Shorthanded Huskies Continue Press On

The Huskies had played the previous seven games with only seven full-scholarship players with All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis sidelined with a nerve contusion of the right elbow and Morgan Tuck sidelined after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her right knee Nov. 12.

UConn’s overall health got worse tonight against UC Davis at the XL Center when Kiah Stokes was forced to sit out after landing on the foot of a practice player late in practice Wednesday and rolling her left ankle. This left coach Geno Auriemma with only freshman Saniya Chong and walk-ons Tierney Lawlor and Briana Pulido on the bench.

“This is just getting aggravating now,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s at the point where you don’t know what to … We almost couldn’t even have shootaround today. We came over and spent a little bit of time over here. I’m glad those other two guys are coming back, and I’m glad Kiah is only going to be a couple days, and we’ve got the next couple days off from practice anyway. But it wasn’t ideal, let’s put it that way.’’

The Huskies could finally be whole again following a 12-day break for final exams. Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck are both expected to return to practice at some point next week. Stokes is expected to be back at practice Sunday.

“We can only get better if we get those guys back in practice,’’ Auriemma said. “We’re only going to get so much better if we keep the same players that we have. Once we get those three back, then we can really, really improve. Who knows when that is going to be?”

The Huskies have been most impressive despite being shorthanded. They defeated then-No. 8 Maryland and then-No. 13 Penn State in a span of three days last month on the road. And they have received contributions from every one of the healthy players, particularly Stokes, Brianna Banks and Chong, who were thrust into roles where they had to play meaningful minutes right away.

Stokes is averaging 8.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 23.0 minutes. Chong is averaging 7.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 23.0 minutes. And Banks, who has started the last six games, is averaging 6.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 21.6 minutes.

“We’ve done some great things in spite of the injuries,’’ Auriemma said. “We’ve played some good teams, and we’ve played well. I thought except for last Sunday (against Ohio State) we really have played really, really good basketball at both ends of the floor. And there’s not a lot that you can say about what our rotation is or any of the other issues because it is what it is and the kids know it. So there’s no choice. They don’t have any choice. They have to play well. They have to stay out of foul trouble. And sometimes when you have that much pressure on you, it’s not bad. It’s not bad at all.’’

“I think that overall as a team everyone’s stepped up,’’ sophomore Breanna Stewart said. “And I think that people are becoming really comfortable and comfortable with getting a lot of minutes, and it’s just going to be even more beneficial when we’re completely healthy.’’

Said senior Stefanie Dolson: “We have so many weapons on our team and then to have the ones that are out come back is just going to make it even harder for other teams to choose kind of what to guard and how to play us when we go out there. So I’m excited to see how much better we get.’’