There has been more than one coach this season that has labeled UConn senior Kelly Faris as the best perimeter defender in the nation. She was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year for her efforts.
Faris will get another opportunity to showcase her defensive skills today when the Huskies meet Maryland in the NCAA Bridgeport regional semifinals at sold-out Webster Bank Arena. She will again be charged with defending Terrapins’ 6-foot-2 junior All-American Alyssa Thomas.
“I was thinking about it (Friday) on the way over here, and just studying her and her game, and it is… It’s a challenge,’’ Faris said. “I was getting excited thinking about it just because I was like, `OK, they expect me to be able to contain this player, this All-American player and I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.’ It’s fun. It’s fun to think that I’m the one counted on to do that. And at the same time, it’s like, `Now I’ve got to do it.’ It’s definitely a challenge.’’
It was Faris who primarily limited Thomas to six points on 2-of-12 shooting from the field in 36 minutes in UConn’s 63-48 win at the XL Center Dec. 3. Thomas has averaged 20.5 points in 27 games since playing the Huskies, reaching double figures in every game. She has scored at least 20 points in 14 games in this span, including the last four overall (28.8).
“Obviously, they’re using her a lot more at the point than they were,’’ Faris said. “At this point, she’s going to get the ball almost every time. And they like to clear out for her, but her mentality… She’s a good player. So she’s not going to want to lose. And this is a lot more high stakes than they were before so I think she’s being a lot more aggressive with the ball when she gets it than she did in our original game. So I’m going to do my best, and then I’m also going to have to rely on some of my teammates to help me out.’’
Faris’ teammates have the utmost confidence in her ability contain Thomas.
“I have always had faith in Kelly because since I’ve been here she was always one of the best defenders on the team,’’ UConn junior Bria Hartley said. “She was always out there defending the other team’s best player. So just from her history and what she’s done, you can’t help but have confidence in her when she’s out there playing defense on their best player.
“Kelly’s a really smart player so she’s really good at forcing most players toward their weaknesses. She’s good at being in the right spot at the right time. A lot of times, you will other people will be late to get to a spot or late on a rotation, and Kelly is never late.’’
Said UConn junior Stefanie Dolson: “The last time we played them she shut her down and made every shot she took difficult and just didn’t make her life easy. So we have a ton of confidence in Kelly and whoever she’s guarding. She’s ready for the challenge and I know we’re all excited to see it.’’