RuthAnn and Rebecca's father, Dennis, a pair of educators who live in South-wick, Mass., never miss a UConn home game, and when RuthAnn first showed up in the stands in a wig, to cover the hair loss caused by chemotherapy, Rebecca cried again. But she played on. The Lobos are so tight as a family that you almost want to add a little WD-40 now and then so they don't squeak. "We're like the Waltons," RuthAnn says. "You know: 'Good night, Dad'; 'Good night. Jason": 'Good night, Mom'; 'Good night, Rebecca'; 'Good night, Rachel.' " But their closeness enabled them to deal with the cancer and grow from it.
"Petty things don't bother me as much as they used to," says Rebecca. "I won't trivialize the situation and say that in a game, when I'm tired, I can look over at Mom and get energy. But it does feel good just to see her there." For her part RuthAnn is also feeling good; her cancer has been in remission for nearly a year.
When class is over, Rebecca tries to find a little time to catch up on answering her avalanehe of fan mail. There are sacks of letters from all over the country for her in the athletic department. Lobo will write back to each correspondent, but when? "She'll sit in the lounge for hours and write back," says UConn women's sports publicity director Barb Kowal. "She does not blow it off. Last year she didn't finish until two weeks after the season." This year Lobo persuaded Hartford Courant sportswriter Bruce Berlet to print a message from her in his column. "I try to answer every letter I get," she said in the paper. "I kept up with it for a while. but I'm so backed up, it'll take months to catch up. I hope everyone understands."
Lobo does everything asked of her in the public relations realm. She talks to kids or adults or anyone who says hi to her. She smiles at all. At Villanova in late February, two security guards had to protect her so she could do postgame interviews without being trampled by admirers. After a game at Syracuse on Feb. 25, she signed autographs for 45 minutes. "It was Girl Scout Day. and there were over a thousand Brownies and Girl Scouts in our stands," Syracuse coach Marianna Freeman says. "For her to do what she did—those little girls will remember it for a longtime."
Lobo's surname means "wolf" in Spanish, but off the court she is about as unferocious as she could be. Back at Southwick High where Rebecca was also a star in field hockey, track and softball, she once had 62 points in a basketball game while en route to breaking the Massachusetts career scoring record. Her response to that transcendent performance? "Embarrassment," she says, almost trembling. "I mean, it's a team game."
Auriemma laughs and scratches his head when confronted with his star's humility. He wants her to be mean, nasty, selfish. Score 50, 60 points. Decimate foes. Yet when Lobo was a sophomore, Auriemma felt she was underachieving. He told her, "We're at a crossroads. I can't reach you. If you want to leave, fine. Or you stay here, and I'll leave." He said she had to get tougher if she wanted to be a champion. She told him not to yell at her about effort, that she always gave effort. The other things she would work on. But the effort was always there.
"She was right," says Auriemma. But just last week he took her aside and said, "You're like a recovering alcoholic."
Lobo's eyes grew wide. "What?"' she said.
"Except you're a recovering wussy suburban girl," the coach continued. "And you need to take the steps every day to overcome it."
They both laughed. But Lobo knew what he meant. "My nature isn't to be the son of a bitch he wants me to be on the floor," she says.