Breanna Stewart walked into the UConn locker room at halftime Friday night fresh off scoring 19 points in the first half. She scored inside. She scored outside. Maryland had no answer for her defensively.
Still, Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma was not impressed. He did not care about her point total. What he truly cared about was the fact that she did not have a rebound in 14 minutes of action. Simply because UConn was down to seven scholarship players due to injuries to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck does not mean that one area of the game can be overlooked.
Stewart took the criticism to heart, grabbing seven rebounds (six offensive) in a second-half that saw the Huskies roll over the Terrapins for a defining win. They learned a great deal about themselves at the Comcast Center.
“I think we learned that even when we have a little adversity, we obviously have two injured players,’’ Stewart said. “But at the same time we’re still coming out, we’re still playing Connecticut basketball and we’re going to come out and get a win. Even if it’s a sloppy win, we played hard and got it done.’’
The Huskies (3-0) will look to knock off their second ranked opponent on this road trip Sunday when they face No. 13 Penn State (2-0) at the Bryce Jordan Center (noon; Big Ten Network).
UConn needed to receive contributions from various players against the Terrapins, and it was Moriah Jefferson and Brianna Banks who truly rose to the occasion. Jefferson had 15 points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals in a career-high 35 minutes. Banks had nine points, three rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes.
Neither player committed a turnover. Each player scored seven points in the second half when the Huskies outscored Maryland 29-17.
“When you come to come to Connecticut and you play in this particular program there’s certain expectations and you have to come out and you have to try your best to meet those expectations,’’ Auriemma said. “And sometimes it’s on your terms and sometimes things are forced upon you. And (Friday) Moriah Jefferson, Briana Banks, they were phenomenal. As good as Kiah (Stokes) was against Stanford Monday, that’s how good Moriah and Brianna Banks were (Friday). But that’s what teams do. That’s one of the things we talked about. This isn’t tennis or golf or swimming where you’re out there by yourself doing your thing. This is a team. So teams are made up of people who pick each other up. And those two guys were phenomenal (Friday).’’
UConn’s ability to have players emerge with the team fighting the numbers game was not lost on Maryland coach Brenda Frese.
“I have said this all along … They went from nine All-Americans to seven,’’ Frese said. “If they lose a couple more, Geno might have to start coaching like the rest of us. They are obviously extremely talented and they continue to show, despite their injuries, that they have talent and depth at every position.’’
Auriemma could not have been more proud of how the Huskies responded despite being down one starter and their sixth-man.
“I think we proved on Monday night (against Stanford) that we have the ability to be a great team,’’ Auriemma said. “(Friday) I told them, `Let’s go out and prove that we’re a great program.’ Those two things are not necessarily the same thing. There are a lot of teams that are great teams. We had an opportunity (Friday) to show that we’re a great program, that we don’t rely on certain individuals. It’s the strength of our team, the strength of our program, and the culture we’ve created that allows us to do some of the things that we do.’’