HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Breanna Stewart returned to the court nine months after rupturing her right Achilles tendon and the U.S. women’s national team beat No. 4 UConn 79-64 on Monday night in an exhibition game.
The teams honored NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, and the Huskies hung a jersey for Gianna on their bench at the XL Center.
The two had become friends with coach Geno Auriemma and many of the former UConn players, including Stewart, who said Bryant was one of the first people to reach out to her when she got hurt in Europe in April.
Stewart, who scored three points in 17 minutes, honored the pair along with other victims of the crash by writing their names on her shoes.
UConn had flowers on its bench in front of a No. 2 jersey for Gianna, who Kobe had said was “hellbent” on attending the school. The coaching staffs wore gold and purple ribbons.
The teams huddled together at midcour t before the tip for a 24-second moment of silence. After the tip, the U.S. took an 8-second backcourt violation and then the Huskies let the 24-second shot clock expire. Those were Kobe Bryant’s numbers in the pros.
Then the game got back to normal with Stewart hitting her first shot — a 3-pointer from the wing. It was her only basket of the game. The U.S., which lost an exhibition game to Oregon on Nov. 9, scored the first seven points and led 22-11 after one.
UConn rallied in the second quarter and the game was tied at 31 at the half. The Huskies led 51-47 before the U.S. team scored the final five points of the third quarter.
The Huskies led 56-54 early in the fourth quarter before Kelsey Plum scored eight straight points in a 10-0 run for the U.S. to give the Americans a cushion — their first since the first quarter.
Stewart was one of five former Huskies on the U.S. rosters. She was joined by Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Katie Lou Samuelson and Diana Taurasi. The Phoenix Mercury star didn’t play because of back soreness.
The five received loud ovations from the fans when they were introduced pregame.
HONORING GREATNESS: The Huskies celebrated the 2009 and 2010 teams that won national championships. The two teams were a combined 78-0 led by Maya Moore, who is sitting out her second consecutive WNBA season to push criminal justice reform.
TIP-INS:: A’ja Wilson missed the game because she had her wisdom teeth out. … This was the third time that Huskies had played an exhibition game against the U.S. national team. The Huskies also lost in 2000 and 2007.
U.S.: plays at Louisville on Sunday in final exhibition game before playing in Olympic qualifying tournament in Serbia. The Americans have already locked up a berth in Tokyo by winning the FIBA World Cup in 2018.
UConn: hosts Cincinnati on Thursday.