By Carl Adamec
Whether the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team will be No. 1 in the land Monday will be determined by the voters in the Associated Press poll.
The second-ranked Huskies got to make a final impression Sunday when they took on No. 16 Texas A&M at Reed Arena in College Station and certainly left a good one.
Stefanie Dolson scored 20 of her career-high matching 24 points in the first half as UConn made its case with an 81-50 rout of Texas A&M before a crowd of 7,657. The top spot in the polls opened up Friday night when top-ranked Baylor was beaten by No. 4 Stanford in Hawaii. UConn has not been No. 1 since the final poll of the 2010-11 season.
“I don’t think anything of it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Baylor losing … It would be like if we played a real good team like Stanford and didn’t have Bria Hartley and they beat us. That wouldn’t necessarily mean we weren’t as good of a team as we were. That Baylor played without Odyssey Sims, one of the best players in the country, and lost, I don’t know if that automatically means they’re not the best team in the country.
“We’ve been 1, 2, 3 … It doesn’t really matter.”
As long as there’s a NCAA Tournament at the end to crown the national championship on the court, polls don’t matter. But being No. 1 is better than being No. 10 or No. 100, isn’t it?
“For us, it’s something that you don’t look at,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “All that’s stuff on paper. What matters is what comes out on the court.”
What came out Sunday was the dominance of Dolson.
With her freshmen teammates struggling in the first half, the UConn center did exactly what a junior and leader should do.
“Stefanie’s Stefanie,” Auriemma said. “She’s the personality of our team. Exactly the way she played today is who we are. The poise we played with, that’s where our team is right now.”
UConn (2-0) never trailed as Dolson scored seven points in a game-opening 11-2 run. Six straight points by Courtney Walker brought the Aggies to within 16-12, but the Huskies came back with nine unanswered, capped by a Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis layup off a pass and steal from Brianna Banks to take their biggest lead of the period at 13. Dolson’s short jumper right before the buzzer accounted for the 40-28 halftime score.
The Huskies broke it open with a 15-0 run that pushed their lead to 58-31. Their biggest advantage was 34.
Dolson finished 11-for-15 from the floor and added six rebounds, five assists, and three steals in her 29 minutes. She was the main reason the Huskies held a 42-12 bulge in points in the paint.
“Teams are going to make sure they take away jump shots so it opens up the paint,” Dolson said. “It makes my job easier.
“If there are double teams I’m always looking to pass out for the open shot. I help the team run the offense. As a center, people don’t think you can be a leader, that it always has to be a guard. But as a center I can see everything and help people know where they have to be. When they need me, when our guards can spread the floor, it makes it easier for me.”
Dolson overwhelmed Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone, the one-time No. 1 high school recruit. But even when the Aggies went to the bench they had no answer.
“Dolson just put on a clinic against our post players,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “There are no excuses. I’ve been praising my post players but tonight it was all Connecticut. It was not a good day for the head coach and our post players.
“Give them a lot of credit. Their ball movement is great. Their ball skills are great. You have to have players to run that kind of offense. Their kids understand the game a little bit better than mine.”
Dolson was joined in double figures by Mosqueda-Lewis (16), Breanna Stewart (11), and Faris (10). The Huskies had 27 assists on 32 baskets.
“That’s kind of how this program usually runs,” Faris said. “We have a lot of depth, we have points coming from every direction. The more and more we work on our passing, the better we’re going to be. We have a lot of good passers and a lot of good shooters, good posts that can score inside and outside.”
UConn’s freshman class of Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson had a rough time in the first half of its first road game with Stewart picking up two fouls in the opening 3:44. The rookies rallied in the second half and aided in the blowout.
“When you play a lot of young guys you never know what it’s going to be like early in the game,” Auriemma said. “The first half about what I thought it would be. We looked good at times. We looked shaky at times. In the second half we came out and had our tempo going and played like we like to play. In the first half Stefanie carried us for the most part. She was unbelievable. She was just great. The second half everyone else got involved. When points come from so many spots on the floor we’re a hard team to play against.”
Courtney Walker led A&M (0-3) with 20 points. The Aggies have lost to top 10 opponents Louisville, Penn State, and UConn to open the season.
The Huskies will stay in Texas Sunday night before heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands Monday. They begin play in the Paradise Jam Thursday against Wake Forest (6 p.m.). They will then take on Marist Friday (8:15 p.m.) and No. 18 Purdue Saturday (8:15 p.m.). All three games from the Paradise Jam will be televised by SNY.