Commentary

Healthy Greene giving big boost to UConn this season

Originally Published: November 24, 2008
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Kalana GreeneGary Hamilton/Icon SMIIn three games, Kalana Greene has shot 14-for-17 to average 10 points for No. 1 UConn.
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut's Kalana Greene quickly singled out the worst games for her to sit through last season.

They were: At Syracuse on Jan. 15, when the Huskies trailed by as many as nine points before rallying for a victory. At home six days later against North Carolina, when the Tar Heels led by 11 at halftime but eventually lost. Against Rutgers in the Elite Eight, because so much was on the line in such a big rivalry game. And, of course, against Stanford in the Final Four, as it was the season-ender for the Huskies.

Greene agonized and fidgeted a lot against those foes as those were the hardest games for her to watch. But another game was the hardest for her to remember.

That was Dec. 21, the Friday before Christmas last year. Earlier in the day, she'd been on the operating table. Then that night on television, she saw her teammates win out at San Diego State.

When she's in a game scoring and playing defense, it just gives our whole team a lift. We feel invincible when Kalana [Greene] is playing well. It's great to have her back out there.

-- UConn teammate Renee Montgomery

"I had surgery at 5:30 or 6 o'clock that morning, and the game was on late here, like 9 p.m.," she said. "I was at home, and I remember watching the game … but I don't remember what went on.

"Coach [Geno Auriemma] talked to me after the game and said it was terrible and we had 29 turnovers."

Actually, it was 28. But like she said, she was pretty much out of it. A player who'd come to the chilly Northeast from South Carolina, Greene suffered her injury against, of all teams, South Carolina. (What are the odds?) That had happened Dec. 17, and the consequences of Greene's injury might not have been fully apparent to many women's basketball fans outside of Huskies Nation.

After all, UConn still had Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles and all those other players. UConn wouldn't miss Greene that much, right? But the Huskies did indeed miss her quite a lot.

"The worst part for me was you're doing everything you can do," Greene said of the rehab process and two more subsequent surgeries. "But things weren't always getting better. You've just got to have time and patience."

Greene is sort of the Huskies' version of Montgomery's ex-high school teammate, former Tennessee player Alexis Hornbuckle. Like her, Greene has been a strong rebounder from the perimeter and someone who can guard players both bigger and smaller.

"When she's in a game scoring and playing defense, it just gives our whole team a lift," Moore said. "We feel invincible when Kalana's playing well. It's great to have her back out there."

Kalana Greene
Gary Hamilton/Icon SMIKalana Greene is averaging 4.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals over three games.

The Huskies are 3-0 going into games this week at BYU on Tuesday and at home next Sunday against Oklahoma (ESPN). A 5-foot-10 guard, Greene's quickness and athleticism on the perimeter help her be one of Auriemma's best defenders. And now she also has increased confidence in her shooting.

Greene made all five of her shots from the field in the Huskies' opener against Georgia Tech, then 6 of 7 against San Diego State -- that team she really didn't remember from a year ago.

Saturday in a 91-43 thumping of Rhode Island, Greene played just 17 minutes and made 3 of 5 shots. That's right: So far, she's shooting 82.3 percent (14 of 17) from the field.

"I'm thrilled for her, because I know she desperately wanted this to happen," Auriemma said of Greene's shooting prowess. "If she keeps making those perimeter jumpers, she's going to add something we didn't have last year. … Right now, she feels she can make any shot she takes."

You could call this Greene's junior or senior season; currently, she's not sure which it will be. Because she was injured in the eighth game of last season, she was eligible for a medical redshirt. That means she could opt to play one more season after this one. But she doesn't have to decide yet.

"I feel like I don't even think about my knee," she said. "I think I'm calmer under pressure and more confident on the floor. Last year got cut short, and I'm here to step up where I left off.

"I don't think I'm 100 percent now, like physically. There's a lot more that I have to get. But mentally, I feel like I'm there. And if you're there mentally, you can do whatever you want."

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.