Senior Days come and go, leaving a trail of tears, nostalgia and statistical minutiae in their wake. But they all have something else in common aside from emotional release.
When they are over, they leave behind others to carry the aspirations and traditions into the future.
So it was again Saturday at Gampel Pavilion when the No. 1 Huskies said their ceremonial goodbyes to Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, two of the greatest All-Americans in their history.
In pregame ceremonies, their numbers were added to the Huskies Wall of Honor, cementing their memories for Senior Days to come, even though they will be back at Gampel in three weeks for the first two rounds of NCAA play.
Next was the business of the day, the game against Rutgers. And that is when sophomores Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson and junior stepped to their own stage, one that grows exponentially larger every time they lace up her Nikes.
Stewart’s assault on AAC Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors took another big step when she scored 20 points and 10 rebounds to help lead UConn to a 72-35 win over the No. 24 Scarlet Knights before a sellout of 10,167.
Jefferson, the nation’s breakout star, added nine points, five rebounds and four assists with her trademark flash and drive.
And junior Kiah Stokes, who will step in Dolson’s starting post position next season, added
Of course, just for good measure, Hartley enhanced her day with 20 points, her fourth straight 20-point game. Dolson added 10 rebounds, including the 1,000th of her career.
Yes, it was a good day for the past, present and future for the eight-time national champion.
The win was the 36th straight for Huskies (30-0, 17-0), the third-longest streak program history. It’s UConn’s 19th 30-win season. And it sets up Monday’s AAC regular-season championship game at Louisville, which kept its title hope alive with a win Saturday at Cincinnati.
If the Huskies win Monday, they are the AAC’s first regular-season champ and first seed in the tournament that begins Friday at Mohegan Sun. If they lose, the title will be shared and the first seed determined by a coin flip shortly after the game.
There was never any ambiguity about Saturday. The Huskies beat Rutgers by 30 in Piscataway on Jan. 19 and never trailed this one. They took their first 10-point lead with 15:31 to play in the first half on a basket by Stewart, who scored 11 of UConn’s first 18 points.
It was also a basket by Stewart that jumped the lead to 20 (30-10) with 7:05 to play in the half.
Hartley and Jefferson also played big roles in the first 20 minutes, a half also distinguished by the grand rebound of Dolson’s career and the 251st blocked shot by the Huskies, setting a single-season program record for rejection.
Hartley led the Huskies with 14 first-half points and her two straight three-pointers helped increase the lead to 26-8. And Jefferson used to swiftness to score nine points and four assists in the half.
Just as significant, however, was the return of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. The junior missed the last four games with mononucleosis. But she was back in the starting lineup, and after missing her first three shots, she scored a lay-up after a Stewart miss and drained a three with a two-minute span in the final four minutes of the half for her five points.
The Scarlet Knights, playing their last regular-season game against UConn before leaving for the Big Ten next season, were 10 of 34 from the field in the half. Scaife had eight points, all in the first half. Betnijah Laney led the Scarlet Knights with 14.
Rutgers played the second half without sophomore forward Kahleah Copper, who spent the rest of the game in a walking boot to protect her turf toe on her left foot.