KML finding groove at right time


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- During Connecticut's run to the 2013 national championship, there was one player in particular the Huskies never really worried about. That was Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was very consistent as a sophomore. There wasn't much in the way of ups and downs for her, even when the Huskies were having them.

This year, though, the Huskies are perfect entering the Women's Final Four, but Mosqueda-Lewis' season has had the twists and turns of a miniseries. It started with a right-elbow injury in just the second game of the season, on Nov. 11 against Stanford.

She returned from that -- after missing eight games -- to hit a career-high seven 3-pointers against Duke on Dec. 17. Then came an injury to her left elbow on Feb. 9, although she played through that. But mononucleosis hit next, causing her to miss another four games.

"If she didn't have bad luck this season," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said, "she'd have no luck."

At the Lincoln Regional, Mosqueda-Lewis was asked what one word would sum up her season. Her answer was immediate: "Sucky."

Which is actually pretty harsh. Because here she is back in the Final Four, and the reality is that she has played splendidly during this postseason. In the seven games of the American Athletic Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, Mosqueda-Lewis has averaged 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds, with 22 assists. She was named the most outstanding player of the Lincoln Regional.

"I'm proud and happy for Kaleena; she had never been hurt before, and she's had to fight through a lot," Dailey said. "She knows we need her."

And Mosqueda-Lewis had been very versatile, which has helped UConn (38-0).

"I've really put an emphasis on doing more than just shooting," she said. "Being a good shooter gives you the opportunity to do so many other things. Because defenders are going to come out to try to deny you so hard. You have a chance to dribble by them and to rebound more."

Mosqueda-Lewis, who is from Anaheim Hills, Calif., came across the country to go to UConn. That was reminiscent of another Huskies star from the Golden State, Diana Taurasi. And Mosqueda-Lewis wears No. 23 and is a very good 3-point shooter, much like the star who immediately preceded her at UConn, Maya Moore.

Taurasi was a confident and extroverted chatterbox who loved the limelight. Moore was more introverted but very prepared for being the Huskies' centerpiece.

KML, as she's known, has her own path to take. She's quieter and more prone to avoid the spotlight, even when she deserves it. She didn't start as a freshman but was still a very valuable piece of UConn's Final Four team in 2012, averaging 15.0 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Last year, as noted, she was unfailingly reliable, averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds and shot a 49.2 percent from 3-point range. Even though then-freshman Breanna Stewart was the most outstanding player of the 2013 Final Four, Mosqueda-Lewis came into this season with All-American expectations.

The hard fall on her elbow against Stanford was excruciating to watch, but even worse to experience.

"It was as bad as it looked," Mosqueda-Lewis said about what was later diagnosed as a nerve contusion. "It was the most pain I've ever felt in my life. Luckily, my mom was there [in Connecticut] then and was able to stay with me and take care of me.

"The only thing going through my head then was, 'Gosh, this hurts, and I don't know what's wrong with it.'"

Once she and the Huskies knew that it wasn't season-ending, though, that was a big relief. However, the subsequent injury to her other elbow, followed by her illness, really did take a toll on Mosqueda-Lewis' mindset on court. All of these ailments impacted her fitness, too, and at one point she just felt completely out of sorts and far from the talented player she knew she really was.

"It just seemed like when I came back, it wasn't the same person out there," Mosqueda-Lewis said of returning from mono. "I just had to talk to my teammates and coaches to find my confidence again."

Everyone pitched in with rebuilding that, including seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, who have been through their own injury issues in seasons past. Ultimately, coach Geno Auriemma told Mosqueda-Lewis that he had no doubts about her ability to be as big an impact player as she was before.

Those words meant a lot to her. Mosqueda-Lewis has a poker face for the most part on court and almost always seem unflappable. But teammates and coaches say that behind that game face is a very sensitive person who can worry a lot and dwell on the things that are bothering her.

But her mojo has come back at exactly the right time for Mosqueda-Lewis and UConn.

"I'm getting closer and closer to my normal self," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I've tried to keep the same mindset since the tournament started: Be aggressive, be positive. Whatever the team needs at that moment in the game, do it.

"I feel like this is the time when great players and great teams make their runs."