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!