Chong delivers again for UConn
Chong did play 10 minutes against Texas as a sophomore and 10 more against Mississippi State a season ago in the Sweet 16 game but that was more of a case of somebody needing to eat up some minutes in a blowout victory.
Here minutes in today's regional semifinal came about because they were earned. Chong was out there for 38 minutes and often times she was the one asked to break UCLA's press. She hit some clutch shots, fought hard for some rebounds, had a couple of huge assists in the 86-71 victory.
The win the 151st since Chong and fellow senior Tierney Lawlor arrived at UConn matching the NCAA women's Division I record for wins in a career set by UConn's Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore from 2007-11.
"I left really good, I was out there just enjoying my time playing," said Chong, who had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in the UCLA win. "I had to go out there and do whatever my team needed of me and that was to handle the ball.
"That was my main thing, just having my teammates trust me, I am out there contributing any way that I can. Not just me but T (Lawlor), she has the number just like me and it has been a great ride and a lot of memories."
Chong's performance wasn't lost on her teammates or coaches.
"Saniya has done a great job this year, stepped into a huge role and done it flawlessly and today especially when we had a lot of pressure on us, she did a great job finding an opening, getting to the basket and making plays," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said. "It was a good ending and obviously we want to have a good ending for her and T this season and this is a good step from her.
"What we've saw from her was her talent and her ability to read the game before the play happens. I think the biggest thing that has changed for her is her confidence in herself and her understanding that her teammates have as much confidence in her as anybody else. She has really understood that we trust in her that she can make those plays."
Chong's career at UConn has followed a different script. With the way the Huskies bring in elite talent on an annual basis, if a player hasn't carved out a significant role by the end of their sophomore season it usually doesn't happen. However. Chong went from playing a total of nine minutes in UConn's final three NCAA tournament games a season ago to becoming a vital cog on a team three wins away from an unprecedented fifth straight national title.
"She has been really consistent this year in practice and in games," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "She played great today, she is our quickest player with the ball and having a ball screen, I don't know if anybody could stop her. She is a great 3-point shooters. She is another ball hander, she is a great free throw shooter so we are going to need her in the clutch but I thought she played really well.
"In the past I don't know if Saniya was either ready or capable of doing that but this year she had a great opportunity. She has taken it and been one of our most consistent players."