Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guru's Commentary: Mosqueda-Lewis' Injury Casts Some Doubt Into UConn Assumptions

By Mel Greenberg   

STORRS, Conn. – In the storied women’s basketball history of the powerful University of Connecticut program, Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies have been able to dominate most anything except being able to ride one X factor known as assumption.

Against that intangible the record has been less gaudy than it has been against most teams such as No. 3 Stanford of whom the defending national champions routed 76-57 in UConn’s campus arena Gampel Pavilion Monday night in a nationally-televised contest to close out the opening weekend of the 2013-14 season.

Since taking advantage of conference rival Louisville’s shocker over then-No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet 16 last season to blast its way to a record-tying eighth national crown on the play of freshman sensation Breanna Stewart assumption returned to these parts big time.

Having lost just one key performer in Kelly Faris and being loaded with the potential of as many as four All-American candidates the storyline has been that Auriemma’s bunch was hands down better than anyone else and not only would title number nine join the other eight in this direction in April but the chance to match or surpass the 10 NCAA trophies amassed by UCLA men’s coach John Wooden would likely happen soon enough.

The only problem with the fulfilling the expectation is that between now and March Madness one must go out and play the schedule, test one’s self against the premium challengers and try to avoid the pitfalls that could come out of nowhere.

Most years, UConn has been able to achieve the goal and play out the assumption devoid of harm’s way but other times the quest has fallen short either because it just wasn’t the Huskies’ night or more importantly because injury might rob the Huskies’ machine of important parts.

It happened several years ago right before the back-to-back unbeaten runs of 2009 and 2010 when the Huskies started out like gangbusters steamrolling Stanford in a Thanksgiving tournament in the tropics only to be upended several months later when they lost two key players along the way and the Cardinal got revenge in the national semifinals.

Injuries struck several times in the late 1990s after the first NCAA triumph with the 1995 Rebecca Lobo unbeaten bunch to deprive UConn of trophies when Nykesha Sales tore her Achilles heel as a senior near the end of 1998 just before she was about to set a new then-career scoring mark for the program.

Sue Bird in her freshman year in 1999 was involved in another effort cut short when she suffered a torn ACL and then in 2001 following the 2000 homecoming triumph of Auriemma landing a crown in his native Philadelphia, now-assistant coach Shea Ralph suffered her third ACL just before the NCAAs and Svetlana Abrisomova was lost several weeks early with a foot injury against Tennessee.

And with that in mind, the great expectations of 2013-14 got hit with a morsel of doubt just under two minutes into the second half when All-American junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis battling for a rebound hit the floor hurting her elbow, which elicited her screaming in pain before Auriemma approached with some calming words and the medical people were able to take her to the locker room.

In an instant the nearly-sellout crowd of 9,529 came to a complete hush, perhaps many of the longtime fans recalling the aforementioned past injuries besides wishing the best for one of their star players.

The score was 41-26 at the moment of impact but the Huskies were able to shake off the harrowing scene and keep their foot on the pedal to run over a young Stanford squad whose semblance of any offense was reduced to the work of senior standout Chiney Oguwmike, who scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and junior guard Amber Orrange, who collected 22 points.

On the UConn side, the big numbers came from Bria Hartley with 20 points as the senior was back in the form of her sophomore year before knee injuries hampered her last season.

Kiah Stokes, the junior reserve playing what Auriemma said was her best night in a UConn uniform, had 10 points and eight rebounds while Morgan Tuck also helped make up for Mosqueda-Lewis’ exit with 11 points.

The mishap put a dent in the start of a busy week in terms of going against some premium opponents.

“This game, except for Kaleena getting hurt probably went exactly the way you hoped it would go,” Auriemma explained. “We played great at times. We played terrible at times. We struggled. We had to overcome certain things and in the end we beat a pretty good team and we had the game in hand the whole second half.

“So that’s better than just coming out here and making every shot and winning by 35.”

But suddenly the eagerness to move out of Monday night’s matchup and hit the road to visiting No. 8 Maryland Friday night and then No. 13 Penn State on Sunday which would provide a great early read of where things stand has been quickly eclipsed by concern until the doctors’ evaluations of Mosqueda-Lewis are known perhaps as early sometime Tuesday.

“They really don’t know anything right now,” Auriemma said at the usual packed postgame press conference. “She landed with her palm on the floor and then her arm bent when her elbow hit the floor so there’s two separate things there that they are trying to figure out.

“Kaleena’s not one to be injured so I’m sure it’s all new to her,” Auriemma said of her reaction as the injury occurred. “From my standpoint, our fingers are crossed the entire season (that injuries or other problems don’t occur) so anything we see that looks like that is kind of disheartening a little bit.

Auriemma went on to talk about the other facets of the game but of course the questions returned about Mosqueda-Lewis.

“Hard to tell,” he responded as to whether in his long career he could tell by a player’s reaction how bad things might be.

“Some people scream and yell like they just got run over by a car and then it turns out it’s nothing,” he said. “Cause mostly they’re panicking. They’re scared.

“I remember we were running a 3-on-2 drill when Sue Bird was here and she said, `Ooh. I felt something.’

  “I go, `You allright?’ And she says, `Yeah, I’m good. Just keep going.’

“And turns out she just tore her ACL,” he continued. “It’s confusing because everybody reacts differently.

 Some minor things hurt like hell and some major things don’t hurt at all.

 I’ve learned to wait, let it go, and wait till the doctors and (trainer) Rosemary (Ragle) tell me what’s going on.

“But having said that, I don’t think she’s going to play this weekend. That’s just my guess based on how these things go.”

Now all that UConn nation can do is wait and hope that how Monday night’s mishap goes is just a temporary scare and not ultimately a return to some of the historical disappointments of the past.

-- Mel


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