Geno Auriemma isn't one to be effusive in praising his players. In fact, animated, direct, loud and brutally honest might all be better descriptors. The coach also knows how to motive his team, which doesn't always mean maniacal arm-waving. So when a player needs a kick in the pants, Auriemma is eager to provide one. But when a player shows progress, he's happy to point that out too.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has done much more than that, emerging as the Huskies' go-to player in just her second season. In Monday's win over Vanderbilt, KML scored 22 points, and set the school single-season record for three-pointers made.
Auriemma was asked about his sophomore scorer after the game.
“Shooters are kind of funny people," he said according to the Hartford Courant. They are very fragile. But I’m hoping that as she grows throughout this tournament, and if we’re lucky enough to play a few more games, you watch her now as she’s shooting shots other than threes, there’s calmness about her. That didn’t exist before. There might be a lot of great players in the country, a lot of great one on one players, a lot of great shooters and offensive players, but I don’t know if I’d trade her for anyone else.”
We suspect Auriemma will be having similar conversations about freshman Breanna Stewart, who has struggled at times this season after arriving on campus -- like Mosqueda-Lewis the year before her -- as the nation's best basketball player.
“My thing with Kaleena, "Auriemma continued, "is like a lot of a lot of young players, they tend to speed up. As they get older the game slows down for them. I think every player, at every level, they’ll tell you the game was in slow motion for them. They’ll tell you they can see everything happening before it actually happens and the opposite is true. Things are sometimes going so fast that they can’t keep up with the game. That’s usually a function of where their mind is.
"Kaleena wants to be great, she wants to be the best player in the country, and she’s awfully competitive. I thought there were a couple of times today where she was in a hurry. I think playing so many minutes, because for a large part of the season, she was the one constant threat out on the floor, was a little bit of a disadvantage for her. But we just didn’t have anybody else in those big games.”
And now Mosqueda-Lewis will have an opportunity to be great on the sport's biggest stage. Next up: Maryland in the Sweet 16.
“(The Terrapins) are a great team, incredibly talented and they have a great player in Alyssa Thomas who has had a great season,” Auriemma said. “This time of the year, this is what you are going to get. There are only 16 teams left in the tournament [after Tuesday] and 10, maybe all 16 of them, are going to be really good. Maybe eight or nine will be in the Top 10. We have one of the toughest Sweet 16 games in the country -- for sure.”