Breanna Stewart and Bria Hartley lead Connecticut past South Florida, 81-53
HARTFORD, Conn. – When three of the six players in Connecticut’s rotation today were 6-4 or taller, the strategy of pound the ball inside is easy to understand. It was pretty clear to South Florida as well, and the Bulls came out for their American Athletic Conference game determined to stop the ball from getting inside to Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart and Kiah Stokes. However, the Huskies stepped outside, including Stewart, and shot a scintillating nine-for-ten three-pointers at one point in the first half to win going away, 81-53, before a season high 13,207 spectators.
With Morgan Tuck out for the season with knee problems and Brianna Banks sitting this game out with a sore ankle (she is questionable for Tuesday night’s game), when freshman Saniya Chong became ill at game time and could not play, the Huskies were down to six scholarship players. Those six continued to shine, especially in protecting the ball, dishing out 25 assists and committing three turnovers, only one by guard Moriah Jefferson and none by Bria Hartley.
Stewart hit five-for-nine from three on her way to tying a career-high 29 points, while adding seven rebounds and four assists. The sophomore said that the design and motion of UConn’s offense and the confidence of her coaches should continue to allow her the opportunity to have high scoring games.
“You know there are games when you know you’re not shooting the ball well,” Stewart explained, “but I think the coaches have really helped me with making sure I keep moving without the basketball and stuff like that, and when I do that and set screens, I should get open shots and opportunities to score.”
She was joined in celebrating the three-point line by senior guard Bria Hartley, who continued her string of impressive performances with 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including six-for-seven from three, and added six assists to go with the zero turnovers. This was the third consecutive game Hartley scored over 20 points.
The combined 55 points of Hartley and Stewart outscored South Florida by two points.
Huskies coach Geno Auriemma raved about Hartley, while commenting in some ways he is glad his senior guard is not getting the same national attention as some of those considered frontrunners for postseason honors.
“I’m glad Bria is under the radar a lot; because in the world we live in if you’re good today, you are the best of all time,” Auriemma said. “Anybody that is doing anything good today you’re the greatest of all time, because people’s attention span is like ‘what I had for breakfast today is the greatest breakfast anybody’s ever made.’ People forget Bria Hartley as a sophomore was one of the top ten players in the country.”
Sophomore guard Courtney Williams led South Florida with 23 points on 11-for-25 shooting, but the Huskies defense held sharpshooting Inga Orekhova to only six on two-for-four shooting. Only the more athletic Williams could create her own shot against UConn’s defense.
With two games on the road next week, Auriemma knows the shortage of players is something he needs to keep an eye on, but he is confident that the Huskies can distance themselves from the rest of the American Conference on the shoulders of his senior guard Hartley, who has clearly put her junior year struggles behind her.
“She (Hartley) didn’t all of a sudden become lousy,” Auriemma said. “She went through a spurt and now she’s back, and the rest of the country is like, ‘Wow I didn’t know she was that good.’ Well she was that good. It just got away from her a little. She’s a senior so I think we should be able to count on her going into February and March.