First Night a new beginning for UConn, KML

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis used her failure to get a rebound as motivation en route to becoming an All-American and helping the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team win its eighth national championship.

But even though the junior guard/forward has accomplished many of the things she came cross country to do, she’s far from done and far from complacent.

“We’re really not so much focused on what happened last year as we are focused on what is going to happen this year,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We know it is a new year and that we will have to prove ourselves again, and we are definitely ready for that. Even though we were all part of a national championship, we definitely feel like we could have been better so that makes this year exciting to start fresh.”

UConn fans will get their first look at the Huskies today as the annual First Night program is held at Gampel Pavilion. The highlight of the evening will be a men’s/women’s intersquad scrimmage with the teams being coached by Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie.

Bria Hartley, Kiah Stokes, Breanna Stewart, Saniya Chong, and walk-on Briana Pulido will play for Team Geno. Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck, and walk-on Tierney Lawlor will be on Team Kevin. Junior Brianna Banks is also a member of Team Kevin but will not take part in the scrimmage as she continues her comeback from knee surgery.

“Friday will be really exciting,” Stewart said. “The intersquad scrimmage should be interesting and I think my team will win.”

The Huskies actually had their first official workout on Tuesday. They return All-Americans Mosqueda-Lewis, Dolson, and Hartley along with Final Four Most Outstanding Player Stewart from a 35-4 team that swept to the NCAA title. UConn was picked No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll and was a unanimous No. 1 choice to win the American Athletic Conference regular season title.

Mosqueda-Lewis, who turns 20 on Nov. 3, takes nothing for granted.

Two seasons ago she was the Big East Freshman and Sixth Man of the Year as well as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament. But the play that stuck with her throughout the offseason came in the Final Four semifinal game in Denver against Notre Dame. With the Huskies leading by two and time running down, Skylar Diggins missed a pull-up jumper. But the Irish’s Natalie Novosel beat Mosqueda-Lewis to the rebound and scored the tying hoop with 4.6 seconds left. Notre Dame would go on to win in overtime to get a title shot against Baylor.

Motivated to become a better all-around player, Mosqueda-Lewis became only the fifth UConn sophomore to be selected as a WBCA All-America team and the fourth to reach 1,000 points a year ago. She averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds and led the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 49.2 while being all-Big East first team. She was named to the NCAA Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional and Final Four all-tournament team. She had 18 points and nine rebounds in the national championship game win over Louisville.

“We are confident and excited because we have veterans and because we have all done something this summer and have played well,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We’ve gotten better so we’re all excited to put it to use on the court.

“I’m trying to play better off the ball. I’ve been trying to get into the post a lot more. In the past it was just when I had smaller people guarding me. Now I might have to play against girls that are taller so I have to find ways to get around them.”

Mosqueda-Lewis spent part of July along with teammate Hartley in Russia as a member of the United States World University Games team. She averaged 13.0 points and 6.8 rebounds as the Americans finished 6-0 and won the title. It was the fourth gold medal in four USA Basketball appearances for the Anaheim Hills, Calif., native.

“I was defending in the post. I was playing the 4. I was trying to figure out ways to use my height to my advantage,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Luckily I’m not too small of a girl. I go in there and bang in there with them. I may not be as tall but I can use my quickness against them or use the moves I’ve been working on.”

The Gampel Pavilion doors will open for First Night festivities at 6 p.m. and there will be an autograph session with the men’s and women’s teams from 6-6:45 p.m. The scrimmage will follow.

The Huskies’ exhibition opener is Nov. 1 against Gannon with the regular season beginning Nov. 9 when UConn takes on the University of Hartford at the XL Center.

“We have brought the new girls into the team and tried to show them how things are run here at Connecticut,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I think the chemistry is great and everybody is excited to get started and get into it.”

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