By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team figures to be short-handed Tuesday night when it takes on No. 15 Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford.
How short-handed the third-ranked Huskies will be will be a game time decision.
Junior guard Bria Hartley was upgraded to probable Monday after hurting her left ankle again in Saturday’s 85-51 win at Marquette. Hartley, who missed UConn’s first two games due to a left ankle injury suffered in August, did not practice Sunday or Monday but did shoot around and run on the treadmill Monday.
Meanwhile, freshman forward Breanna Stewart remains doubtful with a left ankle sprain. She was injured doing a rebounding drill in practice Friday and missed her first game of the season at Marquette.
“You can’t get down or upset about it or wonder what will happen next, you just have to work through it,” UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “You have people step up. If Bria Hartley can’t do the job, Moriah Jefferson can. If Breanna Stewart can’t, Morgan Tuck can or someone else can.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, who herself has missed time this season with a concussion and a left quad contusion, sees the Huskies’ short-term pain as a long-term gain.
“You have to have depth and this is a way to show we have it,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It’s a way to get better. We’re going to need that depth later in the season and down the stretch.”
When Stewart sat out Saturday, she became the fifth member on UConn’s 11-player roster to be sidelined joining Kiah Stokes (5), Tuck (3), Hartley (2), and Mosqueda-Lewis (1).
“We’ve had to deal with this since the very first game so it’s not like it just happened,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s getting tiring, though. It’s getting frustrating to not have enough players at practice and not being able to give people enough repetitions to get better so it seems like you’re stuck in one spot. It puts a lot of pressure on the guys that are healthy to stay healthy and be productive.
“It is bizarre. We’re fortunate that these things have been more of a nuisance except for Bria, which has caused her a lot of problems. Maybe our best days are ahead of us. Come February when we’ve got everyone we’ll see what happens.”
The last time more players missed time in a season due to injury/illness was in 2000-01 when nine players sat out games.
All-American Svetlana Abrosimova (16 games, foot surgery) and Shea Ralph (5 games, knee surgery) did not play in the NCAA Tournament. Ashley Battle was the only long-term loss (30 games, elbow surgery) and ended up redshirting. Others sidelined were Maria Conlon (8 games, mononucleosis), Kelly Schumacher (6 games, foot), Morgan Valley (3 games, knee), Diana Taurasi (2 games, ankle), Tamika Williams (2 games, ribs), and Sue Bird (1 game, back spasms).
Those Huskies finished 32-3. They shared the Big East regular season title with Notre Dame and successfully defended their Big East Tournament crown when Bird, one day after missing the semifinal against Rutgers with back spasms, hit a shot at the final horn to beat the Irish. But UConn came up two wins short of back-to-back national titles when it lost a 16-point lead and its Final Four semifinal game to Notre Dame.
The current Huskies (14-1 overall, 2-1 Big East) aren’t feeling sorry for themselves because they know that no one is feeling sorry for them.
“Coach wants us to step up,” UConn center Stefanie Dolson said. “We’ve got to stay focused on us and let the rest handle itself.”
Louisville (14-3, 2-1) has had its share of injuries as well but is still dangerous. The Cardinals are led by junior guard Shoni Schimmel, fifth-year senior forward Monique Reid, and one-time UConn recruiting target sophomore Sara Hammond.
It’s the start of a three-game homestand for the Huskies after playing five of their previous six on the road. They will be back at the XL Center Saturday to play Syracuse before entertaining fourth-ranked Duke on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Gampel Pavilion.
“It seems like it’s been awhile since we played at home but the only game we lost was here,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “The travel has been tough but Coach has done a good job making sure that we get the breaks we need and the rest that we need so we can be at our best. Playing on the road isn’t easy but it’s part of the deal when you come to school here.”
And injuries are part of the game. Right now, the Huskies have no time for the pain.