Hartley's all the way back
Mohegan - Bria Hartley was part of the procession of UConn Huskies who were handed their American Athletic Conference first-team trophies before Saturday's game.
The trophy was even more tangible evidence that Hartley is back to being her bad self after an ankle injury impaired her junior year last season.
"That injury kind of hit me kind of hard," Hartley said after UConn thumped Cincinnati, 72-42, in the conference quartefinals before 7,332 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"It was kind of a setback, (but) the best thing for a really good comeback, and I think this year I kind of proved that."
The top-ranked Huskies will play fourth-seeded Rutgers in today's semifinals at the Arena (1 p.m., ESPNU).
Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 22 with five rebounds for UConn (32-0). Stefanie Dolson added 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
Hartley had 17 points and five assists.
"Last year, I was only an (Big East) honorable mention," Hartley said. "Then even this preseason, I was only an honorable mention, so it kind of put a little chip on my shoulder. I know I'm a really good player, and I know what I'm capable of, so I wanted to go out there and prove it."
Last season was an odd one for Hartley. Much was expected of her after she was a Big East first-team pick as a sophomore, but she suffered a medial sprain of her left ankle while playing for USA Basketball during the summer of 2012. The injury lingered into her junior season.
"Individually, the way I played and everything, it was a real struggle the entire time," Hartley said. "But then you think about, 'oh, we won a national championship, that was pretty awesome.'
"I was happy I was able to pick it up at the end (of the season), but, at the same time, still kind of disappointed in the way the season went. I guess that's just the kind of competitor I am."
Hartley is UConn's second-leading scorer (16.6 points) with 4.2 assists.
"I felt for Bria last year," Huskies' coach Geno Auriemma said, "but we've had some great players in our program, and I don't know that we've had anyone that's more competitive than Bria. So you knew coming back this year that she was going to fix it."
Hartley worked the hardest on her 3-point shooting and her left hand during the offseason. She's made 36-percent of her 3-pointers this season, another skill that should make her an intriguing prospect in April's WNBA Draft.
"She'll be the first to tell you that she'll go through periods where she won't make any (threes)," Auriemma said. "Then she'll go through periods like she had for a while there where she makes them all. I don't like when she passes up open shots. Every time she has an open three, I want her to take it. She knows that."
Hartley said, "In high school, I don't think I was ever a prolific 3-point shooter. … Each year I kind of improved, and now it's like, 'oh, she's a 3-point shooter. No one really ever said that to me in high school."
UConn was a bit sluggish through the first 12 minutes of Saturday's game despite leading, 17-13.
The Huskies closed the first half with a 20-4 run.
Hartley's jumper gave UConn a 65-31 lead with over six minutes remaining, its largest lead of the game.
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