The goal for sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis during the off-season was to become a more well rounded player. Not one that only shoots 3-pointers.
Mosqueda-Lewis flashed some of progress in exhibition games against Indiana University (Pa.) and Holy Family. And when the regular season opened Sunday against the College of Charleston, she continued to light up the stat sheet.
Mosqueda-Lewis opened by making three 3 pointers and scoring 11 points in a span of 87 seconds to help UConn build a 13-2 lead. She did tally 19 points (5-of-10 3-pointers) in a 103-39 win. But she also produced eight rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals in 31 minutes.
“Kaleena is one of those … She’s the kind of player in college basketball that if you have somebody like that it forces the other teams to do things defensively that they may not have to do against somebody else because you have to almost assign someone to … Whatever defense you’re in somebody’s got to be specifically in charge of defending her otherwise you’re going to give up a lot of 3s like these teams have,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “What happens if you’re going to assign somebody just to her than the other guys are playing 4-on-4. And it’s a lot easier to win a game 4-on-4 than it is 5-on-5 because the less people that are on the floor the bigger the floor is.
“So by Kaleena spreading the court out and making it so big she helps everybody already. Now what happened last year she would stand in one spot. Somebody would guard her and that’s all she would do. So we were playing 4-on-4 and it was great. Now they have someone assigned to her and she’s a good 3-point shooter, obviously. But she’s also involved in making other plays so now a lot of times we’re playing 5-on-4. And that’s the difference that she’s made for us.’’
Mosqueda-Lewis, who did not commit a turnover in the game, had as many as eight rebounds in just six games last season. She never had more than three steals in any of the 38 games she played.
“I’m trying to be more active on defense, and I’m starting to get the hang of it and knowing where I’m supposed to be and anticipating,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I feel like a little Kelly Faris out there.’’
Said Stefanie Dolson: “She did so much. She knocked in those 3s. Then she went back and played great defense. She got a few steals, hustle plays. She was definitely all over the place. I’m definitely proud of her improvement as a player as a whole and just looking forward to how much better she gets.’’
Freshman Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 21 points (8-of-11 FG; 5-of-5 FT) and had four steals in 23 minutes in her debut. She plays effortlessly on the floor, seemingly doing whatever she wants when she wants to do it.
Here is what she had to say about her performance …
“There were some nerves in the beginning just because it was really the first game of the season,’’ Stewart said. “But they went away very quickly and I settled into just realizing it was another game and I just played aggressive. I just felt really comfortable. I was just playing the game. I don’t think I was doing anything to out of my element. Whenever I was open I looked to shoot it.’’
Stewart has deserved every bit of the hype that followed her from Cicero-North High. However, fellow freshman Morgan Tuck was also impressive against the Cougars.
Tuck finished with 15 points (7-of-11 FG; 1-of-2 3-pointers), six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals in 22 minutes.
“This is what I have been waiting for,’’ Tuck said. “I talked to my parents about it. They were at home watching it. So to have the first college game that’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.’’
Like she did growing up with her sister, Taylor, Tuck said that she is out to prove herself. Stewart might be the crown jewel of the class. But Tuck wants to make sure that she gives people reason take notice of her too.
“Breanna is a great player and she deserves everything she had,’’ Tuck said referring to the hype surrounding Stewart. “But you always want to prove yourself. You always want to prove that you’re a good player. You want to prove that you can play with the best just as anyone else can. So I think that’s there a little bit where I just want to show that I’m a good player and I just want to show I can help my team win.’’
Tuck said that her desire to prove herself comes from the competitor inside of her.
“Especially when I was growing up, my sister was always better than me in everything,’’ Tuck said. “And I think that drove me. I always wanted to be better than her. So I think it’s just always in me to try to be the best.’’