The wait had been grueling for All-American Bria Hartley. A high grade sprain and a partially torn ligament in her left ankle forced her to miss more than a month of practice, both of UConn’s exhibition games and regular-season games against the College of Charleston and then-No. 16 Texas A&M.
Hartley had not missed this much time since she broke her right ankle in fourth grade. And the more Hartley sat out over the past several weeks the more anxious she was to return.
However, once the opportunity to play finally presented itself against Wake Forest Nov. 22 and Marist Nov. 23 at the Paradise Jam, the more frustrated Hartley became. Why? Because she was immediately playing at the high level she expected.
Prior to facing No. 14 Purdue in the championship game Saturday, Hartley talked with UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph. The conversation proved beneficial.
“One of the things that I talked to Bria about was that she’s never been out that long for an injury,’’ Ralph said. “And you expect yourself when you’re out injured to come back and be who you were before the injury right away. Whether it’s an ankle, whether it’s a knee, any of that, and it doesn’t happen. I don’t care how long you’re out for. The first couple of days are going to be like, `Uh, what do I do?’ You have to kind of ease back into it. Her expectation level of herself is so high that she was getting frustrated and just, not quitting but just getting down on herself. And when you lose confidence you can’t play.
“So I just talked to her about, `Look, we’re easing you back into practice. We’re easing you back into games. Just make the most of it. Start to learn. Start to figure out. Be supportive of your teammates and don’t go into a little hole.’ And she snapped right out of it. I don’t think it had anything to do with what I said to her. She just needed to understand it’s going to take a little bit longer. `You’re not going to go out and be Bria Hartley the All-American the first practice back after a month out. You need to just rely on your teammates.’ And I think she’s really started to come around.’’
Hartley seemed to turn a corner during shootaround Saturday when she battled UConn defensive stopper Kelly Faris. Hartley was on the scout team. Faris was defender her.
“Bria’s Bria. She’s going to be very competitive. She’s always going to go hard,’’ Faris said. “You could tell, obviously, it was going to be one of her first games back when we were down there. And for any competitive player that’s how it’s going to be. You’re going to see that spark in them. You’re going to see that excitement, that competitiveness. Obviously, she was ready to get back on the court.’’
Said Hartley: “Kelly is probably one of the best defenders. No. 1, going against Kelly any way she always challenges me and when you’re able to beat her on a play a couple times that helps out a little bit. Kelly is always going to come back and stop you again, but it’s always fun when you’re going against somebody where you’re just challenging each other and just working to get better.’’
Hartley went out and scored 12 points in 18 minutes against Purdue.
“Before the Purdue game I think I felt a lot better,’’ Hartley said. “I think the first couple of days I was frustrated with it. So I just had to change my mindset a little bit. Change my mindset and just focus on just playing basketball.
“Just like not getting down on myself, because going out there I didn’t feel like I could move as well as I was when I wasn’t hurt. So just not getting as frustrated about it and just knowing that I was injured and that it was going to take time. Just work my way back and keep working hard.’’
Hartley said that she is at about 90 percent health right now. She hardly feels pain when she is playing. She continues to ice her ankle after practice and games and applies an inflammatory gel twice daily.
“I couldn’t imagine how to deal with it for people that have to sit out six months like Caroline (Doty) with her knee,’’ Hartley said. “Just a month… For me, basketball is the No. 1 priority in my life the majority of the time. So being out you kind of get down on yourself a little bit, and it’s hard to sit here in practice and just watch everyone playing and you’re not able to play. It’s tough. I don’t know how Caroline did it to be honest. I think I would lose my mind if I had to stay out six months.’’
Hartley will be honored prior to Wednesday’s game against Colgate at the XL Center for becoming the 35th player in team history to reach 1,000 points last season.