Temple had no answers for Breanna Stewart.
“She was on fire,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “She’s probably the best player in the country”.
Connecticut forward Breanna Stewart was unfazed by Temple defenders, scoring a career-high 37 points en route to a 93-56 Huskies victory against the Owls.
In the Owls and Huskies’ first matchup this season, Stewart recorded 12 points on six of 12 shooting in the 80-36 UConn win. In the teams’ second bout, from start to finish, Stewart looked to take advantage of the visible mismatches that were presented in Temple’s roster.
“We knew that there was no way that [Thames] could guard her by herself,” Cardoza said. “She was knocking down jump shots, but when she was inside, it was like we were getting caught on the wrong side and giving her easy buckets. We weren’t paying attention to try and help out inside there. She played a great game”.
With Stewart playing as the Huskies’ forward, her Owls counterpart was senior forward Natasha Thames. Thames, who is tied for the team lead in steals and has recorded a team-high 19 blocks, has been depended on to guard tall forwards despite standing at six feet tall herself. Against the 6’4’’ Stewart, Thames was often flustered by Stewart’s combination of height and scoring ability inside and outside, which led to problems for the entire Temple defense.
“Her size and her skillset – I mean, [Thames] is probably six feet,” Cardoza said. “Stewart is like 6’4”. And she’s strong. Her skillset, she can shoot, she’s smart, she can use her body”.
Stewart did most of her damage in the first period, not only padding her own stat line, but quieting a raucous Temple crowd who had come alive when the Owls fought from an early deficit to take their only lead of the game.
Ahead 18-4 with 15:45 remaining in the first period, UConn was poised to pull away from Temple, but the Owls proceeded to outscore the Huskies 19-4 in the next eight minutes for their first lead of the game.
To that point in the game, Stewart had led all scorers with 10 points, and with 7:54 remaining in the period, Stewart would more than double that production in the period’s final minutes.
“I reminded them to pass the ball to [Stewart] some more,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Think we got away from that a little bit”.
Gaining a 49-32 halftime lead, UConn had erased the Owls’ run largely due to Stewart, who scored 25 total points in the first period, and shot 10 for 11 from the field.
“At halftime, we said ‘there’s no one player that can stop her,” Cardoza said. “We have to do it as a team’. And I felt like in the first half, she got way too many easy opportunities without help. We definitely needed some help in there on her, and we didn’t get that”.
Stewart would finish the game shooting 15 of 19 from the field, including three of five from behind the three-point line. 15 made field goals would also set a career-high for the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Performer.
“I notice it in practice,” Auriemma said. “She gets into one of those groves where every time she shoots the ball, it goes in, and it doesn’t matter where she shoots from on the floor. She’s a pretty unique player in college basketball today. There’s a lot of things she does that are difficult to do, that she makes them look real easy. I’m glad we have her”.
The 37 points Stewart scored against Temple are the most points the Owls have surrendered to a single player since allowing 32 points by Howard’s Saadia Doyle last season.
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @BErick1123