Breanna Stewart needed a game where she felt good about herself afterward. She needed to get back to playing like a game changer, a player that can be a key cog for the Huskies in a national championship run during the NCAA tournament.
Forget, for a minute, that the opponent was Seton Hall Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. The most important thing was the energy that Stewart displayed and her ability and desire to rebound the ball and make plays.
Stewart finished with 16 points (7-of-12 FG), eight rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes. She had six offensive rebounds, which matched her total from the three previous games, and she ended a streak of 13 straight missed 3-pointers by connecting with 14:02 left in the game.
The performance comes after Stewart had averaged 7.2 points (16-of-50 FG), 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over the last six games. She did not have a single point, rebound or block in seven minutes against Baylor last Monday.
“As bad as Stewie’s been playing, just getting here and I checked her shoes and the right one was on the right foot, and the left one was on the left foot,’’ Auriemma said. “So she was way ahead of the game as far as I was concerned. Anything she did after that was gravy.’’
Auriemma then got serious …
“I especially like that her first couple of plays were really aggressive plays that weren’t stand around waiting for something to happen. They were the kind of plays where she was making things happen. That’s how you get out of whatever’s bothering you. You get out of whatever’s bothering you by being more aggressive, not by being more tentative. And that doesn’t mean you become more aggressive just by shooting jump shots.
“She ended up impacting the game with follow-ups, offensive rebounds, playing good defense. Just a lot of good things that she was doing. I hope it’s something that she can build on because obviously if you’re able to get a game like this on a regular basis from Stewie then that changes the complexion of our team completely.’’
Stewart entered the game for the first time with 12:42 left in the first half. Her day did not start well as Auriemma lashed out at her for what sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said was not cutting hard and playing hard at all times.
Auriemma’s prodding worked as Stewart scored six straight points, including two hoops on putbacks, in a span of 1:36. She had 10 points and four rebounds (three offensive) overall in the first 5:12 that she spent on the court.
“It took her a little … Coach yelled at her in the beginning and was like, `Come on, man. You’ve got to play harder. You’ve got to do this,’’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “And I think this is the first time where actually Stewie clicked and it was like `Alright, I got it.’ She went in there right away and got offensive rebounds, got some tips, scored with contact. That’s what we need from her ever single day. We need her intensity. We need her to play that physical.’’
The effort capped a difficult week for Stewart as she tried to discover how to shed her struggles. She said Saturday was “definitely a good step forward.’’
“I talked to a couple different people, but it was just me trying to figure how I’m going to move forward from this,’’ Stewart said. “And I think that in practice I was really focusing on really working harder and that’s something that I need to do and continue is just really work hard in practice and give all my energy.
“I think I just really felt better about myself (Saturday). It did feel a lot better to go out there and just play and be aggressive and have fun. At the same time, I still need to keep working hard. There are still going to be some struggles that I’m going to need to overcome, but I think that this game is really going to help me for the future. I was aggressive, and when shots fall obviously your confidence is going increase. At a time like this what you want to see is the ball go through the rim.’’