Stewart to be challenged by Stanford

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, center, snags a rebound while guarded by Hartford's Christie Michals, left, and Taylor Clark, right, during the second half of an NCAA women's college basketball game in West Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. Connecticut won 102-45. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart, center, snags a rebound while guarded by Hartford’s Christie Michals, left, and Taylor Clark, right, during the second half of an NCAA women’s college basketball game in West Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. Connecticut won 102-45. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

By Carl Adamec

One of the reasons Breanna Stewart chose to play for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team was to play in games like Saturday’s.

The second-ranked Huskies will take on No. 1 Stanford Saturday at 4 p.m. in a nationally televised contest at sold-out Maples Pavilion on the Cardinal campus. UConn (10-0) has not been atop the Associated Press rankings since the final poll of the 2010-11 season.

“I am looking forward to that game,” Stewart said. “I heard Stanford is a pretty hostile environment. I think it is going to be pretty live. I am looking forward to experiencing the whole thing and hopefully playing a really good game.”

Stanford (11-0) has won 82 straight games at home since a loss to Florida State in the 2007 NCAA tournament. UConn has the NCAA record for longest home winning streak at 99.

The Huskies are 0-3 at Maples Pavilion including a 71-59 loss on Dec. 30, 2010, that ended their record 90-game winning streak.

Stewart enters Saturday’s game leading the Huskies in scoring (16.9) and rebounding (7.2). She is the reigning Big East Freshman of the Week coming off a season-high 27 points against the University of Hartford last Saturday.

Her 169 points through 10 games is the best for a UConn freshman, not that coach Geno Auriemma is impressed.

“She doesn’t even know how she scores,” Auriemma said. “So it is probably best to let her figure it out. She takes a lot of shots, and she makes a lot of them. Guys who take a lot of shots and make a lot of shots score a lot of points. Let me guess, she broke Maya Moore’s record? Another guy who took a lot of shots and made a lot of shots.

“That is what scorers do. They go into a game and they figure out how to score points. That is what she does. It is the same thing I said about Maya when Maya was a freshman. If Breanna Stewart ever learns how to play basketball, where her shots are coming from, when and how, she is going to be really good. So I’m not surprised she has scored a lot of points.”

Stanford is the fifth ranked team UConn is facing in its first 11 games. The Huskies own wins over Texas A&M, Purdue, Maryland, and Penn State.

In the four games against Top 25 foes, Stewart is averaging 12.0 points on 48.4 percent shooting from the floor. In the six games against unranked opponents, her numbers are 20.2 points per game on 74.2 percent shooting.

“She is just a really dynamic offensive player and we really don’t have the kind of athlete that can make her life difficult,” Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “You could see in some of the physical games against Penn State and Maryland how she struggled when teams really, really bodied her up.”

Stewart did get 13 points against Maryland but was just 4-for-12 from the floor. She took only three shots in 20 minutes against Penn State and had just seven points, her only game in single figures.

Think Stanford watched those tapes? The Cardinal start 6-foot-3 players on their front line and can bring another three in off their bench.

“Here (in college), obviously, defenses are better and you really have to work for your shot,” Stewart said. “That is what I have to keep working on is just keep working for my shot, whether it is setting a screen to get someone else open and then getting myself open.

“I’m going into each game just trying to play my game. I’m not trying to force shots or force anything like that, but if I am open I am going to shoot it. What else are you supposed to do when you are open?”

UConn is 13-3 in games featuring the top two teams in the AP poll. The Huskies are also 4-5 against the No. 1 team but have dropped their last three. The last win came on Feb. 5, 2004, in Knoxville against Tennessee.

For Stewart, Saturday is the biggest game of her young career — until a week later when Big East rival Notre Dame comes to Gampel Pavilion.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Stewart said. “I’m going to go out and help the team the best that I can.”