In the hours after UConn’s astonishing second-half purge of Duke on Monday night, the popularity of Kelly Faris experienced the meteoric rise that would elate a political candidate.
Thing is, Faris isn’t running for All-American. She apparently doesn’t even care if she’s nominated.
“I don’t have a Twitter account,” Faris said when asked if she was aware of the impact she had made on social media. “Not really; same old, same old for me.”
All she wants is a national championship. Ah, kids these days.
“Honestly, I don’t really care,’’ Faris said. “I’m not interested in accolades. The individual stuff doesn’t faze me. It’s not what I came here to do. I do what coach wants me to do and what the teams needs. I didn’t come here so that my name would be recognized or that I would be recognized. I came here because this is the best program and I wanted to become the best player I could possibly be. I wanted to become better and better. And I felt like that was what I was going to get if I came here. So for all that stuff, it honestly doesn’t really matter to me.”
It’s this attitude that makes UConn Geno Auriemma love Faris. And it’s what motivated him earlier this week to text her mother and father in Indiana a special message.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” it read.
If No. 3 UConn (17-1) is to win its eighth championship this season, much of it will be because of the will Faris has to make it so. Fundamentally sound, mentally focused and competively resolved, she is her team’s leader.
“She has that affect on our team,” Auriemma said.
And Saturday, she hopes all the good things that spurred the Huskies in the second half to their 30-point win over Duke carry over against Cincinnati (8-10) at First Third Arena.
The Bearcats, coached by former UConn player and assist coach Jamelle Elliott, have lost five straight and are winless in conference play (0-5).
“We’ve seen what we can do and this is our second chance to build on that,” Faris said. “It’s now or never. We had a chance to build on the way we played at Stanford and didn’t. It’s getting later in the season and there isn’t a lot of time left to fix certain things. We shouldn’t have to worry about turnovers. We shouldn’t have to worry about this or that.”
After Faris scored 18 points with 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals against the Blue Devils, Auriemma called it one of the greatest performances in the history of his program. This is not the kind of compliment Auriemma doles out easily.
“Maybe the rest of the country is surprised, maybe it’s not. Maybe it doesn’t even care,” he said. “But I am glad whoever was watching [the Duke game] got to see what we see every day. We don’t take it for granted.
“The two things people want to talk about concerning our team is the change in Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris. They can’t believe she [Faris] has become what she has become. The description of her coming out of high was a tough kid, a coach’s kid, plays hard. But no one ever gave her credit for having the chance to become the kid of basketball player she has become.”
Faris was obviously honored to hear the praise from her coach.
“He’s made some statements about me before and I am hoping to not make him regret it,” Faris said. “The last time he said something like that about me was when I was a freshman and he said I’d never play a bad game. And I think he was regretting that a little.
“It means a lot to me for someone of his caliber to say something like that about a player who has gone through this type of program. It’s a lot to live up to and I have to do it now.”
The Huskies come to Cincinnati somewhat refreshed after two days off following the Duke win. And they come here resolved to continue the momentum built on the heels of Faris against Duke.
“This is my chance [to lead a championship team] and I’ve kind of been a part of it in different ways the last three years,’’ Faris said. “And being my last chance, I’m trying to make the most of it. But at the same time, it’s not just me. I’m not going to do certain things that other people in their leadership role are going to do.
“So it’s going to be a collective effort and that’s what it’s been throughout the whole season. So far I think it’s worked out pretty well and I think we’re going to continue to build on it and continue to hold people more accountable than what we’ve been doing because if we let it drop off now there’s kind of no turning back. So, yeah, I do take a lot of pride in it. But, at the same time, it’s not just me.’’