By Carl Adamec
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team had a 28-point lead with 3:17 left Sunday when coach Geno Auriemma put Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis back in the game.
Getting the junior All-American back to where she needs to be for the Huskies to be at their best for their national championship run is still a process. In her fourth game back from mononucleosis, Mosqueda-Lewis played 33 minutes and had 19 points as the top-seeded Huskies advanced to the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game with an 83-57 win over No. 4 Rutgers at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“There’s no substitute for games,” Auriemma said. “There is no substitute for being in a game environment. No matter how much you practice, it’s not the same. The one thing she has missed out on is not necessarily enough practice, she has missed out on games. So that’s one reason I put her back out there at the end. I said, ‘Get out there and run around a little bit and keep getting a feel for things.’ ”
Heading into Monday’s night final against No. 2 Louisville, Mosqueda-Lewis has averaged 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 31.0 minutes in four games after being out for close to three weeks.
“I feel like little by little, it’s getting better and better,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “When you’re playing one game after another you really can’t worry about what happened in the last game or the last possession. You just keep playing.
Mosqueda-Lewis was 5-for-9 from 3-point land Sunday as all five starters finished in double figures against the Scarlet Knights.
She figures to log a good amount of minutes Monday night against Louisville but she’ll have plenty of time to rest afterwards. UConn won’t play again until its NCAA tournament first-round game at Gampel Pavilion March 23.
“It’s a shame that after tomorrow we have 12 days off because then we’re right back to sitting around and waiting, and that’s not what she needs right now,” Auriemma said. “We’re trying to give her as many minutes as we can.”
Ins and outs
Moriah Jefferson continues to wear a walking boot on her right foot. But the decisive scores that UConn has won its first two ACC tournament games by has allowed Auriemma to give her breaks and not keep her on the floor for long stretches.
“I haven’t had any problems with it recently, so I’m fine,” Jefferson said. “Not playing as many minutes has allowed me to keep some stress off of it. And when we don’t play I’ve been doing stretches, therapy, and resting in the boot. It’s been good.”
The sophomore point guard had seven points, one assist, and three steals in 26 minutes against Cincinnati Saturday. She had 10 points, seven assists, and three steals in 27 minutes against Rutgers Sunday. It’s the first time she’s been under 30 minutes in consecutive games since Jan. 7 and 11 against Houston and Temple.
“She looks good. Moriah looks good,” Auriemma said. “I don’t see where there has been any downside or any effect. Obviously practices are really short now so we don’t have that to worry about that. The games have gone in a way where we can get her out here and there so she doesn’t have to go a full 40 minutes. And obviously I would like to keep doing that providing those three guys that we have coming off the bench contribute. The more those guys can contribute, the better opportunity I’ll have to rest some of our other guys.”
UConn’s junior class — Mosqueda-Lewis, Kiah Stokes, and Brianna Banks — reached 100 wins with Saturday’s 72-42 victory over Cincinnati. They are now 101-9 since their arrival in Storrs with 39 straight wins and the seventh consecutive UConn junior class to reach triple figures.
“Coming to UConn, we get a great opportunity that we can win 100 games in our junior year,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “That’s because of the players that we’re surrounded by, the ones that were here when we got here and the ones that came after us. We’re lucky.
“What Coach has built here is a culture of competitiveness and a culture of winning. He wants us to play the same way every game. If we do that it allows us to win a lot of games.”
The 101-win total ranks third nationally for the Class of 2015. Baylor and Notre Dame share the lead with 102. The Irish are off until the start of the NCAA tournament. The Bears face West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament championship game Monday night.
Mosqueda-Lewis needs two points to reach 1,500 for her career. When she gets them, she’ll join teammates Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson has 1,500-point scorers. It will be the first time UConn will have three players on its roster at that plateau … Louisville has not won a league tournament title since beating Southern Mississippi to win the 1993 Metro Conference crown. With the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Cardinals came to Storrs and beat UConn 74-71 in the first round. That’s the last time the Huskies lost back-to-back games and the only time Louisville has beaten them … The Huskies are 18-5 in league tournament championship games.