It's no surprise that the Huskies cruised to easy wins in their first two American Athletic Conference Tournament games because, well, that's pretty much how the 31 games in the regular season played out. But in Sunday's semifinal vs. Rutgers, coach Geno Auriemma didn't just clear his bench as the clocked waned in an effort to rest his starters and give backups some much-needed floor time. Instead, with just a couple minutes to go, he put junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, one of the best pure shooters in the country, back in the game.
Mosqueda-Lewis missed 12 games this season with an elbow injury and later mononucleosis. And with the NCAAs -- and the Huskies' title defense -- looming, Auriemma wants to have everybody peaking at the right time.
“There’s no substitute for games,” the coach said, via SNY.com. “There is no substitute for being in a game environment. No matter how much you practice, it’s not the same. The one thing she has missed out on is not necessarily enough practice, she has missed out on games. So that’s one reason I put her back out there at the end. I said, ‘Get out there and run around a little bit and keep getting a feel for things.’ “
By the time it was over, Mosqueda-Lewis had played 33 minutes and scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-9 from behind the arc.
“I feel like little by little, it’s getting better and better,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “When you’re playing one game after another you really can’t worry about what happened in the last game or the last possession. You just keep playing."
As for the NCAA Tournament, which UConn won a year ago to give Auriemma his eighth national title, the coach is worried that the layoff between the conference and national tourneys could be problematic for Mosqueda-Lewis, who has developed something of a rhythm since returning to action.
“It’s a shame that after tomorrow we have 12 days off because then we’re right back to sitting around and waiting, and that’s not what she needs right now,” he said. “We’re trying to give her as many minutes as we can.”