UConn Breezes Past Central Florida, 83-35

Breanna Stewart scores her 1,000th career point early in the first half of a blowout win for the UConn Huskies. (JOHN WOIKE)

HARTFORD — Through the years, the restaurants, the 999 games and eight national championships, Geno Auriemma has been unwavering about the value of individual statistics.

It's not that he dislikes them; of course, he does. Add them up, they equal titles. It's just that he discourages placing a lot of attention on them. That's because what's good for the player might not always be what's good for team.

And at UConn, team reigns supreme.

Still, there are days when singular accomplishments can't be ignored or underestimated. They simply light up the marquee with their brilliance. Like on Wednesday at the XL Center when sophomore Breanna Stewart and senior Bria Hartley forever placed themselves among the program's pantheon.

And, in keeping with the primary goal, reaching two milestones played a major role in UConn's 83-35 win over Central Florida, the 33rd straight victory for the defending national champions.

First things first: Stewart led the Huskies with 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocked shots and four assists. Hartley added 20 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Freshman Saniya Chong, making her second straight start, scored a season-high 17 points with 10 rebounds for her first double-double.

"I've been listening to Coach tell me to be aggressive and I came out and worked hard," Chong said.

Stefanie Dolson added 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.

The Knights (10-16, 3-12) shot 12-for-70 from the field. They were led by Zykira Lewis (11 points) and Sara Djassi (10 points).

It didn't take long for the ceremonies highlighting Stewart and Hartley to take place. Both occurred within an 11-0 run that turned a 2-0 deficit into an 11-2 lead.

Just 42 seconds into the game, 10 seconds after UCF had taken a 2-0 lead, Stewart, the sophomore, scored her 1,000th point, in her 63rd game, by banking a shot off the backboard.

In doing so, she became the second-fastest to a grand, tying her with Svetlana Abrosimova and Rebecca Lobo.

"It's a big deal, but at the same time it isn't," Stewart said. "It's still the wins that matter more. I'll look back on this when I'm older."

More impressively, she is only the fifth sophomore in UConn history to do it, joining Moore (2009), Abrosimova (1999) and two of her teammates, Bria Hartley (2012) and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (2013). Lobo was a junior when her time came.

"It looks so effortless. It doesn't even look like she's doing what she's doing. And the points just keep piling up," Auriemma said.

Mosqueda-Lewis took 64 games to score her 1,000th, on Senior Day last season along with Kelly Faris. Hartley took 74 games.

And what of Hartley, the All-American guard, who now has 1,778 career points, 501 rebounds and 502 assists? She picked up three quick rebounds within the first 4:06 to join Moore and Diana Taurasi as the only players in team history with at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists.

"I've always been a big self-critic," Hartley said. "But for the most part, I've done what I wanted to do in the four years since I came here."

Already with 222 steals, she and Moore are now the only players in team history with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 200 steals.

"Everything she gets, she deserves," Auriemma said. "She's had an All-American season. None of us are surprised. She's like our Derek Jeter, very consistent."

Now the Huskies (27-0, 14-0) head to Texas for games at Houston (Saturday) and SMU (Tuesday). The Houston game will be the 1,000th on Auriemma's watch since he came to UConn in 1985.

Once that's done, only Senior Night (March 1 at Gampel Pavilion against Rutgers) and the season-finale at Louisville (March 3) separate them from the start of the postseason.

Aside from history, this was also a good game for the present, embodied in the performance of Chong.

"She hadn't scored in 65 minutes," Auriemma said. "That's not why we recruited her. She has a lot of skills that can help the team."

She started her first game on Sunday at South Florida and did not score. On Tuesday, she answered questions about tentativeness. And then she shut everybody up.

Chong, who played 35 minutes, was on the frontline of UConn's transition attack and scored nine points in 17 minutes of the first half. She was 4-for-6 from the field after scoring only six field goals in her past five games and none in the 52 minutes preceding this game.

She also had a career-high seven rebounds in the half, all the more impressive because Central Florida had only seven goals in falling behind 46-20.

The only thing that went wrong for UConn were the three fouls that sent Dolson to the bench with 1:57 to play in the first half, UConn ahead, 38-17. But the Huskies lead just increased from there.

When these teams played Jan. 1 in Orlando, Central Florida was led by sophomore guard Briahanna Jackson, who scored 28 points, the most of any opponent against the Huskies this season. But nine days later, she was no longer with the program and the Knights have been weaponless since.

In fact, the opening tip provided a sign of what was to come when Djassi, for a brief moment, took the basket to the wrong end of the floor — UConn's end — before becoming reoriented.