By Carl Adamec
NEW YORK — It was a case of Saturday morning fever for Stefanie Dolson.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s junior center missed the first game of her career Saturday with flu-like symptoms. Without her, the third-ranked Huskies needed a late surge to beat St. John’s 71-65 in a Big East game at Carnesecca Arena.
“She was good last night. She was great,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Then she woke up this morning and went down for our walk through and pregame, and she was just shaking like she had a fever. We thought, ‘OK, we’ve still got four hours before we play. So maybe …’ Then we showed up here and I said, ‘So, what do you think?’ She says, ‘No. I can’t even stand up.’ It was right after we had put the starting lineups in. So we had put the starting lineups in and then she comes in and she’s like all wobbly and she’s like, ‘I can’t do this.’ Then it was like, roll the dice.”
Sophomore Kiah Stokes got her first career start in Dolson’s place. In 15 minutes, she had seven points — including two free throws with 40.8 seconds left that gave the Huskies a seven-point lead, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I didn’t expect it. I thought Stef was going to play,” Stokes said. “But that’s one thing I need to work on, just being ready to play. I was definitely nervous when I first went out there. But coming out for the second half I was determined to make a bigger impact.”
Dolson is averaging 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for UConn, as well as leading the nation in field-goal percentage at 61.2. Without her Saturday, the Huskies could only match St. John’s 26 points in the paint. The Red Storm almost exclusively use a four-guard lineup.
“Playing without Stef we’re not the same team,” Auriemma said. “It was a major struggle.”
Dolson is the sixth player on UConn’s 11-player roster to miss a game due to illness/injury, joining Stokes (6), Morgan Tuck (3), Bria Hartley (2), Breanna Stewart (2), and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (1).
But if Dolson’s woes were the worst medical problem for the Huskies Saturday, the bus ride home would have been happier.
Reserve sophomore guard Brianna Banks sprained her right knee with 10:02 left in the first half after a collision in the lane. She was helped off the floor by athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle and taken to the locker room. She returned to watch the second half with a wrap on the knee.
Banks will have an MRI Monday.
“I thought it was her hip when she first slammed into that kid,” Auriemma said. “And then Rosemary and Doc (team doctor Tom Trojian) told me that she kind of landed on her knee wrong and then somebody hit it at the same time.”
Banks had three points in her minute-plus of playing time. The Newnan, Ga., native entered the game averaging 7.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game.
To add insult to the injury, she was called for an offensive foul on the play she was hurt.