Aug. 7, 2013
Storrs, Conn – Something clicked for University of Connecticut senior guard Bria Hartley this past March when the Huskies entered the 2013 NCAA Women’s Tournament, and she hasn’t skipped a beat since then. Nearly four months removed from helping to lead the Huskies to a national title, Hartley has had a productive summer playing in the World University Games, earning a gold medal while posting impressive numbers, and looks poised for a huge senior campaign.
The North Babylon, N.Y. native was the center of attention for much of the 2012-13 season for her inconsistent play, one year after becoming just the fourth UConn sophomore ever to be named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/State Farm All-America Team. Lofty expectations were set for Hartley but an early season ankle injury kept her off the court for much of the team’s first few weeks of non-conference play. She recorded less than 30 minutes of game action in four of the team’s first five games and when she returned to the Huskies lineup for good it was apparent that something wasn’t right.
“I think in the beginning it was more physical but a few games into the season my struggles definitely became mental,” said Hartley. “Coming back from injury from injury and not playing up to my standards threw me off a little bit. It was frustrating because you want to be able to go out there right away and play the way you’re used to. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.”
While the 5-8 guard’s regular season numbers, which included averages of 9.0 points, 3.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals, were good enough to earn her a 2012-13 All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention, it was not what Husky fans were used to seeing from one of their star players. Luckily for the UConn faithful, Hartley elevated her game when it mattered most – the NCAA Tournament.
Over the team’s six tournament games, Hartley posted 10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals in an average of 28.7 minutes, displaying the confidence and decision-making that head coach Geno Auriemma was used to seeing from his key veteran.
“You want to have a full consistent season, but at the end of the day, when we really needed it I’m glad I could play the way I’m know I’m capable of playing,” she said of her tournament run. “Our goal was to win the national championship and even though we had some bumps in the road, individually and collectively as a team, we stepped up when it mattered most.”
For Hartley, it was exactly what she needed to get her confidence back. She kept up her hot play at the 2013 World University Games, posting a game-high 17 points on 6-7 shooting, narrowly edging out teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who had 15 points, to lead the United States to a 90-71 victory against Russia in the gold medal game. Fellow senior Stefanie Dolson has kept tabs on her Husky teammate throughout the summer and said she was encouraged by what she saw from Hartley on and off the court.
“She did have an up-and-down season this year but the best thing she did was to play for the USA in the World University Games,” said Dolson. “She’s back to where she used to be. She’s not second guessing herself and she has her confidence back so it’s really nice to see her playing the way she is now. I think she’s ready for her senior season.”
Hartley and Dolson will be the lone seniors on the 2013-14 squad and understand the importance of keeping the younger players focused on the ultimate goal of winning another national title. The loss of Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty, and Heather Buck puts extra pressure on Hartley to perform as a leader for Auriemma.
“I think there’s a certain standard that UConn Athletics holds itself to,” stated Hartley. “So when we have freshmen coming in who haven’t really experienced those standards, we try to show them the ropes. Each year you take on more and more of that leadership role. Now that I’m a senior, it means that I really have to go out there and fully embrace that role.”
“When I was a freshman, Caroline Doty was the one that stepped up and guided me,” she said.“Kelly Faris is one of those lead by example kind of people. She’s always doing the right thing and that’s something you can model yourself after. Heather Buck also brought us positive energy and kept us from getting down on ourselves. We’re going to miss them but it’ll be a good opportunity for the upperclassmen to step up to fill the loss.”
One of the unique challenges for this Connecticut team is that they have only two returning guards, Hartley and Moriah Jefferson, who burst onto the scene with her electrifying speed in her freshman campaign. Hartley takes it upon herself to continue to work on her craft so that opposing defenses can’t make the Husky offense one dimensional. With UConn playing in its first ever season in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies will face a mix of teams that they aren’t familiar with and must quickly adapt to their new conference foes.
“I’ve been doing workouts and trying to get in better shape,” she said. “I’m working on improving my ball handling and I think it helps other things as well, like making my shot more consistent. There are always things I want to improve on and I think I can definitely make some tweaks in my game that will help our offense run more efficiently. Entering a new conference and coming off a national championship, we have a target on our backs so we can’t get satisfied.”
“As a team we want to go out there and win another national championship,” Hartley said, smiling. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Huskies are returning four of their five starters from last year and if they can get a confident Bria Hartley back in the lineup to lead the offense, the 2013-14 team could soon be headed for the record books.