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Preview: Breanna Stewart returns in Team USA vs. UConn amid mourning for Kobe, Gianna Bryant

The UConn Huskies welcome home Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Katie Lou Samuelson, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi in a game against a USA Basketball Women’s National Team tempered by grief over the untimely passing of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. It will be Stewart’s first time playing competitive basketball since April 2019.

Olympics: Basketball-Women’s Team-Preliminary Round Group B-USA vs SEN
Breanna Stewart (No. 9) as seen at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team is set to start the second half of its 2019-20 college circuit with a game against the UConn Huskies on Monday at 7 p.m. ET in Hartford, CT. The game is being played just one day after aspiring UConn Husky Gianna Bryant, 13, was killed in a helicopter crash alongside her NBA-legend father Kobe Bryant and seven others.

Both are being honored before a game that will be played with heavy hearts.

It will be a homecoming for Team USA’s Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Katie Lou Samuelson, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi, all of whom played at UConn. For Stewart, it will be her first game back from an Achilles injury that kept her out of the 2019 WNBA season.

The Seattle Storm forward won the WNBA regular season and Finals MVP awards in 2018, along with her first championship trophy.

The No. 3 Huskies’ one loss this season was to the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears. Huskies senior point guard Crystal Dangerfield leads the team as UConn’s most consistent performer and calming influence. To beat a Team USA squad studded with WNBA superstars, UConn will need junior Megan Walker and sophomore Olivia Nelson-Ododa to have big games.

Walker is the teams’ leading and most versatile scorer, and the main reason UConn has remained among the top teams in the nation after the graduation of Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, who led the Huskies to the Final Four in 2018-19.

Nelson-Ododa is an up-and-coming post player with star potential but she was benched in the second quarter of UConn’s Jan. 23rd game against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers because of poor play. She came back with a great fourth quarter to help the Huskies pull away from the Lady Vols. When Nelson-Ododa plays well, UConn has a chance to win.

Highlights: UConn outlasts Tennessee in first meeting in 13 years

Meanwhile, Taurasi, who already has four Olympic gold medals and has been one of the centerpieces of Team USA, will look to improve her scoring output. At 37 years old and coming off back surgery last April, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer averaged just 4.3 points in six WNBA games in 2019 and 6.4 points with Team USA.

A’ja Wilson (five games) and Nneka Ogwumike (seven games) led Team USA in points per game with 15.8 and 15.7, respectively. The Minnesota Lynx’s Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier each played 13 games for Team USA last year and Fowles averaged 13.2 points with 6.7 rebounds.

Team USA faced the Stanford Cardinal, Oregon State Beavers, Texas A&M Aggies and Oregon Ducks in the first part of the circuit, in November. After playing UConn, they will face the Louisville Cardinals on Feb. 2, in a game in which Angel McCoughtry will make her return to basketball.

Team USA defeated Stanford, Oregon State and Texas A&M but lost to then-No. 1 Oregon before competing in an Olympic pre-qualifying tournament in Argentina in November. The national team has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics because it won gold at the 2018 FIBA World Cup.

Game information

Team USA vs. No. 3 UConn (18-1, 8-0 AAC)

When: Monday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: XL Center in Hartford, CT

How to watch/listen: ESPN2/RADIO: 97-9 ESPN