Better than the sum of the parts
Faris' all-around efficiency puts UConn in 'position to win'
NEW ORLEANS -- Connecticut’s Kelly Faris may not have the flash or sizzle like so many other past Husky stars, but the senior guard is still looking to go out with a bang on Tuesday night in the NCAA championship game against Louisville.
Faris has been one of the most consistent and reliable players for UConn during the past four years, although not the most-lauded. Against the Cardinals, she will be starting in her 115th consecutive game. Renee Montgomery and Jen Rizzotti are the only other players in program history to accomplish the feat.
A native of Plainfield, Ind., Faris has made contributions in all aspects of the game for the Huskies, yet there are no statistics that jump off the page when looking at her bio.
“Normally when you talk about players that have had great, great careers at Connecticut, you can identify them by something that was great, a great skill that they had,” Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think Kelly is one of the few players that have come through our program that when she leaves, they're never going to introduce her as, ‘That was Kelly Faris, she was a great passer, or she was a great shooter, or she was a great ball handler.’
“Kelly is great at putting you in a position to win. That's what she's great at.”
Faris is only the second player in UConn history to compile more than 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 500 assists and 250 steals in a career. Earlier this season, she joined four-time All-American Maya Moore in that ultra-exclusive club. She has been a member of four consecutive Final Four squads, including the 2010 team that won UConn’s most recent title. She leads the Huskies with 3.9 assists and 2.47 steals per game and ranks near the top nationally with a 2.11 assist-to-turnover ratio, while averaging 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
And, while she may not possess All-American numbers, Faris has been an integral part of the Huskies’ success during her career.
“I think Kelly is for sure, or has been, I should say, one of the more underrated players, both in our program and nationally,” Auriemma said. “Underrated in terms of what the expectation level is of what a Connecticut player is supposed to look like and how people view scoring or stats as a way of measuring how good someone is.”
But even though her name usually isn’t the one in the headlines, Faris is completely fine with that.
“In the last four years for us, she's been invaluable, starting with her first game of her freshman year,” Auriemma said. “There's no one I would want to represent us in everything that she does, more than Kelly. I think she is what Connecticut basketball is all about. Just show up every day, practice hard, play hard, compete for a national championship and not worry about whether you get any credit or not.”
The youngest of four children, Faris played AAU basketball for her father, Bob, learning invaluable lessons not just about X's and O’s, but about teamwork.
“Ever since I was little, that’s how I was taught, how I was raised -- to be grateful for the opportunities,” Faris said. “My dad was my coach for most of the time growing up, and he was a huge influence on me basketball-wise and as a person. I’m the youngest of four and we were all raised that way. It rubs off. There are things in everyday life that come through on the court.”
Faris has collected a few accolades through the years, including the 2013 Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year award, and is a finalist for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Division I Defensive Player of the Year along with two of the most well-known players in the women’s game -- Baylor’s Britney Griner and Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike. But being mentioned on that short list doesn’t faze Faris.
“I enjoy being a team player and I think once you come [to Connecticut], if you’re not already a team player, you’re going to learn how to be,” Faris said. “It’s that much more fun. I couldn’t do it by myself, so there’s no reason to take all the glory for it because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the rest of my team and the coaches.”
And, while Faris may not draw the attention of players such as Breanna Stewart or Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, opponents certainly know how important she is to the Huskies’ game plan.
“She’s a great player,” Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel said. “She is defense and offense. She gets the team going when it comes to defense and she gets all their big stops. If you watch, she guards all the hard people like Skylar Diggins, who she guarded [in the national semifinals]. She’s a great defender and a great basketball player, and she’s at UConn for a reason.”
Faris has left a lasting impression on her head coach, as well.
“When she leaves Connecticut and people ask me, ‘Who's one of the best players you've ever had at Connecticut,’ and I say, ‘Kelly Faris.’ They'll say, ‘Why?’ It’s because she was great at making sure we were in position to win every night.”
While Faris will be playing in her final collegiate game on Tuesday, she hasn’t even thought to reflect on the journey yet.
“When it is 10 years down the road, maybe I’ll look back on what we accomplished,” Faris said. “We’re excited right now and having a good time, but I don’t think we’ll really know what it means until later down the road.”
Right now, she is focused on the task at hand, rather than the big picture as the Huskies seek their eighth NCAA title.
“This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that many people don’t get, and I’ve been here four times,” Faris said. “I’ll get to go out the right way, hopefully.”