The journey back to All-American form has been a frustrating one for junior Bria Hartley. A sprained left ankle and a partially torn ligament cost her more than a month of practice. She missed both of UConn’s exhibition games and the first two games of the regular season.
Hartley did not participate in a full practice until Nov. 20. Two days later, she played her first game against Wake Forest at the Paradise Jam. Being the type of competitor that she is she hoped that she would return to the court and be as productive as she was last season when she emerged as one of the top players in the nation.
That has hardly been the case through her first six games. Hartley is averaging just 7.5 points on 40.5 percent from the field in 21.3 minutes. She is, however, averaging 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists and has a 2.5 assists-to-turnover ratio.
Considering the amount of time that Hartley missed, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not concerned about her at this point.
“I think she missed six weeks of practice,’’ Auriemma said. “She’s trying to get all six weeks back like in three days or five days. So every game she plays she’s trying to make up for the six weeks that she’s missing. So that’s not going to happen that quickly. So she gets frustrated and then she starts to force things. And little by little … She needs to just, and we had this conversation (Tuesday), take a deep breath and let things come and not force the issue. That was my advice to her.
“She’s probably right now right where she should be given the amount of time that she’s missed. When you miss six weeks there’s no way she could be ahead of here she is right now. That would be impossible. She’ll be fine. She’s better every day and that’s all that counts.’’
A telling sign of Hartley’s current position is how she fared offensively in wins over No. 9 Maryland and No. 10 Penn State this week. She has prided herself on being a big-game performer throughout her career with the Huskies, and she has put up a number of big stat lines against the nation’s top competition.
Hartley averaged 15.0 points in 17 games against ranked teams last season. She scored 25 at Baylor and at Notre Dame during the regular season; 18 against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament final; 20 against Penn State in the NCAA regional semifinals; and 18 against Notre Dame in the national semifinals.
However, Hartley scored a combined 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field (1-of-7 3-pointers) against Maryland and Penn State. She also averaged 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 29.5 minutes.
Hartley, who has been performing well at practice of late, finished with eight points (3-of-10 FG; 1-of-5 3-pointers), five rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes against Penn State Thursday. Auriemma said during his postgame remarks that that was the best game she had played since her return.
“You can tell she’s still not quite there, but I’m not worried about her,’’ Auriemma said. “I know where she’s going to be when it’s all settled. I know where she’s going to be. My job right now is to work on the younger guys and get them caught up before too much longer.’’
One thing that seems to be a certainty is that Hartley will be seeing less time at point guard moving forward and more time at her natural position of two-guard.
“We need her as a scorer,’’ Auriemma said. “Her best attribute on the floor is to make plays for herself, make big shots, and in order to do that you need a lot of confidence. And she hasn’t been on the court enough to make shots, make plays. So it’s a little bit of a struggle for her right now. But that’s where Caroline (Doty) comes in. I think Caroline can help her a lot. The two of them can help each other a lot, by the way, because they both have their issues that they’re trying to overcome. And I think up to this point, the two of them, they’ve done a great job.’’
This exam break could do wonders for Hartley. Auriemma thinks going full-go at practice will help build her stamina, and without the urgency of having to into “game-mode’’ she can work on her game in practice
Teammate Stefanie Dolson said that confidence is a key right now for Hartley.
“Because she’s kind of behind I think it’s easy to get down on yourself and know that you’re behind,’’ Dolson said. “So she’s just got keep her confidence and know what type of player that she is and that she can be and that she was last year. But I’ve seen spurts of it here and there, definitely, of just kind of knowing what kind of player she is and just kind of work back with the team because it is hard coming into practices when you’ve been out for however long that she was where we kind of did some stuff and she’s got to learn it behind us. So it’s definitely hard. But we’re all here to help her with it and help her on the court and school off the court with finals coming up.’’