By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — They went after the basketball as if it had been autographed by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. But it was the kind of play that separates the University of Connecticut women’s team from most around the country.
First, sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and junior Stefanie Dolson hit the floor as they battled a DePaul player for possession. When the ball squirted loose, fifth-year senior Caroline Doty dove in. Finally, senior Kelly Faris slid in to get a whistle for a jump ball. The fifth UConn player on the outside, All-American junior Bria Hartley, raced in to help her teammates to their feet. Coach Geno Auriemma got to his feet on the sidelines and applauded his players’ effort.
Was it the key play in the third-ranked Huskies’ 91-44 Big East win over DePaul Sunday? Hardly. The score at the time was 59-29 and 17:17 remained.
“Our guys know that it doesn’t matter what the score is,” Auriemma said. “We just want them to play hard and do the little things that make you a good player. It doesn’t matter what the score is because it’s not about the score. What are you going to decide to do, dive on a loose ball when it’s a tie score with eight seconds left? If that’s not part of who you are, you won’t dive on the ball with eight seconds left either. That might be the difference in the game. So you either dive on it because that’s what you do for a living or you don’t. You can’t decide when that ball hits the floor, ‘We’re up a bunch, I’m not going to do that.’ ”
If his point wasn’t clear to the Huskies (22-1 overall, 9-1 Big East) he made a statement at another point in the game when some lazy UConn defense led to a DePaul 3-point basket.
“What we expected was on the backside of that there would be a quick, hard rotation so this kid won’t get that 3 and they’ll have to make an extra pass and give us a little more time to recover,” Auriemma said. “And one of our guys just kind of half-(heartedly got) out there and I took her out.”
It was one of the few defensive letdowns UConn had against DePaul (17-6, 6-4), which struggled without all-Big East guard and leading scorer Anna Martin (left knee injury). The Huskies held the Blue Demons to 26.2 percent shooting, including an 0-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers by sophomore guard Brittany Hrynko. Senior center Katherine Harry, the Big East’s leading rebounder, was blanked as the Huskies won the battle of the boards 49-27.
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Auriemma thought that maybe, just maybe, 2,000 people would make it out to Gampel Pavilion for Sunday’s game.
At least three times that many, though, braved the conditions and the roads the day after the blizzard. Attendance (tickets sold) was announced at 8,861. Ironically, many of the empty seats were in the lower bowl and in the upper deck across from the benches that have seatbacks.
“We’ve always had a core fan base that’s been exceptionally loyal to us for the longest time, for as long as I can remember,” Auriemma said. “So these 8,800 people that came out, I bet you, they’re probably our absolute strongest fans and probably have been with us the longest. Maybe we should lock them up for a couple days before every weekend game and then let them out on the weekends.
“But it’s different here in Connecticut. We’re spoiled. We’re lucky to have the kind of fan base that we have. Sometimes we take it for granted, but I said that there wouldn’t be anybody here because I was just worried that the roads weren’t any good and people would just say, ‘Forget it.’ It took a lot of effort for some people to get here. As for the students, it took no effort for them. At least they made the walk down here.”
UConn has only one more regular season game at Gampel Pavilion, its Feb. 23 Senior Day contest with Seton Hall. The Huskies, however, will host NCAA tournament first- and second-round games here.
Brianna Banks does not yet have a date with a surgeon to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee suffered against St. John’s Feb. 2. But there is no rush at this point and Auriemma said academics will play a part in the timing of the surgery. They may even wait until Spring Break next month.
“The hardest part of school for a basketball player is the first 3-4 weeks of a semester,” Auriemma said. “It’s not ideal to be laid up by surgery at the beginning of the semester. So we’ll look at the
schedule and see what time frame works. My guess is we’ll give her a chance to do some rehab, get stronger, and get herself in good shape for this semester school-wise and go from there.”
Banks averaged 7.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in 21 games. The sophomore guard was in street clothes sitting next to athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle Sunday.
“We’ve had our share of these,” Auriemma said. “If there’s anybody better than Rosemary out there, I don’t know who it is. We’ve got great doctors, a great athletic trainer … We’ve been through this before and, unfortunately, we have to do it again.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, who leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, was just 2-for-7 Sunday and is now at 50.0 percent for the season from behind the arc. Penn State’s Maggie Lucas made all three of her tries from long range against Michigan State Sunday and is at 48.9 percent … All 10 healthy Huskies hit the scoring column as Heather Buck had a basket with 1:04 to go … UConn goes on the road Tuesday night to face Providence at Alumni Hall (7 p.m., SNY).