Video report by Bob Rumbold, Fox CT
Text by John Altavilla, Hartford Courant
LINCOLN, Neb. — No college program is more accustomed to focusing on the present than the UConn women. In fact, that ability is largely responsible for the big trophy case back home.
But during the NCAA Tournament, the play of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has provided a glimpse into what life may be like next season, when Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley are gone and she is left to score, rebound and then elaborate.
“I think when players get a little bit older, they start to see things that they don’t see when they are younger,” Geno Auriemma said. “As you get older, you realize that there is a lot more to basketball than just shooting the ball. And it is fun.”
For the past two games, Mosqueda-Lewis has been having a blast. She recorded a triple-double in Tuesday’s second-round win over St. Joseph’s and followed it up with a 19-point, 13-rebound effort in Saturday’s tense 70-51 win over BYU in the regional semifinal.
Now it is Texas A&M (27-8) that wonders what’s in store Monday when the Huskies (37-0) and Aggies play for the right to go to the Final Four next weekend in Nashville.
“Well, as for my team, go on, keep telling us what we can’t do and we’ll tell you what we can,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said.
UConn’s coaches have been urging Mosqueda-Lewis for three years to expand her mind, despite the fact she likely is among the top five shooters in women’s basketball.
“What happens next year? The team is going to be totally different, I don’t know whether that is going to have any bearing on it or not,” Auriemma said. “The role she is playing this year, and what we need her to play if we are going to win the next three games, may not be at all what she will do next year. Right now I am enjoying what she is doing now.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed 12 games this season because of an elbow injury and mononucleosis, has made a concerted effort to be more involved in a broader sense. That manifested itself in eight offensive rebounds against BYU.
“I was just trying to get in there as much as possible, just trying to get us second-chance shots because I knew we really weren’t knocking down the shots we usually did,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I was just trying to be as physical as I could and Stefanie was bringing the big girl out, it was a good opportunity for us to get rebounds on the weak side.”
Texas A&M’s big front line, led by 6-5 senior Karla Gilbert, will require effort on the boards.
In the Aggies, the Huskies play an opponent who won its Sweet 16 game against DePaul without the help of three-pointers (it was 0-for-2). But all five starters were in double figures, led by Courtney Walker, who scored 25 points.
“The competition goes up, your play has to go up,” Walker said.
Courtney Williams had 14 of her 15 in the second half. Gilbert and point guard Jordan Jones had 11 points each. Tori Scott scored 10.
“If we follow our game plan, play hard and not worry about the fact it says UConn on their jersey, we’ll be fine,” Jones said. “So many get caught up in the hype of it being UConn. It’s that mental aspect of it.”
Texas A&M’s defense is stout, DePaul’s 24 points in the first half were a season-low. In their first two tournament games, the Blue Demons had shot 45 percent while making a 25 three-pointers. They were 4-for-20 against the Aggies.
This is Texas A&M’s first Elite Eight appearance since it won the national championship in 2011. That season, the Aggies were discounted by just about every national pundit, something Blair has not forgotten.
“Look, UConn has five WNBA first-round draft picks in their starting lineup and there’s more coming [in next season’s freshmen class],” Blair said. “They have a nice team, they have a great team. I like my team, l like our chances. I like Geno and his team. I think it’s the best team he has ever had.
“The difference is it is a 40-minute game. Line us up. It is not a best-of-seven series, if it was best-of-seven, I would not like my chances. But it is one game of 40 minutes.
“We want to play in championship games. We want to be relevant at the end of the year. If someone is going to win a national championship, I want them to go through us first.”
Auriemma, who believes the struggle against BYU may have opened his team’s eyes, tends to think like Blair does.
“You know, these things aren’t bad. I am old enough now, I didn’t even go into the locker room and yell; 15 years ago we probably we lost this game. Players would have had a mutiny in the locker room and say screw it, I am not going out there. Now you are at a point where we are good, we know we are good, and let’s just go out and play.”