By Carl Adamec
WACO, Texas — It may have been the most forgettable 23 seconds of Breanna Stewart’s basketball career.
With 9:37 left in the first half of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s game with Baylor at the XL Center last Feb. 16, Stewart came off the Huskies’ bench for the first time. On the Bears’ next possession, an inbounds play under their own basket ended up in a layup for Niya Johnson. UConn coach Geno Auriemma called a time out at the 9:14 mark and put Caroline Doty in to replace Stewart.
“She got completely lost and it wasn’t that difficult,” Auriemma said. “At that point you could have asked Stewie what day it is today and what building is she in and she wouldn’t have gotten it right.”
Stewart played only seven minutes in the 76-70 loss to No. 1 Baylor and had no points, no rebounds and no assists. Back in the day, Auriemma would have referred to her as the “Ballantine Girl” with the rings representing the zeroes but that would have been an insult to Ballantine.
“Stewie helped Baylor a lot last year, so I don’t think it was all bad,” Auriemma said. “Kim Mulkey and Brooklyn Pope, I think those two guys appreciated Stewie’s efforts in the Baylor game last year. Us not so much, so it wasn’t a total wash.
“But those kinds of games really test you. They test who you are. When you play on national television and you’re that bad and everybody in America saw it, you have some soul searching to do. I don’t think it’s all bad.”
Stewart’s phenomenal postseason which ended with her being the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and UConn winning the national championship made many forget the downs of her up-and-down freshman year.
The North Syracuse, N.Y. native will get another shot at Baylor Monday night when the top-ranked Huskies and No. 7 Bears face off here at the Ferrell Center.
“After the Baylor game last year I was really frustrated, because I didn’t do anything,” Stewart said. “I don’t even remember what the score was. But when it’s a close game like that you figure if I would have done something and been able to help the team in some way, maybe we would have won. That is the frustrating part of it.”
“I think the next step after that was refocusing myself and thinking, ‘This game is over. Yeah, it stunk, but what can I do from now on?’ ”
Stewart is averaging 18.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocked shots for the Huskies (17-0) entering a game that features two of the top contenders for national Player of the Year honors — her and Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims.
The Bears (14-1) are looking for a signature win as they have played only one ranked this season and lost — to Kentucky in four overtimes. Baylor also has a 69-game home winning streak which includes a come-from-behind win over UConn two years ago that was part of its 40-0 national championship campaign.
If Stewart struggles again, anything is possible.
“I don’t know if I have something to prove. You want to prove yourself every game,” Stewart said. “At the same time, I didn’t play well against Baylor. I didn’t really play that much at all. So I want
to be able to bounce back or come back and just show how things have changed, how last year’s different from this year, and just go out there and really stay focused and be aggressive because they’re good team.”