Here is my story for Monday’s Hartford Courant in advance of that night’s game between No. 1 UConn and No. 3 Stanford at Gampel Pavilion:
Bad things sometimes happen to good programs. It’s the chance you take when you put yourself out there for championships and honor, life’s ultimate jump ball.
Then again, what UConn heaped on Stanford last season in Palo Alto, Calif., broke ground in one of the game’s least discussed areas – depth of destruction.
On the fourth day after Christmas, this is what UConn put on The Tree: an ugly 61-35 ornament that emphatically ended the program’s record 82-game home win streak.
UConn held Stanford to 11 field goals, 13 first-half points and harassed it defensively (19.3 percent from the floor) to the point of despair.
Chiney Oqwumike, then a junior, was 6 of 22 from the floor. Her teammates were 5 for 35.
In a sense, this was revenge for what happened to UConn two years earlier at Maples Pavilion. That night, Stanford ended UConn’s 90-game winning streak, the longest in the history of NCAA Division I college basketball.
So in fresher sense, Monday’s meeting between the programs at Gampel Pavilion, the first since 1993, UConn’s pre-championship era, is as much about redemption as it is about setting course for the new season.
“That certainly doesn’t happen very often, certainly not on their court,” UConn coach Geno Aureimma said of last year’s win. “It is certainly nothing that I foresaw happening when we went out there. They’ve done just that to a lot of other people, on trips to other people’s gyms.
“But I think when you are a proud program like they are, when you have accomplished what they have accomplished over the years, I am sure that it didn’t go over very well. I’m sure that will be mentioned a few times before Monday night.”
Stanford coach Tara Van Derveer essentially confirmed it.
“We will find off right off the bat what we need to work on, what we need to improve on,” VanDerveer said.
The process began for the nationally ranked powerhouses during Saturday’s opening-day wins; UConn’s 89-34 thumping of Hartford, Stanford’s businesslike 83-71 win at Boston College.
UConn’s depth is clear. It has three All-Americans (Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stef Dolson) and a fourth in the incubator, sophomore Breanna Stewart. They combined for 48 points in meager minutes against the Hawks and none was even the best player on the floor.
Sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson, on a sore ankle, scored a career-high 17 points in 25 minutes.
Stanford (1-0) returns four starters from last season’s 33-3 team that lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. One is senior All-American Chiney Ogwumike, the likely first pick in th 2014 WNBA Draft. She dropped 30 points and 14 rebounds on BC.
Guard Amber Orrange and forward Mikeala Ruef contribute to the team’s strength and are joined by junior guard Alex Green, who has hardly played because of injuries, freshmen Kailee Johnson and Erica McCall and the Samuelsson sisters, junior Bonnie and freshman Karlie.
Senior Sara James, Stanford’s other starter last season, is now practicing again after compartment syndrome surgery on her calf muscles.
However, Boston College’s 71 points marked the first time since Jan. 28, 2012 that an opponent had at least 70 against Stanford. Prior to Saturday, the Cardinal built a streak of 54 games without allowing an opponent to hit 70 points. The last team had been California, which scored 71 points in a 74-71 overtime loss in Palo Alto.
“It could have been matchups, it could have been first-game nerves,” Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti said of Stanford’s performance at Boston College. “It could have been that Boston College scouted Stanford very well and proved hard to guard.
“Or it could be that Stanford isn’t that good right now. Still, I don’t think Stanford beating BC by 12 and UConn winning by 55 has anything to do with anything. Come Monday night, you will looking at a situation where two Top 5 teams will be at their best.”
Dolson, perhaps the best back-to-the-basket player in the nation this season, also showed off her perimeter play with two three-pointers. She made 7 of 8 shots against Hartford and when it was done admitted UConn knows Stanford packs a different punch.
“Any loss you suffer is a motivator,” said Dolson. “Losing by one point can be just as bad. So in that way, a loss is a loss. But I am sure they will come here fighting, ready to us their best.
“We know expect that from anyone we play.”