Rich Elliott: KML says Huskies have to change, get tougher, better
Updated 12:12 am, Sunday, January 6, 2013
STORRS -- UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis sat in a chair in the weight room early Saturday night. She was emotionally drained. Her voice was barely audible.
This was not the outcome Mosqueda-Lewis has envisioned in facing Big East nemesis Notre Dame yet again. This time, it was supposed to be different.
Like many of her teammates, she felt that the top-ranked Huskies had made the necessary changes since last season. Physically and mentally, they were an improved team.
But in the aftermath of a 73-72 loss to the fifth-ranked Irish before a sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion, Mosqueda-Lewis found herself discussing yet again how the Huskies still need to change, how they still need to get tougher, how they need to practice harder.
"I know I am sick and tired of losing to them, and I know my team is," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We can say we are sick and tired of it, but something has to change. Some of it is that individually, we have to change. As a team, we have to change."
One week after burying former No. 1-ranked Stanford on the road in what was the feel-good moment of the season, the Huskies have come crashing down. They were outrebounded by Notre Dame 45-44. They gave up 18 offensive rebounds. They shot 39.4 percent from the field (5-of-23 3-pointers) and committed 14 turnovers.
And despite all of this, UConn (12-1) still had a chance to win the game in the final 28.9 seconds. Breanna Stewart had a shot blocked. She then missed a jumper. And Mosqueda-Lewis front-rimmed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds left.
The postgame message from UConn coach Geno Auriemma would sound all too familiar.
"It's frustration," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I'm just sick and tired of hearing the same thing from Coach after we lose to them or just sick of having us repeating the same mistakes that we always do. I thought we were making progress, but then you really get tested in a game like this."
What was Auriemma's message?
"That we haven't really changed much from Oct. 15," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We've been practicing not to our best and that's our fault. We've got to come to practice every day ready. We've got to make sure that we're practicing like we're getting ready for games like this."
Manning up is what Faris does. But she was hardly the primary reason behind UConn's fifth loss in six games to Notre Dame.
How about the lack of defense on Michala McBride (11 points), who made three wide-open 3-pointers over the course of the game? Her final one staked the Irish to a 68-67 lead with 4:18 left.
"As a leader on the team, I'm supposed to set the tone,'' Faris said. "I didn't set the tone and it kind of went from there. We made too many turnovers. We didn't get rebounds. They out-toughed us. The second half, we came out stronger, but it was too late."
This is UConn's worst stretch against a single opponent since losing five straight to Miami Jan. 17, 1992 through Feb, 14 1993. That was before UConn was UConn, though.
The Huskies have some work to do. And, following an off day today, it starts in practice Monday.
They certainly have the skill to beat any team in the country. It is things like rebounding, having a hand up on defense, crashing the boards offensively and getting to the free-throw line more that will make the difference.
And their mentality needs to be fortified. Just like last season, when Notre Dame ended their season in the national semifinals for the second straight season.
"It's more of a mental thing for us,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We've got to know that we are a strong and confident team. We've got to go out there and act like it. And we don't really act like it out there. So we've got to make sure that our mentality is completely different. It's not really anything skill-wise that we need to do.''
A loss on Jan. 5 is one that UConn can use to better its position to win the national championship. The Huskies still have games remaining against No. 11 Louisville Jan. 15, No. 3 Duke Jan. 21, No. 2 Baylor Feb. 18 and a rematch with Notre Dame in the regular-season finale March 4.
There is plenty of time for UConn to make the necessary changes. It is up to the Huskies to put the necessary work in to make it happen.
"There's things that we have to do, that we have to get better at,'' Auriemma said. "In that respect, I don't think we're any different than any other team in the country. And the question is going to be in the next two months: Who improves the most of all those teams that are sitting there thinking that they have a chance to win the national championship?
"So a game like this probably does some guys on our team more good than a win would do. Unfortunately, you hate to say that, but that's what games this time of year are for."
firstname.lastname@example.org; http://twitter.com/elliottctpost; http://blog.ctnews.com/elliott/