11:31 PM EST, January 21, 2013
— Geno Auriemma, a Hall of Fame coach who has seen it all, done it all over nearly three decades in Storrs, knew when he had witnessed something special.
The opposing coach, one whose team had trailed by only two at halftime and still lost by 30, knew it, too. And so did the 9,672 fans that pushed their way into Gampel Pavilion for this Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup between the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the nation.
That's why Auriemma gave Kelly Faris this enormous bear hug when she jogged off the court with 96 seconds left in UConn's 79-49 rout of Duke. That's why the fans gave her a standing ovation and chanted, "Kel-ly Far-is! Kel-ly Far-is!' at that moment and again at the final buzzer.
And that's why Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie just shook her head and said, "She is really a special player. Look at that stat line …"
And so we did: a season-high 18 points, a career-high tying 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and the primary responsibility for holding Chelsea Gray to two points on 1-for-6 shooting. There are no quantifiable metrics, not yet anyway, for floor burns, bumps, bruises and assorted abrasions, but undoubtedly the senior from Indiana would have filled that stat line out, too.
"Kelly Faris is a great example to a lot of young kids that you don't have to have awesome size in order to get the job done," McCallie said. "She was great for her team."
Faris was. And she wasn't last season at Duke when the Huskies won by 16 points, no thanks in Auriemma's estimation to Kelly Faris.
"This morning I watched last year's Duke game," Auriemma said. "I came and said, to the coaches, 'If Kelly Faris and Tiffany Hayes had not played in that game and we had just played with three guys and two walk-ons we could have won by 50.' That's how horrendous those two guys played."
So Auriemma said he sat there, shaking his head, talking to Shea Ralph, Marisa Moseley and Chris Dailey and wondering what were the chances that Faris doesn't remember that game.
"Of course she remembers that," Auriemma said. "Kelly remembers everything. So what happened in the second half was indescribable. That's one of those occasions where if you were watching it in the stands, if you were on the bench, if you were fortunate enough to be part of what Kelly Faris did tonight, you just saw a performance people are going to be talking about for a long time.
"There have been some great players play in this building, there has been some legends play in this building wearing the Connecticut uniform, but I don't know that anybody ever represented that uniform, herself, her family the way that kid did tonight. I know there are a lot of great players out there, All-Americans, but man oh man, that was one for the ages."
It's amazing, really, how the opposing coaches have lined up after games to praise Faris this season. Jen Rizzotti, McCallie and on and on. Look, she plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. She hustles until her spleen hurts. The intelligence, the effort, they have been there for four years.
It's more than that now. She's making her shots. Her skill level has improved to match her will level and her will level just seems to be getting higher and higher. A year ago, you would have said Faris is an important player. Now you say she is a vital player to UConn's national championship hopes.
Faris, a coach's daughter, doesn't see the world in "me" terms. Faris, 5-11 senior guard, doesn't see the game in "I' terms. To listen to her is like listening to a young coach talk. That's why afterward she put us in the locker room at halftime, and again after the Huskies had improved to 17-1.
"I told them in the locker room it's so much more fun when we play like we did in the second half," Faris said. "We all felt it. I think everybody in the gym felt it. It was something different, something clicked. These are the games we live for."
Strangely enough, it seemed to click after Stefanie Dolson, a rock this season in the middle, left the game with her fourth foul with 16:15 left.
"Pivotal point in the game," Faris said. "You can either use it as an excuse or figure out another way to get things done."
The Huskies figured out another way. They led by only six when Dolson went out, but before you knew it they went on a 22-2 tear and it was over.
"I think a lot of it was frustration with how he had been playing the last few games, and our turnovers," Faris said. "At halftime, it was 12-3 on turnovers, stupid errors on our part. It was a matter of buckling down, bringing energy, playing smarter. We tried really hard not to even give them a glimpse of coming back."
This was her second double-double of the season and third of her career. Faris had 13 points and 11 rebounds against Notre Dame. She put 18 and 12 on Duke. It's clear now that she intends to play her best against the best.
"I don't even care about all [the numbers]," she said. "I just care about the second half and how it felt. Everybody in the gym felt how fun it was for us and how we came together."
On defense, Faris did her best to deny Gray the ball. She runs the Duke offense and Faris did everything she could to face guard her. And the 12 rebounds for a guard, something that blew McCallie's mind?
"Rebounding is determination," Faris said. "Some depends on your size. But, really, it is about effort, determination and reading the way a ball is going to come off. If you want to get the ball, you're going to get the ball."
Faris wants the ball. Always. Right down to the final two plays, when she forced a steal against Chloe Wells and on the other end dove on the floor for one final rebound. Dogged, thy name is Faris. There was even one play earlier in the game when Faris nearly stole an inbound pass and came face to face with Auriemma on the sidelines. He made this monkey-face from about six inches away.
"I wasn't expecting it," Faris said. "He lightens things up."
Auriemma wasn't lightening things up in the locker room after 20 minutes.
"Coach was pretty mad at halftime, might have been the most mad he has been in a while," Faris said. "He didn't know what to say to us. He said that. He was at a loss what to say to us to get us going. We were mad, too. We had 32 points at halftime and when you think about it for us that's pretty horrible. We knew we could do better."
And so they did.
Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko was watching it all at courtside on this night. He believes Faris has a future in the WNBA.
"I think she does," Sienko said. "She does all the dirty work. She reminds me of Carla Berube in some ways. A hard worker, quiet, but she does all the little stuff."
And, on this night, Kelly Faris did them all in an enormous way, in an All-American way.
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