Geno Auriemma has had the honor of coaching 14 first-team All-Americans in 27-plus seasons at UConn. Eight players have won Olympic gold medals.
For one night, tonight, none of them compared to senior Kelly Faris. She put on a display that wowed the crowd of 9,671 at Gampel Pavilion and wowed Auriemma.
He has always spoke highly of her since her arrival. But after seeing Faris produce 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals in 31 minutes in a 79-49 rout of No. 4 Duke, Auriemma’s praise reached a new height.
“That’s one of those occasions where if you were watching it in the stands, you were fortunate to be part of that,’’ Auriemma said. “If you were on the bench. If you were part of what Kelly Faris did tonight, you just saw a performance that people are going to be talking about for a long time. There’s been some great players play in this building. There’s been some legends play in this building wearing that Connecticut uniform, but I don’t know that anybody ever represented that uniform and herself and her family the way that kid did tonight. And I know there’s a lot of players out there that are very good. I know there’s a lot of All-Americans. I know there’s a lot great players. But, man oh man, that was one for the ages right there.’’
It was in the second half, when UConn outscored Duke 47-19, that Faris put on a show. She generated 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in 16 minutes. The Blue Devils did not have an answer for the Huskies’ 5-foot-11 machine.
“What happened in the second half was indescribable,’’ Auriemma said. “On the stat sheet you can’t see the total exhaustion that she plays herself into. You can’t see how much of herself she leaves on the floor. You look at that stat sheet and go, yeah … She’s 5-11 and she managed all that. If you look at the stat sheet, that’s a pretty good game. But if you saw the game and you saw how she did it and the way it all transpired, then you know there’s a lot more to Kelly than the numbers in a box score.’’
For Faris, tonight was about getting back on track. She had not played well in the last two games, shooting a combined 33.0 percent from the field (7-of-21) and committing nine turnovers.
“I’ve been really frustrated with how I played, especially offensively and the turnovers,’’ Faris said. “It’s ridiculous. And I think I had three tonight, which I shouldn’t be getting that many. But I was definitely motivated to try to just get to how I know I can play. Slow down. Stop trying to fix everything, trying to do too much. And I think the second half we all did that. We all just kind of let it pan out and everybody did what they needed to do, and that’s when we’re best.’’
As much praise as Auriemma had for Faris, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis delivered her share too.
“That’s her in every practice,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She’s in every single play. She makes sure she’s on the ball, she’s tipping it or she’s the reason we got the steal. Kelly’s involved in everything that we do on the court. To be able to see her get the praise and do so well in a big game for us and show that she can be our leader and she is our leader, I’m so happy for her.
“It kind of lets everybody know that Kelly is willing to give us everything that she has. It doesn’t matter what she has to sacrifice, she’s going to do it for us. So it’s time for everybody to pay it back for her. It’s time for everybody to sacrifice as much as she does. If she’s willing to do that for us, we have to be willing to do the same.
“I personally think Kelly should be an All-American, considered the best defender in the country. When you work that hard, I don’t understand how you don’t get put in those categories. Now that she’s actually becoming an offensive player, I think she’s putting herself in that much greater a position and she’s helping our team that much more.’’