Guru's College Report: UConn's Stewart Towers Over Cal in Maggie Dixon Classic
By Mel Greenberg
NEW YORK -- In a city well known for its tall buildings that scrape the sky, Connecticut sophomore Breanna Stewart continued to establish herself Sunday afternoon as one of the all-time edifices in the women's game.
Stewart, only the second freshman named as the Most Outstanding Player of the Women's Final Four in April when UConn claimed its record-tying eighth NCAA title, scored early and often against No. 21 California and finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds as the unbeaten and top-ranked Huskies rolled to an 80-47 triumph in the second game of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden.
In the opener, local favorite St. John's, which has struggled this season, grabbed an impressive 72-70 victory over Texas A&M as Aliyyah Handford made the winning shot with two seconds left and collected 27 points to improve the Red Storm record to 6-4.
Eugeneia McPherson also scored in double figures with 14 points,
The Aggies (7-4), who had been ranked early in the season, got 15 points from Karla Gilbert and 13 from Courtney Williams,
But Stewart, as she was during the entire March Madness run last spring, was the story of the day after following up Tuesday night's performance when she scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in UConn's domination of No. 2 Duke 83-61 in Durham, N.C.
Coincidentally the same event earned Stewart and Handford separate player of the week honors on Monday from The American and Big East conferences.
As for the game details against Cal (7-3), which reached its first Women's Final Four last season, the Bears stayed with the Huskies for 10 minutes and then the separation began.
"I thought the first game at The Garden was a lot of fun," said Stewart, participating in UConn's fourth appearance here -- all victories.
"Obviously, the first five-ten minutes were pretty ugly as a team, but once we settled down it made that lot of fun for our team," Stewart said.
"I was trying to be more aggressive to help get the team going, help get some points on the board and eventually the rest of the team followed," she added.
"These are the games you really look forward to playing. Duke and Cal are tough teams and especially when you are playing at The Garden; it's something you don't do very often. If you can't get up for this game, that's a problem," Stewart continued.
"It didn't feel that different, the court is still the same basketball game. Obviously, we're playing at Madison Square Garden, but our fans that were here really helped to make the atmosphere feel just like Gampel," she said of the Huskies' Gampel Pavilion Arena in Storrs, near Hartford.
The crowd was 5,468 for the event named for the late Army coach Maggie Dixon, who died suddenly from a heart problem in March 2006 just several weeks when as a rookie coach the former DePaul assistant had guided the Black Knights to their first Patriot League title and appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Her brother Jamie, who coaches the Pittsburgh men, was here as were several other family members.
The crowd also included former Huskies star guard Caroline Doty, the Germantown Academy graduate from Doylestown, north of Philadelphia, who graduated after last season and now works for Nike in Portland, Ore., but was home over the holidays and came with members of her family.
Morgan Tuck, recently returned from surgery, had 12 points in the Huskies' attack, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, also recently returned in the Duke game, had 10 points while Stefanie Dolson grabbed 11 rebounds.
No one on the Bears got into double figures as star Brittany Boyd and Hind Ben Abdelkader came the closest with nine points each.
The statistical comparisons in the latest demolition by the Huskies showed 40-28 in the paint, 17-9 in points off turnovers, 10-0 in second chance points, and 27-14 in terms of output from both teams' reserves.
A special highlight happened near the end of the game when Huskies walk-on Tierney Lawlor nailed a three-pointer with 18 seconds left.
A year ago this time Stewart, who hails from upstate in Syracuse, was struggling after arriving at UConn as another in a long list of newcomers who had been the national high school player of the year.
She then blossomed once the lights went on with the NCAA tournament under way.
"Being consistent is one of the things I want to focus this year," Stewart said. "I''m more confident on the court, smarter on the court and really working harder in practice and I think it's paying off in the end."
Considering that six former Connecticut superstars who perform in the WNBA played on their Hall of Fame collegiate coach Geno Auriemma's gold-medal Olympic squad in the London Games in August, 2012, the Huskies mentor made a remarkable comparison in praising Stewart.
"We've never had someone like Breanna Stewart and we've had some of the greatest players to play college basketball," Auriemma said. "Maya Moore was unique. And (Diana) Taurasi was unique. We've had an incredible amount of great players but I don't think we've had anybody ...
"She makes it an impossible matchup for any body, unless you have a 6-4 big kid you can put on her for 40 minutes, you can't stop her from scoring because any big kid is just too big and a guard, she just shoots right over you," Auriemma said.
"We've talked about getting her 20 shots every game -- I've never done that with any other player. That's one she has to get better at -- finding shots. The ball usually finds great players. They always seem to be around the basketball.
"With Stewie, we've sometimes have had to orchestrate things around her to make sure she gets enough shots like we did toward the end of the half."
From the other side, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said, "We have a pretty darn good player in our back yard in (Stanford's) Chiney Ogwumike, but there's nothing Breanna Stewart can't do and I think every team in the WNBA would take her first if she was coming out this year.
"I'm always impressed with how easy she makes it look effortless and her skill set at that size -- if you see it up close it's even more impressive. To do that as a sophomore in college and do that on a big stage as a basketball person you can't take those kind of performances for granted because you don't see them that often," Gottlieb said.
"She played like the superstar college basketball all-American that she is and we're lucky to have someone at that talent level."
Meanwhile, other than Baylor, UConn is done with its non-conference slate and next Sunday opens its first run in the new American Conference hosting Cincinnati and former assistant Jamelle Elliott whom the Huskies played in the old Big East.
Temple visits January 11th in Bridgeport, Conn., aa first in terms of regular season play as a home site in the Webster Bank Arena. UConn returns the Owls' visit January 28th.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad