HARTFORD, Conn. – Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti can't help but feel a little bit of pride for the opposition Sunday when her Hawks take on top-ranked Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It's not just that Rizzotti starred at UConn, leading the Huskies to their first of seven championships back in 1995.
She also coached Huskies Maya Moore, Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson before they came to Connecticut, when they were part of USA Basketball's U18 squad.
She was an assistant when Moore was playing for the team in 2006, and head coach last summer when Hartley and Dolson made the squad.
"I remember telling Geno (Auriemma) that Bria would be ready to play right away and that Stefanie would be really good once she figured out how to play at the college speed," she said. "It kind of worked out the way I thought it would."
Hartley started for Rizzotti and averaged almost 11 points and four assists during the team's gold-medal run in Colorado last summer. Dolson came off the bench and averaged about six points and four rebounds.
Dolson said that when she met Rizzotti, she didn't even know the coach had played at Connecticut.
"I knew Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, but I never really looked into the guards," she said. "So, I didn't know until later, and then I found out and it was wonderful."
Both players credit Rizzotti and the USA Basketball team with getting them ready to play at the college level.
"Practices are definitely similar, you go from drill to drill, not a whole lot of breaks, just pushing yourself the whole time," Dolson said. "It was hard for me during USA, but I think it prepared me so well for practice here under Coach (Auriemma)."
Rizzotti said Dolson would often look for breathers during games, and would get winded. She said she's proud of the way she's progressed to the point where she can play almost 40 minutes in the post for UConn (32-1).
"I was telling her what they are probably telling her now. You've got to push through being tired and find a way to be effective," she said. "I knew once she pushed through that mental barrier, she would be fine."
Auriemma said Rizzotti's scouting reports have been both accurate and helpful. She gave him one on Moore in 2006, and said she knew from the first tryout that the Maya would be a special player.
"She soaked everything in. She wanted to do everything right. She wanted to be the best player, and most of all to help us win," Rizzotti said. "And that's exactly who she became when she went to college."
Moore said she won't let her fond feelings for Rizzotti get in the way of UConn's goal of beating the Hawks and progressing toward another national title.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Rizzotti and her program," she said. "But we don't really pay too much attention to anything but playing really well."
Hartley, on the other hand, said she would like to play well for Rizzotti, and represent the legacy she left for point guards at UConn.
"I'm just eager to play," she said, "and show her how far I've come."