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Rizzotti, young UConn players have reunion Saturday

Updated 12:32 am, Saturday, December 22, 2012
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STORRS -- Hartford women's basketball coach Jennifer Rizzotti is not about to take credit for the success that Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have enjoyed in their career. She is far too humble for that.

It is also of no consequence that Rizzotti, the national player of the year at UConn in 1996, served as their coach with USA Basketball in recent years. She guided Dolson, Hartley, Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart and Tuck to the gold medal at the 2011 FIBA U-19 World Championship in Chile. She also guided Dolson and Hartley to the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo.

This week, Rizzotti marveled at how much Dolson and Hartley have matured and evolved into leaders since they arrived at UConn. She expressed an admiration of their personalities and Stewart's humble nature and also said that Tuck was probably the easiest of this group to coach because of her work ethic and her attitude.

Today, all six will enjoy a reunion of sorts when No. 2 UConn faces Hartford at Chase Family Arena (1 p.m., SNY). It will be the first in-state road game for the Huskies since a 60-58 win at Fairfield on Dec. 10, 1991 and a battle of Hall of Fame coaches, with Rizzotti set to be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June.

"They're great because of what's inside of them,'' Rizzotti said.

"They go to UConn because they want to be even better. That's what drives them. It's a present for me to have a chance to coach kids like that that are already so driven. So I don't know if I can say I had anything to do with their success, but I'm happy to be a part of their past. It'll be nice to see them (today)."

The members of the Huskies are equally excited to reunite with Rizzotti. The teams have not met since the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2011. And they have not met during the regular season since Dec. 10, 2009.

Rizzotti opted to break from the series following the 2009-10 season because she was searching for a home-and-home deal with UConn and other upper echelon programs. The teams are currently locked in a three-year, 2-for-1 deal, which provided the Hawks (8-2) with the opportunity to host the Huskies today.

"I think it will be fun,'' Dolson said. "Obviously, we're going to see it as just another game and come out ready to play. But it will be fun to see her and play against her. I loved her. She's so similar to Coach Auriemma because she played for him. And she's a fun person to be around and talk to."

Dolson was quick to respond when asked if there was anything in particular that Rizzotti does that mirrors the coaching style of Auriemma.

"Just like Coach, (she) yells,'' Dolson said. "She made sure that during USA we were doing every drill correctly and as hard as we could. She kicked people out the same way that any other coach would and just made sure we were always doing our job on the court. So she's a good coach."

Stewart said she admired Rizzotti's competitiveness. Her desire to win proved to be infectious, lending the players to want to work even harder.

Rizzotti and the Huskies were a combined 13-1 during their time together with USA Basketball.

"That's going to be a really exciting game just because she was my coach for USA," Stewart said. "I know that she's really intense. And, obviously, she's going to have her whole team pumped up and that university pumped up for the game. So I think it'll be a really fun game and hopefully a great atmosphere.''

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