Defense and balance highlight top-seeded UConn’s preseason debut

STORRS, Conn. – Stefanie Dolson contributed over 100 assists each of her last two seasons as a Husky commented Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma after watching his team defeat his alma mater, West Chester, 115-26 in preseason play.

“That’s a lot of baskets,” he said. “Where’s that going to come from?”

This year’s version of the Huskies opened with two new starters replacing last year’s WNBA first-round draft choices (Dolson and Bria Hartley) in senior Kiah Stokes and sophomore Saniya Chong. Auriemma also had a deeper bench this season.

“It’s going to take some getting used to for our players,” said Auriemma.

While one has to consider that West Chester is a Division II opponent with no player over 6-0, the trademark defensive intensity of the Huskies was in full display, holding their opponent to 26 points, hauling down 41 defensive rebounds, and causing 24 turnovers. UConn had 18 steals, twice the number of made baskets (nine) that West Chester sank en route to a 9-for-57 performance.

The returning Husky starters showed their talents, with senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 17 points (three three-pointers), Breanna Stewart added 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and three blocks, and blossoming junior point guard Moriah Jefferson had a team-high 19 points (8-for-10 shooting), and five steals.

Stokes made her claim to the center spot with 13 points (4-for-4 shooting), 12 rebounds, and seven blocks. Chong had 11 points as the other starter.

The heralded freshmen class each showed some of their talents in their debuts.

Kia Nurse, the preseason American Athletic Conference rookie of the year, showed poise and composure, entering the game and immediately penetrating and kicking for a Mosqueda-Lewis three-pointer. Nurse finished with 12 points, two assists and two steals. Gabby Williams, recovering from knee surgery last season, played in the post rotation, and appeared quite comfortable, using her athleticism to score nine points and pull down eleven rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Courtney Ekmark showed her long-range prowess, hitting a pair of three-pointers, and in limited minutes, Sadie Edwards still had two rebounds and two assists.

It was a nice start for the defending national champions, a change from playing against their practice players, noted Auriemma. Fans will learn more about this team pretty quickly though with one more preseason game in the queue before the regular season begins on the road at UC Davis followed by the annual matchup against Stanford.

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