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UConn women's notes: Lishness 'the legend' honored at Big East tournament

Mar. 9—MOHEGAN — UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, new to the position at the time, recruited Laura Lishness when he was first trying to generate interest in the program among in-state players.

Lishness was a three-sport star — soccer, basketball and softball — at Bristol Eastern, playing basketball for legendary high school coach Tony Floyd when Auriemma met her at a basketball camp.

"I hadn't started here yet so I drove up from Virginia, I remember, and I went to the camp and I spoke at the camp and that's where I met Tony Floyd and that's where I saw Laura play for the first time and obviously it all started from there," Auriemma said.

"You're hoping you can get involved with all the really good players in Connecticut 'cause a lot of them were not going here. They were going other places. So you're hoping that like, 'Hey, I hope we can start a trend here.'"

Lishness was honored Saturday as part of the inaugural Big East Basketball Legends Recognition Program. Each of the 11 Big East schools chose a former men's and women's player or coach to be recognized during the league tournaments.

Lishness, who played at UConn from 1987-91, finished with 1,303 points, 671 rebounds, 531 assists and 150 steals.

She was Big East Freshman of the Year in 1988, recorded the first triple-double in Huskies' history vs. Providence in the Big East tournament on March 5, 1989, and co-captained the 1990-91 team which reached the NCAA tournament Final Four for the first time in program history.

She is a member of the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame.

"Obviously, she was going to raise the level immediately and there were some games early on where you knew, like, if we didn't have her out on the floor, there was no way we were going to win," Auriemma said.

Lishness had 22 points as the Huskies, the No. 13 seed, upset N.C. State in the East Regional semifinals in 1991 on the way to the Final Four.

"She was just phenomenal (in that game)," Auriemma said this week. "I mean, just, 'Whew.' And they had like five pros on their team. ... Her and Kerry Bascom, those two, they complemented each other so well and then we got Meghan (Pattyson Culmo's) class to come in here. Laura and them had better players surrounding them. They just took off from there."

A Paige in history

DePaul coach Doug Bruno, in his 38th season, gave a "State of the Blue Demons" oratory when his team exited the tournament Friday night, telling the media that he would continue to coach until he got "whacked by the big guy or the little guy."

The big guy he was referring to was God, the little guy was DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy.

Bruno paid tribute to UConn star and two-time Big East Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on his way off the podium.

"What Caitlin Clark (of Iowa, who recently became Division I college basketball's all-time leading scorer) is doing for the women's game is awesome but I think it's very important for the people watching women's hoops not to forget about this player called Paige Bueckers," Bruno said.

"Because Paige Bueckers was (national) player of the year just a couple of years ago and she's getting a little bit lost in the shuffle right now. But that's one really, really special player that we have playing for us right here in the Big East."

Saying goodbye in style

UConn senior guard Nika Muhl announced her plan to leave UConn after this season via a social media post Friday featuring black-and-white photos of her and Auriemma in a Mercedes convertible.

"Last ride with my G," Muhl said, referring to Auriemma. "(Peace sign) out, UConn nation, I will miss you so much!"

While Bueckers, a redshirt junior, and grad student Aubrey Griffin announced on Senior Night that they'll return for another season, Muhl and fellow senior Aaliyah Edwards remained quiet on the matter. They both have the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to student-athletes following COVID.

Auriemma said Saturday he believes leaving after this season was always Muhl's plan.

"I don't think there was ever a doubt how she wants her career to end and how she wants it to go," Auriemma said. "She has aspirations for the future and I think it's the right time for her to go on to the next thing."

v.fulkerson@theday.com