HARTFORD — For at least one Saturday afternoon, women's basketball returned big-time to an XL Center practically jammed pillar to post to see No. 3 UConn play Syracuse.
It was reminiscent of a day when the program and the building rocked in synch — and a time when some Huskies star would often comply with a milestone performance to make the day memorable.
"You could look in the stands and see that the crowd was different," coach Geno Auriemma said. "And it wasn't just because of how big [the crowd] was. It had the look and the feel for what we used to take for granted as Connecticut basketball for so many years."
This time the spotlight was shared by junior Stefanie Dolson and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis during UConn's 87-62 win.
Before a season-high crowd of 14,789, Dolson set a career-high with 25 points. She added six assists and seven rebounds.
"Now we have a center that can shoot the ball from any spot on the floor and is a good passer and defender," Auriemma said. "And she can make free throws and finish around the basket with both hands. She has put herself in a great situation."
Mosqueda-Lewis added 25 points by tying her career-high with six three-pointers against one of the Big East's top perimeter-defending teams. She added nine rebounds and four steals.
"There are people around the nation that like to think they are pretty good three-point shooters," Auriemma said. "She is above and beyond that."
Dolson became the 36th player in program history to score at least 1,000 points. She now has 1,017.
"I see myself simply as someone willing and able to do just about anything my team needs," Dolson said. "If I am needed to score, I will work as hard as I can to do that. I just try to fill whatever niche is needed that night."
Mosqueda-Lewis, second in the nation in three-point shooting percentage, took 13 of UConn's 24 three-point attempts.
Breanna Stewart returned after missing two games with a sprained left ankle to score 20 points with six rebounds.
"I didn't feel like I was favoring anything tonight," Stewart said. "It's healed for the most part, aside from some swelling that will eventually go away."
Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart combined for 70 of UConn's 87 points and 25 of its 31 field goals.
"I don't think it's fair to expect that every game," Auriemma said. "But it's nice to know they can do it."
Syracuse (15-2, 3-1) had four players in double-figures, led by senior Carmen Tyson-Thomas with 12 points. But senior Kayla Alexander, averaging 18.9 points and 8.9 rebounds, had just four points and three rebounds in 11 minutes before fouling out.
"It definitely made a difference," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "We played a really good team and she only played 11 minutes. When your best player only plays 11 minutes and takes five shots, that's not good."
The Huskies (16-1, 4-1) advance to Monday's meeting with No. 4 Duke (16-0) at Gampel Pavilion. The Blue Devils are the nation's lone remaining unbeaten team in Division I.
Stewart, the native of North Syracuse, a had almost two dozen family members in the crowd, and more friends and relatives watching from home.
With Syracuse leaving for the ACC after this season, this might have been the last time these rivals will play. The Orange likely do not mind. They have lost 22 straight and 29 of the past 30 against UConn. The odds of winning certainly will be greater in their new environment.
The last time Syracuse played at the XL Center was in 2009, and that day Maya Moore broke the school-record with 10 three-pointers on her way to 40 points.
The Orange, which had their record for the best start (15-1) in a season, played the Huskies tight in the first half despite foul trouble and the reliance on three freshmen.
They fell behind 18-7 when Dolson scored the basket to top the 1,000-point mark.
But with Tyson-Thomas hitting two baskets, the Orange started back and then moved within 28-27 on Shakeya Leary's two hoops.
Leary was in the game for Alexander, the senior center, who picked up two fouls in the first four minutes and then sat out the remainder of the first half.
Tyson-Thomas, sporting a tri-colored, tightly cropped Mohawk, was whistled for her third foul with less than six minutes to play in the half, putting Syracuse at a disadvantage.
But once challenged, UConn recoiled and snapped back.
It ran off seven straight points, capped by a three by Bria Hartley to make it 35-27. And then the Huskies scored the last six points to take a 41-29 lead into the half.
Dolson had 13 points in the first half, relying primarily on 15-footers. Mosqueda-Lewis, the nation's second-ranked three-point shooter, dropped three of six from behind the arc to score 10 in the half.
UConn was occasionally held back by its 18 turnovers, which led to 19 Orange points. But with Alexander's time limited, the Huskies outrebounded the Orange 48-34 and had 21 offensive boards.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun