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A big day for `Stewie', a big moment for Tierney

POSTED December 22, 2013
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                          A big day for `Stewie', a big moment for Tierney


            NEW YORK, N.Y. – It was a day for `Stewie’. It was a moment for Tierney. Both were downright impressive.

            Stewie is Breanna Stewart, UConn’s 6-foot-4 wunderkind and Tierney Lawlor is UConn’s 5-foot-7 walk-on from Ansonia. The twosome doesn’t necessarily have a lot of common except for the fact that they both play for the best women’s college basketball team in the land.

            On Sunday, however, there was a little Christmas magic in what they produced during a mundane 80-47 victory over California at Madison Square Garden.

            Start with `Stewie.’ On a day when UConn looked one part hung over from their pasting of Duke earlier in the week, one part out of routine and one part looking more towards Christmas after attending a Broadway show on Friday and practicing at the New York Athletic Club on Saturday and then walking around the city, she was brilliant.

            Stewart tied a career high with 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes of play.  She had nine of the first 10 points while her teammates were not adapting well to the Garden. By the half, Steward was having her own Garden party with 21 of the team’s 40 points. Not a bad almost homecoming for the kid from Syracuse, N.Y.

She posted up, she shot from afar, she drove to the hoop. She has been called the best player in college basketball and with less than a season and a half under her belt she is in the process of heading towards Maya, Diana and Tina land.

Too soon with that one? After all, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles are a holy trio of UConn basketball if not thee holy trio. They are the state of the art for any time, all about big talent, big plays and national championships.

You want to throw Breanna Stewart into that barrel of ageless brilliance right now? Hey, Geno does and when the E.F. Hutton of women’s basketball talks you listen. He has seen and accomplished too much.

“We have had some of the greatest players to ever play college basketball and we have never had anybody like her,” said Auriemma. “Maya Moore was unique, Diana Taurasi was unique. Tina Charles was unique. We’ve had an incredible amount of great, great, great players but I don’t think we have ever had anybody that has the god given things that Breanna has.

"All the 6-4 kids we’ve had have been great around the basket or could do a couple things great. All the great perimeter players we had were really good. She is just somebody that because you can’t describe her what she does makes it impossible to match up for anybody. Unless you have a 6-foot-4 really athletic kid that you can put on her for 40 minutes you can’t stop her from scoring. Any big kid she is too quick for and any guard she shoots right over you.”

That comes from the big guy. Who is going to argue? Remember Geno’s famous line from the Taurasi years – “We have Diana and you don’t.” Well, how long before Geno is going with ‘We have Breanna and you don’t.’

Stewart didn’t play the last 11 minutes. She could have had 40 but she didn’t need to and it didn’t matter. She was on display, lighting up the Garden not to mention California. Two and a half years to go. You shudder with delicious anticipation if you are a UConn fan. You just plain shudder if you are a UConn opponent.

Lawlor’s day was different. Big things are expected from Stewart. No things were expected from Lawlor. She was supposed to be in the stands watching the Huskies this year. A solid career at Ansonia didn’t point to a position with the best program in the country.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ticket counter. Lawlor made the team as a walk-on. Then Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis and Morgan Tuck went down with injuries and some minutes became available.

Suddenly the kid from Ansonia was playing in front of thousands and against the likes of Duke and Stanford had the best seat in the house. Sunday she played the final two minutes at Madison Square Garden.

From gyms like Kennedy and Crosby to Madison Square Garden. That’s a bigger leap than Carl Lewis ever made. But, it got even better.

With 18 seconds to go Lawlor buried a three-pointer from the right wing. A deadly dagger that she can talk about long after this incredible run is over. The appreciative Garden crowd roared while Lawlor punctuated the moment with a fist pump. Heck, Geno, knew what it all meant.

“It was unbelievable, did you see her reaction?” said Auriemma.  “I looked up at the scoreboard and I thought maybe the score was 78-77 and that was the game-winner because the kid acted like it was the shot of the century. That is what sports is all about. The kid is living the dream. God bless her. She works her butt off in practice and that is what you love about sports, you when you have opportunities to see kids do stuff like that.’’

The college scene is much different than high school when it comes to players. Lawler was not available after the game.  As I was heading towards the car with Tim Gaffney we spotted her about two blocks from the Garden with some family members.

I went up and introduced myself and asked her if I could ask her a couple of questions. On the college level players usually need permission to talk to the press. “I don’t think I can say anything,” she said to me.

She did manage an “It was fun,” and a relative noted the specialness of coming from the NVL to playing in the Garden.

Lawlor didn’t really need to say anything. The smile on her face in the middle of a New York sidewalk told it all. She played at the Garden and scored.  Very cool for the hard-working kid from Ansonia.

A big day for Stewie and a big moment for Lawlor. Quite a Sunday at the Garden.

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