STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ UConn’s Breanna Stewart says her number-one goal as a basketball player is to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.
On a day when she was honored for the second time as USA basketball’s female athlete of the year, she showed why it’s a good bet she will get that chance in a couple of years.
Stewart scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked six shots to lead top-ranked UConn to a 90-40 rout of Houston in the first meeting between the two programs Tuesday night.
The sophomore also had four assists while playing just 21 minutes for Connecticut (16-0, 4-0 American). She said her Olympic dream is a big part of what motivates her to play well.
“Obviously there’s great players in this country and in other countries,” Stewart said. “I just have to really keep working hard and getting better, and hopefully, I will be given the opportunity.”
Morgan Tuck added a career-high 19 points and Stefanie Dolson had eight points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots.
The Huskies tied a team record with 17 blocks, two blocks shy of an NCAA record.
“Houston, they kept trying to put it up there, and when you do that, we’re going to block it sometimes,” Stewart said. “I wish we could have gotten the record though.”
Alecia Smith and Marche Amerson each had 11 to lead Houston. The Cougars (4-11, 0-4) lost their fourth straight game since coach Todd Buchanan abruptly resigned last month citing personal reasons.
“The opponents that we’ve had since the change, they’ve all been good,” said interim coach Wade Scott. “It’s going to take a little bit. It’s not going to change overnight.”
Connecticut has won its four conference games by an average of 38 points, and coach Geno Auriemma acknowledged that the American schedule may not pose much of a challenge for his team the rest of the way.
“I’m sure they are going to have a lot of close games among themselves,” he said. “It’s just that when they play us, it’s not going to look good. But … there are a lot of conference champions from big-time conferences that didn’t look good against us.”
Houston’s Yasmeen Thompson scored the game’s first basket on a layup to give the Cougars what would be their only lead. UConn scored the next 18 points and never looked back, holding Houston without a point for just under 5 minutes.
The Huskies had six blocked shots during that run.
A 3-pointer from Tuck and a layup by Kiah Stokes made it 39-5 midway through the first half. Stokes finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Houston outscored the Huskies 14-13 the rest of the half, but trailed 52-19 at intermission.
Stewart, who reached the 20-point plateau for the seventh time this season, had 17 points in the first half, while combining with Dolson to block 10 shots before intermission.
“There are sometimes when we both go for the block, and I think they give it to me because I’m a senior,” Dolson said. “Coach challenged us not to give up as many layups, so this game I thought we did a really good job of protecting the paint.”
The Huskies opened the second half with an 11-2 run and cruised from there.
UConn shot 50 percent from the floor for the game while holding the Cougars to just 15 baskets on 70 shots (21.4 percent).
Stewart became just the seventh player to be named USA basketball’s player of the year twice.
She joined Diana Taurasi, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Katrina McClain and Teresa Edwards as the only players to win the award more than once.
Stewart guided the FIBA U19 World Championship team to a gold medal this past summer. She’s already won five gold medals while playing for USA Basketball.
“She has a strong commitment, and I think USA basketball really appreciates the commitment that she has,” said Auriemma, who will again coach the Olympic team. “Some people, you’ve got to ask them 10 times, and Stewie, you don’t have to ask at all. You just have to tell her when training camp is and she shows up. And whatever team she’s on, usually wins a gold medal.”
She also earned MVP honors for the World Championship and also was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player last April.
All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed eight games in November and December with a bruised nerve in her right elbow, had eight rebounds, but just six points. She took her elbow brace off while warming up at halftime, but kept it on during the game.
Houston falls to 0-10 all-time against teams ranked No. 1. It was their first game against a top-ranked opponent since a loss to Stanford in 1996.
Houston became the 76th straight team to fall to Connecticut in their first meeting with the Huskies.
The Huskies have won 22 straight games, dating back to last year’s run to the NCAA championship. That winning streak will likely be 23 before they travel to Dallas to take on No. 9 Baylor next Monday. In between, the Huskies face Temple in Bridgeport on Saturday.
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