April 5, 2010
• UConn NCAA Tournament Central
By Lara Boyko
Whether it is driving the lane, pulling up for a jump-shot while being guarded or even taking a free-throw when loud fans are trying to be distracting, there are many aspects of basketball that can be difficult and challenge your confidence.
Yet for 5-foot-10 sophomore guard Tiffany Hayes on the Connecticut women's basketball team, it has been the nerve-wrecking moments both on and off the court that have helped her find her confidence.
"My confidence wasn't where it needed to be at the time," said Hayes of her freshman year. "Everyone says that last year's tournament was my coming out party and that's when my confidence really shot up."
"I also have seen my confidence increase off the court. When I came into college I was a shy person. Now when we go out I will speak up more. Even with the media I would say three words. Now, I talk more. I think that motivation from comes from everywhere. From my coaches, teammates and personal life, I've been pushed to go harder every day."
Hayes' confidence may have started to be seen 12 months ago, it has been a lifetime of playing against some of the toughest competition that has laid the foundation.
"My 26-year old brother - who is 6-foot-8 -- used to kill me when we played one-on-one," said Hayes. "We still play together and I get in some good practices against him. He's always told me that if I can play against him, I can play against anybody. He is big and he blocks my shots so much. I would just have to keep shooting until he gets tired and I can start making some shots. I think working against a 6-foot-8 big brother has to give you some kind of advantage."
This advantage was seen during last year's NCAA Women's Division I Tournament when Hayes contributed 11 points in Connecticut's NCAA National Championship Game win over Louisville and finished with a season-best 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field which included 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range in the NCAA Regional Semifinal win over California.
"It was just the fact that coach told me that the team needed me no matter what I thought and that I needed to work hard day in and day out in order to do what I needed to during the game," said Hayes. "People were going to leave me open because I was a freshman last year and nobody knew a lot about me so I was the 'X' factor."
With the secret being out on Hayes during this season as one of four players on the Connecticut team to average in double-digit figures, she has had to keep up the on-court confidence. Unfortunately it has been an unpleasant off-court experience that has helped to maintain this focus.
"My grandma went into the hospital two and a half to three months ago and had two surgeries," said Hayes. "She is still there and has to use a feeding tube. She is talking better, but she is fighting. She makes me want to play my hardest because I know she watches my game. She loves watching me play and likes to see me do well. I know it makes her happy so that's why I try to play well."
Her passion for wanting to best on the court is helping her team keep playing late in the season, but it is some of the off-court passions that reminds her teammates of how she stays true to herself at all times.
"I think she could eat eggs and bacon every morning for the rest of her life and she will be the happiest person alive," said teammate and roommate Caroline Doty. "I don't see her cook much else except eggs and bacon."
"She also loves SpongeBob SquarePants. She has a SpongeBob SquarePants sippy cup and we have a life-size Spongebob that is part of the furniture in our living room. If anyone touches him or messes with him, forget about it as that person could lose an arm or a leg."
For more coverage, visit the NCAA.com Women's Basketball Blog.