Battle Fights Back

It was just one of 13 rebounds. Two of 11 points. But what Ashley Battle did Saturday in the six seconds between the rebound at one end and the basket at the other was unlike anything her teammates had seen her do in a game before.

After Battle rebounded Meghan Saake's miss, she zig-zagged up the left sideline and back to mid-court -- weaving through Miami's defense all the while. Her path suddenly clear, Battle burst straight ahead for a layup that gave UConn a 39-17 lead.

``That was a play that surprised everyone, because that's not like AB,'' coach Geno Auriemma said. ``We all know she can do it, but that's not like her.''

Next to Auriemma on the sideline, Swin Cash had a different view. Cash and Battle grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and Cash had definitely seen that coast-to-coast foray before, on the city's South Side.

``I was on the bench yelling, `Summer League! Summer League!''' Cash said. ``When she did that, I said, `I've seen it all summer long. It's nothing big.'''

What has been big lately is the way Battle has emerged as a contributor off the bench. In three of the past four games, she has scored in double figures. The double-double against Miami was the first of her career.

``I think it was a matter of time,'' said Battle, who is averaging 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 17 minutes. ``My teammates and coaches have put the confidence in me. I think that's the type of player that eventually I'm going to emerge to be.''

It was in a game against Miami last season, Dec. 5, 2000, Battle's fifth game as a freshman, that a promising start to her career was painfully interrupted.

Diving for a loose ball late in the game, Battle tore the ulnar collateral ligament in her left elbow. She was lost for the season and redshirted.

``There's not a day that's gone past that I don't think about it,'' Battle said. ``I look at my scar. It looks pretty good.''

Battle had shown flashes of talent before the injury. In last season's opener against Georgia, she had six points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in nine minutes.

After the injury, Battle struggled to regain her form and confidence.

``I got hit [in practice], and I lost feeling in my arm and my fingers,'' Battle said. ``That's when I felt like I wasn't the player that I was. It took getting hit again and knowing that it was fine.''

Though she practiced at the end of last season, Battle was essentially an outsider as the team prepared for the NCAA Tournament. This season, she has had to adjust.

``She would come to practice [last season] and she was overlooked,'' Auriemma said. ``Now, all of a sudden, everything you do gets scrutinized. So, for the first month of the season, you don't know which way to turn. And then you say, `I'm just going to relax and play.' And then, all of a sudden, all good things happen, and that's where she is right now.''

Good things started happening Jan. 2 against her hometown team at Gampel Pavilion. Battle had a career-high 13 points and eight rebounds against Pittsburgh, then followed up with a solid effort in nine minutes against Tennessee.

She struggled in the first half against St. John's on Wednesday but had 10 points in the second half.

Then came the Miami game. The double-double and the end-to-end play displayed her skills -- rebounding, quickness, power to the basket -- all at once.

``AB's got unusual talent,'' said Auriemma, who likens Battle to a utility infielder because of her versatility as a forward and guard. ``She's got unusual skills. And up to now she's not had the confidence to use them.''

In building that confidence she has harnessed her talent. At 6 feet, Battle has shown remarkable quickness on defense and in attacking the backboards. But that speed has also caused her to go up too strong for layups and miss.

``I'm too fast for myself sometimes,'' Battle said.

``I don't know how to use it yet. Once I learn how to use my quickness, it'll definitely help everybody out, because I'll stop running into people. I keep telling myself to slow down.''

Battle said that length-of-the-court dash Saturday started slowly. But on a play like that, as with her career, once it's rolling she isn't looking back.

``To get to half court, that seemed like it took forever,'' Battle said. ``You just go and whatever happens, happens.''