Posted by: kevinfortruth | April 4, 2013

The torch is being passed to “Stewie” – is she up to the task?


Before the season even began, I thought Breanna Stewart, now simply known as “Stewie” was going to be THE factor in UCONN raising another flag in Storrs. 

She hit it running and scoring – showing glimmers of her future greatness.

Then she ran into a bump in the road because I believe she realized that a handful of others on her team had very specific “jobs” and she was not sure how she fit in the UCONN puzzle.

Dolson was THE center

KML was THE 3-pointer and scorer

Hartley was THE point guard

Faris was “Miss Odd Job” or “Cleaner”

Their jobs, maybe to Stewie, left her wondering where she fit in.  She lost the handle on the ball a few times and missed a handful of outside shots.  She missed what appeared to be a few easy layups – and all of a sudden, she did not know who she was and how she could contribute.  I bet she was feeling like, “odd man out.”

Even though I lived 300 plus miles away, I saw a glimmer here and there – where Stewie blew by a defender – taking 5 – 6 long strides and making a layup as if she was in the NBA.

Stewie, in high school, was the “Big Man” on campus.  She was the tallest, lankiest, and the best.  She intimidated others; she made 3-pointers, easily blocked shots of others, and hustled her team to victory after victory. 

As a senior, she was the oldest as well as the tallest.

All of a sudden, she was a freshman in college and there were others her height almost everywhere – Duke had big “bigs” and so did Baylor, Maryland, Penn State, and Texas A&M.  For once, she was looking eye to eye at defenders or in the case of Griner – she was looking way up.

All of a sudden, she was on the bench wondering if she would again rise to the top of the heap but it was going to take bench time to “see” what was going on – to get a feel of the college game.

She needed to get into a conditioning program, she needed to learn how college ball differed from high school ball, and the biggest thing she needed to learn was how to play UCONN ball.  She needed to learn how to fit into an existing team – a team with a handful of seniors and juniors trying themselves to adjust to three new brats coming in as rumored “super players” from high school.

Well, it took 30 odd games for the players to figure out how they all fit in the UCONN puzzle.

It took three losses to Notre Dame and one loss to Baylor to teach them that even though they are good, they can get better but it was going to take discipline, good coaching, and practice, practice, and practice.

After the third Notre Dame loss and the loss of the Big East championship and the Big East Tournament, the team realized that if they were going to have what UCONN fans consider a successful season, they knew they were going to have to get their act together – and quickly.

It was not something that Stewie could do alone – nor was it something Moriah Jefferson or Morgan Tuck could do individually or as a pair. 

At UCONN, it is hard for a freshman to break into the lineup.  It almost takes a starter running into a slump for a freshman get significant playing time.

The freshman needed to show some glimmers of greatness and the starters had to show signs of improvement to give fans hope.

The beginning of the NCAA tournament was the time for the team to gel – the time for individuals to step up individually and collectively.

In the first few games of the tournament Stewie made a handful of impressive rebounds, a couple of fluid 3’s, coupled with some great blocks, and fans began chanting “Stewie, Stewie, Stewie.”

However, it was not only Stewie, MoJo ran the floor – making a couple of steals and a couple of impressive layups – even her passes were sharper and more deliberate.

Tuck began looking more intimidating in the paint.  Rebounds, blocks, layups, and overall good hustle.

The real turning point, to me, was when Dolson started limping up and down the court, while still getting playing time.  Her leg brace and all that black tape made her look like “The bionic woman.”  Her leg pain, however, did not deter her from scoring, rebounding, blocking and hustling.

I believe the rookies formed their own conscious or subconscious pact – saying that if Stefanie can do all she is doing with all that leg pain, then we should be able to kick it up a notch or two.

Several torches are being passed – and they seem to be being passed all at the same time.

MoJo was to be the guard of the future but with Doty graduating, the transition is in high gear and it is happening now.

Faris – she still is at the top of her game but she does so many good things it will take a player or two or three picking up the slack that Faris will leave behind.

I believe Tuck and Stokes and KML are starting to do some of the extra things that Faris is so well respected for doing – and they are doing these things in addition to what they already have been doing well.

The biggest torch is regarding Stewie.

Stewie, however, is being passed two torches.  Some might consider the next comments to be premature, but I think not.

Brittney Griner is gone from the tournament and women’s college basketball.  Elena Delle Donne has also had her time in the limelight and she went out on a high note – ready, like Griner, to move on to the next level – the WNBA.

Griner and Delle Donne were head and shoulders above all other centers and post players.  They were # 1 and # 2 and the next nearest big was Dolson and even though I have the greatest admiration for her, she was a distant third.  On a more positive note, there was an equal gap between Dolson and the remaining centers/posts in college hoops.

Now that Griner and Delle Donne are not getting daily or weekly headlines, the time for Stewie to step up and do her thing has arrived.

I could single out a half dozen of truly amazing things that Stewie has done over the past week or two that have dazzled fans and even opponents – things like two handed blocks and rebounds coupled with dominating put backs – turning her own misses into second chance baskets.  Second chances are normally attributed to Chiney Ogwumike from Stanford, but Stewie is now getting her share.

The one play that impressed me the most was when she had her back to the basket and she spun around from somewhere near the free throw line, took three steps and made a layup – leaving her defender wondering exactly what happened.

Stewie is 6’4” and not 6’8” so she does not look as intimidating as Griner.  Stewie is an awkward, lanky freshman who does not look as polished as Delle Donne when shooting 3’s, nor does she look as polished dribbling up the court like Delle Donne – but she is far from awkward – that is just the way she plays her game.

That said, the torch has been given to Stewie and I believe she is more than ready to accept it and run the distance to the finish line.

Stewie is now, “The ONE to watch.”

Seeing her proud parents in the stands the other night truly moved me. 

Has anyone seen Maggie Lucas’ dad in the stands at Penn State games? Has anyone seen Delle Donne’s parents or even Skylar Diggins mom looking in admiration?

I believe Stewie’s parents see the transformation that has taken place in their daughter over the past several weeks and I am sure it makes them proud.

The other torch I was hinting at is the “temporary” torch that Stewie has accepted to help Stefanie through these last games.  She knows Stefanie is playing with great pain and for UCONN to win these last two games it requires Stewie to kick it up even more. 

Stewie likes hanging out in the 3-point area and she does not seem to enjoy confrontation in the paint but she also knows that for UCONN to enjoy the spoils of winning it all, she has to do some things she doesn’t like as much – doing them all for the good of the team.

This resurgent UCONN team has the capacity to blow Notre Dame out of the water but I would be happy with a decisive victory to send Notre Dame back to South Bend wondering what happened.

It is true that Louisville upset Baylor, but UCONN has already beaten Louisville and the outcome for the championship game should be no different.  Go UCONN, Go Huskies!

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Responses

  1. Kevin,

    The semi-final game vs ND provided a lot of the answer to your question about Stewart. She made some terrific plays on offense and defense. She was Faris-like and seemed to be everywhere. Her outside shot is really smooth now and she made some nice baskets inside as well. The “wow” basket was when she drove to her right in 1st half with Diggins right on her and shot a running layup with a hand in her face.

    I’m hoping the game tonight provides more of the same. Stewart has an opportunity to put her stamp on this tournament. I’m hoping that she stays loose and plays with joy tonight.

    It will be a great game to watch because of everything that has led up to this point for both teams and because of what is at stake.

    Captain Pine

    • Welcome back. Great comments. Stewie is giving us a lot to talk about. The greatest thing is hur burst of energy and her drives to the basket.

      She did two drives. one was the one you mentioned against Diggins and the other one was from left to right where she did what looked like was a soft hook for what I would call a “drive by” layup. It was a left to right – keeping the same distance from the rim.

      The wow in the previous game was her two handed block on a player going in for a basket.

      I believe if ESPN starts making a film clip of Stewie’s real cool plays, like the one’s we mentioned, it will be an awesome testimony of a rising star.

      The best comment you made was referring to Stewie as “Faris-like”. That, to me, is the highest form of compliment.

      On the Courant blog, I complimented Faris on her shutting down Diggins and someone, who usually says positive things about UCONN responded by saying that Faris did not do it all by herself.

      I know Faris did not do it all by herself – the game – offense and defense – was a team effort, however, just like Stewie had a great offensive performance, she did not to all the offense herself.

      Even NCAA.com said that Faris shut down Diggins – allowing Diggins only 3 shots. When the score no longer mattered to the outcome of the game, Diggins was left to her own devices and she drove right to be basket and scored and no UCONN player attempted to challenge her. That was because they knew it was going to be her last game and her extra basket or two would not matter in the grand scheme of things.

      For some reason, I believe tonight is going to be Faris’ night. She is not only going to make some key plays on “D”, but she is also going to make a couple of “wow” type 3’s and 2’s at critical times when a basket really is needed.

      I also believe Doty, for the limited time she will be in the game, will make a difference tonight. Doty does not want to go out limping while others pick up the slack – she will contribute.

      Lastly, I have been pondering what affect Louisville Men’s victory will have on tonight’s game and my opinion is that it won’t matter. If they lost, Louisville women would want to win it for the school because the men did not. Because they won, Louisville would want to win as well to replicate 2004 when UCONN men and women won their respective championships.

      So, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.

      On the other hand, it puts the women under additional pressure to do what the men did and to duplicate what UCONN did. That added pressure might do the Louisville women in.

      Prognosticating, don’t you just love it? I do.

  2. Kevin,

    You’re right about Geno being very tough on his freshman. He has always done this and those that fight through it (confidence-wise) become very tough players. Seems like all 3 freshman have run that gauntlet successfully.

    Geno seems to have a very fast hook with his freshman and I wonder (as it’s been noted by more than 1 tv announcer) if pulling them out and instructing them then putting the player back in quicker would be better for their development.

    What do you think?

    Capt Pine

    • Hi again Capt; The strategy you are hinting at was used well last night in both mens games. Coach “K” also does the same. What I worry about with Geno doing that, with his personality style, is that his criticism is usually destructive in nature versus constructive and if he didn’t modify his tone or his anger – it would further have someone go further in a shell.

      I have an alternative strategy – if he wants to do this – i.e. put a loving bandaid on a miscue someone made – especially the “Fab 3 Freshmen” he could use the appropriate assistant to convey the constructive criticism.

      Each assist coach has their field of expertise and if Stewie was sat down flr a minute between CD and whomever, it might go a long way – because in addition to telling her what they feel was done incorrectlhy, they would tell her how she could have done it differently – WITHOUT BERATING HER.

      I know anyone cannot serve two masters but even in an office setting, I have seen a Executive Director or a Director see something being done wrong or received a piece of correspondence that explained a situation needing correcting – he/she would say, Hey can you talk to “xxx” and get this matter fixed immediately?

      Sort of like “Good cop / bad cop” during interrogations. I know, that is a stretch but it does work

      • On the other hand, Capt, he could totally employ your recommendation if he bit his tongue first until it bled and then for example he could grab Stewie aside, for example, and tell her that she really is rocking out there but she did one thing that needs tweaking immediately, and then go on with his CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

        The reason I singled out Stewie is that I believe she went into a funk because she came from being a big fish in a small pond in high school to a huge fish tank where she felt lost – probably from being pulled out everytime she burped or blinked the wrong way.

  3. Kevin,

    I really liked this article and like sal & irene I think your writing and observations are really good! I too have been a long time fan of WCBB because it seems a much cleaner, simpler game to watch instead of the men’s game where it’s mostly about leaping high over the basket and dunks.

    The change and resurgence of Stewart’s game has been pretty amazing to see and I agree with a lot of your points. My guess is she just got to the point where she decided to not “think” about what she was doing so much or worry about making mistakes. She appears in the last several games to be playing freer and instinctively and without hesitation. She still makes mistakes but she is doing a lot of great things out there.

    Besides her ability to score in different ways, her defense and tenacity have improved a lot. I think she gives UConn another element because of her length and scoring ability. Hopefully this will give them the edge they will need to defeat ND on Sunday.

    I also noted her parents beaming during the Kentucky game and they have to be really proud of and happy for their daughter. It is great to see freshman improve and become the players we had hoped they would be.

    Go Huskies!

    Captain Pine

    • Hey Pine, I agree with the “not thinking” on Stewie’s part. Geno talked about that several times. I also think Stewie, when she was wondering just how she could best fit in, finally said to herself, I am going to out there and give it my best – doing a little here and there – not worrying if I miss a shot because I will hustle for the second opportunity, I will block when I can – rebound when possible, and I will try to be a tall version of Kelly Faris but can also shoot the lights out and help my team. I cannot be just a dunker or a blocker or just a rebounder – what I am going to be is the best I can be at a multitude of things.

      Pine, my gut feeling is also that Geno intimidates his freshmen when they make a turnover or miss a layup or get called for traveling and he harps on them to a point where SOME of them get intimidated enough to almost crawl in a shell and hibernate. They beging to question themselves so much they are content on the bench because they cannot miss a shot from there.

  4. Very good article. Sent a reply but it may not have been sent. I am using a nook color instead of my apple. Wiht the nook i can go in other rooms. Yuor artitcle was as good as anything that altivilla writes, but don’t tell him.

    • I got a brief note from you followed by this one. thank you very much.

      I like blogging about UCONN, the coaching, the players, and the dynamics between the conferences and the major women programs. My biggest problem is trying to keep the blog to a reasonable size. Being succinct is not one of my strong suits and I am trying to get better.

      Having three daughters and three granddaughters, I am attracted to the womens game more than the mens game. The men’s game has evolved into a way too physical game for me and I fear the woman’s game is gravitating in that direction – and that is not a good thing in my estimation.

      Altivilla has years of experience and has a nack of staying on subject, whereas my blogs grow tenacles and I have to constantly chop off the loose ends.

      I graduated from Northeastern as a computer major but I wished I majored in Journalism or some other Liberal Arts area.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

      Kevin
      A New Englander trapped in Lancaster, PA


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