The career of Breanna Stewart officially begins tomorrow against the College of Charleston at Gampel Pavilion. Not since Maya Moore opened her four-year stretch of brilliance in 2007 has there been more anticipation surrounding one player.
Stewart has been fun to watch in practice and against Indiana University (Pa.) and Holy Family. You get the feeling that whenever she has the ball in her hands something good is about to ensue.
Former UConn All-American Rebecca Lobo said, unlike most freshmen, that she does not think Stewart faces any obstacles at the outset of her career with the Huskies.
“She can play pretty much play any position (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) wants her to offensively and defensively,’’ Lobo said. “Usually, with a lot of 5s where you’re going to struggle when you get to college is on the defensive side. She won’t. She works so hard. She’s a great shot-blocker. She’s really, really good. She just knows the game and works hard on both ends of the floor the entire time.’’
Stewart averaged 18.0 points on 52.0 percent shooting from the field in two exhibition games. She was 3-of-9 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
It is the manner in which Stewart has scored that has been most impressive. She is frequently unguardable because she can score from virtually any spot on the floor. And at 6-foot-4 with the ability to score off the dribble from the wing, she is truly a match-up nightmare for the opposition.
There was a stretch in Wednesday’s exhibition game against Holy Family where Auriemma was actually running the offense through Stewart.
“We had to call a timeout and say, `OK, look, the next five possessions we’re going to screen for Breanna, pass it to her, and she’s going to shoot it,”’ Auriemma said. “And we scored like five straight times. So nobody ever accused our coaching staff of being asleep at the wheel. When we need a couple buckets, we know exactly where we’re going. And she’s pretty comfortable with it. She’s pretty good with the ball. She knows what to do with it. The big thing with Breanna is we just keep on her about being aggressive, being aggressive, being aggressive. The more she stays aggressive, the more she stays aggressive, the more plays she makes. And the more plays she makes, the more we go to her. She’s still a little bit too unselfish. Right now she’s a little bit reluctant to do as much as I think she can do. But I think in time, pretty quickly too, I think she’ll get the idea that nobody minds if every time she’s open she shoots it.’’
Stewart said that feels comfortable with how she has fit in and what she is doing on the court right now.
“I feel very good,’’ Stewart said. “I feel like I’m learning a lot, and each day in practice I’m getting better and better like with the drills and making sure I’m always doing something hard. I feel like I’m improving and learning.’’
A lack of depth in the frontcourt forced Auriemma to utilize 5-11 guard Kelly Faris at power forward last season. That will hardly be the case this season with the addition of Stewart, 6-2 freshman Morgan Tuck and the improvement of 6-3 sophomore Kiah Stokes to go along with 6-5 junior Stefanie Dolson.
“There’s a different feel (this season) probably because of the size difference going in,’’ Auriemma said. “I think last year we went into the season with a feeling like teams are going to have a difficult time matching up with us, defending us but we’re going to have a difficult time I think defending them certain games. And I think the feeling now is that we have more opportunities to defend teams differently instead of just one way. So I think in that respect I think it’s a little more of a comfort level.’’
UConn 2013 recruiting target Erica McCall will announce her decision tonight at roughly 10 p.m. UConn, Stanford and UCLA are her final three schools.