The season has hardly gone as expected for UConn All-American Bria Hartley. However, the stage was seemingly set for her to launch a revival last Saturday. She was coming off of a game in which she played a career-low seven minutes at Oregon Dec. 31 because Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma was not pleased with her play in the opening minutes.
Certainly, Hartley would rebound in a big way against No. 5 Notre Dame on national TV. It never happened, though, as she finished with nine points (3-of-8 FG) in 39 minutes. She added two rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.
Hartley had been averaging 15.9 points in the previous eight games against the Irish.
“There was a lot of plays that I should’ve made, a lot of plays that I didn’t make in that game,’’ Hartley said. “It’s frustrating. You look at it and you don’t want to look at film and be disappointed in yourself. And when we went over film (Monday) it was just a lot of disappointment. I felt my teammates were disappointed in me, the coaches, and I was disappointed in myself. So I don’t want to have that feeling again.’’
Hartley managed to score 12 points at Georgetown Wednesday, reaching double figures for the fifth time in 12 games this season. But she committed two of her three turnovers in the first 53 seconds of the game and would finish 4-of-13 shooting from the field (3-of-10 3-pointers) in 27 minutes.
For a player that has been so confident throughout her career with the Huskies, she now finds herself at a low point.
“I don’t even think it was this bad my freshman year. I’m not going to lie,’’ Hartley said. “But I’ve just got to pull myself out of it, to be honest. It’s tough and it’s probably one of the hardest things I’m going to have to overcome. The only thing I can do is just hard work because it’s what got me to where I was last year, and I’ve just got to continue to work hard.’’
Hartley flashed a glimpse of how productive she can be when she made three 3-pointers in a span of 1:22 in the second half against the Hoyas. It helped mask a first-half that saw her finish 1-of-7 from the field (0-of-6 3-pointers) in 15 minutes.
“I know Bria really struggled in that first half,’’ Auriemma said. “And I was happy for her that a couple shots got to go because she’s been struggling a little bit, and I know she’s been putting a lot of pressure on herself and that doesn’t help. It hasn’t helped at all.’’
“I just think there’s a lot of pressure on her to go snap and it’s going to happen,’’ UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph said. “I think there are steps being made that only Bria can make. But she has to do it. There’s no one else who can do it for her. We can’t do it for her. She knows what she has to do.’’
Hartley missed a combined six weeks in October and November, including the first two games of the regular season due to an injury to her left ankle. The layoff has set her back more than she ever anticipated.
“I’m frustrated right now I think,’’ Hartley said. “It might seem like that. I feel like I’m the type of player I kind of just let the game come to me or usually I just like get in the flow of things and it just seems like I’ve been inconsistent lately, like even within the games. I’ll make a good play here and then make a really bad play there. So I’m just trying to find consistency right now.’’
Hartley insists that her ankle is not a factor in her struggles at this point.
“It’s definitely mental,’’ Hartley said. “Physically, I’m fine. I don’t think I’m in the best shape like I was coming into the season, but that can improve if I just get extra workouts in. So I think most of it is mental.’’
Hartley is currently fifth on the team in scoring (9.5, career-low) and is averaging 2.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 25.1 minutes in 12 games this season. She is shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point range, which also represent career-lows.
Another surprising stat line for Hartley this season is she is averaging just 9.4 points in five games against ranked teams. She averaged 15.0 in 17 games against ranked teams last season.
“I had it at one point so I’ve got to be able to get it back,’’ Hartley said. “That’s the way I always think of it. I think I’m making strides. There’s still things that I need to improve that I probably haven’t made strides in, specifically on the defensive end. And all you can do is just go in the gym and keep working on it and hopefully see some improvement day by day. I had it at one point so I’ve got to be able to get it back. That’s the way I always think of it. It’ll come, just don’t rush it. Don’t think too much. Just go out and work as hard as you can every day.’’
Said UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis: “I think that she’s got to get back to where she was last year mentally. She’s been out a lot this season. She’s missed a lot of practices. Her ankle was messed up. And a good player like Bria, you want to come back and automatically do all the things that you did before you were hurt. And it doesn’t work like that. It’s a gradual process. She’s got to give it time. And I think once she relaxes and just lets the game come to her she’ll be a lot better.
“I see glimpses of the old Bria in practices and games. And knowing Bria’s personality and being so close to her, I know that she’s not going to let herself play like this any more. She’s not going to let herself stay down there this long.’’