Breanna Stewart handled herself very professionally today following practice at Gampel Pavilion. She smiled and joked a bit as she faced a steady flow of questions regarding her deep struggles.
Stewart has not been playing like the player who scored more points the any other freshman in UConn history through the first 10 games (169). She has not been playing like the Huskies’ coaching staff and her teammates expect her to. And, most of all, she has not been playing like she expects herself to.
“I think it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing if I had to pinpoint it,’’ Stewart said. “But I think that I’m working on getting the right perspective or attitude to get out of it or get out of the fog. I don’t think it’s something that I can say `this is it.’ But I think it’s just a lot of little things that lead to a big thing. If I knew it would be great. It would be much easier. I’m going to try to be as confident as I can and just try to work my way through it and go up because I’m pretty sure there’s no where else to go.’’
Stewart reached what was arguably her lowest point this season in Monday’s 76-70 loss to No. 1 Baylor at the XL Center. She played a season-low six minutes, 32 seconds and finished scoreless for the first time in 24 games this season.
Stewart took only two shots and did not have a rebound, an assist or a blocked shot. She entered the game just three times, playing for stretches of 23 seconds, 3:15 and 2:54. She found herself on the bench for the final 4:46 of the game.
“Obviously, I feel like I let my team down because of me not playing well and not helping the team as much as I can,’’ Stewart said. “I think maybe I was worrying about things too much and sometimes when you do that it just doesn’t help you. Yeah, you want to try and play through those things. But, obviously, in a big game like that there’s only so many minutes in the game and you’re kind of running out of time.’’
Stewart is averaging 8.7 points (.354 FG) and 5.5 rebounds in six games against Top 10 opponents. She is averaging 14.0 points (.521) and 6.9 rebounds in 18 games against the rest of the competition.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma put Stewart’s struggles into perspective today.
“This is the first day that we’ve practiced since Monday so there’s really not much that you can say because when you’re struggling like she’s struggling, when you’re searching as much as she’s searching, it’s hard to come in here every day and walk around like you’ve got the whole world in the palm of your hand,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s going to take a while, but hopefully little by little…
“But we can’t worry about Breanna Stewart right now. We’ve got games to win Saturday, Tuesday, two next weekend. We can’t worry about Breanna Stewart. Breanna Stewart has got to take care of Breanna Stewart. And I’ve got to make sure that I’m doing the right thing for the rest of the team.’’
Stewart has scored in single digits in four of the last six games, averaging 7.2 points on 32.0 percent shooting from the field in this span. She scored in single digits in just three of her first 18 games (14.5p on 53.2 percent shooting).
Stewart, who has also missed 13 straight 3-pointers, said that while her confidence is obviously not at its peak right now knowing that she has the ability to be a big-time player has helped her mentally.
“I think that helps a lot because just knowing that I can play how I can play when I’m playing well is just the reason why I just keep going because I know eventually something’s got to turn around,’’ Stewart said. “Because this is not how I play. This is not how I want to play.’’
Stewart said that she has been receiving support from various people lately. She credited her father, Brian, as being a rock that she can lean on for assistance during this time.
“I seem to be getting a lot of encouragement. Oh, my gosh,’’ Stewart said. “But talking to my dad. He’s always there for me. So he’s someone I can talk to about it and he’s just trying to, obviously, help me get out of it as well. And so are the coaches.’’
“I’m not going to say it’s too much (encouragement) because I appreciate people’s support and stuff like that. But there’s only a few people that are going to be able to help me actually figure it out and myself is one of the biggest. I’m going to have to figure it out because I know myself best.’’
Senior Kelly Faris said that the Huskies have to “continue to encourage her, and at the same time know the line between encouraging and holding her accountable.’’ Sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who experienced her own struggles last season, said that no amount of support is enough right now for Stewart.
“I think right now she needs all the support she can get,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She doesn’t need us yelling at her. Coach is going to tell her what she needs to do. And right now I think it’s something that Stewie’s got to figure out for herself. She’s got to figure out what’s going on in her head and why she’s not playing the way that we know that she can. So everyone knows how much she’s capable of and we’re just going to support her until she does it.
“For someone who’s so talented and you see all the potential I never thought that she was going to really have a problem he she came here. Every freshman has struggles. I had struggles last year. Bria (Hartley) had struggles her freshman year as did people before us. So it’s our job as teammates to help her out.’’
A recruiting source said that Kathryn Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 junior forward from Kettering, Ohio, has a scholarship offer from UConn.