After watching freshman Breanna Stewart play over the first 10 games you would never have imagined that her struggles would reach a height where she would be a non-factor in Monday’s high-profile showdown with No. 1 Baylor. UConn coach Geno Auriemma said last season that Stewart was going to be a difference-maker in games like this.
Instead, Stewart played exactly six minutes, 32 seconds, which was a season-low, and finished scoreless for the first time in 24 games this season. She took just two shots. She did not have a rebound, an assist or a blocked shot.
“I’m as confused and I’m as flabbergasted as anybody else,’’ Auriemma said. “I just don’t have any experience with this. I’ve seen it happen, but not to this extent. Not to this extent. And I wish I had all the answers and I could help her with it. But right now we’re just going to have to work really, really hard with her to get her back to where I think she can be productive.’’
Stewart was the third player utilized by Auriemma off the bench in the first half against the Lady Bears after fellow freshmen Moriah Jefferson (13:37) and Morgan Tuck (11:31). Stewart entered the game for the first time with 9:37 left in the half. Her stay on the court lasted just 23 seconds.
Stewart returned to play the final 3:15 of the half, her longest stretch of the game. Auriemma then did not insert her into the game in the second half until 7:40 remained. This stint spanned 2:54 before she was pulled for good with 4:46 left.
“We can’t win without everyone on this team,’’ UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We need Stewie to go in there and be confident and know what she’s doing and go in there and rebound and score. She’s a way better player than what she went out there and did (Monday). She can be more productive for our team. Once she is we’re going to be that much better.’’
Stewart, who scored a team freshman record 169 points through the first 10 games, had been averaging 13.2 points and team-highs of 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 21.8 minutes in her first 23 games. Six times she scored at least 20 points.
Stewart has now failed to reach double figures in scoring in four of the last six games, averaging 7.2 points on 32.0 percent shooting from the field (16-of-50). She scored in single digits just three times in her first 18 games (14.5 on 53.2 percent shooting).
Stewart has also missed 13 straight 3-pointers dating back to the second half against Villanova Jan. 29.
“When you’re a young player and you get stunned at some point during the season it takes a lot to recover,’’ Auriemma said. “I don’t know exactly when it happened, but right now Breanna Stewart’s mind isn’t going to let her be the player that I think she can be right now. But maybe a month from now that changes. Right now it’s not good up there, and that’s where it is. But it’s not good up there because there are things physically that she’s struggling with on a regular basis, and then that gets into your head. The guy who can’t hit curveballs and it gets into his head, now he can’t hit any pitch. That’s kind of where she is right now.’’