Brianna Banks is a different player this season for the second-ranked Huskies. The tentativeness that plagued her last season has been replaced by a willingness to take the ball to the basket or step up and launch a 3-pointer with confidence.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has long said that the progress that a player makes between their freshman and sophomore seasons is critical to their career. The progress that Banks, an athletic, speedy 5-foot-9 guard, has made has been extraordinary to watch over the first six games.
Banks had the best game of her career Wednesday against Colgate, finishing with a career-high 20 points (6-of-10 FG, 4-of-5 3-pointers), three rebounds, five assists and four steals in a career-high 25 minutes. She did not commit a turnover.
“You don’t know all the time how kids are going to come back from the summer of their freshman year, but you can usually tell whether someone’s going to be a player by what they do between those two years,’’ Auriemma said. “And if they’re serious about the game and they’re serious about being good that’s the time when it shows. And for Brianna it’s evident that she put a lot of time and effort not just into the game but into acquiring a different outlook. Every kid that we recruit at Connecticut, you hope that they all do that. Some do and some don’t, but you hope that they all do that.
“She’s been playing with a lot of confidence. She’s shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. And I think that just has freed her up to just play instead of worrying about, `Should I shoot? Should I not? Should I just pass it or drive it?’ She’s just playing. And she feels confident out there and she practices with confidence. She knows what her role is and what she’s capable of doing, and she’s doing it. On this year’s team if you get a chance to play and you play well you’re going to keep playing. So that’s where she is right now.’’
Banks wasted little time making an impact against Colgate. Entering the game for the first time with 15:27 left in the first half, she would score off a driving layup 89 seconds later and then immediately converted a steal in the backcourt into a layup.
Bank later made three 3-pointers as she finished the half with 14 points in 12 minutes.
“It’s a lot of fun to come on a team and be helpful to the team instead of bringing them down when they’re doing really well,’’ Banks said. “When you come here you want to play. And in order to play you’ve got to meet expectations. So that’s what I’m trying to do every day.’’
Banks is averaging 9.5 points on 64.5 percent shooting from the field in 18.5 minutes this season. She has reached double figures in scoring in three games after doing so just three times in 32 games last season, including none over the final 21 games.
Banks is also shooting 53.8 percent from 3-point range (7-of-13). She has not committed a turnover in a combined 56 minutes over the last three games, and has committed one turnover in 76 minutes over the last four games.
One can gauge just how pleased Auriemma is with a particular player by how many minutes they are playing. Banks has logged at least 15 minutes in each game this season. It is the best stretch of her career. Seeing double-digit minutes in six straight games is also a career-high.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of things I had to work on in the summer, and I still have a lot of things to work on,’’ said Banks, who averaged 3.6 points and 12.3 minutes and was a 3-of-24 from 3-point range last season. “But it was a matter of taking what Coach told me and processing it in a positive way. Most of my failures were when Coach yelled at me I got down on myself a lot. So now I just take it as constructive criticism.
“I came here to play and not sit on the bench because I didn’t have confidence. I would understand if it was a physical thing, but having confidence is something you really can control and get. That’s just what I needed.’’
Here is what teammates Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris had to say about the play of Banks to this point …
“(I’m) extremely pleased. It’s always good to have someone come off the bench and give that energy spark that the starting five kind of need,’’ Dolson said. “Because you’re five or six minutes into it, you’re kind of tired. So to have someone come off the bench and just give that energy and that spark that she had (Wednesday) is really good. Hopefully, she can keep it up and kind of bring it every game that she comes in. I’m definitely proud as to how far she’s come and how hard she’s been working.
“I think when people change the way they play or mature in the way they play, it’s all because of them. I think it’s something that you have to make a change personally. And I think she did that knowing last year she didn’t play as much and she wanted to come into this year and play more minutes. So she did that.’’
“I think I said at the beginning of the year, just her mentality and her focus level (is the biggest difference). I think in the past, she was always a good, talented player, but she worked on it a lot this summer. I could tell this summer how much she worked on her game and her shot. And just her confidence level. She doesn’t pout. She makes a mistake and she does something better the next play. She’s obviously greatly improved, and I’m proud of her for that.’’