By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Bria Hartley knew what she was getting into three years ago when she decided she wanted to be the point guard for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.
Fortunately for Hartley, she was well prepared for the job due to her work with one of the best point guards in UConn and college history prior to her arrival in Storrs.
When the second-ranked Huskies take on the University of Hartford at Chase Family Arena in West Hartford Saturday (1 p.m., SNY) Hartley will be reunited with Hawks’ coach Jennifer Rizzotti, the former UConn standout and her coach for two summers (2010 and 2011) with USA Basketball’s U-18 and U-19 national teams.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her,” the All-American junior said Wednesday night after scoring 21 points in UConn’s 97-25 rout of Oakland at the XL Center. “She helped me a lot. She was tough on me from the beginning. She expected a lot out of me and it’s the same thing here. Coach Rizzotti challenged me in different ways and forced me to become a better player.”
Hartley and junior center Stefanie Dolson had two stints under Rizzotti. Sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and freshmen Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were members of the U-19 team in 2011.
“She coaches very similarly to Coach (Geno) Auriemma because she played for him,” Dolson said. “She teaches the same thing that Coach Auriemma does — how to work hard in practice, how important every drill is in practice, how hard to work in practice and how it relates to the game. I’m excited to see her.”
Dolson and Hartley have faced Rizzotti’s UHart team before. The Huskies defeated the Hawks 75-39 in a 2011 NCAA tournament first-round game at Gampel Pavilion.
It will be a new experience for Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, and Tuck.
“She’s a tough coach who expects perfection from her team,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She played for Coach Auriemma. She won’t expect anything less from her team than he does from his.”
The Rizzotti-coached U-18 team coasted to the FIBA Americas championship in 2010. But a year later five 17-year-olds, including Stewart and Tuck, along with 16-year-old Diamond DeShields earned spots on the U-19 squad making Team USA the youngest to compete in the FIBA world championships in Puerto Montt, Chile.
The Americans lost a second-round game to Canada but rebounded in the knockout round. Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 points each in Team USA’s 69-46 win over Spain in the gold-medal game. Stewart and current Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale were named to the all-tournament team.
“I got to see Coach Rizzotti during my high school season last year,” Stewart said. “I enjoyed being coached by her. I learned more of the college thing from her. She was very intense and she made me realize what college would be like. It was a great experience. She tried to get the best out of everyone.”
When UConn (9-0) takes the floor Saturday, three or maybe four — if Auriemma opts to go with Stewart — will be in the Huskies’ starting lineup against the Hawks (8-2).
Rizzotti, who was the Wade Trophy winner and Associated Press national Player of the Year as a senior at UConn in 1996 and will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame next June, will be happy to see them even if they’re not in USA red, white, and blue.
“I don’t know if I had anything to do with their emergence, but it’s kind of fun to think that I was there in the beginning and to see their growth,” Rizzotti said after UHart’s 67-61 home win over Quinnipiac last Sunday. “Even the difference from Stefanie and Bria from the year prior to the year after they had been at UConn. It was great to see their maturity and the way they were as leaders. They really stepped up. And I love their personalities. They’re good kids. Breanna Stewart is one of the nicest kids. You’d never know she gets the attention she does. Morgan Tuck was probably the easiest of any of them to coach — a hard worker with a great attitude.
“It will be fun. Once the game starts I don’t really think about our opponent. I’m always cheering for them. They’re great because of what’s inside of them. They go to UConn because they want to be even better. That’s what drives them. It’s a present for me to have a chance to coach kids like that that are already so driven. So I don’t know if I can say I had anything to do with their success but I am happy to be a part of their past. It will be nice to see them Saturday.”