By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Breanna Stewart came here to play for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, not to watch.
She didn’t think a little thing like a sprained left ankle would stop her.
“I’m not sure how I hurt it. I remember how it felt, though,” Stewart said after practice at Gampel Pavilion Friday. “It was more frustrating than anything because I thought I could play on it. But how it looked … They didn’t feel I was ready.”
The freshman forward hurt the ankle Jan. 11 while doing a rebounding drill at practice. Not only did she miss the next day’s game at Marquette, she sat out Tuesday night’s game with Louisville.
But Stewart returned to practice Thursday and she’ll return to game action Saturday when No. 3 UConn entertains Syracuse in Big East action at the XL Center in Hartford (4 p.m., SNY).
“She looks good physically. She’s moving real well,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There doesn’t seem to be any lingering after-effects. I’m sure it’s sore. But both yesterday and today there was no indication she was favoring it at all. She did all the things she was doing before the injury.”
Stewart had extra tape on the ankle and a brace — thanks to athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle — as she worked out with no limitations Friday.
During Tuesday night’s game, Stewart sat next to Ragle and would occasionally glance at the veteran athletic trainer.
“I’d get up and then sit down and be like, ‘I swear, look, I could be playing right now,’ ” Stewart said with a smile. “I appreciate everything Rosemary has done and I think she knows that, but at the same time I’m going to bust her chops.”
Stewart admits she drove Ragle “a bit crazy” during the week, which was fine with everyone involved.
“Every coach wants a player who doesn’t want to be in the trainer’s room, doesn’t want to be limited by anyone to how much they can play,” Auriemma said. “You have to weigh that by what’s realistic and what’s the right thing to do by that player. In Stewie’s case when she got hurt, she felt her mind it was a one-day thing and she’s playing the next game. It was hard for her to accept she wasn’t going to play in the Marquette and the Louisville games. She was determined to get back long before anyone thought it might take for her to get back. But they have to be ready to be back.”
Stewart says she is.
The Syracuse native is averaging 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22.1 minutes for the Huskies (15-1 overall, 3-1 Big East). In her last game before getting hurt on, she had a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds against Georgetown.
“Our team is better when she’s out on the floor,” UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said.
But in the three previous games, including the loss to Notre Dame, Stewart didn’t play her best ball. The week off from the court allowed her to refocus and regroup as she returned to practice.
“That’s the one thing I was taking out of it,” Stewart said.
Ironically, Stewart returns to action against her hometown school.
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman was the first to offer Stewart a scholarship the summer before she entered Cicero-North Syracuse High. Stewart played AAU ball with Orange freshman guard Brittney Sykes.
Stewart will have about 15-20 family and friends at the XL Center Saturday and a lot more at home watching on SNY.
Her family, friends, and teammates will be happy to see her return to action.
“She got healthier a lot quicker than anyone expected,” UConn junior Stefanie Dolson said. “I’m proud to see she’s back on the court already.”
More ins and outs
Just when you thought the Huskies would play a game with a full 11-player roster …
Reserve sophomore center Kiah Stokes left Friday’s practice early due to pain in her right shin. A stress reaction in that shin kept her out of five games.
The Huskies haven’t had their whole roster available since Dec. 6.
“I talked to them before practice today,” Auriemma said. “I said, ‘It’s taken us a long time, but I think Saturday and Monday might be the first time that we actually have everybody.’ And halfway through practice Kiah Stokes walked off the court and didn’t come back.”
What does that mean?
“That’s she’s probably not playing tomorrow,” Auriemma said. “That’s what I make of it. She’s got a bad wheel. It never ends.”
Stokes was coming off a fine game against Louisville with two points, six rebounds, and three blocked shots in 12 minutes.
Fifth-year Temple coach Tonya Cardoza picked up her 100th career win last Sunday when the Owls defeated St. Bonaventure.
Cardoza, who spent 14 years (1994-2008) on Auriemma’s staff as an assistant, reached the plateau in seven fewer games than her former boss, who is No. 2 all-time in winning percentage at .863 (819-130).
“I have to contact her,” Auriemma said. “There’s no greater feeling than when your former players go on and play great somewhere else and accomplish great things. And the same thing holds true when your former coaches go on and win games and are successful and build programs.
“Like I’ve said about Carla Berube and Jen Rizzotti, I was surprised that Tonya wanted the Temple job and when she got the job I was surprised because I had no idea whether she was ready or not for that job. But since she has gotten there she has done nothing but be great. She’s had a lot of offers and a lot of opportunities to move on. But she’s settled into a very good situation.”