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Stewart spearheads UConn's MSG victory over Cal

Associate Sports Editor

Published: Sunday, December 22, 2013

Updated: Sunday, December 22, 2013 16:12

NEW YORK – Breanna Stewart just has that kind of ability. Yes, the kind to outscore an entire opposing team.

And that’s exactly what she did – for the first half at least – as No. 1 UConn topped No. 21 California 80-47 Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

With a layup just before the buzzer, Stewart tallied her 21st point of the first half. The Golden Bears entered the locker room with 20.

“I think [being a difference-maker] can be my role,” Stewart said. “I think that whether it’s blocking shots or scoring, I think that it’s something that not everyone can do.”

Cal (7-3) was entirely unable to get its offense going early, as they struggled to just 15 percent from the field over the first 15 minutes before finishing at 24 percent at the break.

By comparison, the Huskies (12-0) weren’t much better – if you take Stewart out of the equation, that is. UConn’s eight other scholarship players, all of whom touched the floor, combined to shoot 39 percent from the field (7-for-18). But with Stewart shooting the ball at a 67-percent (8-for-12) clip, things were plenty comfortable for the Huskies.

“If you’re having a hard time getting shots or getting quality shots,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, “and you go to Stewie a lot, Stewie has no problem getting quality shots because there isn’t any shot that if she wants to get it, she can’t get it. So whenever things are not going particularly great, you just go find her and let her do the rest.”

Things didn’t slow down for the sophomore forward in the second half, either. A jumper in the less than a minute after the break kept the momentum rolling toward her 29-point final tally, which tied a career-high.

This game was just the extension of a trend of big-time performances on big-time stages for Stewart that began last season in the NCAA Tournament and continued last Tuesday with 24 points at No. 2 Duke. In fact, Stewart has averaged 21.3 points in her last nine games against ranked opponents, dating back to last March.

“I think these are the games you really look forward to,” Stewart said. “Obviously you look forward to playing, but when you know that – Duke and Cal, they’re tough teams. Especially when you’re playing at the Garden, it’s something that you don’t do very often. I think if you can’t get up for this game then there’s a problem.”

Stewart’s offensive explosion turned the second half into a formality; the only real drama was whether or not she could outscore the Golden Bears. For the first eight minutes of the half, it looked as though she might have a chance, but sitting the final 11:26 prevented the impossible from coming to fruition.

While she may have been at the heart of things, the win wasn’t entirely the Breanna Stewart Show. Stefanie Dolson, who sat much of the first half due to foul trouble finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. Morgan Tuck and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, both in their second game back from injury, each chipped in with double-digit points.

Even walk-on Tierney Lawlor got in on the action. Both she and Briana Pulido got a chance to take the Garden floor in the waning moments, but it was Lawlor who nailed a shot from behind the arc and drew an explosion of noise from the UConn faithful in attendance during the final seconds.

“That’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” Auriemma said. “You see her reaction? I looked up at the scoreboard, I thought maybe the score was 78-77 and that was the game-winner because that kid acted like it was the shot of the century. You know what, that’s what sports are all about.

“You think last year that kid was sitting at home going, ‘You know what, next year at Christmas time, I’m going to be at Madison Square Garden, I’m going to knock in a three on my only shot attempt.’ You’ve got to be crazy. That kid is living the dream.”

What Stewart’s performance did do, however, was mask a less-than-attractive game for the Huskies in terms of taking care of the ball. Their 16 turnovers were the second-most in a game this season.

“It’s always frustrating no matter what game it is, no matter when it is,” Auriemma said. “And some of them are mindless. You can’t even explain them…90 percent of the things that happen on a basketball court are directed by guards. And our guards and their guards sucked the first seven or eight minutes, so it was a horrible game [for turnovers].”

Next up for UConn is Cincinnati, which visits Gampel Pavilion Dec. 29 to kick off the American Athletic Conference schedule for both teams. That game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start.

 

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