By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis took a seat on a couch in the reception area for VIP ticket holders at the XL Center Tuesday night.
It was about the first time all evening the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s sophomore wing had been off her feet.
Mosqueda-Lewis played all 40 minutes for the first time in 65 career games in the third-ranked Huskies’ 76-36 Big East win over Pittsburgh. She used her time well, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists.
“I thought I was tired after the Baylor game,” Mosqueda-Lewis said with a laugh.
Having your leading scorer on the floor at the end of a 40-point blowout was not what UConn coach Geno Auriemma wanted. But his hands were tied a bit.
Starting point guard Caroline Doty’s surgically repaired left knee was bothering her and she played just nine minutes. Reserve forward Morgan Tuck, who has missed time with a bone bruise in her right knee, reported pain in the knee and played just 10 minutes.
“We were kind of down in numbers,” Auriemma said. “But it’s never a bad thing to have Kaleena out on the floor, that’s for sure.”
Reserve center Kiah Stokes did not get off the bench, but that was a coach’s decision.
“There’s only so many minutes in a game,” Auriemma said. “Right now I’m trying to get minutes for the guys that I think have earned them.”
Rings and things
Auriemma, who coached the 2012 United States Olympic Team to a gold medal at the London Games last summer, received his Olympic ring from USA Basketball women’s national team director Carol Callan in a pregame ceremony Tuesday night. Also receiving rings were UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey, assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley, and video coordinator Keith Anderson, who were part of the team’s support staff in London.
“They’re what you expect them to be,” Auriemma said. “They’re big, they’re gaudy, they’ve got a lot going on, and they’re pretty impressive. They’re exactly what you would think and Olympic championship ring would be like. It’s amazing that we were able to do that and share it with everyone on our staff as opposed to me by myself. That they were all there and had a hand in it and participated in it made it more worth while.”
Callan also honored freshmen Tuck, Breanna Stewart, and Moriah Jefferson, who were part of the FIBA U-18 Americas gold medal team last summer as well as junior Bria Hartley, who helped Team USA to gold at the inaugural FIBA 3×3 world championships in Greece.
Finally, UConn senior Kelly Faris and Mosqueda-Lewis received commemorative basketballs from Auriemma for scoring their 1,000th career point. Both reached the milestone in last Saturday’s win over Seton Hall.
State of the race
Tuesday night’s win assured that UConn would be either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament. The Huskies will open defense of their tourney title with a quarterfinal game Sunday, March 10, at either 2 p.m. (as the top seed) or 6 p.m. (as the 2-seed) at the XL Center.
UConn (13-1 Big East) trails Notre Dame, which rallied from a double-digit first-half deficit to defeat Syracuse Tuesday night, by one game with two to go in the Big East race. The second-ranked Irish (14-0) visit lowly Providence Saturday before heading home to host UConn Monday night. The Huskies have a stop in Tampa to face South Florida Saturday (noon, SNY) before traveling to South Bend.
“This week is a very big week for us,” Stewart said. “We have two tough games coming up and we really need to be on the same page in practice.”
Notre Dame held its Senior Night Tuesday instead of waiting for its nationally televised home finale (ESPN2) against UConn. The Irish did the same thing in 2010, the last time they closed their home schedule with the Huskies.
If UConn wins its final two games, it will be the No. 1 seed for the Big East tournament even if it finishes in a tie with Notre Dame at 15-1. According to Mike Coyne of the Big East office, the Huskies would get the edge because of a better record against Marquette (2-0 for UConn; 1-0 for Notre Dame), which will finish ahead of Notre Dame’s second home-and-home partner (Providence) in the final standings.