By DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Geno Auriemma has coached some of women’s basketball’s best players at UConn and few have impressed him like Breanna Stewart.
The sensational sophomore matched her career high with 29 points to lift No. 1 Connecticut to an 80-47 rout of No. 21 California on Sunday in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“We never had anyone like her,” Auriemma said of his young star. “We’ve had some of the greatest players ever to play college basketball and never had anyone like her. Maya Moore was unique, Diana Taurasi was unique. We’ve never had anybody that has the God-given talent that Breanna has.”
Stewart had 10 rebounds for the Huskies (12-0), who were coming off a rout of No. 2 Duke on Tuesday night.
Just as in that game, Stewart made her presence felt early and often. She had 13 of the Huskies’ first 16 points and finished the half with 21 _ one more than Cal had at that point.
“We talked about getting her 20 shots every game and I’ve never done that with any other player,” Auriemma said. “The ball finds great players.”
UConn led by 20 at halftime and Cal (7-3) could get no closer in the second half thanks to Stewart and a stingy Huskies defense.
The 6-foot-5 Stewart left the game for good with over 12 minutes left and her team up 30 points.
“I had a chance to be part of USA Basketball so I got to see her close up this summer,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “There is nothing that Breanna Stewart can’t do. Her skill set at that size is more impressive then what I saw on film already. She’s going to be in an Olympic jersey someday. To do that as a sophomore in college and on a big stage, you can’t take those types of performances for granted.”
Cal was coming off the most successful season in school history with a trip to the Final Four last April.
The Golden Bears had no answer for Stewart. Then again few teams have this season.
Stewart made an array of jumpers, hook shots and drives. UConn led 12-9 midway through the first half before scoring 11 straight points. Stewart, who was 12 of 18 from the field, had the first four points in that burst.
“I thought my first game at the Garden was a lot of fun,” Stewart said. “The first 5, 10 minutes was ugly as a team, but once we settled down it made it a lot of fun for our team.”
Cal closed to 29-16 on Brittany Boyd’s layup with 3:51 left in the first half, but could get no closer. Stewart’s layup with 2 seconds left in the opening half made it 40-20.
Boyd, Cal’s star guard, finished with nine points, but was 3 for 23 from the field. She have seven rebounds and five assists.
“I take full blame on that,” Boyd said of her shooting. “I got to finish better as 3 for 23 is unacceptable.”
Aliyyah Handford scored 27 points, including a layup with 2 seconds left, to help St. John’s beat Texas A&M 72-70 in the first game of the doubleheader which honors the late Army women’s basketball coach. Dixon died in April 2006 of arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart. Her death came three weeks after her first season as a head coach, when she led Army to its first NCAA berth.
This was UConn’s third appearance in the Maggie Dixon Classic. The Huskies met Ohio State in 2010 Classic and beat the Buckeyes to match UCLA’s vaunted 88-game winning streak. Connecticut went on to win a record 90 consecutive games before losing at Stanford. UConn also beat Penn State in 2008.
The inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic was held at Army in 2006 _ a men’s and women’s doubleheader. The Pittsburgh men, coached by Maggie’s brother Jamie, beat Western Michigan, and Ohio State routed Army. The last seven Classics have been played at Madison Square Garden.
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