The UConn men played their first Big East game Wednesday, a 60-57 victory over USF. The women's conference schedule doesn't begin until Jan. 4. On Thursday night, they played their final non-conference warm-up in preparation for the most grueling part of their season.
Fairfield came to Gampel to face the Huskies and it went about as you might expect. UConn won going away, 93-40, and led by 29 at halftime. Senior Tiffany Hayes led the Huskies with 23 points and UConn had five players in double-figures. Starting forward Kelly Faris didn't score but she was good for nine rebounds and eight assists.
Sophomore center Stefanie Dolson added 22 points on 11 of 13 shooting, which is exactly the performance she needed heading into Big East play.
"She's been struggling a little bit," coach Geno Auriemma said according to the Associated Press. "She's a pretty prideful kid and she wants to be really good. And I think she sees it as `Well, I did this last year so this year I'm supposed to do this.' And when it wasn't happening for her I think she got a little frustrated."
Fairfield, for their part, knew that stopping Dolson was critical. But it's one thing to announce that slowing down UConn's 6-5 center; it's something else entirely to actually do it.
"Our coaching staff can keep saying `Don't let Dolson get two feet in the paint,'" Fairfield coach Joe Frager said, "But they're kind of looking at me like `Coach, I'm really trying. I'm throwing my 160 against her and it's just not really cutting it right now.' "
Feeding Dolson the ball in the paint was part of Auriemma's plan coming into the game. While it wasn't necessary to beat Fairfield, Dolson is an important cog in UConn's offense and as the competition stiffens, points in the paint will be critical.
“We had talked during the week about being a more well-balanced team. We’ve talked a lot about that this year. We were hoping that if we got 60 shots, one-third of them would come in the lane. Early on, I thought we almost went overboard. We were just staring at Stefanie [Dolson] the whole shot clock waiting for her to get open. [Post play] and rebounding were the two things we’ve talked about most since we got back from Christmas break.”
Dolson had struggled heading into Thursday's game but she scored 16 of the first 18 points.
“The way I’ve been playing lately, to get the first few points like that, it definitely feels good," she said. "But, I give most credit to the guards for getting me the ball inside. They did a really great job of looking for me inside today.”
And even Dolson's teammates recognize her importance under the paint.
“She was having a tough time lately and it was good to see her come out in this game, right away make all the lay ups, get good looks and make good passes," Hayes said. “We’re a very different team [with Dolson's presence inside]. We can either get it in to her and she scores, she can make a great pass, or knock down shots.”