Commentary

Faris may split time on Diggins, Novosel

Huskies' defensive specialist likely given task of slowing Irish star guards

Originally Published: April 2, 2011
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Connecticut's Kelly Faris, often responsible for checking the opponents' top player, takes a lot of pride in her defense.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Maya Moore is the first player to win the Wade Trophy a third time, a formality confirmed during a Saturday morning award presentation before her team traveled to Conseco Fieldhouse to practice. But there was an unofficial first involving the Connecticut superstar that was rather more surprising than that foregone conclusion.

In what at least felt unprecedented, Moore was at least temporarily not the object of the most attention when the Huskies' locker room opened to the media.

[+] EnlargeKelly Faris
David Butler II/US PresswireUConn sophomore Kelly Faris might be responsible for finding a way to limit Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins.

Marked by a clutch of microphones and cameras instead of a trophy, that honor went instead to sophomore Kelly Faris. And while her place in the spotlight had more to do with her Indianapolis roots than anything specifically related to Sunday's game against Notre Dame (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), it was appropriate given the role she will play in determining the outcome.

It seems the great unanswered question of the day is who Faris will guard when the ball tips in Sunday's second game.

"We have a great defender on our team, Kelly Faris," Geno Auriemma said. "And I wish tomorrow, if she could guard Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel every possession, I would tell you we're going to kill them. But it's impossible for one player to guard everybody."

Faris spent a fair amount of time on Novosel in the first three games between the teams, a scenario that would leave Tiffany Hayes (or Lorin Dixon off the bench) to contend with Diggins if repeated. But Diggins, Notre Dame's sophomore All-American, has been playing the best basketball of her career in recent weeks, and as Auriemma hinted, it will undoubtedly be tempting to assign one of college basketball's best one-on-one defenders to a player who literally and figuratively drove the Irish to regional wins against Oklahoma and Tennessee by dint of leadership and an ability to get in the lane off the dribble and either finish or distribute.

It's entirely possible Faris might not yet know who she will open the game guarding. She wasn't offering many clues Saturday. But even if she has no more than an inkling, playing 113 of a possible 120 minutes in the first three games between the teams leaves her with more than a passing knowledge of her potential targets.

"[They're] both great players, smart players," Faris said. "They know the decisions that they have to make, and they make the right ones. Skylar obviously knows how to use her body. She can get in and get into the lane and get to the free throw line pretty easily. She's done a real good job of developing that aspect of her game.

"Natalie, she's a great shooter, but she can get in the lane. That's one of the biggest things that we have to work on with her, is to try to keep her out of the lane, because once she gets in there, she knocks down those shots like it's nothing for her."

The reality is that Auriemma's lockdown defender will almost certainly spend a good bit of time squared up in front of both Diggins and Novosel, whether in an intentional effort to keep the Fighting Irish guessing or simply as the result of defensive switches. But just as she knows the challenges the two Notre Dame players present, they know that matching up against the most-sought player in Connecticut's locker room (at least for one day) means unpleasant work.

"She's a very smart player," Novosel said. "She's a great anticipator. She's able to read where the offense is going sometimes. And she's just quick on her feet, she's hard to get around. She doesn't go for the ball fakes. She's just a smart, sound, fundamental defensive player."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.