Hartley raising expectations

Bria Hartley of USA reacts as Sylvie Gruszczynski of France tries to block her during the final basketball game for the 3X3 World basketball Championship in front of Zappeion hall in Athens, Sunday Aug. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

By Carl Adamec

One of Bria Hartley’s goals when she came to the University of Connecticut was to join the Huskies’ legendary list of All-Americans.

But now that the Huskies’ junior guard has achieved that status doesn’t mean she is satisfied. The North Babylon, N.Y. native is determined to be better than ever.

“Bria looks great,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “I remember during the summer telling Coach (Geno) Auriemma that she’s one that has really stood out. You can tell. As good as she was last year to now is just amazing. It’s amazing how much she has improved.”

Hartley averaged 14.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists a season ago and was chosen to the all-Big East first team. In the NCAA Final Four semifinal loss to Notre Dame in Denver, she became the third

UConn sophomore to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

But while she didn’t lead the Huskies in any of the major statistical categories, it was her play against the best teams that earned her All-America honors. She averaged 17.5 points against top 10 opponents in the regular season, scored 18 points in the final against Notre Dame and was named to the Big East all-tournament team for the second straight year, and averaged 17.0 points in five NCAA Tournament games.

She became the fourth UConn sophomore named to the WBCA All-America team, joining Svetlana Abrosimova (1999), Diana Taurasi (2002), and Maya Moore (2009).

But, still, she admits there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“A lot of it, for me, this summer is mental,” Hartley said. “I want to come out here thinking the game, seeing things before they happen, seeing plays before they develop. I need to be a smarter player and one of the things Coach Auriemma preaches is to be a smart player. I’m a pretty stubborn person in general so I have to pay attention to little details and make sure I’m always focused and paying attention and always listening to what the coaches want.

“Being smart with your play, your passes and shot selection … Playing hard is a big thing. Push myself even when I’m tired or I don’t feel like I can go hard anymore. And being confident is big. When you’re not confident it takes away from your game. Playing with confidence is half the battle.

“And I want to be a better leader, be more vocal, and make sure that we’re all competing at a high level whether it’s working out or playing pick-up games. We’re going to have a lot of talent so we have to be sure everyone knows the way that things are done here, and play the way Connecticut basketball is supposed to be played.”

Connecticut guard Bria Hartley (14) during the first half of the NCAA Women’s Final Four semi-final college basketball game against Notre Dame in Denver, Sunday, April 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The offseason was among Hartley’s more quiet ones in recent years.

She spent the spring and early summer working out and playing while spending time at UConn and with her family.

But in July, USA Basketball called her and invited her to take part in the inaugural 3×3 world championships in Athens, Greece, in late August.

Playing with former UConn standout Ann Strother, Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins, and Stanford All-American Chiney Ogwumike, Hartley added another gold medal to the one she brought home from the 2011 U-19 world championships.

“To be the first-ever world champions, not only for the USA, but the first-ever for any country, I think says a lot and is something to remember as you get old,” Hartley said. “She would then return to her teammates at UConn for preseason workouts leading up the opening of official practice later this week.”

“One of the things Bria’s gotten better at is finishing,” Faris said. “She’s a good ball handler and she’s always been able to get to the basket. She’s worked hard on being able to use her body to go into bigger players and finish her moves.”

According to Hartley, that was one of the advantages of playing 3×3.

“The 3×3 is a lot more physical because of how you have to finish around the rim,” she said. “I think that will help me.”

The Huskies, with four returning starters and the nation’s top recruiting class, figure to be ranked second nationally in the polls at the start behind defending national champion Baylor. The Bears, Stanford, Maryland, and Duke highlight a tough non-league schedule and the Big East season features a home-and-home with Notre Dame.

Unlike last year when they were 33-5 and led in the second half of all five losses, the Huskies have a returning All-American “Having Bria back changes a lot of things,” Auriemma said. “Bria took on a lot of responsibility last year and it was mature on her part to do that. She wanted to be a leader. She wanted to be the one that everyone looked at. For the most part, she was.

“I’m comfortable with Bria as a leader.”

Hartley admits she has looked at the east wall of Gampel Pavilion where the names and numbers of the Huskies of Honor hang, knowing that one day, as an All-America selection, she’ll be a part of it.

But when she turns to the south wall where the program’s seven national championship banners hang, there’s an empty feeling. In her two years, UConn is 69-7 with two Final Four berths, a Big East regular season titles (2011) and a pair of Big East Tournament crowns. But both years the Huskies ran into Notre Dame in the national semifinals and came up short.

She has two years left.

It’s been two years and it’s been good but we want the next two to be even better,” Hartley said. “You come to Connecticut, you think first about winning the national championship. It’s something that you do with your team. That’s the ultimate thing. That’s one of the things that’s missing and something I want to get done.

“When I came here and looked at that wall I thought, ‘One day, I want my name to be on that wall.’ “Yeah, it’s an accomplishment but there are a lot of other things I’m looking forward to over the next two years. I’m going to make sure I focus on the main thing, which is winning the national championship.”