Kelly Faris left the court for the final time as a member of the Huskies with 2:04 remaining in the NCAA tournament final against Louisville Tuesday at New Orleans Arena. Again, Faris had done her part to put UConn in position to win, delivering 16 points (4-of-7 3-pointers), nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block in 33 minutes.
The performance capped the best season of her career. And when she reached Coach Geno Auriemma near the Huskies’ bench, the two shared a lengthy embrace. The deep admiration and respect that the two have for one another is unmistakable. It has been this way since Faris arrived in 2009.
Auriemma told Faris on Senior Night Feb. 23 that he was going to do everything he could to ensure that this season ended the right way for her. He made good on his word. UConn rolled over Louisville 93-60. Faris will go out a champion.
“Kelly Faris competes for the national championship every minute of every day in everything she does,’’ Auriemma said. “Morning to night, there’s not a day that goes by that she’s not winning a national championship in her mind with her sacrifice and her hard work and what she’s doing. That’s all she thinks about every single day, so she deserves it.’’
Faris, who has been invited to attend the WNBA Draft at ESPN Monday night (8; ESPN2), knew Auriemma meant what he said that day prior to facing Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion. She never had any doubt, actually.
“I have all the trust in the world in him, and I knew he meant it when he said that to me,’’ Faris said. “After the Big East Tournament when we lost in the championship game, he said, `We’re going to get back to work, and I’m going to show you guys how to win a national championship.’ I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it right now because I know not only me but every single person in that room had 100 percent belief in him that he would. He got us here and the coaches got us here to this point.’’
Faris’ performance against Louisville personified the type of player that she is. She seems so often to be involved in so many things that lead to success for the Huskies.
Faris averaged 13.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in 31.5 minutes at the Final Four in being named to the Final Four all-tournament team.
For a player that wants to win so badly and strives to play the perfect game each time she steps on the floor, this was a fitting way for her career to reach its conclusion.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ Faris said. “I can’t thank my group enough. This group of girls is amazing because they did it for us. And I know that. And we can feel that. And I wanted it for them because I wanted them to see how much this work can pay off. My career started out coming in this way (with a championship), and it’s a great way to end it.
“I’m sad that it’s over. But, you know what, it’s unbelievable that this happened and that I was a part of it. And I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of this group because it’s a rare thing and you don’t find it anywhere else but here.’’
Said former UConn All-American Maya Moore: “I remember sitting on that podium next to Kelly after we lost to Notre Dame (in 2011). To see her go out as a champion and the way they did it, it was unbelievable.’’
Faris, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and the conference Co-Most Improved Player, averaged a career-high 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and team-highs of 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals in 29.7 minutes this season. She shot 53.0 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range, which are also career-highs.
Faris finishes her career with 1,109 points, ranked 11th in team history in rebounds (821), sixth in assists (545) and fifth in steals (294) in 154 games. Moore is the only other UConn player to end their career with 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists, and 250 steals.
She is also tied for second in team history in games played, tied for first in consecutive games played (154), third in consecutive games started (115) and fifth in minutes played (4,258).
“I couldn’t be any happier for Kelly,’’ UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Like I’ve said plenty of times, she’s my Jesus. I think she deserves everything. For her to end her career like this, I’m so happy for her.’’
Here is Faris on where her determination comes from …
“It started when I was little that the little things count,’’ Faris said. “I’m the youngest of four and we were all taught to just give our hardest no matter what. And there’s no point in going out and giving less than your best, and it’s going to get you pretty far if you’re lucky to be surrounded by a great group like I was. I’m glad to see the hard work paid off and hopefully people see that.’’
Also, here is why Faris wanted to play for UConn coming out of Heritage Christian High School ..
“You hear UConn and you think only the best of the best go there, and then even if you aren’t you become the best or at least the best you can possibly be,’’ Faris said. “That was one of the reasons I came here. I felt like I would get the most out of it and I would become the best player I possibly could. I knew I would be pushed to my limits and past that. That’s what the program is about. I think we go about it the right way and get done what we have to get done.’’