Women's Basketball: Women's basketball win seals UConn's fourth double Final Four
Texas A&M’s Tavarsha Scott-Williams (32) tries to get by Connecticut’s Stefanie Dolson (31) during the first half of their regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Lincoln, Neb. AP
LINCOLN, Neb. - The UConn women's basketball team makes a habit of churning out numbers, statistics and records that are incredible, even knowing its level of dominance. Monday night, they produced yet another in that long line of impressive statistics.
The Huskies have now made 15 Final Fours in their history, but seven of them have come in consecutive years: back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, the two seniors on this squad, have never known a season without a Final Four waiting for them at the end.
"I think it just says a lot to how hard we've worked all these years," Hartley said. "Each team that we're on, different teammates, but we made sure that we always met our goal. We made sure we tried to play our best basketball every year."
That alone is astounding. For a player to go through a program for four years and go 16-0 in the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament is remarkable.
But even more remarkable is the fact that Dolson and Hartley are not the first senior class in UConn history to do it. Far from it.
The Class of '04 - Maria Conlon, Morgan Valley and Diana Taurasi - did it first. Between then, it has happened three more times. In fact, it has happened for four consecutive graduating classes. Five times total. It would have been six had the 2002-03 Huskies had a senior on the squad.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," Hartley said. "You look at the history of this program and they were just able to do so much in the past 15, 20 years. UConn's always been a dominant program and (Geno Auriemma) is the consistent factor in all of that, him and his coaching staff.
"It's kind of the way he's able to bring out the most in players, the way the staff is going to develop players and the concept he teaches his players as well. You go out here and you kind of buy into his way because he's been through this so many times before."
For the man on the opposite bench Monday night - and as a coach who's won a national championship - Gary Blair had the same high praise for Auriemma.
"You don't know how hard it is to be the favorite all the time and have everybody come at you," Blair said. "And every game you go on the road is the best crowd of the season for that particular team. ... Geno's very good at making sure they keep their heads straight. Just give the guy credit. The players are special, but it all starts with that coach."
And for those next in line, the hope - or perhaps more accurately, the expectation - is that this class won't be the last to pull it off.
"People think that just because we go to Connecticut we're supposed to make it, and that it's just going to happen for us," junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "But I know being here, that we've worked very single year to get where we are, and we cherish it every single year."
Perfect time to peak
Last season, it was Breanna Stewart who toiled through the doldrums of winter before exploding in March. This season, it has been Mosqeuda-Lewis.
After laboring through a regular season marred by two elbow injuries and a bout with mononucleosis, Mosqueda-Lewis has come alive. So alive, in fact, that she was the unanimous Most Outstanding Player of the Lincoln Regional.
"I just look at it as a clean slate," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "This tournament was a chance for me to turn things around and not really worry about my injury or sickness. I've just been able to help my team the best I can."
Indeed, the junior forward has done plenty for her team over the past four games.
Aside from her typical sharpshooting, she has provided a much-needed spark on the glass, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Through four games, she has averaged 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds.
"It's really important [to peak at the right time]," Hartley said, who also came on last season in March after struggling with an ankle injury. "If you play well this last stretch in the NCAA tournament, you kind of forget the struggles you had all year."
Auriemma hasn't forgotten Mosqueda-Lewis' struggles, but he certainly appreciates the progress.
"I told her to stop feeling sorry for herself," Auriemma said, "that nobody was going to feel sorry for her...I was ecstatic for her, that she was MVP of this tournament, how well she played."
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