STORRS, Conn. — Senior Kelly Faris and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis have been weightlifting and conditioning partners since Mosqueda-Lewis arrived here to play for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.
They are also in line to become the 37th and 38th members of UConn’s 1,000-point club, though the order remains to be seen. Entering Saturday’s Big East game against Rutgers at the RAC in Piscataway, N.J. (4 p.m., SNY) Faris has 968 points to Mosqueda-Lewis’ 956.
“I don’t know. I don’t care,” Faris said when asked which of the two would get to the plateau first.
“Probably Kelly. She’s been playing really well,” Mosqueda-Lewis said when asked the same question. Me and Kelly are competitive when it comes to rebounding. If it’s not rebounding, we don’t really care.”
That Mosqueda-Lewis is competitive about rebounding is all you need to know about her growth from her freshman season and why she’s emerged as an All-America candidate.
And why she’s won the respect from the Huskies’ on-court leader.
“You look back from last year till now, and Kaleena’s out there stealing rebounds from her own teammates?” Faris said. “That’s awesome. Those are the kind of teammates you want to have on the floor. When you’re both going up for a rebound and she rips it away, I’ll get mad but I know it’s good because it will push me harder to get that rebound. That’s a huge leap for her.”
Mosqueda-Lewis is actually averaging only 0.5 rebounds more (5.9) than she did a season ago. But it’s not about the average for the Anaheim Hills, Calif., it’s about the attitude.
She leads the third-ranked Huskies in scoring (16.8) and the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (49.3). She could pass last season’s totals for assists and steals by the time March comes around.
The leap has been the ability to take her game up from being a scorer to being a player that’s counted on at both ends of the floor.
“In my opinion, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to make that kind of change,” Faris said. “Kaleena’s an offensive player and that’s her thing. That’s always been her thing. To get an offensive player to want to have a huge impact on defense, you don’t find that often.”
You can find an example right here if you go back 15 years.
UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph was a big-time scorer in high school and did the same thing at the start of her playing career with the Huskies in 1996-97.
But it wasn’t until 2000 when she had career highs in rebounds, assists, and steals did she earn All-America status.
“It’s not really difficult,” Ralph said. “But you have to understand that you have to do it if you want to become a great player and that might be hard. It’s hard sometimes to get someone to not be content with who they are. But if you’re a competitor, you want to be great at everything.
“If you have the mindset that you don’t want to be great at everything, that you don’t want to win at everything, you’ll never be as good as you can be and you’ll certainly never be a great player here.”
And Mosqueda-Lewis wants to be a great player here.
She gives Faris credit for inspiring her.
“She is the best person to push me. She is the best person to be around,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Kelly is the definition of doing little things and I try to emulate her and do the things that she does on and off the court.”
Mosqueda-Lewis learned the hard way about little things in the NCAA Final Four loss to Notre Dame in Denver.
Faris had rallied the Huskies into a two-point lead with 11.8 seconds left. Skylar Diggins missed a runner in the lane but the Irish’s Natalie Novosel beat Mosqueda-Lewis to the rebound and scored to tie it with 4.6 seconds to go. Notre Dame went on to win 83-75 in overtime and end UConn’s season for the second straight year.
Perhaps, that’s one reason for her emphasis on rebounding.
“She’s reminded of that,” Ralph said.
UConn (23-1 overall, 10-1 Big East) will take an 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at the RAC and needs to keep winning to keep pace with Notre Dame in the league race. The Irish are at Marquette Sunday.
The Huskies would like to continue to build momentum heading into Monday night’s showdown with defending national champion and No. 1 Baylor at the XL Center in Hartford and that means they will not overlook Rutgers.
“This isn’t one of those throw-away games where Saturday you have a game against a team that in their wildest dreams couldn’t beat you at home,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It actually works out better for us that we have a road game against a really tough team in a tough place to play before Monday’s game. I think it really works to our advantage.”
It could be UConn’s last visit to the RAC for a Big East game. Rutgers is scheduled to join the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season.
The Scarlet Knights (14-9, 5-5) will make their second bid at giving Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer her 900th career win. They are coming off a 60-57 loss at DePaul on Tuesday.