The UConn women understand there's just one thing they can control, no matter how famous the program is or how willing their coach is to speak his mind about the state of the Big East.
And that is how they play, and how that performance may help enhance the university profile within the reconfigured conference or not.
Geno Auriemma said as much before the No. 2 Huskies resumed the season by dismantling Oakland (Mich.), 97-25, at the XL Center on Wednesday.
"We will create the best women's basketball program and conference we can," Auriemma said. "That's my goal right now."
A large part of that will depend on how much of an impact Bria Hartley, its lone All-American, has for the next two seasons.
Hartley's lagging offense had been the lingering byproduct of the ankle she sprained this summer playing for USA Basketball's 3 x 3 team.
That may be in the past. Hartley scored a season-high 21 points, 19 in the first half when the Huskies opened a 61-12 lead by shooting 25 of 38 from the field, including 9 of 18 from three.
"It comes back, eventually," Hartley said. "You may struggle at times, but it does come back. [Scoring is] what I am used to doing."
Breanna Stewart, held to seven points against Penn State, scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds.
"I know I could have played much better against both Penn State and Maryland," said Stewart, who was 10 of 17 in 29 minutes. "I just decided to play things more aggressively [Wednesday].
Brianna Banks scored 18 with six rebounds. Kalenna Mosqueda-Lewis added 14 points and nine rebounds. All nine players available for the game scored.
And UConn hoisted a season-high 40 three-pointers. They made 12. Oakland was just 7 of 47 (14.9 percent) from the field
The only downside was that center Stefanie Dolson's night ended with 14 minutes to play after she slightly turned her left ankle on the defensive end. But within moments, she was smiling. Crisis averted.
"I'm good," said Dolson. "It was just a little tweak."
Hartley was averaging only 7.5 points in her first six games since returning from the injury on Nov. 22 at Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. More to the point, she was shooting just 40.5 percent from the floor, 29.4 from three and hadn't scored more than 12 in any game.
But she was on point against Oakland, scoring 12 of UConn's first 17. In the first half, Hartley was 7 of 9 from the field and 3 of 5 from three in 17 minutes.
"She looked like her old self out there," Auriemma said. "We knew that little by little she would get back to it."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart also reached double-figures in the first half with 10 points each.
Next for No. 2 UConn (9-0) is Saturday's game at Hartford. Then after Christmas, the Huskies travel to Palo Alto, Calif., for their Dec. 29 meeting with No. 1 Stanford.
Oakland lost its fourth straight game. And that was never in doubt. They were missing both Bethany Watterworth, the Summit's preseason player of the year, and freshman Olivia Nash, their leading scorer and rebounder. Both were out with undisclosed leg injuries.
Oakland's best moment came at the start of the second half when it scored the first five points. It was that kind of night for the Golden Grizzles.
"What did we get out of a game like this? A "W," Auriemma said. "When you schedule these games you can't account for the fact their best two players would be out."
The Huskies last played on Dec. 6 when they won a hard-fought game against Penn State. In the 12 days since, much about them had changed.
UConn played Wednesday without freshman forward Morgan Tuck and sophomore Kiah Stokes.
Tuck's right knee has a bone bruise and Stokes' right shin is sore, the result of a stress reaction. Both are day-to-day, although Stokes could be out longer.
As a result, UConn was, at least theoretically, shorthanded in the post behind Dolson and Stewart. Tuck and Stokes had been the Huskies' reinforcements and without them the look resembled last year's baseline model.
Auriemma went with a comparatively small starting lineup, returning Caroline Doty in place of Stewart. But everyone got to play, even Heather Buck, who was given five minutes in the first half.
Oakland had only two field goals in the first half, shooting just 8 percent. They also had 13 turnovers, which led to 20 UConn points.
"I think our defense was even more impressive than our offense in the first half," UConn associate coach Chris Dailey said at halftime.
In fact, the Huskies outscored Oakland 48-0 in the post and off turnovers in the half.Copyright © 2015, CT Now