It takes a certain type of player to play for Geno Auriemma and the UConn women’s basketball team. The Huskies not only pursue perfection year in and year out, they expect it.
Star forward Breanna Stewart has fit that mold since the start of her recruiting process in late 2009. She was an ideal player for the Huskies, with a strong all-around game that includes a great post game, a consistent shot from the field, and excellent defensive ability with rebounding and shot-blocking.
Add in the intangibles of an indefatigable work ethic and ultra-competitiveness and you get a Naismith Trophy Winner, AP Player of the Year, Consensus First-Team All-American and two national championships in two years, with a perfect 40-0 season in 2014. Stewart was voted Most Outstanding Player in both Final Fours, joining Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Chamique Holdsclaw and Cheryl Miller as two-time MOPs.
Calling Stewart the best player in the women’s game might be selling her short; right now, she’s probably the best player in college basketball, period. No one has dominated the past two years like she has, and there’s certainly no player with a more complete repertoire on the court.
If you ask Stewart, she’ll tell you this is everything she expected.
“To put my career at UConn into words, I would describe it as just as I had planned,” she said. “I have had intentions of winning four national championships and going two for two gets me halfway there.”
“A perfect season was a goal, but as the season started we only focused on one game at a time until we ultimately finished the season 40-0,” she continued.
Which road to the title was tougher? Stewart went with 2013.
“Each run was equally challenging, but I would say that last year was harder because no one had expected us to win and we had to overcome a bumpy regular season.”
One roadblock the Huskies have had to overcome in both championship runs has been the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was favored going into the 2013 Final Four semifinal matchup after beating UConn three times that year, but Stewart’s 29-point, four-block performance helped the Huskies to a 83-65 victory. On April 8, 2014 the two sides met once again in a clash of the undefeateds. Stewart’s 21 points led Connecticut to a 79-58 rout to complete the 40-0 season.
The UConn-Notre Dame rivalry doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. Coaches Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw have a clear dislike for one another, and the players have followed their lead.
“I think our rivalry is going to stay fierce for a while,” Stewart said. “Here at UConn we don’t like to lose, and Notre Dame had our number for a while. My feelings about Notre Dame are that I respect their program because they have had a lot of success, but I don’t think I am surprising anyone when I say we do not particularly like each other.”
The championship performance against the Irish helped Stewart get an ESPY Award for Best Female College Athlete. The ESPY’s experience is a rewarding and awe-inspiring one for any athlete, especially a college student-athlete.
“My favorite moment at the ESPY’s was just being able to take in the red carpet experience with my team, meeting and talking to so many other athletes who excel in their sport,” Stewart said.
Like every great UConn women’s basketball player in the Auriemma Era, Stewart has expressed a lot of admiration for her head coach.
“Coach Auriemma has had a tremendous impact on me so far,” she said. “He has always been there to congratulate me whenever I have success but then he is one of the first to keep pushing me harder. He knows that I want to become the best player I can be and he is doing everything he can to help me accomplish that.”
The Huskies had a perfect record, but there are always improvements to be made both individually and as a team, and summer workouts at Connecticut reflect that.
“Summer workouts are intense. This is the time to get better and we are all ready to work,” Stewart said. “Aspects of my game that I will be working on this summer are my ball handling skills, getting better at 1-on-1 play and being in the best shape possible.
“There are still so many things I can get better at as long as I remain humble and continue to work hard. I plan to do both.”