The hype surrounding Breanna Stewart’s arrival at UConn this season was enormous. It has not taken her long to live up to that hype.
With a season-high 27 points at Hartford Saturday, Stewart became the highest scoring freshman in team history after 10 games. She has scored 169 points, eclipsing Maya Moore’s mark of 165 in 2007-08 when she scored a team single-season record 678 points in 38 games (17.8).
“She doesn’t even know how she scores,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “So it’s probably best to let her figure it out. She takes a lot of shots, and she makes a lot of them. And guys who shoot a lot, make a lot and score a lot of points. Let me guess, she broke Maya’s record? Another guy who took a lot of shots and made a lot of shots. So that’s what scorers do. They go into a game and they figure out how to score points. And that’s what she does. It’s the same thing I said about Maya when Maya was a freshman. If Breanna Stewart ever learns how to play basketball, where her shots are coming from, when and how, she’s going to be really, really good. So I’m not surprised that she’s scored a lot of points.’’
Stewart, who is shooting 59.8 percent from the field, leads the team in scoring (16.9), rebounding (7.2), blocks (1.6) and field goal attempts (107). She has scored at least 20 points in five games this season and has taken at least 10 shots in seven games.
“I’m just going into each game just trying to play my game,’’ Stewart said. “And I’m not trying to force shots or force anything like that, but if I’m open I’m going to shoot it. What else are you supposed to do when you’re open?
“I think compared to high school, in high school I could pretty much get whatever shot you want. “And here, obviously, defenses are better and you really have to work for your shot. And that’s what I have to keep working on is just keep working for my shot, whether it’s setting a screen to get someone else open and then getting myself open. But I think just staying within the offense and shooting when I’m open.’’
Said UConn All-American Bria Hartley: “I think she’s one of those players, she makes everything look easy. She’s so talented, and she can score anytime she’s on the floor. So she goes out there and plays basketball, and that’s what we need her to do.’’
Stewart, a two-time Big East Freshman of the Week honoree, is averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals in 27.0 minutes over the last two games.
“She just is a natural at everything,’’ Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “Even when I saw her play years ago before I coached her (with USA Basketball), I was like, `Oh, she can’t really do that.’ It’s like every weakness she had she finds a way to erase it within a year. So she’s going left (Saturday). She’s pulling up. She’s finishing around the basket. She is just a really dynamic offensive player. And we really don’t have the kind of athlete that can make her life difficult. You could see in some of the physical games against Penn State and Maryland how she struggled when teams really, really bodied her up.
“But in a game like (Saturday) where we didn’t have somebody like that she can just pick you apart any way. And it doesn’t hurt her that she’s got players around her banging 3s left and right. So you can’t really double her. You can’t pay too much attention to her. And I think that’s what makes them special is there really is no weakness on offense. They have five guys that can score at any point in any way. And so you really have to just hope they miss in some cases, and they didn’t do that a lot (Saturday).’’
Stewart’s worst two-game stretch of the season offensively came against No. 9 Maryland Dec. 3 and No. 10 Penn State Dec. 6 when she was regularly bodied by both teams. She finished with 13 points (4-of-12 FG) and a season-high five turnovers against the Terrapins. She followed with a season-low seven points (1-of-3 FG) against the Lady Lions.
Stewart is likely to receive the same type of treatment physically at No. 1 Stanford Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to that game,’’ Stewart said. “I heard Stanford is a pretty hostile environment. I think it’s going to be pretty live. But I’m looking forward to experiencing the whole thing and hopefully playing a really good game.’’