NEW YORK — The weather Sunday was as quintessential California as you could hope for in New York on the final weekend before Christmas. Record-breaking warmth melted snow in a city brimming with revelers. Every street-corner Santa broke a sweat.
But the warmth was just a fleeting reminder of home for California against No. 1 UConn, because Breanna Stewart provided a season's worth of chill.
UConn's remarkable sophomore, in the midst of a scoreboard-busting run, scored 29 points with 10 rebounds to lead the Huskies to an 80-47 win over the Golden Bears in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
"My first game at the Garden was a lot of fun," Stewart said.
Morgan Tuck, who was scoreless in nine minutes at Duke, bounced back with 12 points. Stefanie Dolson scored all her eight points in the second half. She added 11 rebounds.
And to top things off, UConn's final three points came on a three from freshman walk-on Tierney Lawlor. The look on her face as she ran back down the floor spoke volumes about how it made her feel.
Brittany Boyd scored nine points for the Golden Bears (7-3). But she suffered through a miserable day, shooting 3 of 23 from the floor.
In her first game at the Garden, where the great ones always excel, Stewart immediately moved to center stage in an otherwise tough first half for the Huskies. She scored 21 points with eight rebounds while the many of her teammates struggled to just hold onto the ball.
She ended with her third consecutive double-double, her third of the season and the seventh of her career. And it seemed almost effortless at times; a performance worthy of the venue.
"We've had some of the greatest ever to play the sport [at UConn], but we've never had anyone like her," Geno Auriemma said.
Auriemma took her out of the game with 12:49 remaining, shortly after she missed a free throw that would have established a single-game career high for her. Her last 29-point game was also on a big stage — UConn's national semifinal win over Notre Dame on April 8.
Stewart has now scored at least 20 points six times this season. She is on a roll for a team rolling over everyone in its path.
"How much time do we have?" Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said when asked about Stewart. "But do me a favor, did Geno say [during his news conference] that 'We have Breanna Stewart and no one else does' "?
Auriemma did not. But it may have been just an oversight.
Despite its 40-20 halftime lead, sealed with a Stewart hoop off a UConn timeout, the Huskies endured 10 turnovers. Stewart was 8 of 12 from the field, but those around her were just 7 of 18.
Dolson had two fouls and did not score in just five minutes. Bria Hartley (eight points) was 4 of 12 for two points in 28 minutes. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 21 at Duke, had 10 in 26 minutes.
So when Cal's Hind Ben Abdelkader scored with 10:39 remaining in the first half, the lead was just 12-9.
"The first few minutes were ugly as a team," Stewart said. "But once we settled down, it made our offense run better."
Then UConn did what it usually does: blow up the game with a mid-half flurry. This time it took off a 14-1 run over the next 4:07 that took away the mystery.
So ends the first segment of UConn's title defense. The Huskies are 12-0 heading to the Christmas break. Their winning streak is 18, dating to the start of last season's NCAA Tournament.
Next Sunday, the Huskies begin play for the first time in the American Athletic Conference against Cincinnati at Gampel Pavilion. Only their game at Baylor Jan. 13 will interrupt a conference season that doesn't seem to pose many threats, at least until Louisville shows up on Feb. 9. It could be UConn's game at Louisville on March 3 that determines if it completes another undefeated regular season.
On Sunday, it was all about hitting the short holiday break in stride. And that's what the Huskies did against Cal, a 2013 Final Four team struggling to rediscover its offensive flair.
The Bears held their own on the boards (UConn, 51-40) and scored 28 points in the paint. But they just couldn't make an outside shot. Boyd, a cog in last season's breakout team, was just 1 of 12 in the first half when Cal was 8 of 34 from the floor.
Stewart was in the middle of the 12-2 UConn run that opened the second half, scoring four of those points. UConn's lead was 30 (52-22) with 15:47 to play.