When Breanna Stewart was growing up, she often went to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to watch women's basketball. This was before and during the time she was becoming the top high school basketball player in the nation last season at the city's Cicero High School.
Stewart was excited about playing against the Orange Saturday at the XL Center with nearly two dozen friends and family in the crowd. But last week she was stressed when it originally looked like her ankle injury might prevent it.
"I must have asked Rosemary [team trainer Rosemary Ragle] 10 times a day [when she would recover]," Stewart said. "But it was just as annoying not to have been able to play at Marquette [and Tuesday against Louisville]. I felt like I could play on it. But they [the training staff] didn't because of how it looked and how it felt when they touched it."
After missing two games with an ankle sprain suffered in a rebounding drill in practice on Jan. 11, Stewart returned and contributed 20 points in UConn's 87-62 win over the Orange.
"I was really looking forward to playing today," Stewart said. "I didn't feel rusty. Maybe some of my shots may have made it look that way."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 25 points, knows how important Stewart is to the team.
"Our team is better when she's out there,'' Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We're just trying to get her more physical. We've been putting practice players on her when she gets the ball slapping at her, pushing her, making sure she's getting tough in there [the lane] finishing.
"It's pretty tough, especially when you come in as skinny as she did. You're not used to that. Every little nudge just feels like a punch. Amanda [Kimball, UConn's strength/conditioning coach] is trying to get her bigger [in the weight room] tying to tell her to eat more protein.''
Before Saturday, Stewart was averaging just 8.8 points in her last four games and shooting 34.2 percent after scoring more points (169) in her first 10 games than any freshman in team history.
Geno Auriemma said having a week off to look at things may help her down the stretch.
"I think it's always good to take a deep breath, back off a little bit,'' Auriemma said. "But I also think that being at practice is the best thing that helps you get better. And being in a slump is all part of playing.
"Obviously, Stewie was in a little bit of a slump. And whether they're young or old it really doesn't matter whether it's a physical slump or a mental slump. It's still a slump. The best medicine sometimes is to just walk away for a little bit. She's looked really good in practice the last couple of days, so I'm encouraged.''
Stokes Out Again
Sophomore Kiah Stokes did not play after a recurrence of pain in her left shin. She had already missed five games this season with a stress reaction in the area.
"I don't know anymore. It's going to be one of those situations where we'll just have to come to the gym every day and see what happens," Auriemma said. "I don't know if there will be a time when she is 100 percent during the season. It likely will all depend on how much she can manage [pain]. Some days it will be better, some days it will be worse."
Now that Stef Dolson has passed 1,000 career points, Kelly Faris is next in line. She scored eight Saturday and now needs 113 to become the 37th on the list. Faris, still the nation's assist/turnover leader (3.88) after turning it over seven times against Louisville, now has 68 assists and 19 turnovers this season.
Mosqueda-Lewis, second in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (49.4) was 6 of 13 on Saturday. Penn State's Maggie Lucas came into weekend as the nation's leader (53.2). … Syracuse center Kayla Alexander needed 21 points to surpass Nicole Michael as the program's all-time leading scorer. She had just four points in 11 minutes before fouling out. ... Stewart and Syracuse freshman Brittney Sykes were AAU teammates.