Connecticut's Tierney Lawlor, left, celebrates with Gabby Williams, center, and Kia Nurse, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Florida in the American Athletic Conference tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, M
Jessica Hill
March 09, 2017

STORRS, Conn. (AP) Tierney Lawlor began her college basketball career at UConn as an unknown walk-on and has a chance to end it as one of the most successful players in the history of college basketball.

Should the Huskies win out, Lawlor and fellow senior Saniya Chong will leave the school with an unprecedented record of 154-1 and four national titles.

''That's pretty crazy,'' Lawlor said. ''But it's a testament to what they build in this program, how they encourage all of us and challenge us and how we respond to them.''

It also shows the moxie of a 5-foot-7 guard who wasn't on the radar of any Division I program coming out of Ansonia High School, about 70 miles from the Storrs campus.

She was a huge UConn fan, going to games at the XL Center in Hartford and shooting baskets in the driveway, dreaming of being part of the Huskies, said her father, John Lawlor.

''She had posters, she had Fatheads of UConn on her bedroom wall,'' said the elder Lawlor, who played football at the school. ''We never imagined that she would be accomplishing and be part of the things that have happened to the UConn Huskies over the past four years.''

She was a two-year captain in high school, averaging about 12 points and nine rebounds for Ansonia. Patrick Lynch, her high school coach, said she had an unmatched drive, intensity and passion. But she also knew she wasn't the five-star athlete that would attract the attention of Geno Auriemma.

She did draw some interest from a few Division II programs, but she made it clear she was going to UConn for academic reasons, Lynch said.

Soon after arriving on campus, she saw a tweet from Breanna Stewart that said the Huskies, who had just nine active players, were looking for walk-ons to help out at practice. She decided to go to the tryout.

Her dad said he was apprehensive. He didn't want his daughter to have to deal with the rejection of failing to make the team.

But Lawlor caught the eye of assistant coach Shea Ralph during the grueling workout. While some dropped out after a few minutes, Lawlor went an hour without even asking for a water break, while making about 80 percent of her shots, Ralph said.

''I was like, `Whoa, I think we might have something here,''' Ralph said.

Lawlor has spent the last four years helping the bigger names on the team prepare for the games and coming in for a few minutes during blowouts.

During most games, she's kneeling in front of the bench yelling encouragement, giving her teammates pointers when they come off the floor.

''She's out there always teaching,'' said Chong. ''She's coaching me, telling me things that I need to do, and it really helps.''

She was chosen by her teammates to be the player who speaks in the final huddle before every tip-off.

Just before her junior year, Auriemma put her on full scholarship.

''Tee's work ethic is a great example for the other kids,'' Auriemma said. ''She knows she's not going to play. Everybody else knows she's not going to play and yet she comes out here and has to endure everything everyone else does. That's a lesson right there for a lot of people.''

Lawlor has played in 120 games during her career, scoring 55 points. She's started one game, on senior night, receiving a rousing ovation from sold-our crowd.

''It's been a great experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything,'' she said. ''The things I've learned, the people I've met, the places I've gone. It's been amazing.''

She will graduate this spring with an individualized degree in sustainable farm and ranch management and hopes to someday run her own farm.

Auriemma believes Lawlor would also make a great coach. Lawlor said it's not something she's thought about and her high school coach says he's not sure it would be a good fit.

''There's no doubt she'd be great at it,'' he said. ''But I don't know if she could handle coaching people who don't have the same intensity that she has.''

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