HARTFORD, Conn. — Stefanie Dolson usually doesn't keep track of how many points she scores in a game. But the junior center did just that Saturday when the University of Connecticut women's basketball team hosted Syracuse at the XL Center.
Why was Saturday different than any of the other 92 games she has played in her college career?
"Because ... Something was happening," Dolson said with a smile.
Whatever could happen to and for Dolson Saturday happened which is why that smile never left her. Dolson scored a career high 25 points, including the 1,000th of her career, as the third-ranked Huskies defeated Syracuse 87-62 before a crowd of 14,786 in the final Big East regular season game between the two schools.
The Port Jervis, N.Y., native is the 36th player in UConn history to reach the milestone. Classmate Bria Hartley was the last to do it at the NCAA Final Four in Denver last April. Dolson also had seven rebounds and six assists in yet another strong all-around effort.
"I thought today was a good indication of all the things she's been working on, and all the things she wanted to be good at," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Now we have a center that can shoot the ball, who's a good passer, and a good defender. I just think she's put herself in a great situation right now and I just hope she keeps getting better every day. I know that's her goal as well."
Dolson, who added seven rebounds and six assists, came into Saturday needing eight points to reach 1,000, It took her just 7:21 to get the job done as she took a pass from teammate Brianna Banks and made a layup as the crowd roared. As she ran back on defense she tried to hide a smile.
"I kind of had a little smirk on my face," Dolson said. "I didn't want to make it seem like I wasn't focused on the game because I totally was."
There was no reason to hide the smile when she came out of the game with 2:00 to go to a standing ovation.
"That was the crowd," Dolson said. "They were awesome. When I saw before the game how many people were here I just looked around and smiled. When they gave me the standing ovation ... It's something I'll never forget, that's for sure."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis matched Dolson's 25 points and also had nine rebounds for UConn (16-1 overall, 4-1 Big East). Freshman and Syracuse native Breanna Stewart, who had missed the previous two games with a sprained left ankle, chipped in 20 points.
But the day belonged to Dolson.
"I think I see myself as someone who is willing and able to do anything to help my team," Dolson said. "If it's a night where I need to score, I'm going to work hard to do that. If it's a night where I need to rebound and get someone else open shots, I'm willing to do that too. I think I just fill the niche that needs to be filled for the night."
The Huskies needed most of Dolson's numbers as Syracuse (15-2, 3-1) hung around until the final 5:00.
UConn led by 11 after Dolson's milestone basket, but Syracuse caught fire and pulled within 28-27. The Huskies responded as two free throws by Kelly Faris, a hoop by Stewart and a 3-pointer by Hartley made it an eight-point lead. After two free throws by Syracuse's Elashier Hall, UConn scored the final six points of the first half to lead 41-29 at the break.
A Mosqueda-Lewis basket made it 68-46, but an 11-1 run by the Orange brought them to within 12 with just 5:09 remaining. Mosqueda-Lewis, though, answered with a trey and four points by Stewart put it out of reach.
Mosqueda-Lewis finished 6-for-13 form behind the arc against a team that came in leading the Big East in 3-point percentage defense.
"When you keep moving it you make it a lot easier for yourself to score," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Once I got into the rhythm of my shot and the rhythm of taking it off the dribble it made everything come easier."
Carmen Tyson-Thomas had 12 points for Syracuse, which had an eight-game winning streak snapped. Leading scorer and rebounder Kayla Alexander fouled out in just 11 minutes. She had just four points and three rebounds.
"We have tough kids. This is a tough place to play in," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "They (UConn) draw well and they are a good team. We knew that going in. We wanted to play good for 40 minutes and ended up playing good for about 33 minutes."
The Huskies have beaten Syracuse 22 straight times. The Orange head to the Atlantic Coast Conference at the end of the year.
UConn heads to Gampel Pavilion Monday night to take on No. 4 and unbeaten Duke in its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game. But, first, there will be a small celebration for the newest member of its 1,000-point club -- though she's taking it in stride.
"It's a stepping stone but it's not everything that I came here for," Dolson said. "I came here to win a national championship and become the best player I can. Scoring 1,000 points is great but it's not going to mean much if we don't win the national championship at the end of the year."