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Rich Elliott: On this night, UConn's Hartley in top form

Updated 11:05 am, Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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STORRS -- It has been increasingly difficult for junior Bria Hartley to remain positive this season. This is a player who expects to play like an All-American every time she steps on the court for third-ranked UConn.

And Hartley has not been an All-American this season. Not even close. The season began with her missing six weeks due to a sprained left ankle. There have been a couple of points when it seemed as if she was poised to regain her true form. They proved to be only flashes.

Hartley reached yet another lowpoint against St. John's Saturday when she was 3-of-13 shooting and missed all seven of her 3-point attempts. To compound matters this performance came in front of numerous friends and family members.

"It's a little discouraging, especially going 0-for-7 from 3,'' Hartley said. "So I guess that got to me a little bit and I just felt I wasn't being productive for my team. I just want to be someone that my teammates can rely on and I feel like I haven't been that lately.''

UConn coach Geno Auriemma could tell that her performance against the Red Storm bothered her. He said she was really down during practice. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis did, too.So prior to facing Marquette Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion Mosqueda-Lewis had seen enough. She approached Hartley, gave her a motivational talk and went as far as predicting that she would finish 5-of-7 from 3-point range. She was dead-on.

Hartley, for one night at least, played like an All-American. She finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting (5-of-7 3-pointers), four rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes in a 94-37 rout.

"She hasn't been playing like herself,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "And I just felt like, `You know, Bria, it's time. You're going to play well. We're at home. We're at Gampel. It's time.' She put it on herself really. She went out there, worked hard, got steals and ran the floor hard. That was all a tribute to her.''

Hartley, of course, did not predict that she would have a night like she did. How could she? She had been averaging 6.0 points on 11-of-38 shooting from the field over the last five games. She had been 3-of-21 from 3-point range in this span. The first 3-pointer Hartley took in shootaround Tuesday afternoon was an air-ball. The first shot she took against Marquette was a driving layup that hit the bottom of the rim.But Hartley stayed the course.

"I think my reaction is just `finally,' to be honest,'' Hartley said. "I think my attitude is what helped me. I've been trying to force myself to have a positive attitude about everything. Just don't get down on myself because I know I was one of those kids if I'm not doing well sometimes I just get into myself and kind of don't talk and it seems I'm not really out there on the court.''

Hartley had nine points in the first half. She then had 11 (3-of-4 3-pointers) in 13 minutes in the second half as she reached the 20-point mark for the second time this season.

"I was really, really happy to see her play the way she played (Tuesday) because I think that fixes a lot of ¦ It doesn't fix it right away,'' Auriemma said. "It doesn't cure it completely, but it starts to make your body language better. And if it's better just for one day, then we're on the right track. We've got another game Sunday and, hopefull, Friday and Saturday at practice she'll continue doing what she did (Tuesday).''

Hartley said that basketball is basically all that she thinks about. So you can imagine what a relief it was for her to have the type of game that she had Tuesday.But, like Auriemma, Hartley understands that one game does not automatically mean that she will again return to a level reserved for the nation's top players. At this point in the season the time has come for Hartley to string a series of games together similar to the one she enjoyed against the Golden Eagles. The time has come for her to play like an All-American every day.`

"It picks you up a lot and you've got to build on it because you can't just have one game like this,'' Hartley said. "You need to still work on being more consistent and just being someone that my teammates can count on every night.''

relliott@ctpost.com; http://twitter.com/elliottctpost; http://blog.ctnews.com/elliott/