Turning wrongs into rights
It was halftime Monday night and only in Connecticut, really, could there be such raging panic over a team that's 16-1, No. 3 in the country, a lock for 30 wins and a staple at the Final Four.
Still, the UConn women had looked like Secretariat reduced to a trot for a while. Their turnover disorder, embroiled in what felt like a mini-series longer than "Roots," even prompted associate head coach Chris Dailey, during her customary halftime interview over the public address system, to implore the crowd to chant "no more turnovers."
Here is what was scribbled in the notebook:
Why do they handle the ball like a grenade?
Why do their guards view the lane as a minefield?
Why does Breanna Stewart disappear in big games?
Even did the math on that one. Entering Monday, Stewart was shooting 12-for-39 (31 percent) against Maryland, Penn State, Stanford and Notre Dame, committing 11 of her 24 turnovers. In the other 13 games, mostly against dogs, she was 72-121 (60 percent).
And then just as Yankees radio voice John Sterling loves to say "Suzyn, you just can't predict baseball," basketball wasn't following the script either.
In the second half …
They stopped turning it over.
Stewart shot 5-for-7, beginning at the exact moment the unthinkable happened: Stefanie Dolson earned her fourth foul with 16:16 remaining.
And Kelly Faris, going from "first round draft choice in the WNBA" to "really high first round draft choice in the WNBA," did enough to merit the following from UConn coach Geno Auriemma:
"What Kelly Faris did was indescribable," he said. "That's one of those occasions where if you were watching in the stands, you were fortunate enough to be part of that. It was a performance people will be talking about for a long time. There have been legends playing in this building. But I don't know that anybody ever represented that uniform, herself and her family the way that kid did tonight. That was one of the ages right there."
Faris' numbers were impressive: 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists. Remember, though, we've seen Bascom, Sales, Moore and Taurasi, among others, rain 40 on many poor souls. It was the way Faris did it: With effort that belongs as a yardstick for coaches of both genders. It belongs on tape somewhere for coaches to use a reference point:
"Don't talk to me until you play THAT hard."
And it was contagious.
UConn needed this. Because even in the wake some comfy wins post-Notre Dame, there was something missing. Spiffy new sink, but a leaky faucet. Who knew it would take foul trouble for the kid honored before the game for her 1,000th career point to inspire the Huskies to recreate themselves?
"Motivation-wise (Dolson's fourth foul) definitely got us going," Faris said.
Faris admitted the frustration level by halftime had reached its apex. Even Auriemma didn't know what to say.
"He was pretty mad," Faris said. "He didn't know what to say to us. I think he said that, actually. He was at a loss at what else he could say to us to get us going."
Faris will, deservedly so, get the hosannas today. Just don't discount how her teammates never used Dolson's absence as an excuse. And how Stewart added as much fiber as she did points.
Stewart, who needs a sandwich and the weight room, isn't really allowed to be a freshman in this program. The Huskies need her. Badly. A marvelous talent. But 12-for-31 against Maryland, Penn State, Stanford and Notre Dame is scary.
And all it took was no safety net Monday night.
"Stewie finally started making a couple of plays," Auriemma said. "We didn't miss Stefanie that much. That's what we're going to need. We can't rely on Stefanie every single night. There are nights like this when we need different people to step up.
"Stef is such a huge key to our offense," Auriemma said. "When she got that fourth foul — and I owe a public apology to (official) Bonita (Spence). I admit when I'm wrong. I don't have to do it very often."
Chuckles all around.
"I'm dead serious," he said. "I owe her an apology. There are fouls called on Stefanie that aren't necessarily called on other post players. I don't know why. But if I would have taken the time to really, really study that play, Stefanie fouled her. Dumb foul. When she came out, I think had the game been played the way it was played in the first half, it would have been a problem. Because of the way the game was flowing, it didn't have the effect that it would have had."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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