By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Bria Hartley is impatient. So having to wait 13 days to play a game was tough on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s All-American guard, especially when she wasn’t playing at the level she expects from herself.
Hartley was ready to go Wednesday night as she and the second-ranked Huskies made quick work of Oakland (Mich.) at the XL Center. She netted a season high 21 points as UConn routed short-handed Oakland 97-25 before a crowd of 8,325.
“I definitely needed this,” Hartley said. “I think I’m at my best when I’m making plays and being aggressive. I think my teammates are used to me doing that and I felt good out there tonight.”
The North Babylon, N.Y., native, who missed two months of the preseason and the first two regular season games with a left ankle injury, came into Wednesday night averaging just 7.5 points per game, about half her career average.
But she matched her previous season’s best of 12 points by the first media time out and had 19 points in the first half when the game was decided. She finished 8-for-13 from the floor and added season highs of six rebounds and five steals along with four assists in 32 minutes.
It wasn’t a coming out party, but a warm welcome back.
“She just needs time out on the floor and it was good that we had a bunch of days in a row that she could actually practice,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think it has done wonders for her. She looked like her old self out there. As we’ve said, little-by-little, she wanted to get back at it and tonight was a really big step in that direction.”
Freshman Breanna Stewart, who came off the bench as Caroline Doty got the starting nod, registered her second double-double with season highs of 21 points and 13 rebounds. Brianna Banks and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also scored in double figures for UConn (9-0) with 18 and 14 points respectively.
“I just wanted to go into the game and play hard and play aggressive to help the team in whatever way possible,” Stewart said.
It was UConn’s first game since Dec. 6 and the first since last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.
Prior to the opening tip, the Huskies stood in a circle at center court next to 26 members of the cheerleading squad and dance team who held candles to honor the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It was emotional,” UConn center Stefanie Dolson said. “I just looked down and closed my eyes. It was something that I will never forget. The day I found out what happened, and that moment being out there with the cheerleaders and dance team … I’ll never forget it.”
The game was over almost before it started.
At full strength the Golden Grizzlies’ chances were slim. With preseason Summit League Player of the Year Bethany Watterworth and leading scorer Olivia Nash sidelined with injuries, their chances against the Huskies were none.
“We started strong. Bria was all over the place and that set the tone,” Stewart said.
Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis opened the game with 3-pointers. Dolson followed with a basket and six straight points by Hartley made it 14-0. At that point, Auriemma called off his team’s full-court pressure.
Not that it mattered. Oakland shot 8 percent (2 for 25) in the first half and only a 7-for-8 effort from the foul line got the Grizzlies into double figures. It was 61-12 at halftime.
The Grizzlies did score the first five points of the second half but got no closer.
“We got a lot done in the first half,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know if we got anything done in the second half. It was 20 minutes of pretty good basketball and the rest was not exactly what we want to see.”
The only scare of the second half came with 13:56 left when Dolson went down with a left ankle injury. After being attended to by athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle, Dolson put on a brace and stayed on the bench but didn’t come back in the game.
“It’s just a tweak,” Dolson said. “Rosemary will handle it. I’m an ugly faller, though.”
UConn had a 52-4 advantage in points in the paint and 35-0 bulge in points off turnovers. Heather Buck entered the contest with 4:47 left in the half, the 100th game of the fifth-year senior’s career.
UConn was without sophomore center Kiah Stokes (right shin) and freshman forward Morgan Tuck (right knee), who were out with injuries.
Elizabeth Hamlet had 14 points for Oakland (5-6).
The Huskies start a three-game road trip Saturday against the University of Hartford at Chase Family Arena (1 p.m., SNY). They will visit No. 1 Stanford Dec. 29 and Oregon New Year’s Eve.