It’s been an interesting four years for senior Saniya Chong.
Throughout her time on campus, she’s dealt with seemingly everything. Chong was plagued by inconsistency early in her career, something that head coach Geno Auriemma frequently pointed out. After scoring nearly 3,000 points in high school, the Ossining, New York native never averaged more than 20 minutes per game in her first two years in Storrs.
Last season, just as Chong looked to turn a corner, she was hampered by a lingering injury to her IT band that limited her to a career-low 410 total minutes.
Every once in a while, there were flashes of greatness. Chong scored 20 points as a sophomore in her only loss as a Husky when UConn fell on the road to Stanford in November 2014 and dropped 17 a few months later on the road against Memphis. Last season, Chong didn’t play much due to her injury but made her minutes count, including a clutch 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to help the Huskies defeat a tough Maryland team at Madison Square Garden.
Chong’s ability to score has always been obvious. That hasn’t changed this season, where she’s averaging 7.9 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field. But what has enabled Chong to make a bigger impact this year than her previous three is something completely different: her passing abilities.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Chong said of her passing prowess. “I think that over these four years, this final year I’ve been working really hard for.”
In her final season, Chong has been an integral part of the Huskies’ (27-0, 14-0 The American) offense, taking care of the ball and finding open teammates en route to leading the nation with a 4.08 assist-to-turnover ratio (98 assists, 24 turnovers). While Chong doesn’t lead the team in assists – that honor goes to Gabby Williams – Chong’s presence on the court and ability to make smart plays helped this team defy preseason expectations and extend their win streak to 102 games.
“It’s been pretty remarkable. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to come here and experience everything around,” Chong said of her time at UConn. “Throughout these four years, it has been the best experience that I’ve ever had, and I’m just happy to go out with a bang and finish it off.”
This season, Chong has shown growth, and perhaps most importantly, consistency, on both ends of the court. She matched her career high with 20 points in win No. 90 against USF, and was clutch once again against Maryland, scoring 10 points and adding six assists, including hitting yet another big-time 3-pointer in the game’s final minute.
With star guard Kia Nurse out in Wednesday’s 90-45 win over Temple, Chong played a pivotal role in locking up the talented tandem of Owls guards Alliya Butts and Feyonda Fitzgerald.
She’s come a long way from her freshman year, where she was a noted liability on defense.
“It’s blasphemy if I’m saying Saniya did a great job defensively,” Auriemma joked followed the Temple game. “But actually she did.”
On Saturday, Chong will play her final regular season game at Gampel Pavilion against the Memphis Tigers. She’ll join walk-on Tierney Lawlor in the pregame ceremony prior to the Huskies’ Saturday-afternoon matchup with Memphis (13-14, 6-8 The American).
For Lawlor, an Ansonia, Connecticut native that grew up watching the team, being honored for her four years of work on and off the court is certainly a special moment.
“It means a lot. You grow up watching this team. You grow up watching the program, and then to be able to have the opportunity to be a part of it is phenomenal. And then being here for four years, you get every little bit and piece and you figure it out and learn new things. It’s a lot of fun.”
While Lawlor rarely sees game action, her teammates rave about her work ethic and the energy she brings day in and day out.
“She’s one of our hardest players on the court. No matter what it is, she’s working hard each and every play,” Chong said of Lawlor.
UConn and Memphis will tip off at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. The game will be broadcast on SNY.