Let’s take a moment to appreciate a uniquely successful college basketball career, one that ended in a remarkably appropriate way. With her Connecticut Huskies winning the NCAA title Tuesday, Breanna Stewart completed a near-perfect run, and her final act came against an unlikely opponent that just happened to be her hometown team.
That would be Syracuse, the school located about five minutes from the house where Stewart grew up and starred at Cicero North High in North Syracuse, N.Y. Stewart strongly considered playing for the Orange but ultimately opted for Connecticut, because she felt Geno Auriemma’s program could better help “become one of the greatest.”
The least one can say about Stewart is that she has become one of the greatest, certainly in the Huskies’ star-studded history and possibly the best ever from that school, depending on how one feels about the likes of Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. What is even more certain is that the 6-foot-4 forward just completed a college career that will be nearly impossible for anyone, male or female, to equal.
Let’s start with Tuesday’s championship, making Stewart an unprecedented four-for-four in that department (freshmen were ineligible to play for most of UCLA’s run of seven straight titles from 1967 to 1973), along with teammates Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson. Of course, Stewart had plenty of help from Auriemma’s juggernaut, but it’s well worth noting that she has also been named the Final Four Most Outstanding Performer in all four years, a mind-blowing feat.
“I’ll say this. She’s the greatest NCAA tournament player I’ve ever been around,” Auriemma said (via the Associated Press). “When the lights were the brightest, that’s [when] she was at her best.”
There is plenty more to ponder. Stewart finished her Huskies run on a 75-game winning streak, and with 122 victories in her final 123 games. Just one loss, to Stanford in November 2014, prevented her from leading her squad to three straight undefeated seasons.
Some would point out that Connecticut has become used to that kind of success, and indeed, in the eight seasons before Stewart’s arrival, the Huskies lost just 26 games and went undefeated twice. However, they won two championships in that span, a total that Stewart just doubled.
Meanwhile, Syracuse, a four-seed in the tournament, made its first-ever appearance in the women’s Final Four, let alone the championship game. That made the school something of a Cinderella, lending more resonance to Stewart’s comment that facing the Orange in her final college appearance was “kind of making things full circle.”
“Being able to play against Syracuse is just really cool,” Stewart said (via Syracuse.com). “Because that’s where I’m from. That’s where I grew up. It’s cool to say that in the national championship game, you’re playing against your hometown team.”
In Tuesday’s 82-51 win, all Stewart did was drop a cool 24 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks on her hometown team. If the opponent was a surprise, her stat-sheet stuffing was not, considering that, earlier this season, Stewart became the only women’s basketball player with 400 blocks and 400 assists for her career. In fact, she is the only one to have hit 300 in both those categories, which should indicate how special her skill set is.
Stewart is also second all-time (to Moore) on U-Conn.’s scoring list, but in terms of overall achievement, she is second to no one at all. So let’s just pause to appreciate her incomparable career that unfolded over the past four seasons.