It may only be the first weekend of March, but Azura Stevens already has some well-deserved hardware.
Prior to the Huskies’ American Athletic Conference Tournament matchup against Tulane, Stevens made two trips to the awards table to collect her AAC Newcomer of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year Awards.
After that, the 6-foot-6 Stevens put on a dominant display against the Green Wave, navigating some foul trouble to dominate the glass and finish the day with 15 points, nine rebounds (three offensive) and two blocks in just 21 minutes.
With usual starter Gabby Williams out due to injury, Stevens replaced Williams in the starting lineup to open the second half. After Crystal Dangerfield came out of the game due to an injure a few minutes later, Stevens was leading some seldom-used lineups to help keep the team rolling.
“This was good for them considering something like this could happen in the Final Four,” Williams said. I think this was a good test for them to see how they react when they get minutes that they didn’t really expect.”
Stevens took the adversity in stride, scoring a team-high 11 second-half points in Williams’ absence and hauling in all three of her offensive boards.
“Obviously it was different than the normal role that I have, but I was trying to get in and help my team any way that I can,” Stevens said. “It’s tournament time, anything can happen. You have to be ready to face anything.”
Stevens did not attempt a 3-point shot against the Green Wave, but her ability to step out and drill the outside shots at the elbow and beyond adds another dimension to an already dangerous UConn offense. With her versatile skillset, Stevens can adjust her game based on the matchup to consistently get good looks all over the court.
Against Tulane, Stevens focused on punishing Tulane in the post for easy layups and cleaning up on the offensive glass.
“I am trying to focus more on starting down low, getting a rhythm there,” Stevens said. “As things work out, if a three opens up, cool, but I’m not trying to force anything.”
Stevens has been inconsistent defensively this season, but showed signs of improvement against a small Tulane team, adding two blocks with six defensive rebounds. With her length and athleticism, Stevens has the potential to make an impact on the defensive end every night, and will need to be at her best if the Huskies run into dominant front court players like Aja Wilson, Ruthy Hebard and Teaira McCowan in the NCAA tournament.
Overall, Stevens’ performance against Tulane marked the continuation of some of her best basketball this season. Through her last four games, Stevens is averaging 18.3 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game in just 20 minutes.
It may have taken a little longer than originally expected—we saw flashes from the start— but it seems that Stevens is settling into her role off the bench, although she is one of the more versatile and talented players in the country.
As the stage gets bigger and the teams get tougher, Stevens will need to continue to play at a high level off the short UConn bench in order to give secure another national championship for the Huskies.