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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Looking back at Bria Hartley's move to the bench

Even since that late April day when I heard UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey tell the story about how All-American guard Bria Hartley volunteered to come off the bench during the Huskies' run to an eighth national title, getting the chance to speak to the former All-American guard about how that all transpired was on my to-do list.

Well, that finally happened on Monday when all nine scholarship players were made available to us.

Let's start with the background. UConn coach Geno Auriemma gathered the guards around him and said that status quo was simply not going to get the job done. He told them they held the fate of the season in their hands. Before the meeting was over Hartley was the one who stepped up to the plate.

Here is what Dailey said during a luncheon honoring former UConn star Tina Charles' philanthropic endeavors.

"I think was one of the turning points for us was he met with our guards for probably an hour or hour and a half and talked  with them about what we needed moving forward and how important their play was going to be on whether we were going to have a chance to win a national championship," Dailey said. "He had to get the guards to see what he saw and that we needed to have more from our guards and we needed to bring more off the bench. In doing that he had to ask Bria Hartley, actually she volunteered, to volunteer to come off the bench. Bria Hartley last year was an All-American as a sophomore when we went to the Final Four. She had a difficult year because of injury, she didn't play the same way, she struggled and was up and down the whole year. In this meeting she volunteered to come off the bench and be that person that we need to give us more offense off the bench. I couldn't have been happier for Bria because I think that says everything you need to know about her. She wants to win a national championship and she knew that was what she had to do, that was the role she had to fill and she was a big part of why we won the game. People like to point out Breanna Stewart and how she played but I am telling you that if Bria Hartley doesn't accept that role and doesn't realize that 'hey I want to win a national championship and this is my best chance to do it with my teammates.' We don't win the national championship this year regardless of how Breanna Stewart played. I was happiest for Bria.

"She is our most confident, most competitive (player). We were standing in the runway (before the national semifinal against Notre Dame) and I looked at her and said 'this could be our last practice.' She said 'it won't be.' I said 'are you guaranteeing that?' She said 'yes.' I said 'all right.' I knew for three days that there was no way we were going to lose to Notre Dame because of the way our kids approached it and the way Bria approached it and the way people accepted their roles."

After starting 34 of 38 games as a freshman, all 38 games during her sophomore season and started 28 more times last season. But knowing that Auriemma was looking for an offensive spark off the bench, Hartley volunteered to go from a starting role to that of a reserve.

"It is not the easiest thing to do because I want to start and I want to play but sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get what you really want," Hartley said. "That is one of the main things I learned being at Connecticut and it actually helped me grow up a little bit and be more mature. A lot of stuff that Coach Auriemma told me to do and CD talked to me and I just knew if we wanted the best chance to win that we needed to do. They knew it wasn't easy for me, at the time it was like 'oh, the Coaches don't understand what I am going through'. But they did (understand) because they have been doing this for a long time and a lot of players have had their struggles. It is great to see how much they help and how much they  it helped me grow as a player."

Hartley's move meant a lot to her coaches and teammates especially after the lineup shakeup helped spur the Huskies to the national title.

"That obviously shows how unselfish we are as a team and how unselfish Bria was," said Breanna Stewart, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Final Four.."Obviously when you are a basketball player, everybody wants to start and for Bria to be able to say that she would come off the bench it is obviously a sign of how mature she was because she knew that would be beneficial to our team. It was a great leadership moment I think."

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