The difference in the Huskies since a last-second loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament at the XL Center March 12 is noticeable on so many fronts. After spending months talking about making the necessary changes to maximize their potential it appears that they have finally done so entering tonight’s showdown with the Irish in the national semifinals at New Orleans Arena.
And a sizable part of the change has been the play of freshmen Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. No longer thinking too much, they are simply going out and playing. Stewart has again become a dominant presence. And Jefferson and Tuck have provided UConn with quality minutes off the bench through the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament.
“In their minds they’re thinking, `It’s my first NCAA Tournament,’ so they’re all excited,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’ve always thought about it as when you’re there for the first time you’re enjoying every minute of it and having a great time. You think everything’s going to go your way and there’s no way you can lose. It’s not until you get there and you lose do you think, `Oh boy, there’s a lot that could go wrong.’ But right now they don’t think anything will go wrong.’’
Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck have combined for 37.6 points (55-of-100 FG) in 72.3 minutes in the tournament. That represents 44.1 percent of UConn’s scoring.
Stewart, who was named the Bridgeport regional Most Outstanding Player, is second on the team in scoring (17.3), third in rebounding (5.7) and first in blocks (3.3) and minutes (30.3).
Jefferson is averaging 9.5 points, 2.3 assists and a team-high 2.5 steals in 23.5 minutes. She very easily could have been named to the regional all-tournament team.
Tuck is averaging 10.0 points in 18.5 minutes.
“I’ve noticed a change in their approach to things,’’ Auriemma said. “Just the fact that Morgan Tuck will take the ball from the wing and drive to the basket and then make free throws, that wasn’t happening a couple weeks ago. What Moriah Jefferson has been doing wasn’t happening a couple weeks ago. Stewie’s game wasn’t where it is a couple weeks ago. We do have a lot of new things that are happening and our three freshmen, it’s taken them five months. They’re in a really good place right now and maybe they’re too young to know what the stakes are and I’m not going to remind them.’’