UConn’s national title defense is off to its expected start, a cruise through its first 15 games featuring the usual quota of impressive individual and team accomplishments.
The Huskies have defeated five nationally ranked opponents – Stanford, Maryland, Penn State, Duke and California by an average of 22 points. Over their last 16 regular-season games they are likely to play only three more against teams in the Top 25, Baylor (Jan. 13) and a pair with Louisville.
Still, the injuries that sidelined Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck for eight games each following the Stanford game Nov. 11 still leave UConn coach Geno Auriemma somewhat unsure how his roster should best mesh.
According to Auriemma, working so long with just seven players has made adjusting to his expanded options somewhat more complicated than he anticipated.
“It’s been so hard to get a feel because of the injuries we had to start the season,” Auriemma said. “It’s hard for me to get a feel on where we are or what exactly how everyone should be able to contribute. I am still working my way around the team. I’d like to get a couple more weeks of practices and games in with everyone back to get a better feel for what the players can do.”
Saturday’s win over Memphis was UConn’s 21st consecutive dating to the opening game of last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have outscored opponents by an average of 37.0 points. Connecticut sits atop the conference standings as the only unbeaten team in the American, while No. 7 Louisville ranks second at 15-1 (3-0 American).
Here are some highlights thus far:
Breanna Stewart sophomore has 13 double-digit games this season including six games with 20 or more points. Stewart also leads the team with 40 blocked shots and ranks second in rebounds to Stefanie Dolson (10.1).
The Huskies have four players — Bria Hartley (70), Moriah Jefferson (67), Dolson (54) and Stewart (46) on their way to finishing with over 100 assists. The only time UConn had more than three players hit triple-figures assists was three years ago.
Kiah Stokes, was scoreless Saturday at Memphis, is averaging 19.0 minutes, 5.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in her first 14 games. She missed one game with an injury. Compare those to last season: 2.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and one block in just 10.7 minutes. She already has at least eight rebounds in seven games after have just two in 32 games as a sophomore. And she has three double-doubles after registering just one in her first two seasons.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn’s all-time single-season leader in three-pointers (118) continues to chase Sue Bird, who is the program’s career-leader in three-point percentage (45.9). Mosqueda-Lewis was 5 of 10 Saturday at Memphis and is 216 of 492 (43.9) in her career.
This year’s team leads the nation in blocked shots (122) after getting six more on Saturday. It has three players in the Top 50. Dolson (32), Stewart (40) and Stokes (36) are on pace to exceed 50. And if that happens, it will be the first time in program history three players have reach a half-hundred in the same season.
The Huskies have also averaged 20.9 assists, which is close to their single-season school record (21.7) set in 2001-02. That team had 846 assists in 39 games. This year’s team has assisted on 314 of its 482 hoops, a percentage of 65.1. Compare that to the other nine teams in the American who came into Saturday combining for 54.4.
UConn has had 14 double-digit scoring runs this season, periods of scoring consecutively in double-figures without an opponent point. The highest was its 31-0 run against St. Bonaventure.
In its first 15 games, the Huskies have not allowed an opponent to score more than 68 points, and that was during its offensive shootout against Oregon which UConn won, 114-68. Seven opponents have scored 40 or less.
Freshman Saniya Chong’s reliability with the ball has been a revelation. In 300 minutes over 15 games she has turned the ball over just 11 times. And freshman walk-on Tierney Lawlor has excelled in just about each of nine appearances and 59 minutes. She is shooting 7 of 15 from three (46.7), second only to Mosqueda-Lewis (50 percent).