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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

UConn's Stewart doesn't limit her winning to the basketball court

In many ways the final score was not even close to being the most important aspect of the two hours spent inside Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.

More than 8,000 fans turned out to watch the UConn women's basketball dispatch Cincinnati for their 62nd straight win. Many of those in attendance were adorned in pink shirts, belts, shoes or ties since it was the annual Play4Kay Game to raise money for cancer research.

Before the game rather than just have the five starters introduced so they could hand a mini basketball to wide-eyed kids, every UConn player took in the festivities in order to allow cancer survivors to receive a towel and basketball from the Huskies as well. At halftime it was impossible to ignore the pure emotion as Fiona Furlong, a cancer survivor who is affiliated with the UConn Health Center, spoke about the importance of the night not just from a fundraising perspective but also from an emotional one.

Had the cancer-related events come to an end when Furlong got the UConn fans to join her in a UConn chant heard regularly at Husky games, it would have been a memorable evening. However, the Huskies' two-time national player of the year Breanna Stewart had something on her mind. With the blessing of the UConn women's basketball program she asked the fans to join her in wishing ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, the sideline reporter for the Women's Final Four, well in her fight with cancer.

"When I was a freshman, I wouldn't have felt comfortable going this, it would have been out of my element," Stewart said. "The way I have grown over the past four years shows a lot and being a role model to kids and even adults, that is what I want to do besides playing basketball here is to make an impact off the court.

"We had planned it with Kevin (DeMille, UConn's assistant director of women's basketball administration) because we wanted to do the thing (handing out prizes) with the student section to not only put it to the students but also the entire gym.

"It was a big deal. Holly, she means a lot to our team. She has been around us a lot in the NCAA tournament. Anytime we see somebody going through that, you want to wish them the best and just seeing them pull through. Even from reading her tweets and what is being said on SportsCenter, it is unbelievable how strong she is and I can't wait to see her in March."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who lost his father Donato to cancer and at one point started Geno's Cancer Team featuring student volunteers, also headed out on the court in the pre-game introductions and exchanged hugs with the cancer survivors. Seeing Stewart taking the lead in engaging the crowd the way she did reminded him how far his senior star has come in the last four years.
"Stewie wouldn't talk to me four years ago much less (the crowd)," Auriemma said. "Stewie has grown up a lot. They had talked about what they were going to do and obviously the cancer awareness thing was important for a lot of people, it is important for the community, it is important for those people who were here. Holly Rowe is a big part of our (women's basketball) community, she is a big part of the college basketball world and Stewie I thought was right on point."

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