NEW YORK -- The maturation process of UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has been front and center this season. The strides that she has made in a matter of months have been extraordinary to watch.
Mosqueda-Lewis is confident. She is poised to take on a considerable amount of responsibility. And she has morphed into much more than just a shooter of 3-pointers.
But it is in adverse situations like she faced against St. John's on Saturday when Mosqueda-Lewis' progress can truly be measured. The third-ranked Huskies were forced to play without starting center Stefanie Dolson due to illness. They struggled offensively, lacking consistency and leadership for long stretches in a tight game at Carnesecca Arena.
With UConn needing someone to make a play in the second half, Mosqueda-Lewis took the lead by scoring nine points in a span of 9:23 in a 71-65 win. Her surge capped a 19-point, season-high 10-rebound performance.
"She's completely different,'' UConn senior Kelly Faris said. "Obviously, she always had the talent. And she got smarter and smarter throughout the year last year, but I could tell coming in in the summer that she had a completely different mindset. And I think she has a lot to say and a lot to add to the team. So I'm really proud of her, and I trust her a lot more.''
Mosqueda-Lewis played a season-high 38 minutes in recording her first double-double this season and the second of her career.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma pointed out following the game that Mosqueda-Lewis was incapable of assembling this type of effort when the same teams met at Gampel Pavilion last Feb. 18. She finished with 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting from the field in 35 minutes in a stunning 57-56 loss that ended the Huskies' NCAA record 99-game home winning streak.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Auriemma was not at all surprised by her clutch performance Saturday. He has seen a lot of them in games and in practice this season.
"I watched the game last year that we played and she just wasn't ready to play at this level,'' Auriemma said. "And (Saturday) she was completely different than she was last year. She's a lot more confident so we kind of wanted to take advantage of that.''
Mosqueda-Lewis was just 1-of-5 from 3-point range against St. John's. Rather than pout and lose her focus, she opted to take her game inside and post up.
In turn, Mosqueda-Lewis set season-highs for made free throws (six) and free throws attempted (seven).
"I feel like I was definitely a lot more calm this year than I was last year,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Last year in tight games, I was really nervous and didn't really know what to do with myself. This time, I was kind of just more relaxed and just playing the game.''
Mosqueda-Lewis did not attempt a shot in the second half until scoring off a lay-up with 10:38 left in the game. She later scored five straight points on a three-point play that broke a 57-57 tie with 4:19 left and a pair of free throws 44 seconds later off another move inside.
She added two more free throws off yet another move inside with 1:55 left and UConn leading 62-59. St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said he knew UConn was going to go to Mosqueda-Lewis. The Red Storm just did not have an answer.
"I was trying to get her the ball every time I could down the stretch because I knew she would do something with it,'' Faris said. "Something good.''
Mosqueda-Lewis leads the team in scoring (17.0 ppg) and made 3-pointers (62) and is also averaging 5.8 rebounds and 28.9 minutes this season. She has at least 19 points in five of the last seven games.
Believe it or not, the Huskies had lost five straight games that had been decided by single digits or went to overtime. Faris (17 points) certainly played a significant role today as they ended that streak. But without the play of Mosqueda-Lewis, there is a good chance UConn would have been dealt another defeat.
"I want to be there for my team and kind of show them that they can count on me when we have a close game like that,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said.
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