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  • SOURCE: JOURNAL INQUIRER | By Carl Adamec, Dec. 4, 2010

    STORRS — Bria Hartley promises that she’ll start smiling more once her braces come off on Dec. 22.

    But that doesn’t mean the University of Conncticut women’s basketball team’s freshman guard isn’t pleased with the way the top-ranked Huskies have started. UConn (7-0) will go for its 86th straight win Sunday when it plays host to Sacred Heart at the XL Center in Hartford (1 p.m., WEDH-TV24, WTIC-AM1080).

    “I’m very happy, but I know I have a long way to go and I still have a lot of things that I need to work on,” Hartley said after practice Friday at Gampel Pavilion. “I have to be stronger mentally and I have to be ready for 40 minutes every night.

    “But it’s beginning to click in my mind a bit. The beginning of the season was rough. I’m trying to improve every day and do that by doing my tasks and stepping up to the challenges.”

    In seven games, including five starts, the North Babylon, N.Y. native is averaging 13.9 points and 3.6 assists in 32.1 minutes. Her assist-to-turnover ration is nearly 2-to-1.

    Those numbers compare quite favorably to three former UConn point guards that went on to earn All-America status.

    In 1992-93, Jennifer Rizzotti averaged 12.6 points and 3.1 assists through seven games. Sue Bird played just eight games as a freshman in 1998-99 before suffering a season ending knee surgery. She averaged 5.1 points and 3.1 assists. Five years ago, Renee Montgomery averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 assists in her first seven games.

    “The biggest similarity I see between Bria and some of the other guards that we’ve had that have been really good is her confidence level,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Bria does not lack confidence. She is sure of herself. She’s not afraid. Those are qualities all those guys had.

    “Bria’s situation now is probably more similar to Jennifer’s as a freshman because it’s a lot of young guys that haven’t played together long. Hopefully she can turn into the kind of leader that Jennifer was. Bria needs to be more vocal.”

    That would also make Hartley a lot more like Montgomery.

    “Bria’s better offensively than Renee was as a freshman,” Auriemma said. “She’s a little bigger and can get to more places and do more things. She’s as confident as Renee but doesn’t have Renee’s personality and Bria needs to develop that. But then Renee didn’t do it until her junior year.”

    Hartley is satisfied making her own name with her game.

    But like her predecessors, she’s adjusting to everything that goes wrong being her fault. That’s a responsibility all of Auriemma’s point guards carry.

    “Bria’s in a tough spot,” teammate Maya Moore said. “It’s hard being the point guard at Connecticut because you have to be good at so many things. You have to think like Coach thinks and that’s tough because he’s a genius at the game. And it’s not like he just teaches A, B, C, D. There are reads you have to make, adjustments you make, using your imagination … In high school with set plays it’s structured. Here, it’s more conceptual.

    “She has her moments where it’s really exciting when she makes a great move or great play. Then there are other times where it’s little things like a turnover, and decisions that don’t work out. It’s part of being a freshman. I just want her to keep working hard because she’s a big piece of the puzzle. It’s important for her to find consistency.”

    Part of Hartley’s early education came last summer during team workouts.

    Then in August, she attended Point Guard College [College Player’s Session] in Boston.

    “I had never heard of it before,” Hartley said. “There were three sessions per day. There’d be an hour in the classroom followed by two hours in the gym. Then we’d get a break for lunch and there’d be another classroom session. We’d have dinner and then it was to the gym. And I thought at that time I was all done with summer school.

    “But it definitely helped. It helped with my court awareness. The way we played games, since we were all point guards, was different. You needed to be vocal and talking and encouraging others. You had to go outside your comfort zone and try new things. It was tough mentally but I figured as long as I was there, I need to get better. I really started to enjoy it as it went along.”

    “It’s difficult to play that position at this level and handle the demands and the grind every day, every day, every day.”

    Hartley is doing her best and credits injured junior tri-captain Caroline Doty for helping her make progress. Doty was the starter at the point for last season’s 39-0 national championship team.

    “I just try to follow her leadership and listen to what she says,” Hartley said.

    UConn has not lost to an in-state opponent since 1983 and that streak figures to continue Sunday against Sacred Heart. The Pioneers (3-3) are led by senior guard Alisa Apo and junior forward Callan Taylor.

    [Read the complete article on UCONN’s Bria Hartley.]

    UCONN’s Bria Hartley (2010) and Lorin Dixon (2009) attended Point Guard College’s basketball training program for college basketball players in 2010.

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