Saturday night was Senior Night at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs as the UConn faithful had their chance to say good-bye to this year’s class, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. The pre-game ceremony was a fitting celebration to two consummate team leaders. As for the game itself against 24th ranked (AP) Rutgers, the Huskies, behind 20 points apiece from Hartley and Breanna Stewart, made quick work of the Scarlet Knights, building a ten point lead five minutes in and cruising to a 72-35 dismantling before a packed house of just over 10,000 on the Storrs campus.
With the win, top ranked UConn (30-0, 17-0 AAC) recorded its ninth straight 30 win season, building on the record they set last season as they surpassed the seven straight season record held by Duke. Since the ‘93-94 season the Huskies have reached the 30 win plateau eighteen times and have started a season 30-0 seven times since the ‘94-95 campaign.
Dolson (6 pts, 10 rbs) joined the 1,000 point/ 1,000 Rebound Club when she hauled in a defensive rebound just before the half.
On her milestone Dolson said, “Means the world. I’ve said this before. I never really thought it was going to happen. So, for me to get that accomplishment, I’m really proud of myself. I didn’t think I really had it in me a few years ago and now looking back it’s a great accomplishment.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma added, “When she was a freshman I did not recruit her for her rebounding. I did not know how many rebounds she would get because she didn't strike me as a great rebounder her freshman year. It has taken awhile for her to understand, to go get the ball, and I am really proud of her because that was not one of her strengths coming out of high school.”
Hartley (20 pts, 4 rbs, 4 asst) will graduate having recorded over 1,500 Points/500 Rebounds/500 Assists, joining UConn greats Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi in that exclusive club.
On her Senior Day experience Hartley said, “I think it awesome. I was excited to be out there playing. I had a lot of family here so that was really exciting. For the whole game, I was just enjoying the moment while I was out there.”
The feel good atmosphere Saturday was given another boost as Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (7 pts, 3 rbs, 3 assts) returned to the lineup after missing four games battling mononucleosis. Her return was ahead of schedule as it was originally reported the sharp-shooter would miss a minimum of three weeks. KML logged 27 minutes on the hardwood in her return. Still, it’s been a frustrating year for the junior sharp-shooter having missed eight games prior with an elbow injury.
Asked about her latest return to the lineup Mosqueda-Lewis said she felt, “Really good. No side effects. Not tired and nothing hurts”, Adding with the Louisville matchup tonight that it was, “Really important for me to get going and get into a game setting.”
Deck stacked against them
Rutgers (21-7, 12-5), which dropped a 30 point decision to UConn at home in January, came into Storrs behind the eight ball right off the bat, not having injured leading scorer Kahleah Copper (16.1 ppg) available. The sophomore guard is nursing a bad toe. Despite this being coach C. Vivian Stringer’s 28th 20 win season, this year’s squad has hardly been a vintage Scarlet Knights team, having lost four of five this season to teams ranked in the Top 25.
Said Stringer, ““We’re obviously not very deep offensively. I think Kahleah was our highest scorer when we played them at our place. What is important about Kahleah is the way she scores. Connecticut has people that aren’t here as well. We just don’t have the depth.”
UConn took it to the undermanned Knights right out of the gates. Stewart (20 pts, 10 rbs) put on a clinic in the first seven minutes scoring eleven of UConn’s first eighteen points staking the Huskies to an early ten point lead. Six minutes later a Stewart layup pushed the lead to 20 and the Huskies cruised into the half up by 25. UConn’s lead never dipped below 20 the rest of the way reaching the high water mark of 40 just north of the eight minute mark.
Words of wisdom
Asked about what they’d say to an incoming freshman into one of the great programs in college basketball Hartley said, “Buy into what (Auriemma) is saying. Especially as a freshman. Play loose. I think when you’re a freshman, you’re afraid to make a mistake.”
For Dolson the answer wasn’t so easy, giving her answer some thought before saying, “Boy, I really don’t know. Listen to coach; to what he says. The biggest thing when I was a freshman was buying into everything that coach said was right. To trust all that as a freshman, when you have a new coach and it’s your first year. As a freshman you just have to come in and believe the things he says and does are for a reason. He’s the best coach in the country for a reason.”
Next up: UConn closes the regular season this evening traveling to #3 Louisville (28-2, 16-1 AAC) with hopes of capturing, outright, the inaugural American Athletic Conference regular season crown. UConn downed the Cardinals 81-64 in Storrs in early February. Louisville has won five straight since their loss to the Huskies and won 21 of their last 22 games. Tip time is 7 p.m.