turned
her game up a notch recently, scoring 34 against South Florida on
Tuesday and 21 against Villanova on Saturday.

"That's taken a lot of pressure off," Hunter said. "When you
see a team struggling, you're like, 'Dang it, I wish I could
help."'

Coach Geno Auriemma said he is not sure if Hunter will even play
in the season finale against Rutgers, or how much time she'll see
in the tournaments.

"I just have to go by what I see the day that I show up," he
said. "We'll go down Monday night, if she can play, she'll play,
if she can't, she can't. That is an unknown that I can't speculate
on."