Fouls always on Dolson’s mind
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The mention of foul trouble makes Stefanie Dolson soften her voice as if broaching the subject will hex Tuesday night’s championship game.
“That’s my life story,” said Connecticut’s 6-foot-5 senior center.
She’s no stranger to a referee’s whistle. Her 89 fouls this season are 28 more than any of her teammates.
“It is hard being the biggest one out there,” Dolson said. “I swear everything they see is me.”
Dolson stands as UConn’s biggest threat to take advantage of Natalie Achonwa’s absence from Notre Dame’s frontcourt. But in order to do so, she has to stay out of foul trouble.
“For me, I know we don't have the deepest bench, so all of us have to be extremely smart with our fouls and make sure that we don't do anything dumb,” Dolson said. “We know that a ref may call certain ones that we won't agree with, but that's why you have to be smart."
UConn’s most experienced player (a school-record 151 starts), Dolson has seen the inconsistencies in officiating that both head coaches have tried to sway in their favor this week.
The Huskies lead the nation with just 11.8 team fouls per game. In the first five NCAA Tournament games, Dolson’s accumulated 14 fouls.
“Honestly, in the whole tournament, actually they've been pretty good with letting us know how they're going to call a game,” Dolson said. “As a post, you kind of get a sense. It's almost easier because, when you're down low, you kinda hear the refs behind you. They're saying, 'Nope, don't hold.' They'll kinda give you little things that you'll have a sense of how they're going to call a game.
“Usually the first five-to-six minutes you see. Are they going to call the touchy fouls? Are they going to let us play on? It's something that you get accustomed to.”
Less worry about foul trouble will allow Dolson to work on rebounding with better success than Maryland did against Notre Dame on Sunday. She is averaging a little more than nine rebounds. No Terrapin recorded more than six against the Irish.
“Even though they're not as big without (Achonwa), they're still extremely tough,” Dolson said. “They are aggressive on the boards. We just have to make sure we do a good job boxing out.”
The unexpected run for the UConn men’s basketball team hasn’t been lost on the powerhouse women’s team. A chance at sweeping both national championships didn’t seem possible a month ago.
“The boys have made it 10 times more special for us, and I’m sure they feel the same way about us,” Dolson said. “It’s just a mutual respect that we have for each other and excitement. I’m so proud of them that they made it as far as they did. No one expected them to, which makes it even sweeter.”
An attack of the rim usually doesn’t come without a challenge from one of UConn’s post players. The Huskies have mastered the art of shot-blocking, with Stewart leading the way with 108 blocks. Dolson notched 90 blocks and reserve post Kiah Stokes has 89 of her own. At times, the Huskies can play all three players together.
The Huskies blocked 318 shots (8.2 per game), breaking the NCAA single-season record set by Baylor and Brittney Griner two years ago. Stewart, Dolson and Stokes each rank in the top 32 individually.
UConn’s 45-game winning streak — stretching back to a loss to Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament final last March — is impressive enough, but the Huskies hold another pair of impressive streaks.
Losses have come infrequently in Geno Auriemma’s tenure at UConn, but back-to-back losses have almost been nonexistent. The Huskies haven’t loss consecutive games since March 1993, a streak that stretches back 771 games and includes 56 victories following a loss.
And UConn doesn’t lose in national championships either. The Huskies are 8-0 with the national title on the line. A win Tuesday would give Auriemma one more than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.
Tyler James: 574-235-6214