Rich Elliott: UConn's Faris enjoys special moment, then another
Updated 12:19 am, Sunday, February 24, 2013
STORRS -- Kelly Faris was about to hoist her framed jersey over her head Saturday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion. Along with fellow seniors Heather Buck and Caroline Doty, it was her day. It was her moment to be recognized for all that she has meant to the Huskies during her career.
Faris had been escorted to center court by her parents, Bob and Connie, during the pregame ceremony on Senior Day. She had shared a long hug with UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who has admired Faris since Day 1. But before she could finally display her white No. 34 jersey to the adoring crowd of 9,107, Auriemma was not done. He had more to say to Faris.
He had to let her know even more how much he cares about her as a player and as a person.
"He said that he's going to do anything and everything he can to make this end the right way,'' Faris said. "I care about him a lot and I respect him a lot. And I know he cares about us. He cares about this group of seniors a lot. And he's willing to just put everything into it that he can. Not even for himself. Just for this team and for us ... for us to go out the right way. And I think it's on us to give that back."
A proper ending is what has escaped the seniors the past two seasons, when UConn was defeated by Notre Dame in the NCAA national semifinals. It has long been a collective goal of the Huskies to send the seniors out with a win in the final game of their career. It happened when Faris was a freshman in 2009-10. And it has happened six other times in program history.
Faris admitted that she has indeed spent some time pondering the end. The arrival of Senior Day provided a definitive sign that it is drawing closer by the day.
"It's been two years that we've sent seniors out with a bad taste in their mouth,'' Faris said. "And it sucks to send a senior out and knowing that their last game at a program like this was a loss. And it's not fun by any means and it carries over with you.
"So I have two years built up of sending people out the wrong way and ending the season on a bad note. And this is our last chance. Hopefully, we have about a month left and we have to make the most of it, because sooner or later, there's not going to be another chance. And we've got to take advantage of it now.''
If Saturday's 90-30 demolition of Seton Hall was any indication, like Auriemma, the Huskies are all in. Not only did they want to ensure that Faris, who finished with a season-high 18 points, Buck and Doty will long remember their day in the spotlight, but they went out of their way in the second half to ensure that Faris became the 38th player in team history to reach 1,000 career points.
Even Auriemma was in on it. He left Faris in the game to give her more time to reach the milestone.
Needing two points, the Huskies were looking for Faris on every offensive possession. Doty held up two fingers from the bench on one particular possession, signifying the points Faris needed.
"I'm not the one that's necessarily, `Let's get her open, get her open, get her open,''' Faris said. "And the fact that I had everybody, just kind of that moment, like, `Wow. There's literally everybody in this gym, fans included, who want me to get a personal goal.' And I think that says a lot about this program and the types of people that they recruit and the fans and just the atmosphere, just because if I had gone anywhere else, I don't think it would've been like that.''
Faris missed two 3-pointers before taking the ball from Alexis Brown and racing up the court for a milestone layup with 6:20 left. For a blue-collar player, it was fitting that she hit 1,000 off of a steal -- her season-high seventh of the game.
On UConn's next possession, Faris would record her 500th career assist on a layup by Buck.
"I feel like Kelly deserves everything," said UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who also scored her 1,000th point Saturday. "So for her to get her 1,000th point, her 500th assist, for us to win and play the team like we did, it's awesome. Because you know more than anything Kelly's just happy that we got a win and we played great as a team.
"But individually, for her, I'm happy that we all played hard for the seniors. I hope she knows how much we care about her and how much we're willing to do for her.''
Faris knows how much this team cares for her and the seniors. They have as many as 12 games remaining together, a stretch Faris hopes will end with a national championship in New Orleans April 9.
"It ended being a really good Senior Night,'' Faris said. "Not just because of a win or getting 1,000 points, but just the feeling of the camaraderie that we had and the fact that all the underclassmen really (tried) to just give us a good night. And that felt pretty good.''
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