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UCD women: Bring on No. 1

By From page B1 | December 04, 2013

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UCD sophomore Molly Greubel directs traffic during a home game earlier this season. Greubel leads the Aggies in assists as they head to Connecticut for a Thursday matchup against the top-ranked Huskies. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

STORRS, Conn. — All right, where to start?

Coach Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut women are the unanimous No. 1-ranked basketball team in the land.

The defending national champion Huskies are 9-0.

So far, UConn has handed three top-10 teams their only losses of 2013.

With most squads, if they land one player on the Naismith Award Early Watch List, you can bet that team is headed for big things. The Huskies have four players — Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Brianna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis — on that 30-member list.

The only starter not being considered worthy of the sport’s top individual honor is a sophomore guard — Moriah Jefferson — who leads UConn in steals (22), averages 11.2 points per game and is second on the team in assists (27 in limited playing time).

Oh, did we mention that next up for the Huskies is UC Davis on Thursday?

“We view this as an opportunity that’s in front of us,” Aggie coach Jennifer Gross said after talking with her team earlier this week. “There is no reason for nerves or anxiety.

“We’re getting in a state of mind where we’re confident and excited and ready to give it everything we’ve got.”

UCD just went 1-1 in the Holiday Beach Classic at Cal Poly, as a 69-67 loss to San Francisco was followed by a strong 71-58 decision over Akron.

Led by All-Big West swingman Sydnee Fipps’ 17 points (her average), the win put the Aggies at 2-4 as they head into the lion’s den.

“I thought we played really well in that game,” Gross added.

UCD, carrying just 11 on this year’s roster, opened with losses to USC, Pacific and Stanford. But a 95-61 victory over San Jose State served notice that the locals might have been one of the nation’s best 0-3 teams.

And these Aggies are showing diversity and depth …

Iowa State transfer Kelsey Harris is hitting 41 percent of her 3-pointers (22-of-45) and averaging 11.7 ppg.

Sophomore Alyson Doherty — a 6-foot-3 post player from Lake Forest — has emerged. Scoring 10.3 points a night, she’s UCD’s leading rebounder (37) and has added eight blocked shots.

Villa Park junior Brianna Salvatore (8.8 ppg) has been white-hot from beyond the arc, going 10-for-14, while playing some of her team’s best defense.

Sophomore guard Molly Greubel is the team’s assist leader (17) and is coming off of her best week as an Aggie.

Harris, who in her two seasons with the Cyclones made two trips to the NCAA tournament, has played before sellout crowds of 10,000-strong — including four face-to-face meetings with Baylor’s 2011-12 Player of the Year Brittney Griner.

“(Kelsey) brings tremendous perspective to a game like UConn,” Gross said. “We can rely on her confidence and experience to set the tone. We don’t have to have anybody get us fired up. Knowing we have a player that’s been there … is a comfort.”

So, about that watch list quartet?

Stewart is a 6-4 sophomore forward from Syracuse, N.Y. She’s one of five Auriemma athletes scoring in double digits (17.7 ppg).

Seniors Hartley and Dolson both average 14 a game, with the 6-5 Dolson pulling down 10.6 boards an outing.

The fourth Naismith hopeful, junior forward Mosqueda-Lewis, suffered an elbow injury in a 76-57 win over Stanford on Nov. 11 and is out indefinitely.

Reserve forward Morgan Tuck (knee) also was injured in that game and will miss the foreseeable future. But the Huskies haven’t missed a beat.

Down to seven scholarship players, Auriemma said Tuck is working out on the sidelines in practice and Mosqueda-Lewis is flexing her achy shooting arm. Auriemma gave no timetable for either player’s return.

But others have stepped up:

“I think they’ve responded pretty much the way I thought they would respond,” Auriemma told the CT Post. “Who would respond negatively if you’re playing 12 minutes, 15 minutes and somebody goes, ‘Yo, from now on you’re going to play 25’?

“ ‘Oh, man, that’s going to suck.’ Nobody’s going to do that. So the response is what I thought it would be …”

Scoring 90-plus points a night, shooting 54 percent from the field, allowing less than 50 points from opponents and holding their foes to only 31.1 percent shooting, the Huskies are holding up just fine.

The fun begins at the XL Center in Hartford at 4 p.m. PST Thursday.

Notes: Connecticut will make the trip to play at The Pavilion next season. … This year, the Huskies are coming off of a 70-49 victory over Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Challenge (Springfield, Mass.). Dolson and Hartley combined for 32 points in Sunday’s win. The Buckeyes came in 6-2, and the victory means UConn hasn’t lost a regular-season tournament in 21 years. … Connecticut is tied with Tennessee with eight national titles. … For comparative-score fans: On Nov. 17, UCD lost at Stanford, 66-48. The Cardinal lost to UConn, 76-57, six days before at Storrs. … Thursday’s game will be streamed on TV at SNY/ESPN3.com. … Hartley and Dolson were named WCBA/State Farm first-team All-Americans last season and Stewart was a Final Four Most Outstanding Freshman. OK, enough!

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.

Bruce Gallaudet

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