UConn's Tiffany Hayes (33 points): 'Play every play'
Hartford - Tiffany Hayes accomplished something Saturday afternoon no other player in women's basketball's most celebrated program ever did. Not Lobo, Sales, Wolters, Bird, Abrosimova, Ralph, Jones, Cash or Moore.
She scored 33 points, which, added to the 35 she scored Wednesday at Syracuse gave her the most points in consecutive games - 68 - in UConn history.
And yet Hayes' thoughts were elsewhere, with her late friend Jasper Howard, who would have been 23 years old on Saturday.
Hayes played Saturday's game at the XL Center in Howard's honor, even wearing a No. 6 hat after the game. And she couldn't have done him prouder. Her 33 points, 10 rebounds and assorted hustle plays - "gutty," as UConn coach Geno Auriemma called them - helped the third-ranked Huskies to a 77-62 win over stubborn South Florida before 13,627 fans.
"One my friends that passed used to say, 'Play every play like it's the last play you will ever play.'" Hayes said. "It was his birthday today. I've been living with those words in my head and I use it to give me a lot of motivation."
Hayes then started to cry.
To think that Hayes, averaging more than 16 points per game to lead the Huskies, was not a member of the Wooden Award Midseason Top 20 list of players. The Wooden Award is perhaps the most prestigious honor given to a college basketball player.
"I was surprised her name wasn't on there," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "She's very, very talented. Do I think she was deserving? Yes."
Auriemma has an idea why Hayes was omitted while teammates Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made it.
"It goes to show you that it's all about what you do in those big TV games everybody watches," Auriemma said, alluding to games UConn lost at No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Notre Dame, in which Hayes scored a combined 20 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
"Bria played great, Kaleena shot great," Auriemma said. "(But) nobody is as good of an offensive player as Tiffany Hayes right now, maybe in the whole league. ? There aren't 20 players in the country I'd rather have."
The Wooden Award All-American Team, consisting of the nation's top 10 players, will be announced the week before the Final Four.
Ah, the Final Four. In an odd way, this was the kind of game that might have helped UConn with those plans more than the final score suggests. Not only did Hayes play like a senior, but Stefanie Dolson, the primary threat in the post, finished with 18 points and 22 rebounds.
"Perimeter-wise, we were athletic enough to take things away in transition," Fernandez said. "But in the halfcourt, when Dolson plays like that ? that's what they need."
South Florida (12-10, 4-4) played with verve that could teach some of UConn's previous opponents a few lessons. The Bulls led 17-14 after Inga Orekhova made one of her four first-half 3-pointers. South Florida got within one early in the second half when guard Jasmine Wynne left Kelly Faris waiting for a bus, zipping past her to the basket to make it 36-35.
"They're a really difficult team to play against," Auriemma said. "They make you guard a lot of different things. They have quickness and big kids who can shoot."
Too much Dolson and too much Hayes, though, brought UConn to 19-2 overall and 8-1 in the Big East, still a game behind Notre Dame.
"With Stefanie and Tiff," Auriemma said, "It was like we were playing two against their team."