By Carl Adamec
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — If the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is to be ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation, it will have to do it the hard way. It will have to earn it.
The Huskies, though, wouldn’t want it any other way.
There will be a 1-2 matchup on Dec. 29 at sold-out Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus. Second-ranked UConn took care of its business Saturday as it walloped the University of Hartford 102-45 before a sellout crowd of 3,508 at Chase Family Arena. Stanford will remain atop the polls after its 73-60 win at No. 10 Tennessee later Saturday.
The Huskies (10-0) have not been ranked No. 1 since the final poll of the 2010-11 season prior to the NCAA tournament. Stanford (11-0) took over the top spot after beating defending national champion Baylor last month. The Cardinal will take an 82-game home winning streak, the longest in the country, into the contest.
“Stanford might be the hardest place in the country for a visiting team to play,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We’ll find out where we stand.”
The Huskies got a small taste of what it might be like next week on Saturday, playing in a packed building though the crowd was split 50-50 between UConn and Hartford fans.
It was the first in-state road game for the Huskies since they beat Fairfield 60-58 on Dec. 10, 1991. It was also UConn’s first trip to Chase Family Arena since Dec. 23, 1990.
“Coach always says the road is where great teams thrive,” UConn guard Kelly Faris said. “That’s where you can tell a great team from a good team or a great team from an OK team. Great teams win on the road. Stanford is a great team, a physical team, and it will be a big test for us.”
The Huskies earned passing grades Saturday as they placed five players in double figures, led by Breanna Stewart’s season high 27 points, and hit the century mark for the third time this season.
“With games this time of year it’s hard to keep the intensity level high,” Auriemma said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (21), Kelly Faris (18), Bria Hartley (15), and Stefanie Dolson (10) joined Stewart in double figures.
After an emotional pregame ceremony that featured about 80 kids from Newtown, including some students from Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 people died on Dec. 14, UConn came out and led wire to wire.
Hartford, coached by former UConn star Jennifer Rizzotti, was within 12-7 on a beautiful move by Alyssa Englert with 14:38 left before the Huskies broke it wide open.
Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis combined for 13 points in an 18-0 run that put the Huskies ahead by 23. After a free throw by Englert, UConn put together eight unanswered points including six by Faris to make it 38-8. Two free throws by Stewart accounted for the 51-15 halftime score.
Hartford (8-3) got no closer than 35 in the second half.
“They’re the No. 2 team in the nation so everything that they do is pretty good,” Hartford guard Daphne Elliott said.
The Huskies shot 62 percent from the floor including 12-for-20 from 3-point land. They had 25 assists on 38 baskets and just 11 turnovers. It was the first time that Hartford has allowed 100 points in a game.
“There will be a lot of film clips I’ll show (my players) that the defense was pretty good,” Rizzotti said. “But they were just better.”
Defensively, UConn held the Hawks to 36 percent shooting and forced 25 turnovers it turned into 36 points. Hartford was without guard Amber Bepko, who shares the team scoring lead at 10.5 points per game. The sophomore hurt her ankle during Friday’s practice.
Elliott led the Hawks with 10 points, all in the first half.
“Shea (assistant coach Ralph) had them scouted pretty well so we knew where their shots would come from,” Auriemma said. “I thought we did a great job of not letting them do what they wanted to do.”
Auriemma has never lost a game (35-0) against a team that had one of his former players or assistant coaches as a head or assistant coach. He is also 29-0 against in-state opponents since taking over in Storrs in 1985.