Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. A winner in every way. Story by Rich Elliott.
By Rich Elliott
TAMPA – There were moments early on in her career when senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was uncertain whether or not she could continue as a member of the UConn women’s basketball program.
Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma was relentless in his quest to help her become the best player possible. This is how he is with all of the players that he views as having the ability to achieve greatness. Yet, as a young player, his constant verbal razors are difficult to take absorb.
Mosqueda-Lewis never did halt her pursuit of greatness. She persevered. And heading into the final game of her career Tuesday night against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament final at Amalie Arena (8:30; ESPN), she has firmly established herself as one of the elite players in team history.
``I think any player that’s played at UConn has had those days or had those times with him,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. ``But I think we have a lot of examples of reassurance in Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird and Maya Moore that, `You know what? I think I could endure this to try to be where they are.’
``I definitely don’t think that if I went anywhere else I would’ve become the player that I am now without Coach Auriemma constantly pressing my buttons or pushing me the way that he did. A lot of times I left practice hating him. And now as a senior looking back I’ve realized that if it weren’t for those days I wouldn’t be able to have impacted my teammates the way that I have or impact the game the way that I have.’’
Mosqueda-Lewis, a two-time WBCA All-America, is one of 16 players to be inducted into the Huskies of Honor, which cements her place as one of the all-time great players that have ever worn the uniform. She is the most prolific 3-pointer shooter in NCAA history with 396 in 141 games.
Mosqueda-Lewis is also ranked ninth all-time in scoring in tournament history (359). Moore (476) and Taurasi (428) are the only UConn players ahead of her. She is ranked third in tournament history behind Taurasi (61) and Moore (59) with 50 3-pointers. And, simply put, she is a winner.
The Huskies are a combined 145-10 (.935) with two national championships and four Final Four appearances since Mosqueda-Lewis joined the program in 2011.
``I think without her we wouldn’t be as successful as we are,’’ sophomore Morgan Tuck said. ``And I think for her to get the NCAA record when she missed (12 games) last season I think speaks to how good she really is. Because if she played last season she would’ve shattered the record, I believe, earlier this year. She’s just someone that helps everyone else out. She has a really positive attitude. She’s always cracking jokes and making people smile. She brings a positive attitude to the team and I think that helps everybody.’’
Said junior Moriah Jefferson: ``Playing with K, it’s incredible. Just to watch her shoot the way that she does. To see games where she makes seven 3s. She’s made eight 3s where she’s just on fire. For me as a guard, look left, look right, throw it to her and get out of the way.’’
Mosqueda-Lewis arrived at UConn hoping to be an All-American. Check. She wanted to play on great teams with great players. Check.
In the process of meeting those expectations she evolved into more than just a player that can score points and make 3-pointers. That is arguably her greatest accomplishment.
Mosqueda-Lewis provided further proof of her well rounded game in Sunday’s 81-58 win over Maryland in the national semifinals. She scored just four points (1-of-8 FG, 1-for-5 3-pointers) in 32 minutes. However, she had a season-high seven assists and committed just one turnover.
``I had a coach tell me the other night that Kaleena is a one‑dimensional player,’’ Auriemma said. ``And, to me, the beauty of somebody like K is that because she’s such an incredible shooter, that if you’re not paying attention, you think that that's all she does. And (Sunday) she had seven assists. And she’s probably our best screener. She's one of our best passers. But over the last four years, she's become a really good basketball player, somebody who is very dependable and reliable and somebody you can count on. And that didn’t used to be the case when she was a freshman. And each year after that. And that's what you want players to do. You want them to grow and become a little more than what they are coming out of high school. And she's had an incredible career and she's put her name in the record books. And those memories will last a lifetime.’’
Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 29.0 minutes in her career. She is ranked fifth in team history in scoring (2,163) and second in 3-point shooting percentage (.448).
This season Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 14.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, and has set career-highs in assists (2.8), 3-point shooting percentage (.494) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0). She has made a team single-season record 119 3-pointers.
``I think Kaleena’s career has been one that’s always going to be remembered and it’s an unbelievable run,’’ junior Breanna Stewart said. ``And the fact that you can see how much she’s grown since her freshman year to her season now. She’s broken numerous records and she deserves it. She deserves to get the 3-point record. As with all the other seniors, last year and the year before, you want to make sure you send them away on a good note because of all the sacrifices they’ve made to this program.’’
One more game is now all that remains for Mosqueda-Lewis. One more game to wear the UConn uniform. One more game for fans to watch one of the greats in team history.
``Definitely I’m right where I hoped I would be,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. ``I definitely have grown a lot as a player thanks to our coaches and the players I’ve been able to play with my last four years. Thus far it’s been everything I wanted.’’