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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Homecoming for UConn quartet

Breanna Stewart has played in so many arenas during her young life but remarkably, Madison Square Garden is not one of them. That will change this afternoon when UConn faces Cal in the World's Most Famous Arena in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic.

"It's my first time playing there," Stewart said. "I have been there before for one WNBA game. I am really excited. You always see in on TV, the historical basketball games that have been there. It will be a great experience but at the same time, it is a business trip."

Although she grew up in Syracuse, which is about four hours from New York City, why has Stewart been such an infrequent visitor to MSG?

"It is my dad's fault," Stewart said with a laugh. "He never took me to an NBA game or Big East tournament."

Of course for Stewart and her teammates, is there a better time to head into NYC than with Christmas just a few days away.

"You are going to New York City at Christmas time, you've got Rockefeller Center, everything is going on and you have the basketball as well," Stewart said.

The team headed to New York on Friday so there has been plenty of time to check out the sights.

"It is absolutely amazing," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "It is the best time to be in New York City when it is Christmas time, the tree is there and the lights ... Rockefeller Center. I know we are going to be able to go out and see that for the girls who haven't seen it yet and I excited to show them around. It is nice, it kind of helps with team camaraderie and with us as a family kind of hanging out, seeing the different spots in the city, we look forward to it more."

Dolson and fellow senior Bria Hartley got to play in the Maggie Dixon Classic in MSG as freshmen as UConn defeated Ohio State 81-50 to win their NCAA Division I record-tying 88th straight game. Dolson had 15 rebounds and Hartley 13 points and five assists in the 2010 game.

"I was nervous, I had to guard Jantel Lavender but I had a lot of rebounds so I was happy," Dolson said. "It was so big an it is so cool to play at that arena, I am exciting."

Hartley and freshman Saniya Chong grew up the closest to The Garden so they have been there more than their teammates but it very gets old.

"I am a senior, it is New York and I am going to have a lot of family that is going to cheering for us and it is one of the greatest arenas so it doesn't get much better than that," Hartley said. "I used to go to quite a few of the Knicks games when I was real little. When I got older I didn't go as much but I went to Liberty games as well."

It's not too often that Geno Auriemma squares off with coaches who he saw play when they were high school stars but as luck would have it, the next two games fall under that category.

Obviously, he recruited Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott out of Washington, D.C. and Elliott was a key member of UConn's first national championship team. He also got to see Cal coach Lindsay Gottleib play at Scarsdale High School when Auriemma was trying to convince Hilary Howard to play for the Huskies (Howard chose to attend Duke).

"I have known her since she was 17 years old," Auriemma said. "I am thrilled because she has done in a way, did it the way you need to do it to be successful at this level today. She was an assistant for a number of years at some pretty good places, went to a mid major (UCSB), learned how to build a program, how to run a program and took that went to Cal and has them at places they haven't been in a long time or ever. I couldn't be more proud of her or happy for her to be honest with you."

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