STORRS -- All five players were high school All-Americans. Yet, when they arrived at UConn, they no longer would be the focal point of the team.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma made it perfectly clear that egos and selfishness would not be tolerated.
Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart had to adopt a team-first mentality. This was the path to team success, which in turn would yield individual success.
With the unbeaten Huskies chasing an NCAA-record ninth national championship, it is these players who form the best starting lineup in the country. And they proved it again Sunday by combining for 73 points in an 87-44 win over 16th-seeded Prairie View A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Gampel Pavilion.
"You've got to be able to mesh and play together with really good players,'' Hartley said. "And I think the best players are ones that can play with other great players. I think that's what you have here at Connecticut. The tradition is just players that come together and that kind of sacrifice things and give up what their own selfish needs are or wants and kind of give them up for the team.''
The Huskies (35-0) have seen all five starters score in double figures in six games this season. They have had at least four in double figures in 21 games, including each of the last four.
Stewart led UConn with 19 points Sunday. Hartley added 16. Jefferson had 14. Mosqueda-Lewis had 13. Dolson finished with 11.
"We have five talented people on the court together,'' Stewart said. "And just from being able to play with each other a lot we know a lot about each other.''
Stewart (19.7), Hartley (16.4), Mosqueda-Lewis (12.4), Dolson (12.3) and Jefferson (10.1) are averaging a combined 70.9 points for the Huskies, the most by a starting lineup in team history. They account for 85.6 percent of UConn's average of 82.8, which is second only to the 2010-11 group of Maya Moore (22.8), Tiffany Hayes (13.7), Hartley (12.4), Dolson (10.2) and Kelly Faris (7.8) that accounted for 87.3 percent of UConn's overall scoring of 76.6.
The greatest team in program history, and arguably the history of the sport, is UConn's 2001-02 team. And not even that starting lineup was asked to provide so much for the Huskies. Swin Cash (14.9), Diana Taurasi (14.5), Sue Bird (14.4), Asjha Jones (14.0) and Tamika Williams (10.1) combined for 67.9 points and 78.0 percent of UConn's overall scoring of 87.0 that season.
"They've been able to withstand a lot,'' Auriemma said. "They know they have to play well. They know they have to stay out of foul trouble. They know they have to execute. So they come into the tournament with a lot of confidence in themselves and a lot of confidence in each other. And at this time of year I don't know that there's anything more important than confidence in yourselves and your teammates.''
It has not been easy for this group, especially Dolson, Hartley, Jefferson and Stewart. They are the only players who have played in every game.
Mosqueda-Lewis has missed a total of 12 games due to an elbow injury and a bout with mononucleosis. Top reserve Morgan Tuck played in just eight games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery Jan. 30.
It has been the starters who have had to assume ownership of this team with a limited bench. It is the starters who have thrived. Read Full Article
"When you look at the talent we have, I think it's just we're all really confident,'' Hartley said. "I think this is one of the years where all five starters, no one's really having too much confidence issues. Everyone's coming out and playing really well and when you can rely on that consistently every night you're going to have a pretty good team.''
email@example.com; @elliottctpost; blog.ctnews.com/elliott/