By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Bria Hartley claims she isn’t superstitious.
But the junior guard’s personal game plan for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s scheduled Big East contest Sunday with DePaul at Gampel Pavilion will be similar to that of Tuesday’s plan that worked so well for her against Marquette.
“Listen to music, put my sneakers on the same way, do some schoolwork …,” Hartley said. “I’m just going to go out there and play and be confident when I’m shooting the ball. I’m going to have a positive attitude. Your attitude and your mind can do a lot of good things for you and it will surprise you.”
After hitting the bottom of the backboard on a drive on the Huskies’ first possession, Hartley came alive. She hit a pull-up, foul-line jumper two possessions later and was her All-America self the rest of the way.
She finished 7-for-12 from the floor overall, the first time since Dec. 22 against Hartford she shot over 40 percent in a game, and 5-for-7 from 3-point land after going 3-for-21 from behind the arc in her previous five games. With 20 points, she was one of six players in double figures as No. 3 UConn routed Marquette 94-37.
“I want to be someone that my teammates can rely on and I haven’t been that lately,” Hartley said. “I came into the gym and told my teammates to help me out and encourage me a little bit because that always helps. I tried to get up as many shots as possible.”
Hartley’s struggles since injuring her left ankle in the FIBA 3×3 world championships in August are well documented. Every time she appeared to take a step forward this season, taking two steps back seemed to follow.
At St. John’s last Saturday, she missed all seven of her shots from 3-point land and was just 3-for-13 from the floor. And in a tight game, a player that has always been willing to take the big shot didn’t take a single one in the final 9:00. Instead, it was senior Kelly Faris and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis that carried the offensive load down the stretch of a 71-65 win.
“If I have an open shot, I’m going to take it,” Hartley said. “But at that point in a game you go to the people that are making shots. I didn’t shoot well, so I was looking for Kelly and I was looking for Kaleena. And Kaleena almost always is shooting the ball well.
“I’ve not struggled like this, not this bad. I mean, I’ve had bad days, but … You have to be positive and work hard. When you’re out there you have to be confident.”
Hartley’s tough times following an All-American season are not unique.
Jennifer Rizzotti was the Wade Trophy winner in 1996, but her field-goal percentage from the floor slipped six points (14 points on 3-pointers) from the previous year.
Shea Ralph was a consensus first-team All-American in 2000. But as a fifth-year senior her field-goal percentage dropped by 10.5 points (seven percent on 3-pointers) in 2001.
“I don’t know if Bria’s situation is similar to Shea’s,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “But Jennifer struggled with her shot her senior year after having one of the most amazing junior years I’ve ever seen anyone ever have. Things just kind of get away from you and you’re not sure how to get it back. The harder you try, the worse it gets. So you try to keep it as simple as possible. Focus on the things that will help our team.
“Coming out here for an extra two hours and shooting at night on her own like Bria’s been doing isn’t going to help. She’s trying everything she can but all you can do is do what you’re good at. Go out and play and have some confidence that it will come back. Just like you have no idea how it left, it will come back.”
Hartley’s shot is the same one that helped her become the third UConn sophomore to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Her work is on her form and her fundamentals.
“A lot of times my shot seems to come up short so I have to make sure I have my legs under me and hold my follow through,” Hartley said. “Sometimes I have a tendency to drift a little to my right. So those are a couple of things I work on.”
Though she says her ankle is no factor, one place where it may be an issue is in her ability to drive to the basket. She hasn’t had that burst of speed to get by defenders on a consistent basis she had her first two years.
This season, 53.1 percent of her shots have been from behind the arc. That number was 45.9 percent her first two seasons.
“I try to do other things,” Hartley said. “But at the same time I don’t want to pass up open shots. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it, even if I miss a couple. Coach always says you have to have the guts to take a shot even after you miss. I believe that every shot I take, I think it’s going in every time.”
She had that look on her face that she did believe Tuesday.
“She was 0-for-7 at St. John’s on threes. That’s not Bria,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “When Bria is feeling confident like she was (Tuesday), it’s like, ‘Now we have everyone on board. Now we’re ready to go.’ “
UConn (21-1 overall, 8-1 Big East) hopes to be ready to go for its 10th straight win Sunday, weather permitting. As long as DePaul and the officials can make it to Gampel Pavilion, the game will be played. The Blue Demons (17-6, 6-3) have won four of their last five games, the loss was at Marquette last Saturday, playing without all-Big East guard Anna Martin. The senior injured her left knee at Providence on Jan. 19 and is listed as day to day. Sophomore Brittany Hrynko and junior Jasmine Perry have helped pick up the slack.
For awhile, Hartley’s teammates have helped pick her up. A week into February, she’s ready to start returning the favor.
“I need to build on it,” Hartley said. “I can’t just have one game like this. I need to work to be more consistent so my teammates can count on me every night.”