By Carl Adamec
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis wasn’t about to give back the national championship the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team had just won.
But no one would blame the Huskies’ junior wing for wanting to play a few more games.
After a regular season filled with injury, illness, and inconsistency, the Mosqueda-Lewis her teammates knew came through in the postseason. She capped it off with 18 points and seven rebounds in UConn’s 79-58 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA final at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Tuesday night.
“It was worth it and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I was happy to come back at the end of the season and play how I can.”
In nine postseason games, Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds. She was named to the American Athletic Conference all-tournament team, was the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Lincoln (Neb.) Regional, and was selected to the all-Final Four team. Only Stefanie Dolson could match that all-tourney hat trick.
She also had UConn’s third triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in the second-round win over Saint Joseph’s at Gampel Pavilion.
After missing eight games with a right elbow injury early and four more games in February due to mononucleosis, Mosqueda-Lewis came on in March and April and played like the All-American she was as a sophomore.
“It was just one thing after another in the regular season for her,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’m most proud of how she handled that whole adversity. For her to play her best basketball … I said before the NCAA tournament started that if we were fortunate enough to play six games, the six games could wipe out how frustrating the other four months were. That’s exactly what happened.”
She got off to a slow start in the semifinals Sunday as she was scoreless in the first half against Stanford. She responded with 15 second-half points and the Huskies coasted to a 75-56 win.
Against Notre Dame, she had 14 points in the first half, including a hard-earned rebound basket at the buzzer to allow the Huskies to take a seven-point lead to the locker room. She then opened the second-half scoring on a layup off a pass by Moriah Jefferson. She later nailed a jumper to cap a 15-2 run and the Huskies were on their way to finishing off a 40-0 season and taking home their NCAA record ninth national championship.
“We just wanted to put it out there right from the beginning that there is no confusion about the fact that we should be here, we should be No. 1, and we should be in the position we put ourselves in,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We worked hard for that, and I think we proved we deserve it.
“Everyone contributed and that’s the way you want to win a national championship.”
But Mosqueda-Lewis had a shining moment even before the games began in Nashville.
Just before UConn took the court for its public workout Saturday, the WBCA All-America team was introduced to the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. The Huskies assembled in some seats on the baseline.
As Dolson, then Bria Hartley, and then Breanna Stewart made their way to center court, the Huskies stood and yelled. A year earlier Mosqueda-Lewis had made that walk as an All-American. On Saturday, instead of being down about only watching, she was the No. 1 cheerleader.
“That’s what kind of person and teammate she is,” Hartley said.
“I think this is the toughest season I’ve ever had,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through and because of that I’m really proud of myself for kind of getting myself out of the hole. I couldn’t thank my teammates and coaches any more for helping me get out of it.”
Mosqueda-Lewis will enter her senior year with 1,613 points, on pace to become the eighth member of the 2,000-point club at UConn. With 598 rebounds she could even finish her career in the top 10 at UConn in that category. With 277 baskets from 3-point land, she is 42 shy of Diana Taurasi’s school record.
Most important, she’d like to help the Huskies match Tennessee (1996-98) and a Taurasi-led UConn group (2002-04) with three straight national championships.
“The freshmen we have coming in are talented, and with the people we have coming back they will be able to learn from us,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I definitely can see great possibilities for us. It’s said to see Stef and Bria go, but it’s going to be a new exciting chapter for the rest of us.”