Ask Kelly Faris about the role statistics play and you will hear they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, sort of like those Powerball tickets sold last week in Connecticut.
That’s because Faris is not a numbers person, although she does wear 34 to honor her siblings who wore it before her.
To Faris, UConn’s steadfast senior guard, numbers speak of individual performance, which in her mind will forever be secondary to the needs of the team.
But Monday night at the XL Center, Faris strung together single-digit numbers which likely more than any performance by any player in recent UConn history told the story of how one player can impact a team.
These are the numbers Faris produced during the Huskies’ 63-48 win over Maryland:
Appropriately, No. 34 played 34 minutes. She scored eight points, had seven assists, made eight steals, grabbed seven rebounds, committed no turnovers and contributed to the defensive effort that held Maryland’s All-American junior forward, Alyssa Thomas, to six points (2 of 12) and forced her to make eight turnovers in 36 minutes.
“I felt good about most of my game,” Faris said. “When I came back in at the end, I committed some stupid fouls. Those are the things that stick with me.”
Forget that. It was an extraordinary game by Faris, a player the Big East can no longer overlook.
“I said that 100 times and that is why the Big East coaches never vote her for anything,” Geno Auriemma said. “They are stuck with the guys they have and they have the record they have and we have her.”
It’s unlikely Faris will ever operate in the shadows again. Not only is the nation now taking notice, but so are the professionals.
On Monday, former Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault sat on press row scouting the game. It is possible that within two weeks, he will become the new coach/GM of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Thibault said he loves much of what he sees from Faris.
“She is a terrific, terrific player,” Thibault said. “She is everything you would want in a college player. You can move her around to different spots and she can defend them. She is strong enough, she is tough enough to defend power forwards. She is such a great defender and as we call can see, she is improving offensively.”
Faris has made 25 of 34 shots this season and is 9 of 15 from three. She was 4 of 6 from the field on Monday, many of her points coming off assertive drives to the basket.
“She is trying to work on her shot, but she already has great instinct. She is a great athlete. I don’t know yet how her talent will translate to the next level quite yet, but she has a chance and someone will give her a chance.
“The thing is, at Kelly’s position, you are going to need to consistently knock down outside shots, unless you have a team that already has that. I see a lot of Armintie Price [of Atlanta] in her; a good athlete, who does so many good things, but needs to be around very good offensive players.
“If her offense keeps improving, there will not be a question about her. She knows that and the UConn staff understands that, as well. She is looking for more chances to shoot and I thought that wasn’t the case last year.
“But if you had to pick a kid to represent what your program is about, she is a pretty good one.”
This first Maryland-UConn game was a tough one. Using only seven players, the Terps tried to compensate for three season-ending injuries by pounding the Huskies frontcourt.
Faris would have none of it. She took the punches and kept smiling.
“She is at another level from conditioning, mental toughness, athletic ability,” Auriemma said. “People don’t recognize what a great athlete she is, how many things she can do, how fast she is and how strong she is. We don’t have anybody else like her.”
“She defended Alyssa Thomas as well as anybody can be defended. She has an impact that goes beyond the stat sheet. When you look at the stat sheet there’s a bunch of stuff in there, but her impact is greater than that. It’s just amazing.
“If you watch it closely and watch it on film and don’t watch anybody else, you see how many things she does that impact the game. Some never show up on the stat sheet. She’s just an incredible athlete and an amazing player. Kelly’s been like that since her freshman year, and she’s only gotten better and better.’’
That was not lost on Maryland coach Brenda Frese.
“She makes play after play and was so tough and so physical,” Frese said. “She doesn’t take a play off. She continues to work defensively. Offensively, she runs you around in circles. She cuts hard. She never takes a possession off.’’
And she never complains and she never shows her opponent how she is feeling or what she is thinking.
“I just try to keep everyone calm, stay on an even keel,” Faris said. “That would not be a good sign.”