UConn likes to win championships more than its coaching staff encourages pursuing personal milestones. It’s all about the team.
But Saturday, the two virtues may converge when the Huskies play South Florida at the Sun Dome.
The Huskies (26-2, 13-1) can win the Big East’s regular-season championship by beating the Bulls and then winning at Notre Dame on Monday night in the regular-season finale.
“This is a very big weekend for us,” Breanna Stewart said. “We need to focus.”
And senior Kelly Faris is just five rebounds shy of joining Maya Moore as the only players in UConn history to record at least 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists and 250 steals.
“I know you want me to say a lot about it, admit I am excited about it, but it’s hard to me to do that about statistics,” Faris said.
If UConn sweeps the two games, it will finish tied with the Irish in the Big East standings at 15-1, providing Notre Dame also wins at Providence on Saturday.
Each team’s loss will have come against the other. Notre Dame beat UConn 73-72 at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 5.
But instead of a coin flip to determine the first seed in next weekend’s Big East tournament, the conference says UConn would be elevated to top seed by virtue of its 2-0 record against Marquette, its travel partner this season. Notre Dame played the Golden Eagles once and won.
Saturday’s game at Providence will be Notre Dame’s second against the Friars, the Irish’s travel partner. Since Marquette will finish ahead of Providence in the Big East standings, UConn’s accomplishment is considered superior.
A fluke, perhaps. A fact, nonetheless.
“The challenge [for UConn] is the fact that [USF] has a really good team [19-8, 8-6],” Geno Auriemma said. “They are just playing really well and are getting a lot of contributions from more than one person. The one positive is that we are not going to be down there long enough to get sidetracked with being in Tampa.”
UConn was scheduled to arrive Friday night and is leaving right after the game for South Bend.
As for Faris, doing something only the great Moore did at UConn doesn’t give her goose bumps. Faris has 1,011 points, 745 rebounds, 503 assists and 275 steals in her career.
“The way I think is that [success] is not always on paper and so I’ve never focused on numbers or gotten too into it,” Faris said. “For me it’s what you see on the court. I could have a billion points and still be the worst teammate in the world.
“I appreciate that it is being acknowledged. I really do. But I will not sit here and gloat about or get excited. But its not necessarily what I came here to focus on.”
Moore scored 3,036 points, 1,276 rebounds, 544 assists and 310 steals.
“Hey, I’ll take being in the same conversation with Maya Moore, but uh, yeah.”
Faris is averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.8 assists. But Auriemma doesn’t want her to lose her focus with the milestone at hand.
“You always have to be careful with Kelly, because when she senses it’s a crucial time she gets hyper-amped,” Auriemma said. “It’s like she’s going to guard all five guys, she’s going to pass it to herself, screen for herself, catch it, score, and get fouled. Then she’ll go trap someone by herself.
“She’ll do everything by herself and then it gets away from her. That’s the biggest danger with Kelly is that she starts thinking she has to do her part and everyone else’s part, too.
But Auriemma understands that being mentioned in the same breath with Moore is something Faris deserves because of how much she cares.
“Maya was just exceptional in so many areas,” Auriemma said. “She competed on every possession, every minute, every day. I’m not surprised that she has the records she has. But one of the reasons why there are so few that have those kinds of records is for so many years we’ve had a combination of so many good players on one team that it was impossible for one player to dominate.
“There’s no one on our team that works harder than Kelly. There’s no one on our team that pushes harder. She’s at a whole different level from everyone else. We have a couple of guys on our team now that if they competed at Kelly’s level she wouldn’t have these numbers because they would be taking those numbers from her.
“But because she works so hard, because she prepares herself so well, and because she’s relentless, if she gets those records she deserves every single one of them.”