BRIDGEPORT — UConn's first regular-season women's basketball game at the Webster Bank Arena was a great commercial success. A sellout crowd of 9,274 turned out for the Huskies' 80-36 win over Temple on Saturday.
The crowd tied the record set by the UConn men Dec. 28 against Eastern Washington for the largest to see a sporting event in this venue, which opened in 2001.
UConn's largest announced crowd this season was 9,872 at Gampel Pavilion against Cincinnati on Dec. 29. But there were scores of empty seats that night. That wasn't the case Saturday.
If it were up to Charlie Dowd, senior vice president of operations of the arena, talks about UConn returning next season would begin immediately.
"I am sure we will sit down over lunch with [UConn AD] Warde Manuel soon," Dowd said. "But we already have an excellent personal and working relationship, and now we have a framework to work from"
One thing is certain: Geno Auriemma likes the idea of playing in Bridgeport.
"The atmosphere was really cool here," Auriemma said. "You feel it [the excitement]. It was almost a big-game feel, even though you could have said looking at the schedule that Temple was a big game. There is something to be said for going to play in a place where the fans don't get the chance to see you. They were appreciative. They enjoyed it. There was enthusiasm."
UConn's previous contract with the XL Center prohibited the Huskies from playing home games in any venue other than Hartford or Gampel Pavilion. Its current one-year deal with the building's new management group deal opened the door for exploration.
"[The building administration] has demonstrated its support for UConn basketball," Auriemma said. "I think it's a natural to come here. Who knows, maybe there are other places we can play [Mohegan Sun Arena]. But right now, this is a beautiful arena. I wish we had one just like this on campus."
Any future games in Bridgeport — or Mohegan Sun — would likely still be played during the school's winter break. Auriemma advocates playing the majority of home games on campus when school in session for the sake of the students.
"We meet and talk about it all in a month or so," Manuel said. "I'll talk to my staff and the coaches and see how the game went beyond how great it was for the fans."
Cardoza's Take On Stewart
Temple coach Tonya Cardoza spent 14 years as a UConn assistant until leaving to take over the Owls in 2008. So she knows how Auriemma motivates his players. And she senses her former boss had something to say to sophomore Breanna Stewart before the NCAA Tournament last season that transformed here.
"You can tell, because her game has totally changed. She's playing now like she is the best player in the country," Cardoza said. Prior [to last year's NCAA Tournament], she was inconsistent, unsure. But now I can tell that he's put something in her head because it looks like she believes she is 'the player.' She believes it now. She is going out there and showing it. I don't know exactly what it is he said to her, but she is showing that she thinks and knows she is the best player in college basketball."
On Friday night, Cardoza and assistant Willnett Crockett, a former UConn player, visited one of their recruits for next season, Career High's Tanaya Atkinson.
Kiah Stokes had a career-high 18 rebounds in 28 minutes, 11 defensively. But the Huskies were outrebounded for the first time this season, 42-39. ... Auriemma said he wasn't sure Morgan Tuck, who did not play Saturday (knee), would play Monday at Baylor. … Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis played without her right elbow brace for the first time since returning Dec. 17 after missing eight games with a nerve contusion. She scored 11 points (1,342 career points). When she reaches 1,500, UConn will have its first teammate trio — with Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley — to reach that milestone together. … UConn leads the nation in blocked shots per game and added to that with 14 Saturday. Dolson had seven for the second straight game and UConn has 31 in its past two games. … UConn came into the game having trailed for just 25:17 of the first 640 minutes this season. It trailed for 16 seconds early in the first half Saturday. Its largest deficit was four, against Central Florida. By the way, Briahanna Jackson, who scored 28 points for the Knights against UConn on Jan. 1, is no longer with the program.