By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Geno Auriemma knows All-Americans. He’s had 14 with the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. He’s also a past chairman of the WBCA All-America selection committee.
The Hall of Fame coach has no doubts that senior guard Kelly Faris can be chosen to the 10-player WBCA All-America team in April, which would mean her name and No. 34 would be put on the Gampel Pavilion wall with the Huskies of Honor.
What will it take?
“A lot of it depends on what kind of team you’re coming from,” Auriemma said. “It goes way beyond the numbers. Some people just impact the game in such a way that the numbers only tell not even half the story. That’s what Kelly is.”
Faris enters Saturday’s Big East game at Cincinnati (8 p.m., SNY) averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds along with team highs of 4.6 assists and 3.0 steals. She is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor, 45.0 percent from 3-point land, and 73.7 percent from the foul line. She is first in the Big East and second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.82).
Certainly they are good numbers, but are they All-American numbers?
In 1995-96, Jennifer Rizzotti averaged 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.9 steals in leading UConn to the Final Four. She shot 44.2 percent from the floor, 27.3 percent from behind the arc, and 70.5 percent from the foul line. Her assist-to-turnover was about 2-to-1. Not only was Rizzotti an All-American, she won the Wade Trophy as the WBCA’s Player of the Year. She also won top honors from the Associated Press.
The numbers say Faris is having a better senior year than Rizzotti had. But then Rizzotti had a lot of advantages that Faris doesn’t have. Rizzotti had been named an All-American the previous year and was a star of a 35-0 national championship team that received more publicity than any other team in the sport’s history. She was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. UConn and Jennifer Rizzotti were synonymous.
Only one UConn player other than Rizzotti was a WBCA All-American with a scoring average below 14.0 points. But then Svetlana Abrosimova (13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists) was a returning All-American in 2000.
“With Jennifer it was because what happened the previous year, all the attention she got being the point guard and leader of our team, and she had the ball in her hands all the time,” Auriemma said. “For some people, they see it. They can look at someone and they say ‘Wow.’ Then there are others that no matter how much you try to convince them they’ll never see it. That’s why when people vote for things you’re not quite sure. You can’t put your trust in it.”
Faris may not even be the No. 1 All-America candidate on her own team. That distinction at this point goes to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. What about Stefanie Dolson? Here’s one thing you can be sure of — UConn will not have three players named to the WBCA team as it did in 2002 and 2009.
There are seven players — Baylor’s Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, UConn’s Bria Hartley, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas, Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins — back from the 2012 WBCA squad. The only one that you can take off that list for certain for 2013 at this point is the injury-plagued Hartley. So there are not many openings.
To even get two players named will take a strong second half of the season. The Huskies could afford to lose to Baylor, but they must beat Notre Dame in South Bend to at least tie for the Big East regular season title and then win the league tournament championship, with a win over the Irish there being a bonus. Then they must get to the Final Four.
Getting to the national semifinals in Denver last year got Hartley over the top. The same could be said for UConn’s first All-American, Kerry Bascom, in 1991. You could argue that if Ann Strother had played well against Duke in Bridgeport in 2006 and led her team to the Final Four instead of struggling in a season ending overtime loss, she’d be in the Huskies of Honor.
“With Kerry Bascom, it wasn’t until we went to the Final Four that people went, ‘Wow, she must be pretty good,’ ” Auriemma said. “A lot happens in those last couple weeks. Unless people’s minds are made up, that last week or two leading up to the Final Four can change everything.”
One thing that Faris has done, like Hartley did a year ago, was play well in nationally televised games. In six such games, she has averaged 12.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. And Faris has locked up players such as Maryland’s Thomas and Duke’s Chelsea Gray defensively.
The Plainfield, Ind., native has played in 133 games at UConn and the Huskies’ record is 125-8 with the 2010 NCAA title, three Final Four appearances, two Big East regular season crowns and three league tournament championships. She has 905 points, 688 rebounds, 471 assists, and 252 steals. She could join four-time All-American Maya Moore has the only UConn players to finish their careers with 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists, and 250 steals.
For the record, Faris was not selected to play in the 2009 WBCA High School All-America Game.
“I would check how many of those guys that did are where she is,” Auriemma said.
Three — Griner, Destiny Williams, and Mariah Chandler — have won a national championship, doing with Baylor last year. Notre Dame’s Diggins and Stanford’s Joslyn Tinkle are the only others to have reached a Final Four.
To Faris, all the All-America talk is just, well, talk.
“That’s not my focus,” she said. “My focus isn’t about the accolades outside of winning a national championship. The individual stuff? Yeah, it’s great and there are people that are deserving of it. But is it in the back of my mind that that’s what I want? I come out here and I try to do what Coach asks me to do and what the team needs.
“Honestly, I don’t really care. That stuff doesn’t really faze me a whole lot. It’s not what I came here to do. I didn’t come here so that my name would be recognized or that I would be recognized. I came here because this is the best program out there, I thought, and I wanted to become the best player I could possibly be. I wanted to become better and better and I felt like that was what I was going to get if I came here.”
She has gotten that out of four years at UConn. Just maybe she’ll leave at the end of the season as an All-American.