Special day at the office for UConn's seniors
The wide-open 3-pointer with 2:08 remaining would have put the perfect capper on the final regular-season home game for Lawlor and fellow senior Saniya Chong. However, watching the ball bounce off the rim was about the only thing that didn't go according to script in the win over Memphis.
After being honored before the game, both seniors had their moments to shine in the 91-48 victory.
Chong finished with 14 points, seven assists (pushing her over 100 during her senior season). Lawlor didn't score but she got a charge out of assisting on Katie Lou Samuelson's four-point play to open the scoring. It was one of her two assists. She also had two rebounds and a steal in 10 minutes of action.
"It was exciting to be recognized," Lawlor said. "It was kind of nerve wracking at the start but it was a lot of fun."
Lawlor's hometown of Ansonia was well represented in the second home sellout of the season. Some busloads of fans made the trip to watch Lawlor be honored and earn her first career start.
"I think it was fun for them just to come up here and say, 'hey I know her. I hang out with her at
home' and that kind of stuff," Lawlor said.
Chong also had plenty of supporters including her high school coach Dan Ricci from Ossining High School.
"The first couple of years it has been a struggle but T, she has always been with me and helping me
out," Chong said. "It just really makes me happy that we both worked through it. It is our senior year, we've had a great year and a great game
"I was just making sure everybody was out there having fun and even if things didn't go well, at
least we are still working hard and connecting with each other."
In each of the previous three seasons the senior class featured a player who would be a member of the Huskies of Honor. It wasn't lost on UConn coach Geno Auriemma that this group of seniors may not have the star power of past groups but deserved their moment in the sun just as much.
"It is not like we are playing for a championship of anything and it is not like these two kids have
been iconic All-American players since they have been at UConn, they are just two regular kids that
spent a good part of their lives up here," Auriemma said. "Our fans were reminding me of the old days. It reminded me back in the day when we were getting this (a sellout) every game so I know it was really a thrill for Saniya and T to play in front of that kind of crowd on Senior
Last year UConn missed its first 12 shots on Senior Day and trailed by 11 against Tulane. Even though UConn would win by 40, the underclassmen were determined to get rolling a little earlier this time around. Katie Lou Samuelson had 11 of her 29 points in the first quarter, Napheesa Collier had 19 points, six rebounds, two steals and three blocked shots while Gabby Williams contributed 8 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
"Sometimes when you are playing in a game like this, the two of them weren't going to make it a memorable night for themselves, they needed help from everybody else and they got it," Auriemma said. "They were just able to play. It was the kind of Senior Night that you want to have, those are the things that are supposed to happen on Senior Night. You get to celebrate and you get to play well and bask in a little bit of the glow."
A few notes:
UConn is now 144-1 since the seniors arrived giving UConn the top eight winningest senior classes in NCAA Division I women's basketball history.
Collier now has 51 steals and 52 blocked shots. She joins Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart as only UConn players with 50 steals and 50 blocks in the same season. Among current Division I women's basketball players, only UCLA's Monique Billings, Loyola Marymount's Jackie Johnson and Alyssa James of Binghamton join Collier in the 50-50 club.
Last but certainly not least, Auriemma said that junior guard Kia Nurse (who missed her third game in a row due to a stress reaction in her right ankle) is expected back on the court next week.
"Wednesday she should be getting back into some sort of basketball stuff, how much I don't know," Auriemma said. "Where will she be by Saturday when we play our first game (in the AAC tournament) ? I don't know. She told me she is playing. I said, 'I heard you are playing, I am penciling you in for the second round of the NCAA tournament. That didn't go over too well. I might get a hockey puck at my head of something."
UConn has clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AAC tournament. Barring an upset by USF on Monday, Temple, USF and UCF will be seeded second, third and fourth while East Carolina is locked into the No. 11 seed.
UConn will open up on Saturday against the winner of the 8/9 game at 2 p.m. (according to the bracket on the AAC site, 2 p.m. on the schedule on the UConn site). With a win the Huskies would play either at 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. in Sunday's semifinals. It should be noted that as of right now the quarterfinal game IS NOT scheduled to be televised but is being streamed on ESPN3. The first semifinal will air on ESPN2 while the title game is also on ESPN2.
I would be remiss without mentioning that with Lawlor starting, somebody had to fill in on her normal job of high fiving teammates after a made 3-pointer. The first time I looked over there, it was Azura' Stevens doing the honors.