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KML is keeping the art of shooting alive

Lincoln, Neb.

The public address announcer at Pinnacle Bank Arena mispronounced her name during starting lineups Saturday, drawing a few smirks from the UConn women's bench. Nobody ever gets it right outside of Connecticut. And many times inside Connecticut. Mos-KEE-da, he said, stomping on the gas pedal when it came to the 'e.' It's Mos-KEH-da. Kaleena Mos-KEH-da Lewis.

And yet knowing who she is really doesn't help know who she is. Is she the kid we've pigeonholed as a shooter or is she so much more?

Humble suggestion: It's OK to be a shooter. Especially if you're a damn good one. How good? A few WNBA folks questioned Sunday couldn't think of a better shooter in the pros than Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. And she's not even in the pros yet. High compliment.

They mentioned Diana Taurasi, Kristi Tolliver, Kara Lawson, Maya Moore, Becky Hammon, Katie Douglas. They alluded to how Tricia Liston of Duke and Maggie Lucas of Penn State will be prominent draft picks next month solely because of their ability to shoot. The consensus: Some may shoot it as well as Mosqueda-Lewis. But none better.

This is significant. Basketball, slowly becoming a prisoner on all levels to athleticism over skill, needs shooters. Shooting is a skill. Yet it feels some days like shooting is going the way of the bunt in baseball. The lost art. Geno Auriemma said the other day that if he coached men's basketball, he'd play 80 percent zone because "guys can't shoot."

But Mosqueda-Lewis sure can.

"My dad shot with me the most when I was younger," Mosqueda-Lewis was saying Sunday, just before the Huskies prepared for tonight's regional final against Texas A&M. "We watched video constantly. Reggie Miller, Ray Allen. My dad didn't play basketball in high school. He just watched videos on it and asked coaches about it. When he asked people, 'how do you become a good shooter?' the most popular answer was practice."

So they practiced.

"I shot every morning before school at 5 a.m., shot at practice and then me and my dad practiced after practice," she said. "I still feel like I could shoot better. It's something I've been working on for a long time."

Mosqueda-Lewis made 49.2 percent of her threes last season. That's almost absurd. She's down to 43 percent this season, a byproduct of a contusion of the ulnar nerve to her shooting hand, which controls fine muscle movement, and a later bout with mononucleosis.

"It crossed my mind when I got hurt," Mosqueda-Lewis said, alluding to some concern about whether the injury would affect her shooting. "It scared me. I could barely move my arm or extend it. This is my shooting arm. Rosie (trainer Rosemary Ragle) reassured me. Every day in rehab, the more I practiced and stretched it out, the more I realized it would be fine."

Mosqueda-Lewis played her best game against Brigham Young in the regional semifinals Saturday: 19 points, 13 rebounds. It reaffirmed what UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been saying about his top-ranking assassin for a while now. Not only is she more than a shooter, but she's worked at other parts of the game.

"I think when players get a little bit older, they start to see things that they don't see when they are younger," Auriemma said.

"One of the dangers of being a great shooter when you're young is you don't feel the need to do anything else. Every level you have played at, everyone knows you can shoot, so you go to practice every day and you work on your shooting, because that is what you are good at and it is easy.

"As you get older," he said, "you realize that there is a lot more to basketball than just shooting the ball, and it is fun. It is fun to offensive rebound, it is fun to play in the post, it is fun to do other things rather than just stand at the three point line and shoot it. You take that, and the fact that she has had a terrible year as far as luck goes, she is trying to make up for lost time."

Mosqueda-Lewis may look different come the first day of practice next year. The WNBA folks were in agreement she needs to work on her body if she is to maximize her ability. But that's next year. What counts right now is tonight. And then Nashville, if the Huskies get there.

"What happens next year? The team is going to be totally different, I don't know whether that is going to have any bearing or not," Auriemma said.

"The role she is playing this year, and what we need her to play if we are going to win the next three games, may not be at all what she will do next year. Right now I am enjoying what she is doing now."

It's worth noting that Mosqueda-Lewis watched male shooters - Miller, Allen - as she was crafting her craft. KML said: "They didn't sell videos on women shooting the ball."

Maybe they should start.

And No. 23 for the UConn women wouldn't be a bad place.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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