No college program is more accustomed to focusing on the present than the UConn women. In fact, their ability to narrow their gaze is largely responsible for the presents piled up in their big trophy case back home.
But during this season’s NCAA Tournament, the play of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has provided a small glimpse into what life may be like next season, when Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley are gone and she is left to direct, score, rebound and then elaborate.
“I think when players get a little bit older, they start to see things that they don’t see when they are younger,” Geno Auriemma said. “One of the dangers is, when you are a great shooter when you are young, you don’t feel the need to do anything else. Every level you have played, everyone knows you can shoot. So you go to practice every day and you work on your shooting; because that is what you are good at and it is easy. As you get older, you realize that there is a lot more to the game of basketball than just shooting the ball, and it is fun.”
For the last two games, Mosqueda-Lewis has been having a blast. She recorded a triple-double in Tuesday’s second-round win over St. Joseph’s and followed it up with a 19-point, 13-rebound effort in Saturday’s tense 70-51 win over BYU in the regional semifinal.
Now it is Texas A&M (27-8) that wonders what’s in store Monday when the Huskies (37-0) and Aggies play for the right to go to the Final Four next weekend in Nashville.
“It is fun to offensive rebound, fun to play in the post, it is fun to do other things rather than just stand at the three point line and shoot it,” Auriemma said of Mosqueda-Lewis. “You take that, and the fact that she has had a terrible year, as far as luck goes, she is trying to make up for lost time. What happens next year? The team is going to be totally different, I don’t know whether that is going to have any bearing on it or not. The role she is playing this year, and what we need her to play if we are going to win the next three games, may not be at all what she will do next year. Right now I am enjoying what she is doing now.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed 12 games this season because of an elbow injury and mononucleosis, has made a concerted effort to be more involved in a broader sense. That manifested itself in eight offensive rebounds against BYU.
Texas A&M’s big front line, led by the 6-5 steel of senior Karla Gilbert, will require effort off he boards.
“I was just trying to get in there as much as possible, just trying to get us second chance shots because I knew we really weren’t knocking down the shots we usually did,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I was just trying to be as physical as I could and Stefanie was bringing the big girl out, it was a good opportunity for us to get rebounds on the weak side.”
In the Aggies, the Huskies play an opponent who won their Sweet 16 game against DePaul on Saturday without the help of three-pointers. They were 0-for-2. But all five starters were in double-figures led by Courtney Walker, who scored 25 points.
“The competition goes up, your play has to go up,” Walker said.
Courtney Williams had 14 of her 15 in the second half. Gilbert and Jordan Jones had 11 points each. Tori Scott scored 10.
“If we follow our game plan, play hard and not worry about the fact it says UConn on their jersey, we’ll be fine,” said Jones, their point guard. “So many get caught up in the hype of it being UConn. It’s that mental aspect of it.”
Texas A&M’s defense is stout, DePaul’s 24 points in the first half were a season-low. In their first two tournament games, the Blue Demons had shot 45 percent while making a 25 three-pointers. They were 4-for-20 against the Aggies.
This is Texas A&M’s first Elite Eight appearance since it won the national championship in 2011. That season, the Aggies were discounted by just about every national pundit, something Blair has not forgotten.
“Folks, they counted us out in 2011, too,” Blair said. “They counted us out when
we got to the Final Four. Nobody besides Carolyn Peck [of ESPN] said A&M was going to win. Everybody kept us out. Don’t count Aggies out. We might be undermanned. But I have a nice team, they have a great team. The difference is it is a 40 minute game, it is not a best of seven series, if it was a series best-of-seven, I would not like my chances. But it is one game of 40 minutes.
“It might happen. It might happen. I am sure that all of you guys brackets got busted and none of you got a billion dollars, so you gone have to keep writing for 10 dollars an hour. I know.”
Auriemma, who believes the struggle against BYU may have widened his own team’s eyes, tends to think like Blair does.
“Monday night is the game that makes everybody nervous,” Auriemma said. “Along the way, you know you are going to get tested a little bit, and you hope the players are not caught up in seeding. As a coach, not while you are going through it because it is a pain in the butt. After the game you look back, and you say that was good for us.
“You know, these things aren’t bad. I am old enough now, I didn’t even go into the locker room and yell; 15 years ago we probably we have lost this game. Players would have had a mutiny in the locker room and say screw it I am not going out there. Now you are at a point where we are good, we know we are good, and let’s just go out and play.”