By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Stefanie Dolson is on pace to become the fifth player to join the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 1,000-points-1,000 rebounds club.
But as the top-ranked Huskies hit the midpoint of the regular season with Tuesday’s American Athletic Conference game against Houston at Gampel Pavilion (SNY, 7 p.m.), the All-American senior center is making a bid to join an even more exclusive group.
Through 15 games, Dolson is averaging a double-double of 14.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. Only three players at UConn — Peggy Walsh, Renee Najarian, and Rebecca Lobo (twice) — have averaged a double-double for a season.
“Getting a double-double means a lot to me,” Dolson said after practice Monday. “I’ve been working on my rebounding a lot this year. For me, getting double-digit rebounds is the most important thing in each game rather than scoring or whatever. But to be able to also score in double figures is cool.”
Walsh averaged 16.7 points and 12.5 rebounds her senior season of 1985-86, Geno Auriemma’s first year at UConn. Najarian averaged 18.4 points and 10.9 rebounds her senior year of 1987-88. Lobo averaged 16.7 points and 11.2 rebounds her sophomore season of 1992-93 and repeated the effort a year later by averaging 19.2 points and 11.2 rebounds in an All-American campaign.
The four members of the 1,000-1,000 club are Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Lobo, and Jamelle Elliott. Only Elliott did not win Player of the Year her senior season.
Dolson, who has 881 career rebounds, averaged just 6.4 rebounds in her first three years here.
“It’s one of the biggest changes that we have had when you look at our team,” Auriemma said. “Your team usually gets better because you have individuals do things a little bit better than we’re accustomed to seeing. When you see somebody like Stefanie rebound the ball to the extent that she is rebounding it now, I think it just goes to show even more than the past her development and her ability to go rebound away from her own particular area.
“Some players get rebounds and others have rebounds come to them. She has gotten way better at going to get the rebound. For her to get the numbers she is getting, it is even more impressive because there aren’t a whole lot of offensive rebounds to be had when we play because we don’t miss a lot of shots. So those rebounds are coming at the defensive end where they are holding the other team to one-and-done and getting our transition game going.”
Dolson has recorded seven of her 11 career double-doubles as a senior, including back-to-back last week in the Huskies’ road wins over Central Florida and Memphis. She also became the first UConn player since Laura Lishness in the Big East tournament final in 1989 to record a triple-double when she had 26 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists in a Nov. 20 victory over Oregon.
The Port Jervis, N.Y. native has never had three straight double-doubles but can get that accomplished against Houston.
“For me, I’ve done a good job of scoring and getting my teammates open and there’s still room to improve in that,” Dolson said. “But the one thing that I hadn’t really gotten better at is rebounding.”
Rebounding is hard work, and hard work is something that Dolson has never been afraid of.
“It’s about not giving up and giving all of your effort,” she said. “Some people aren’t the best at tracking down balls. I don’t know why I’m terrible at reading where the ball is going to come off. With me it’s about giving the extra effort to get there and get the ball and fight the other players to get it.
“Some people assume when you’re big you’re going to rebound anyway. But getting three or four rebounds per game isn’t good enough. Last year, two years ago, Kelly Faris was one of the higher rebounders on our team and she was one of the smaller people. To me that showed it isn’t how big you are. And I wanted to prove to people that I can get double-digit rebounds not only because of how big I am but how much effort I give.”
As Auriemma mentioned, Dolson gets good numbers even though UConn doesn’t get the opportunity to offensive rebound as much as other teams around the country because it shoots the ball so well. Out of her 151 rebounds this season, 116 (76.8 percent) are on the defensive end.
Of her 22 rebounds against UCF and Memphis last week, only two were offensive.
“To get our transition offense going we have to rebound,” Dolson said.
UConn has a 209-63 lead in fast-break points on its opponents and has held the advantage in that category in 12 of its 15 games. It was tied with Ohio State and was outscored by Duke and California by two points each.
The Huskies (15-0 overall, 3-0 AAC) will have to chance to build on all their numbers Tuesday against Houston.
The Cougars (4-10, 0-3) were picked to finish 10th in the AAC preseason coaches poll and struggled with a weak non-league schedule. Coach Todd Buchanan resigned citing personal reasons last month and was replaced by Wade Scott on an interim basis for the rest of the season. Senior guard Te’onna Campbell is the only player scoring in double figures.
Houston center Yasmeen Thompson is averaging a team-leading 8.2 rebounds but has only four assists on the season. Dolson is averaging 3.6 assists per game to go with her scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.
But it’s her rebounding that has her in the spotlight.
“You have to give Stefanie all the credit in the world for looking around at the landscape and saying, ‘What do I want to be better at?’ ” Auriemma said.
And Dolson has never been better at it.