By Carl Adamec
Stefanie Dolson was touted as the second-best center in the country a year ago.
This season the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s junior just wants to be the best that she can be.
“I had an opportunity to prove to the country that I could be a great player and that I could be a great post, and I let myself, my coaches, and my teammates down,” Dolson said. “That’s not going to happen this year. I’m not going to let it. I’m an upperclassmen and I’m a leader for this team.”
Dolson got off to a good start last Sunday. She just missed a double-double and made a run at a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in the Huskies’ 103-39 rout of College of Charleston.
She’ll look to build on that effort when No. 2 UConn travels to College Station to face No. 16 Texas A&M Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
“Last year was tough, a lot of ups and downs,” Dolson said. “I had a good start, a not-so-great middle, and kind of a great end. I don’t want the ups and downs to happen again. I want consistency.”
In 38 games a year ago, Dolson averaged 10.4 points on 58.6 percent shooting from the floor and 6.0 rebounds. She was named all-Big East honorable mention.
But for someone that was being mentioned behind only Baylor’s Brittney Griner as one of the best centers in the country, honorable mention wasn’t what Dolson and the Huskies had in mind.
The low point came Feb. 25 at Marquette when she played a career low six minutes and matched a career low of two points. She did not get off the bench for the final 1:51.
When the postseason arrived, though, the Port Jervis, N.Y. Native rediscovered her game. She averaged 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds and was named to the Big East all-tournament team for the second straight year as the Huskies successfully defended their title. She was then chosen to the NCAA Kingston (R.I.) all-regional team after her 13-point, eight-rebound effort against Kentucky got UConn to its record-tying fifth straight Final Four.
In the national semifinals against Notre Dame, Dolson had 20 points and nine rebounds but the Huskies fell in overtime.
“Stefanie should feel the same way she felt during the postseason last year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That’s who she really is, that she’s a really good player and there aren’t many big kids
around the country that can do what she does. She’s in the best shape of her life and in the best frame of mind of her life. I would expect her expectations for herself are higher than anything I would think.”
Dolson was dominant against the Irish in Denver as Big East Defensive Player of the Year Devereaux Peters could not contain her. But for the second straight Final Four, Dolson got in second-half foul trouble and played just 25 of 45 minutes.
She had not even left the Pepsi Center court when the tears began to flow.
“I’m an emotional player to start with and there were so many emotions going through me,” Dolson said. “There was so much disappointment that we didn’t get to the championship game, that it happened against the same team and at the same point. I was sad, angry, everything.
“I was happy with how I ended the season personally but not satisfied. I need to keep getting better and keep working on little things so I can build on what I did.”
The first thing she did in the offseason was improve her diet. The result is that she’s never been in better condition.
“I knew coming into the season that I had to be in great shape to have a really good season,” Dolson said. “I knew that before but something just went off in my brain and I knew that I had to make that change. Last year I wasn’t satisfied with my season as a whole.
Something had to be different.
“I’m not at my best when I get tired. I know that. But knowing that I won’t get so tired so quickly helps me. I can stay on the court longer. I can focus on the game instead of worrying about how tired I might get.”
So Dolson is in shape to go big minutes. But she also needs to avoid foul trouble. She did not foul out last season but was charged with at least three fouls in 15 of 38 games.
Auriemma addressed that situation at Big East media day last month.
“Stef’s not young anymore,” he said. “She’s not immature like she was as a freshman. But that doesn’t make you smarter. But a lot of her fouls …You need to think the game as well as play the game. When you’re not as confident in yourself, the dumb stuff happens. There aren’t as many of those instances as there were last year.
“And the referees have to give her a break. She gets called for crap that other people in our league get away with every day. Every day. There’s a couple teams in our league that foul more than Stefanie does and don’t get called for it. Maybe they know how to foul better than she does. But I’ve been really good to the officials the last couple of years, but that’s going to end and it’s going to end fast if they still pick on her like they have been. If they don’t start changing the way they officiate Stefanie then the crap is going to hit the fan at some point this year.”
If the Huskies can keep Dolson on the floor, that will help make them the best that they can be.