The lowpost presence of Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart and Kiah Stokes has paid significant dividends for top-ranked UConn this season. And it is not just in blocked shots. Their ability to block shots has allowed the perimeter players to take many more chances defensively, which has created a considerable amount of steals and instant offense.
The Huskies registered 20 steals, one shy of their season-high, against Memphis Wednesday. They now have 211 in 20 games this season (10.6) and are on pace for 423, which would be the sixth-most in team history.
“We’re able to pressure a lot more because we have those shot blockers back there,’’ senior Bria Hartley said. “That helps us tremendously. I wouldn’t want to be any of the guards on the other teams having to go in there against Stefanie, Kiah and Stewie consistently. That just helps us. We’re able to get out there, kind of pressure the ball a lot more and it just gives us a little cushion.’’
UConn has reached double figures in steals in six of the last eight games (12.8) and in 11 overall this season. Also, the Huskies have had 20 in two of the last four games, including a season-high 21 against Temple Jan. 11.
Six players have at least 16 steals, led by point guard Moriah Jefferson (58). Hartley (38), Stewart (34), Dolson (25), Brianna Banks (21) and Saniya Chong (16) are the others.
In turn, the Huskies are averaging 14.5 fastbreak points per game.
“When you a front-runner like Moriah who’s going to get us started energize-wise on defense it kind of gets easier,’’ junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She’s starts it up and then it kind of like gradually goes through rest of the team. And Coach (Geno Auriemma) whenever we’ve got a timeout he tells us, `Alright, guys, we’re going to get into a press right now. We’re going to get to get a steal.’
“It really starts in practice. He does it in practice. And once he says to get a steal, once he says he wants pressure we do it, we usually get a steal right out of the timeout. I think that’s like our best offense. Definitely able to get started that way.’’