By Carl Adamec
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Name the best players in the country the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has faced over the past three years and 10 games — with the exception of Baylor 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner — and chances are Kelly Faris has guarded them.
The senior wing has made her name as the Huskies’ defensive stopper against All-Americans and shooting stars. Just this month Faris shut down Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas and contained Penn State high-scoring guard Maggie Lucas in a four-day span.
Which made something that happened early in Saturday’s game against the University of Hartford so stunning for those that have watched Faris game-in and game-out.
Hartford junior Alyssa Englert, averaging 2.5 points in 67 career games, got into the lane and her up fake sent Faris to the Chase Family Arena roof. She slipped under for a layup that brought the Hawks within five points and sent Faris to the bench. At the next time out, UConn coach Geno Auriemma brought in Breanna Stewart and Faris found a seat between Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey.
“Coach didn’t say anything,” Faris said, shaking her head. “CD told me that every time I do that he is taking me out. It’s something I have to fix.”
Auriemma denied he was sending any message to his team and Faris would sit for only about two minutes. But after Englert’s hoop, Hartford would not score another basket for 9:07 as the Huskies made it difficult for the Hawks to complete back-to-back passes.
The 26-1 run blew the game open and No. 2 UConn was on its way to a 102-45 win over Hartford in front of a sellout crowd of 3,508.
“What we’ve been saying to Kelly and the rest of the team is how we always want people to shoot over us instead of going by us,” Auriemma said. “Kelly is one of those excitable ones that when she’s excited and amped up to play defense she sees herself at this great shot blocker or something. They got her off her feet a couple of times and taking her out was my way of tweaking her a little bit and saying, ‘The only way you’re going to get better at this is every time you do that I’m going to take you out.’ Obviously that’s not going to happen but I thought this would be a good day to do it.”
UConn’s defense held Hartford, which was playing without sophomore guard Amber Bepko, to 36 percent shooting from the floor and forced 25 turnovers. Bria Hartley had five steals and four others, including Faris, two apiece as the Huskies (10-0) turned the miscues into 36 points.
“As a whole we did a lot better than we had been,” Faris said. “We did a lot better talking and so many times our downfall is lack of communication. Today was a good one for us.”
Faris also had a season high 18 points Saturday, 13 in the first half when the game was decided. She was one of five Huskies in double figures as they became the first team to ever hit triple figures against Hartford.
Through 10 games, Faris is averaging 9.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.6 steals. She tops the Big East and the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.7) and leads the league in field-goal percentage (61.4). She’s also fifth in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage (44.0) and seventh in assists and steals.
In 125 career games, the Plainfield, Ind., native has 804 points, 633 rebounds, 431 assists, and 224 steals. Only one UConn player has finished with 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists, and 250 steals — three-time Wade Trophy winner Maya Moore.
“I think Kelly Faris is one of the most special players that’s come through this program,” Hartford coach and former UConn All-American Jennifer Rizzotti said. “Like she literally tries to score until her team gets up by 30 and then every game I watch her play she passes up every open shot. She gets it. She is out there to compete. She wants it to be close. She’s like dying to play Alyssa Thomas and Maggie Lucas. But she’s just a great kid.
“And you can see it in her game. She’ll still play hard on defense, but she doesn’t want to rub it in. She wants to play basketball the way it’s supposed to be played. That’s why she has so many assists and so few turnovers. That’s why she’s so important to them on both ends of the floor.”
Up next for the Huskies is No. 1 Stanford Saturday at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal (11-0) have won 82 straight home games and feature All-American junior forward Chiney Ogwumike. It will be a challenge, the kind that Faris loves most.