UConn coach Geno Auriemma did not have any expectations regarding All-American Bria Hartley entering Tuesday’s game against No. 15 Louisville at the XL Center. The fact that she was even going to play was a bonus after rolling her problematic left ankle early in the first half at Marquette Saturday. She had been listed as doubtful until late Monday morning before she was upgraded to probable.
Auriemma simply wanted to wait and see how Hartley would respond and how her ankle would hold up to a game situation. Remember, this is the same ankle that caused her to miss six weeks and two games earlier this season.
Hartley was better than expected, finishing with 16 points and a season-high seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
“It felt a lot better than it did the last couple of days,’’ Hartley said. “It was good to get out there and get moving, because if you stand around a little bit it kind of gets stiff. So it was better that I was out there running around in the warm-up to get myself ready. I think I’ve been struggling a little bit from the beginning of the season so it feels good to have a good game under your belt.’’
Hartley still finds herself struggling from the perimeter. She was 6-of-15 from the field, including 3-of-11 from 3-point range. But the bounce was back in her step, which was most encouraging. She was able to get in the lane off the dribble and finish. This had been something that was missing.
“A lot of Bria’s game – and she did a little bit of it (Tuesday) – is if you come out on her too hard, she’s good at getting in the lane and hitting that pull-up jump shot or taking it to the basket and drawing contact,’’ Auriemma said. “And I think with the bad ankle, I think she felt like `I’m limited and now I can’t do the things that I’m really good at. So I’m relegated to just standing out there and shooting.’ There’s nothing you can do about that. There’s no amount of talking or cajoling or anything like that that’s going to change that.
“It’s until she feels that spark again, that quickness, and she certainly played that way (Tuesday). She wasn’t shy – unfortunately, a couple times – but she played like the old Bria. And with the stretch that we’ve got coming up … And I don’t worry about her. I just kind of keep checking with her to make sure everything is OK. I worry more about her defense or ballhandling and all that stuff. When it’s time to score points, Bria will score points. I’m not worried about that.’’
Hartley showcased her abilities over the final 10:17 of the first half when she scored 10 points. She keyed a 10-2 run by scoring six straight points in 13 seconds on a 3-pointer and a three-point play off of an acrobatic move in the lane for a layup in transition.
“It’s always good when you score that many points in that amount of time,’’ Hartley said. “I guess it was a nice little boost and my teammates were there to encourage me. Just get some steals and get some quick buckets that’s always good to get our team going in a nice flow.’’
Hartley also added a pair of layups in this span, one came off of a drive with 40.4 seconds left in the half.
Auriemma said that he did not necessarily want Hartley to log as many minutes as she did against the Cardinals. But it was a promising sign that she was able to compete at a high level at such length just three days after again injuring her ankle. It was a performance that should help fortify her confidence.
“Above everything else, Bria’s a scorer,’’ Auriemma said. “And scorers if they ever lose their confidence, it’s very difficult for them to be successful. And I think that the month that Bria missed and then coming back and not having the kind of success that she wanted to have, I think she got a little bit frustrated. You can be the most confident person in the world, but I think once some doubts creep into your mind about things you used to be able to do easily and now all of a sudden it’s a struggle, and it hurts our team no question about that. Because you look at our guards, and we’ve got some young guards. And Bria has played more basketball than all of them combined probably, at the college level. So we really, really, really need her. Because when she’s playing like she played (Tuesday), when she’s doing the things that she did (Tuesday) with the attitude that she had (Tuesday), she makes the difference in a game like this. No question about it.’’