Junior All-American Bria Hartley returned to practice today for the Huskies as they prepare to face No. 1 Baylor Monday in a nationally televised showdown at the XL Center. She played just four minutes, 26 seconds in Saturday’s 65-45 win at Rutgers due to what UConn coach Geno Auriemma said was an illness.
Hartley was ill, still coughing today. But as far as she is concerned it wasn’t an illness that kept her out the game.
“That was the Coach’s decision, but all I could do is sit there and try to encourage my teammates,’’ Hartley said.
Hartley was not sure whether or not she was going to again play in the game after Auriemma pulled her and fellow starters Caroline Doty, Kelly Faris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with 15:34 left in the first half.
“He just said at halftime that Moriah (Jefferson) was starting the second half,’’ Hartley said.
It pained Hartley to discuss the events that took place at the Rutgers Athletic Center Saturday. But she admitted that collectively committing three fouls and handing Rutgers four free throws in the first 4:26. Hartley was called for one of the fouls.
“We can’t really start the game the way we did yesterday,’’ Hartley said. “So I think (the mass benching) is telling us that that’s unacceptable and we have to come out better than that. And I think it’s a challenge for when you do go back in to step it up a little bit.’’
Doty returned to the game with 12:25 left in the first half. Faris returned with 8:43 left. Mosqueda-Lewis returned with 5:29 left.
“Obviously, he was trying to make a point,’’ Faris said. “We didn’t deserve to be on the court and I think he did what he thought was right and gave somebody else a chance that would probably go out and do something at least better than what we did in that first few minutes of the game. We weren’t doing much. At that same time it’s a challenge for us. Everything’s always a challenge. I say it every time that if he gives us one more chance to go out on the court we’d better do it right.’’
“You kind of try to look at it in the most positive way you can,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “You try to tell yourself, `Alright, this is a test. If I go back in I’m going to play my butt off and try to prove that I shouldn’t have been sitting on that bench or it’s not going to happen again.’ You kind of can’t really sulk about it. You know that he’s trying to make you better and you know that he wants you to learn something. And what we took away yesterday is that we can’t come out the way we did in the first couple of minutes. If we do that tomorrow night there’s definitely no coming back from that.’’
Faris believes that the game against Rutgers will have zero carryover against Baylor.
“That kind of stuff you’ve got to put it to the side and forget about it,’’ Faris said. “Let all the negative stuff go and focus on what’s ahead of us.
“I think we’ll turn it around. It was a pretty sluggish game. But that gives us the motivation to come out and really focus mentally and know that if we play like that (against Baylor) there’s absolutely no way that we can come out with win.’’