A Star Is Born

HARTFORD – Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma strolled through the back hallway of the XL Center Monday night, stopping into the media workroom for a slice of pizza and to check on the score of the Monday Night Football game between the Patriots and Chiefs.

When he finally made it to the interview room, he was happy and upbeat about his team's 68-58 victory over No. 5 Stanford (3-1) before a crowd of 13,771. Auriemma talked about how hard the No. 4 Huskies (3-0) played, how aggressive they were, and how good UConn's defense had been.

Not once did he mention his team's 35.7 percent shooting. He also didn't address the fact that freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (25 points) and sophomore Bria Hartley (19 points) were the only UConn players to make a field goal until center Stefanie Dolson (nine points, nine rebounds) hit a jumper with 14:33 remaining in the second half.

"Fourteen minutes left in the game?" Auriemma said, acting as if he didn't know. The Hall of Fame coach played along in astonishment, but he knew the facts.

"Forget everything I said," Auriemma said. "We suck. That stinks."

So, he was asked, why are you so upbeat?

"We're going to make those, you know?" Aureimma said. "At some point, all of those are going to go in. But the key is how you beat a really good team when they don't go in and that's what we did tonight. We didn't win tonight because we made every shot. It's easy to do that. I think you feel better when you win games when shots don't go in."

The Huskies certainly did pick a difficult path to victory. They missed their first 10 shots from the field. They were tied 23-23 with four minutes left before halftime, trailed 36-34 with 15 minutes left, and endured nine ties and seven lead changes.

But they were on the attack all night, blocking nine shots, coming away with 12 steals and irritating the Cardinal into 16 turnovers. Nnemkadi Ogwumike led Stanford with 22 points and Jasmine Camp came off the bench to score 14. But the Cardinal didn't shoot much better than UConn, hitting 37.1 percent.

"It was like a November heavyweight fight," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I just thought it was extremely physical. That's the game you usually see in March. I think it's good for our team to see that and get ready for it. But it wasn't pretty."

Again, Auriemma didn't care.

"It was a win for us," he said. "I don't mean like on the scoreboard, because even if we had not won the game on the scoreboard, it was a win in a lot of ways. We won at a lot of the things I wanted to win at. Defensively, how we're going to play. Offensively, how we were going to attack them a little bit. We outrebounded them by one. We probably tipped more passes tonight than at any time since practice started."

Mosqueda-Lewis, the Big East freshman of the week, entered the game with 15:04 left in the first half and UConn trailing 5-2. It took one minute and nine seconds for her to score the first field goal of the night for the Huskies and cut the deficit to one point.

"I just came out and played hard," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I was hitting shots. . . . The first thing we noticed on the bench during those first minutes was that it was a bit chaotic. When we got in there, we had to slow things down, be patient and the offense would come to us."

What happened the rest of the half was nothing short of remarkable. Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis combined to make 12 of 18 shots. They had 30 of UConn's points as the Huskies led 32-26 at halftime. The rest of the UConn team went 0-for-17 from the field. UConn missed its first 10 shots from the field. Stanford wasn't much better, making only 2 of 12 to start the game.

The teams combined to make just 11 of their first 39 shots. No one struggled more than UConn guard Tiffany Hayes, who was 0-for-8 in the first half. Hayes had seven rebounds and four assists in 15 minutes. She also hit two free throws, UConn's first points and the only other scoring not by Mosqueda-Lewis or Hartley.

Hayes finished with 9 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals, earning the praise of her coach for doing so many things other than scoring to contribute to the win.

Mosqueda-Lewis was 8-for-11 from the field in the first half, including 3 of 5 shooting from three-point range. After her first basket, she and Hartley combined for consecutive threes to give UConn an 8-0 run and a 10-5 lead. The Huskies led 17-14 but Stanford came back to lead 21-19. Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis then went on an 11-2 run to grab a 32-23 lead on KML's third three-pointer of the game.

"The shots she made – that's not something you go to practice and coach," Auriemma said. "She just has that thing about her. Bria's the same way. They're a lot alike and they have a pretty good connection on the floor."

After Dolson hit that jumper to the tie the score at 36, Hayes scored inside for the lead and the Huskies just kept building on their advantage until it reached 13 with 57 seconds left. Caroline Doty had a pair of critical three-pointers and Mosqueda-Lewis finished 10 of 17 from the floor.

It was a performance worthy of the star who wore No. 23 before her. Maya Moore was in attendance and told the freshman she was proud of her after the game.

"Tonight was Connecticut's night," VanDerveer said. "They were on a mission and I wouldn't take anything away from what they did. Geno does a great job and they're just going to improve."

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