By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis played 24 minutes Tuesday night in the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 76-43 Big East win over Villanova at the XL Center.
But a 10-second sequence in the first half was enough to show how the sophomore forward has taken her game to another level this season.
Working in the lane, Mosqueda-Lewis posted up her Villanova defender and got the ball. When the defense came to help, she passed it to a wide open Stefanie Dolson at the elbow. Then when Dolson had a rare miss, Mosqueda-Lewis got the rebound and found Bria Hartley to start the offense. Then instead of standing in the corner, Mosqueda-Lewis moved without the ball and used a screen to get open at the top of the key. Hartley found her and Mosqueda-Lewis found nothing but net for one of her five 3-point baskets.
“She was always a versatile player,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. “She’s just more experienced now. With more experience, you can do more things. That’s what I see and that’s how I see their whole team evolving.”
Dolson (20) and Mosqueda-Lewis (19) combined for 39 points, 29 in the decisive first half, as No. 3 UConn (19-1 overall, 6-1 Big East) pushed its winning streak to seven and moved into sole possession of second place in the Big East a game behind Notre Dame. Breanna Stewart added 14 points off the bench while Dolson and Kelly Faris had eight rebounds each as the Huskies won the battle of the boards 48-28.
Mosqueda-Lewis also had four rebounds and five assists. She was 5-for-6 from behind the arc to improve her 3-point shooting percentage to 50.8 and move past Penn State’s Maggie Lucas into the top spot in the national statistics. Lucas (50.0 percent on treys) is back in action Thursday night at Wisconsin. Only an unfriendly rim kept Mosqueda-Lewis from matching the best 3-point shooting game percentage-wise in UConn history — Caroline Doty’s 6-for-6 against Oklahoma on Nov. 30, 2008.
“It’s good to have someone inside that can finish and then have Kaleena outside knocking in shots and driving hard to the basket and rebounding extremely well,” Dolson said. “We have a good combination with Kelly that’s a workhorse, Caroline distributing the ball, and Bria taking it to the basket and knocking in a shot when we need one. I think we have a great starting five and then we bring Stewie off the bench.”
But Mosqueda-Lewis has also done well when she goes inside and Dolson has been consistent with her 15-foot jumper all season.
“It makes our team more deadly whenever me and Stef can switch up,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Coach can put us both in there and we can work together. Knowing both us have confidence in either spot is great.”
In 19 games, Mosqueda-Lewis is averaging 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. All her numbers are up from a season ago, particularly her shooting percentages (43.2 to 53.5 from the floor; 38.4 to 50.8 from 3-point land) as well as her assist-to-turnover ratio.
At her current pace, she’ll become the fourth UConn sophomore — Svetlana Abrosimova, Maya Moore, and Hartley are the others — to reach 1,000 points. She is 110 away.
“What I want is for Kaleena to understand that, ‘This is my role on my team and this is what I’ve got to do and if I shoot it every single time I touch it nobody on the team is going to be upset,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “And if I keep offensive rebounding the way I’m rebounding and if I keep playing the way I’m playing, then I have a chance to help this team win the games that we want to win.”
Mosqueda-Lewis was also part of a team defensive effort that limited Villanova (16-4, 5-2) to 27.6 percent shooting from the floor. No one reached double figures for the Wildcats and their top two scorers on the year, Laura Sweeney and Rachel Roberts, combined for just nine points.
UConn never trailed and the Huskies were able to force Villanova into a tempo more to the Huskies’ liking.
“It was mostly our defense,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “When you’re running at them and staying aggressive and making them do things that they’re not used to, they have no choice but to play fast. We got defensive rebounds and we were out in transition and they had to run with us.”
While everything went well at both ends of the court Tuesday night, Mosqueda-Lewis was happy to have Villanova in the rear-view mirror.
“As a freshman I had no idea what I was doing against them,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t know how to focus. This time I knew what they were going to do. I paid attention in shootaround and practice on how we were going to guard the screens. It was a lot better.”
The Huskies are off until Saturday when they travel to New York to take on St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena (2 p.m., SNY). A victory would give them their 20th straight 20-win season. The Red Storm ended UConn’s NCAA record 99-game home winning streak a year ago at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn does not play another ranked team until No. 1 and defending national champion Baylor comes to the XL Center on Feb. 18. Less than 1,000 tickets remain for that game as of Wednesday morning.