KML Makes A Big Splash In Her Return

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DURHAM, N.C. — The first brace she had tried in practice felt lousy. It was too big. It was too balky.

It was like yanking an artist's delicate brush from Michelangelo and stuffing one of those giant numbers they use to paint the outside of a barn. It wasn't good, not good at all.

The second brace Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis tried?

"I don't really feel it," KML said after she hit a career-high seven three-pointers as UConn routed Duke 83-61 Tuesday night. "It's better than that huge brace I had on before. It's just like a sleeve."

Who knew that the second black brace came equipped with a GPS device? Or maybe it was some crazy, high-tech thingamajig that only some ingenious Dukie could invent. Who knew that KML would be able to punch a few buttons and it would direct the basketball directly from her fingertips to the bottom of the basket? Or maybe the artist — the "artiste," Geno Auriemma called her — just got into the beautiful shooter's groove.

There had been plenty of questions about Mosqueda-Lewis heading into this No. 1 vs. No. 2 alleged showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

How would her right elbow hold up in her first game since she landed with such a frightening scream on Nov. 11 against Stanford?

Would she experience any pain? Would that ulnar nerve injury affect one of the most precious shooting strokes in the history of women's college basketball?

"I set my expectations low," KML said. "So anything above that would be great for me."

More than the elbow, how many stressful minutes could she withstand? KML began practicing again Dec. 8, but she had been in and out and used judiciously in those workouts by Auriemma. How would her conditioning be? How would her wind be?

Well, it turned out that her shooting stroke was fine. Actually, it was much more than fine. It was spectacular. Coming off the bench five minutes into the first half, KML missed her first attempt with 11:12 left in the first half. In fact, she didn't hit her first shot until her three-pointer with 5:01 left gave UConn its biggest lead of the first half at 38-15.

And her wind? Well, it was good enough that she eventually sucked all of it out of Duke, finishing 7-for-11 on threes in 27 minutes played. The two or three times the Blue Devils gave any indication of making a game of it, KML clicked on the GPS, stepped into a three and … splash.

It happened with 1:28 left in the first half when she hit her second three after Duke had reeled off eight points in a row to cut the lead to 15.

It happened again with 14:24 left in the game when she drained her third three after Duke cut the lead to 16.

And it happened yet again when she drained her fifth three with 7:29 left after Duke had cut the lead to 13 — UConn's smallest lead since midway through the first half.

"That was the biggest play," Auriemma said. "She missed a three [with 7:36 left], the ball was bouncing around and it kicked back out. She got it. Bria Hartley was sitting right next to me on the bench. She yelled something at Kaleena before she shot the ball and as the ball was in the air, Bria goes, 'She doesn't miss two in a row.' She just splashed it."

KML splashed two more threes in a 14-0 run by the Huskies that put UConn up 27. It was over. And KML's elbow? It ended up buried in Duke's gut.

The shooting range of Mosqueda-Lewis is no secret. Anybody with a casual interest in the women's game knows her as the sweetest of sharpshooters. Yet there she was open one too many times. You almost felt like going over to the Duke bench and say, "You might want to cover No. 23."

"I thought No. 30 [Breanna Stewart] showed why she's the best player in the country," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I thought obviously No. 23 [KML] enjoyed her first game back. We didn't help matters because we didn't locate her and do the things we needed to do."

"And there were numerous times in hustle plays where we almost had the ball and they the ball around and found Mosqueda-Lewis in the corner. That happened twice."

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