By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Stefanie Dolson was a freshman two years ago when the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team last hosted Duke, but she knew exactly what the Blue Devils’ freshmen were going through.
She had been in their shoes a month earlier when the Huskies had their NCAA-record 90-game winning streak snapped at Stanford.
Duke came to Gampel Pavilion on Jan 31, 2011 unbeaten but relying on a number of young players. UConn took advantage as it took leads of 13-0, 23-2, 29-4, and 40-9 en route to an 87-51 rout.
The Blue Devils return to Storrs Monday night as, again, the last unbeaten team in the country. But this time upperclassmen make up their nucleus.
Third-ranked UConn will see how much No. 4 Duke has grown as it plays its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against the Blue Devils at Gampel Pavilion.
“It’s completely different. I don’t know if anyone can believe how different it is until you experience it,” Dolson said. “Playing as a freshman and playing as a junior … You know so much more about the game.
“As a freshman you can easily get wrapped up in the hype and things like that. They’ll come out ready to play, physical, and aggressive. Because they’re a lot older and mature they know they’ll give us a great game.”
A great game would be completely different than the last five meetings between the schools. UConn (16-1) has won all five by an average of 29.2 points. The Huskies won last year’s meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium 61-45 and it wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was still in high school in January 2011 but she learned, some times the hard way, what it’s like to be a freshman in the big game a year ago.
“You get more comfortable as you get more games under your belt,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “A lot of smarts in basketball come from just playing more.
“Duke is an older team now. Chelsea Gray is a junior now. Elizabeth Williams is a sophomore now. Tricia Liston is a junior now. They’ve got a lot of years on us, kind of. If they come out and play to their strengths, we’ll have to come out and be consistent and out-work them.”
Mosqueda-Lewis knows her Blue Devils, doesn’t she?
“Playing club basketball and USA Basketball, everybody knows each other now,” Mosqueda-Lewis said with a smile.
“They’re doing really well right now. We’ve got to make sure that we rebound hard, because they crash hard. We need to make sure that we play Connecticut basketball. We have to keep our own tempo and make sure that everyone is contributing like they were (against Syracuse).”
The Huskies knocked off Syracuse 87-62 Saturday in Big East play at the XL Center in Hartford as Dolson (25), Mosqueda-Lewis (25), and Breanna Stewart (20) combined for 70 points. Dolson’s effort was a career best and included the 1,000th point of her career.
Duke (16-0) has been off since routing Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia Tech 58-26 Wednesday.
Williams, a sophomore center, leads four Blue Devils in double figures. Gray has taken her place as was one of the best guards in the country while juniors Liston and Haley Peters are solid on the wings. Freshman Alexis Jones has added speed to the lineup.
“They’re a great team,” Dolson said. “They’re going to come out extremely physical. They have Elizabeth Williams inside and Chelsea Gray as a great guard. It will be a fun challenge for me and our guards.”
UConn has dominated not only Duke, but all its ACC opponents the past five years. The Huskies have 21 straight wins over ACC teams since a loss to North Carolina on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2007.
But this Blue Devils’ team may be the best UConn has faced out of the ACC since that Final Four Tar Heels squad.
“They are really good,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I said if you have a really good guard and a really good big guy and pretty decent wing player you have a chance to be a great team. Elizabeth Williams is really good inside. Chelsea Gray is a really, really good guard. And Tricia Liston has become someone they can count on. Just that alone makes them good.
“Plus what’s happened the past couple years when we’ve played them is on their minds a little bit. The last time they came to Gampel wasn’t a fun trip for them. I’m sure they’re coming to make sure it’s not like that at all. Monday night is going to be very difficult for us.”
The Huskies wrap up a three-game homestand Monday night, though the first two games were at the XL Center. Their last game at Gampel Pavilion was the 73-72 loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 5.
UConn has not lost back-to-back games on campus since dropping three in a row to Stanford, Georgetown, and Louisville to end the 1992-93 season. Its last loss to an ACC team at Gampel Pavilion was to North Carolina State, 62-59, on Dec. 29, 1991, 10 days before Dolson was born.
Dolson is now a UConn junior and has been through just about everything in her three seasons in Storrs.
She hopes what happens Monday night is something she has seen before.