UConn chartered home immediately following Tuesday’s win over SMU, one which improved its record to 29-0 and 16-0 in the American Athletic Conference.
And you could excuse them if they were a little tired. The plane was due to land in Connecticut around 4 a.m. on Wednesday. This is the price of playing in a geographically expansive conference.
“It’s a long trip,” Geno Auriemma said. “It’s a long trip. … We’re a little tired. All the travel starts to get you mentally. But there is nothing you can do about it. Every team in the country is going through at this point of the season.
“Maybe if we can get Kaleena [Mosqueda-Lewis] back sooner than later, it will help us awful lot. Mentally it will help us too; one more player that can do things to take pressure off the other guys.”
At some point Thursday, Auriemma will sit down the program’s medical staff to see exactly where Mosqueda-Lewis is in terms of her recovery from mononucleosis.
“The [the doctors] said they were going to look at her again on Thursday and let me know and we’ll go from there,” Auriemma said after Tuesday’s 81-48 win. “But I haven’t talked to anyone who has told me we will definitely have her back on this [a certain] day.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, an All-American as a sophomore and UConn’s single-season three-point leader (118 last season), has missed the last four games and two road trips since her diagnosis was announced prior to the Huskies’ game against South Florida on Feb. 16.
With just two games remaining in the regular season, beginning with Saturday’s Senior Day at Gampel Pavilion against Rutgers, attention will soon turn to the top priorities of winning ACC and NCAA titles.
“Maybe we felt a little tired in the first half [Tuesday],” Moriah Jefferson said. “That’s going to happen on the end of a long road trip. You try to push and your legs take a while to get under you. But we will be fine. We did it last year [to win the national championship]. We will do it again.”
For that to happen, Auriemma knows he needs Mosqueda-Lewis back and percolating and Jefferson to nurse her sore right foot. Then strength will come in numbers.
“People say you have the best starting 5 in America. Well, we don’t,” Auriemma said. “Right now we have the best starting 4. And we don’t have the best bench. So we need to play hard … We need to play with energy and a certain sense [of urgency].
“If you are trying to tell me right now that we are a better team than the one which won a national championship last season, I would say we’re not. You can’t take Kelly Faris, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck out of our lineup and replace them with Saniya Chong and say we’re way better. It’s not the case. We are not better.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t win if Kaleena doesn’t comes back. Would we be lucky to win the championship; no, I don’t mean that. I just think right now, given the two that aren’t playing, we’re not as good as we were last March.”
The Huskies have demolished each of its 28 opponents, winning every game by at least 11 points (they beat Baylor, 66-55, on Jan. 13). But Auriemma senses something is missing, something that occasionally shows itself in the way the team approaches games.
“We need to do some things. Our margin of error is way smaller than it was last year,” Auriemma said. “Can we win, do we have the players and make-up to win? Yes. But so do three or four other teams. But if Kaleena doesn’t come back and we have exactly who we have today I would tell you that our chances would not be as great as they were when we played Stanford [Nov. 11].”
The one thing he knows will be there is the effort of seniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. Both will have their numbers raised to the Huskies Wall of Honor during Senior Day festivities to honor their All-American careers.
“This is the time of year when those who have most invested in your team start to play great every night,” Auriemma said. “They know that have a limited number of games left. Bria and Stefanie are going to be there every night. They are not going to have bad days, mental lapses. They don’t get themselves into any kind of a funk. When you are a senior at UConn you don’t do that, it’s not who you are. But the other players, it’s human nature of it to happen.
“They are consistent, which is the best thing you can say about any player. They are the same; you don’t get tremendous highs are lows. You get pretty consistent play.”