Back in the fall before the Huskies' season began, coach Geno Auriemma had high praise for freshman Breanna Stewart. He even suggested that she might be the best player to come through the program, a remark not to be taken lightly when Maya Moore was just 18 months removed from graduation.
But Stewart's first year in the Big East hasn't lived up to the hype -- at least not yet. And, frankly, it's not particularly surprising; slow starts are as much a part of adjusting to the rigors of big-time college basketball as the pick-and-roll and boxing out. Perhaps as a testament to just how talented Stewart is, despite the inconsistencies, she's still averaging 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds this season, numbers most players would happily accept.
But this is UConn, where mediocrity doesn't fly. After failing to score in the loss to Baylor earlier this month, Auriemma offered this assessment of Stewart's game.
"There really is not much you can do [about Stewart]," he said via the Hartford Courant. "When you are struggling like she is struggling, searching the way she is searching, it's hard to come [to practice] every day like you have the world in the palm of your hand.
"It's going to take a while for her. But hopefully it will come back, little by little. But we can't worry about Breanna right now. We have games to win. Breanna has to take care of herself. I have to make sure I am doing the best for the remainder of the team."
In the Huskies' 90-30 blowout win over Seton Hall this weekend, Auriemma provided some levity with the analysis.
"As bad as Stewie's been playing … I checked her shoes and the right one was on the right foot, and the left one was on the left foot," he said. "So she was way ahead of the game as far as I was concerned. Anything she did after that was gravy.''
The bottom line: no matter your pedigree, this is an adjustment. One of the country's best high school players from two years ago can confirm as much.
"I had a long drought last year," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis told the Courant. "It's all about being a dumb freshman and sometimes a dumb sophomore."
But sometimes it all comes together and a game that once looked lost suddenly morphs into some high-level basketball. For now, though, Stewart continues to find her way.
"I told Breanna that she was way better than this," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I reminded her that her teammates knew what she was capable of. We just want her to go out there and not worry about making mistakes, just play hard all the time. She did a great job [against Seton Hall].
"She went after offensive rebounds. I don't think I'd seen her make a tip-in the entire season. She was finishing with contact [at the rim]. I was proud of her."
And as Auriemma has preached all season, it's all about having his team peak at the right time. And if Stewart can do that down the stretch, all the better.