By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Kelly Faris looked straight into the eyes of her 10 University of Connecticut women’s basketball teammates and spoke for about five minutes after practice at Gampel Pavilion last Monday. No coaches were present. By the look in the Huskies’ eyes, the senior guard had their total attention.
If the remainder of the season goes as she plans, Faris has 40 days and 11 games left in her college career and she doesn’t want one to go to waste.
“I’ll keep what I said between us,” Faris said. “There are things we have to clean up because there’s going to be a point that it’s too late. I have a month left and I’m going to do everything and anything I can to make it end the right way. I’m trying to come out my shell and do what I can.”
The third-ranked Huskies (26-2 overall, 13-1 Big East) close out the regular season with a two-game road trip to South Florida Saturday (noon, SNY) and to No. 2 Notre Dame Monday night. With two wins they’ll clinch a share of the Big East regular season championship and be the top seed for the Big East tournament March 8-12 at the XL Center in Hartford.
UConn is coming off Tuesday night’s 76-36 rout of Pittsburgh at the XL Center. Faris had 11 points, nine rebounds, and three assists as the Huskies shook off a poor start to beat the Panthers for the 28th straight time.
“I’ve been a little frustrated lately, particularly after the Rutgers and Baylor games with how those played out,” Faris said. “I can be in a little better state. The Baylor game, we all lost our heads. I think I’m better than I was. But there’s always something to be better at.”
Faris’ game has been pretty solid all season. She enters the game with USF (19-8, 8-6) averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.8 assists. She ranks first in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio, eighth in field-goal percentage (52.4), and third in 3-point field-goal percentage (40.4).
But keeping her emotions in check will be a key, especially for a player that’s seeing a part of her life that’s been so enjoyable for her for four years come to a close.
“You always have to be careful with Kelly, because when Kelly senses it’s a crucial time she gets hyper-amped,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s like she’s going to guard all five guys, she’s going to pass it to herself, screen for herself, catch it, score, and get fouled. Then she’ll go trap someone by herself. She’ll do everything by herself and then it gets away from her. That’s the biggest danger with Kelly, that she doesn’t think she has to do her part and everyone else’s part.
“At times it’s been hard but for the most part this year she’s been in a pretty good place. But you can’t put any thoughts like that in her head. You know how they say how some people run towards the fire and others run away from it? Kelly wants to dive head first into the fire and that’s not the winning edge. You’ve got to get into the fire, be successful, and come back out. I wouldn’t trade her for the world. But the only thing that gets her in trouble is when she’s out-running herself.”
Faris, who was one of 30 players named as candidates for the Naismith Award Wednesday, has never been one for individual glory. But she’s within striking distance of joining an exclusive club at UConn.
The Plainfield, Ind., will take career marks of 1,011 points, 745 rebounds, 503 assists, and 275 steals to the Sun Dome Saturday. She is five rebounds shy of joining three-time Wade Trophy winner Maya Moore as the only UConn players with 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists, and 250 rebounds in their careers.
“Maya was just exceptional in so many areas,” Auriemma said. “She competed on every possession, every minute, every day. I’m not surprised that she has the records she has. But one of the reasons why there are so few that have those kinds of records is for so many years we’ve had a combination of so many good players on one team that it was impossible for one player to dominate.
“Kelly’s record … There’s no one on our team that works harder. There’s no one on our team that pushes herself harder. She’s at a whole different level from everyone else. We have a couple of guys on our team now that if they competed at Kelly’s level she wouldn’t have these numbers because they would be taking those numbers from her. But because she works so hard, because she prepares herself so well, and because she’s relentless, if she gets those records she deserves every single one of them.”
But for Faris, it’s just win.