By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Breanna Stewart found out last week she was closing in on 1,000 career points. Her parents didn’t know until watching the telecast of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s game with South Florida Sunday that she was near the plateau.
That the Huskies’ sophomore fell two points short against the Bulls gave her parents, Brian and Heather, her younger brother Conor, and her maternal grandparents the opportunity to drive to the XL Center Wednesday to see her get it in person.
And she didn’t even make them wait long.
Stewart banked home her first shot 43 seconds in and finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, a career high seven blocked shots, and four assists as top-ranked UConn routed Central Florida 83-35 in American Athletic Conference action before a crowd of 9,815.
“Scoring 1,000 points is a really cool honor and to be able to have my family here just to watch it, that meant a lot to me,” Stewart said. “I think they appreciate it. I don’t know if they came to this game just because of that.
“My parents helped me stay humble through my high school career and on to college. That they weren’t aware of it either until now rubs off on me.”
An announcement of her accomplishment came at the next stoppage of play and Stewart received a standing ovation.
Moments later, Bria Hartley reached a milestone of her own.
The senior All-American joined Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore as the only UConn players with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists when she grabbed a rebound after a Stewart block on UCF’s Zykira Lewis 4:06 gone. She also received a standing ovation. At 5-foot-8, Hartley is the shortest player at UConn to get 500 rebounds.
“I’m technically 5-9. I’m just saying …,” Hartley said with a laugh.
“Diana was one of the players that I looked up to and being able to play with Maya was awesome. To be in a category with them is awesome. Coach always says to dream really big and that way you can meet them and go past them. I always looked up to players like Diana and Maya and that’s why I wanted to be here. I want to be considered a player that could be as good as they are.”
Hartley finished with 20 points as she and classmate Stefanie Dolson (10 points) played their final collegiate games at the XL Center.
“You look at Bria and it’s hard to pick out real, real, real highs for her because she’s been so consistent,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s no 40-point games. There are no games where she makes 10 threes. You just look at her entire career …
“She’s like Derek Jeter. She came in as a young kid and you can count on her every game pretty much. She shows up. She plays as hard as she can. She’s my wife’s favorite player, I know that. So that means something. And that’s saying a lot when your coaches can pretty much count on you every single day in practice and every night that we play no matter who we play, no matter where we play. And everything that she gets she deserves. She’s had an All-American season and I don’t think anybody on our coaching staff is surprised or anybody on our team is surprised.”
The Huskies also got a nice boost from Saniya Chong. In making her second consecutive start, the freshman guard chipped in career highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds for her first double-double.
The win allows UConn (27-0 overall, 14-0 AAC) to maintain its one-half game over Louisville in the league race. Its 33-game winning streak dating back to last season matches the fourth-longest in school history. The 1996-97 Huskies won their first 33 games before losing to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament Midwest Regional final in Iowa City, Iowa.
“It feels good coming out as a team and getting done what we wanted to,” Stewart said.
UConn spotted UCF (10-16, 3-12) the first basket before taking over. Stewart had five points in an 11-0 run that gave the Huskies a nine-point lead. At 17-9, UConn ran off 10 straight points — including five by Chong — to lead by 18. The Huskies closed the half with an 8-2 run to take their biggest lead of the period at 46-20.
UCF got no closer as it missed 22 of its first 23 second-half shots.
Lewis led the Knights with 11 points. In the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 1 in Orlando, UCF guard Briahanna Jackson scored 28 points — the most by a Huskies’ opponent this season. Jackson, though, left the team for undisclosed reasons. UCF didn’t get to 28 points Wednesday until 6:18 remained.
“UConn, they are a machine,” UCF coach Joi Williams said. “Hats off to them. They can just hurt you in so many ways. They have so many weapons.”
The Huskies shot 50.7 percent from the floor compared to 17.1 percent for the Knights. They won the battle of the boards 53-42 and had a 44-6 advantage in points in the paint.
UConn starts a two-game road trip to Texas Saturday when it takes on Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion (5 p.m., SNY). It will be the 1,000th game the Huskies have played since Hall of Fame coach Auriemma took over the program in 1985.