The smile on the face of senior Kelly Faris grew instantly when she was asked if tonight’s bruising game against No. 9 Maryland was the type of game that she thrives in. She has long been taught by her parents, Bob and Connie, and her siblings to always be very competitive, always be very tough and to always put forth a full effort.
And against a Terrapins team that was extremely physical at both ends of the floor, Faris proved to be the best all-around player in UConn’s 63-48 win at the XL Center.
“I just wanted to be out there the whole time, until I got like really, really tired,’’ Faris said. “But, yeah, these are the fun games. And this is my last year, this is my last go around so tonight I was just like, `Alright, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ But I’ve got to get careful not to get ahead of myself because that can happen too. But it’s more exciting. It’s more fun when people are pushing and shoving. We’ve got people diving on the floor every single play. It gets you excited and pumped up about it.’’
Faris finished with eight points (4-of-6 FG), seven rebounds, seven assists and a career-high eight steals in 34 minutes. Oh, yeah, she did not commit a turnover.
Afterward, UConn coach Geno Auriemma jokingly asked why he even had her out of the game for six minutes.
“She is just the life of our team offensively and defensively,’’ UConn center Stefanie Dolson said. “It’s amazing how many steals she can get and how many turnovers she can force the other team to have. She doesn’t talk a lot, but anyone who watches her play just knows how hard she works. She just really gets us going.’’
Said Maryland coach Brenda Frese: “She makes play after play and was so tough and so physical. She doesn’t take a play off. She continues to work defensively. Offensively, she runs you around in circles. She cuts hard. She never takes a possession off.’’
Not only did Faris fill up the stat sheet, she was equally impressive in locking down Maryland’s 6-foot-2 All-American Alyssa Thomas defensively. Thomas was limited to eight points (2-of-12 FG) and committed a season-high eight turnovers in 36 minutes.
“That’s why I’m amazed at the Big East coaches that none of them ever vote for her for anything,’’ Auriemma said. “So they’re stuck with the record they have, and we have the record we have because we have her. And it’s a great example of how somebody can dominate a game and take six shots. And I thought Kelly completely dominated the game. She dominated the entire game, and she defended Alyssa Thomas as well as anybody can be defended. She has an impact that goes beyond the stat sheet. When you look at the stat sheet there’s a bunch of stuff in there, but her impact is greater than that. It’s just amazing.
“If you watch it closely and watch it on film and don’t watch anybody else, you see how many things she does that impact the game. Some never show up on the stat sheet. She’s just an incredible athlete and an amazing player. Kelly’s been like that since her freshman year, and she’s only gotten better and better.’’
Thomas would have no part in recognizing Faris for her work defensively. Instead, she said it was nothing that UConn did. It was just a case of missing shots.
Of course, Faris could care less what Thomas had to say.
“It’s not about being recognized for anything,’’ Faris said. “It’s about getting a win. To me, I’m expected to do that. I’m expected to play defense. Those aren’t things that I think, `Oh, I should get credit for that.’ It’s expected. You come here and … Coach was saying the other day, `A lot of coaches settle for trying hard and trying hard is good enough. But that’s an expectation here so we’re beyond that. Trying hard isn’t good enough and you have to do this, this, and this perfect.’ Is that realistic? We’re not going to do everything
perfectly. But that’s what we have to strive for and not just trying hard.’’
Said Auriemma: “The longer people overlook her, the longer people don’t give her the benefit of the doubt and the respect she deserves and has earned, the better for us. Kelly is just going to keep doing that every game for the rest of the year. If Alyssa Thomas thinks that, that’s fine. I didn’t know that All-Americans turn the ball over eight times without someone helping them turn it over.
“Kelly just wants to win. Kelly wants to make plays that help our team win. She’s totally unaffected by other people’s opinions. She’s unaffected by how many shots she gets or how many points she scores. I’ve never seen a kid more dedicating to winning and more committed to winning. And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some great winners here. There have been a lot that have been the same, but Kelly is as committed and dedicated to winning as anyone I’ve ever had at Connecticut.’’
Here is Auriemma response when he was asked if Faris is the toughness player on his team …
“Nobody else is even close,’’ Auriemma said. “I just think she’s at another level from conditioning to mental toughness to athletic ability. I think she showed tonight … People don’t recognize what a great athlete she is and how many things she can do and how quick she is and how fast she is and how strong she is. We don’t have anybody else like her. We don’t.’’