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Chris Elsberry: UConn's 4 leaders step to the front

Updated 1:00 am, Tuesday, January 22, 2013
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STORRS -- The question had been on Geno Auriemma's mind almost from the moment he returned from winning the gold medal at the London Olympic Games in early August and started putting his focus toward his real job -- coaching the UConn women's basketball team.

Who would be his leader?

Looking up and down the roster there wasn't a Maya Moore or a Tina Charles or a Diana Taurasi or a Rebecca Lobo (go ahead, throw a half-dozen other first-team All-American names out there) who could just put the team their shoulders and carry them all the way to the Final Four. And later, initially discussing that potential scenario with his coaching staff before the start of fall practice, Auriemma confessed that didn't think he had anyone who could become that kind of individual leader.

So, he called his four most experienced players -- Bria Hartley, Stephanie Dolson, Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris -- into his office and told them that they all had to be leaders.

All for one and one for all.

"I said, `Look, there's been some years when I just called Maya in the office or I just called Tina in the office or times when I just called either Sue or D or whatever,' Aureimma said before the season. "But since that doesn't appear to be the case this year, all of you guys are going to have to figure out a way to make this all work because you have the most invested in this."

So far, so good.

With Dolson planted on the bench after picking up her fourth foul with 16:15 left, it was -- who else? -- Auriemma's three Musketeers who picked up the slack against Duke Monday night. With Faris posting a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds (oh, she threw in six assists for good measure), with Hartley running the show, handing out a career-high nine assists, and with Doty doing a little bit of everything, UConn pulled away from a tight game to pound the Blue Devils 79-49 at Gampel Pavilion.

Leading the way was Faris, who not only has the heart of a lion, she's simply unstoppable. Case in point, with UConn up 26 late in the second half and coasting, Faris lunged and deflected a Duke pass out of bounds in front of the Huskies bench. And Auriemma, who was a bundle of energy himself on the sidelines, raced up to her and went "Gangnam Style" on her.

In a good way.

"Kelly Faris was amazing," Auriemma said after the game. "Man, oh man, that (performance) was one for the ages."

It sure was fun.

"I told them in the locker room, it's so much more fun out there when we play like that in the second half," Faris said. "We felt it. I think everyone in the gym felt it. It was something different. Something clicked and we had fun.

"It's exactly like (coach) said, we don't have one specific leader that's going to do everything that a leader does. We have a lot of different types of leaders. And I think tonight we showed, we as a team, not just us four, but as a team, how much we feed off each other and how much that can help us accomplish what we need to accomplish."

And at UConn, that means getting to the Final Four. At least.

Against the Blue Devils, Dolson, Faris, Doty and Hartley combined for 35 points, 20 rebounds, 16 assists and six steals. This season, the Four Musketeers are averaging 38.1 points, 17.7 rebounds, 14.1 assists and 6.7 steals. And usually, when one isn't playing up to her usual standards -- like Dolson tonight (six points) -- the other three always seem to rise to the occasion.

And they did.

"I think it's good," Hartley said. "You have Stef and she helps with all the post players and like me and Kelly and Caroline, we talk with the guards, so it's good. You see that dependency we have on one another. It's not just one person doing everything. It's like everyone has their little part. We all lead. We all follow. We all pick each other up. It's cool."

celsberry@ctpost.com http://Twitter@elsctpost