By Carl Adamec
Bria Hartley’s junior season so far could be summarized by Wednesday night’s game at Georgetown.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s All-American guard missed all six of her first-half 3-point tries against the Hoyas. Then with 15:53 left she made a trey and clapped her hands. She followed that with consecutive 3-pointers on the Huskies’ next two possessions. Then on her final shot of the night, she threw up an airball.
“It’s hard to pinpoint it,” Hartley said earlier this week of her inconsistent play. “Maybe I have to push myself a little bit more in practice and stuff like that, just make sure I stay motivated and make sure my confidence is up there.
“I feel like I’m the type of player that just lets the game come to me or usually I just like get in the flow of things. It just seems like I’ve been inconsistent lately, even within the games. I’ll make a good play here and then make a really bad play there. So I’m just trying to find consistency right now.”
The third-ranked Huskies reach the midway point of the season Saturday when they take on Marquette in Big East action at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee (4 p.m., SNY). Hartley hopes her better half will begin to come through.
The North Babylon, N.Y., native is averaging a career low of 9.5 points. Her shooting numbers — 43.6 percent from the floor, 30.4 percent from 3-point land, and 66.7 percent from the foul line — are lows.
About the only positive statistically is her once-maligned assist-to-turnover ratio from back in her freshman year is now at plus-2.1, which ranks fifth in the Big East.
“It’s been difficult,” Hartley said. “I think my confidence was very high coming into the season. I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. And I don’t think I’m to that point right now. I have to take those extra steps like getting extra workouts and just keep working on things, make sure I have my teammates pushing me. I need to improve on going to the basket and finishing around the rim and improve on defense.
“It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’m going to have to overcome. But as long as I know my teammates are there to motivate me and I’m going to push myself, all I can do is just work on improving each day.”
Hartley was the 2011 Big East Freshman of the Year and was a first-team selection as a sophomore. She was named to the Big East all-tournament team for a second time in helping UConn to a successful title defense.
The Huskies returned to the NCAA Final Four and while others had better numbers, her play in big games — including against Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Duke — earned her a spot on the WBCA All-America team. Svetlana Abrosimova, Diana Taurasi, and Maya Moore are the only other UConn sophomores so honored. In Denver, Hartley became the third UConn sophomore to reach 1,000 career points in the semifinal overtime loss to the Irish.
Teammates raved about her game during the summer and in August she represented the United States in the inaugural FIBA 3×3 world championships in Athens, Greece. The Americans won gold but Hartley suffered a left ankle injury in the semifinal win that would eventually cost her much of the preseason with UConn and make her miss the Huskies’ first two regular season games against College of Charleston and Texas A&M.
It seemed like she was back in form after strong games against Oakland and Hartford right before Christmas. But two days after the win at Stanford on Dec. 29, she played just seven minutes at Oregon and the search for answers began again.
“It’s definitely mental,” Hartley said. “Physically, I’m fine. I had it at one point so I’ve got to get it back. It’ll come, just don’t rush it. Don’t think too much and go out and work as hard as you can every day.”
She was particularly disappointed with her play in the 73-72 loss to Notre Dame a week ago. She was 3-for-8 from the floor and had four turnovers. She also got beat by Irish All-American Skylar Diggins on a drive to the basket and committed a foul leading to the deciding free throws with 49.4 seconds left.
“There were a lot of plays that I should’ve made, a lot of plays that I didn’t make in that game,” Hartley said. “It’s frustrating. You look at it and you don’t want to look at film and be disappointed in yourself. And when we went over film (Monday) it was just a lot of disappointment. I felt my teammates were disappointed in me, the coaches, and I was disappointed in myself. So I don’t want to have that feeling again.”
UConn (13-1 overall, 1-1 Big East) did run its streak without back-to-back losses to 707 with its 75-48 win over Georgetown and will try to build on that Saturday.
Marquette (8-6, 0-1) has been off since losing its Big East opener to Syracuse 92-79 a week ago. The Golden Eagles are led by junior forward Katherine Plouffe, who played against the Huskies’ Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck in the 2011 U-19 world championships.
For Hartley, today is another opportunity to move forward.
“I know I have the potential to be a better player than how I’ve been playing,” Hartley said. “I think I’m making strides. There are still things that I need to improve that I probably haven’t made strides in, specifically on the defensive end. All you can do is go in the gym and work on it and hopefully see some improvement day by day.”