UConn senior Fernandes makes most of time on bench

BY foxsports • February 25, 2010

Most people outside the UConn world probably have no idea who Jacquie Fernandes is. That's OK with her.

The senior has had an excellent view of the Huskies' remarkable run the past two seasons - from the bench.

Fernandes will be honored on Saturday, along with fellow seniors Tina Charles, Meghan Gardler, Kaili McLaren and Kalana Greene, when the top-ranked Huskies play No. 13 Georgetown in their final home game.

Coach Geno Auriemma always plays his seniors in that game, giving Fernandes her first career start.

``What girl wouldn't dream of playing for the Huskies?'' she said. ``I don't regret my decision at all. It's been the best decision of my life.''

She's played in 106 games in her career - not too shabby for the final player on the roster. Then again, when you're on a team that wins every game by double digits during its 67-game winning streak that's not a huge surprise.

Even with only 89 points in her career she's had her share of highlights.

In an early January game against Seton Hall, Fernandes was playing late in the first half. With four seconds left and UConn was up by 37 points, the Pirates committed a lane violation on a free throw.

Most teams would be content to walk into the half with the huge lead. But Connecticut pushed the ball up the court, and Fernandes hit an open 3-pointer that swished thru just as the halftime buzzer sounded. Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and the rest of the starting five who were on the bench erupted in cheers as if they had just won the game.

``That was a great feeling,'' Fernandes said. ``It was like I made the shot to win the Big East conference title.''

That play gives a little insight into the UConn Huskies' mindset. Fernandes pointed out that Auriemma and the coaching staff always teaches the team to play to the time on the clock and not the score.

``You never know when someone will be called upon to hit that shot,'' Auriemma said. ``Why not play it like the game's on the line.''

Fernandes has made the most of her time on the bench, studying the game from a different viewpoint.

``I've gotten a chance to learn so much from the best coach in the country,'' she said. ``I would love to get the opportunity to coach at some level next year. If something opens up in coaching or director of operations that would be a dream come true.''

Fernandes was naturally a fan favorite, hailing from the state of Connecticut. She played at Stonington High School - the same school that redshirt freshman Heather Buck attended - and was the latest homegrown talent to play for the Huskies.

The senior, who scored 1,195 points in her high school career, had few Division I offers and almost went to Division III Western Connecticut State before deciding on UConn - which didn't contact her until late in her high school career.

Even without the promise of playing time or a scholarship, attending UConn was an easy choice.

``I grew up watching them and was a fan. Now it's neat seeing young girls in the stands looking at me as a role model,'' she said.

She came to UConn as a walk-on, but Auriemma offered her a scholarship before the start of her freshman season.

``You don't want 11 All-Americans on your roster,'' Auriemma said. ``You need to have people who will work hard in practice and accept whatever playing time they earn. Jacquie has done that.''

Auriemma sees her as a natural leader who has motivated others with her hard work in practice.

``She's a little bit of the glue that holds everyone together,'' Auriemma said.

Fernandes relishes practice, giving her an opportunity to play against the best players in the country.

``We see her work so hard in practice every day to make us better that it feels great when she gets her chance to shine,'' said Moore, the reigning national player of the year. ``She may not get the same accolades that some of the rest of us get, but she does everything that we do.''

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