Column: Women’s Basketball’s big statement

Connecticut forward Breanna Stewart (30) drives to the hoop against South Carolina forward Sarah Imovbioh (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. Connecticut defeated South Carolina 66-54. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Monday night, the UConn women’s basketball team proved something many fans in the state of Connecticut already knew; the Huskies are the best team in women’s college basketball, and it’s not even close.

No. 1 UConn rolled to a 66-54 victory over No. 2 South Carolina on the road in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,000 for their 60th straight win. While the 12-point win seems close by UConn standards, don’t let the final score fool you. The Huskies were up by as much as 21 on the Gamecocks entering the fourth quarter. South Carolina never got closer than two meaningless free throws from Jatarie White with 17 seconds left to play to cut the final deficit to 12.

As usual, the dynamic trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck led the Huskies to victory, scoring 53 of the Huskies’ 66 points. Stewart led all scorers with 25 points and added 10 rebounds and five blocks. Jefferson chipped in 12 points and six assists. Tuck, in her first extended amount of playing time since sitting out with knee pain, poured in 16 points and played lockdown defense on SC’s Alaina Coates, holding her to just two points.

There’s a pretty good argument that those three players are the top three women’s basketball players in the country. If last night’s game isn’t a prime example of that, I’m not sure what is.

But as any of them would likely tell you, they aren’t concerned about being the the best three players in the country. They’re focused on a fourth-straight national championship. While there wasn’t a lot of doubt before, the trio’s performance last night proved one thing without a doubt; this year’s national championship is theirs to lose.

UConn has played all four teams from last year’s Final Four. One at home (a 91-81 win over No. 3 Notre Dame), one at a neutral site (an 83-73 win over No. 6 Maryland at Madison Square Garden), and Monday’s win over the Gamecocks. Oh, and they also beat Florida State, DePaul, Ohio State and South Florida by at least 16 points. That’s eight wins over Top-25 teams if you’re scoring at home. All by double-digits.

With non-conference play done, UConn has six regular season games left. Five of them will be complete blowouts. However, the Huskies end the season with a matchup on senior night against South Florida, the most dangerous team in the American outside of Storrs, Connecticut.

Calling a team in the American that isn’t UConn dangerous is usually an exaggeration, but the Bulls are a tough matchup for the Huskies. With Courtney Williams, the leading scorer in the American, and sharpshooting freshman Kitija Laksa, things could get interesting if USF gets hot.

But they probably won’t, and Gampel is a tough place to play already. Throw in the fact that it’s Stewart, Jefferson’s and possibly Tuck’s last game there, and it doesn’t look good for USF.

Barring a miraculous upset from another team in the American, the Bulls will likely meet up with UConn a week later in the American conference championship game.

There’s a very good chance this is the hardest game the Huskies will play all season.

It’s extremely hard to beat a team three times in a season, and even tougher to do so twice in a week. Assuming USF has enough gas in the tank, it could really push the Huskies for a full 40 minutes, something not many teams can say they did. Regardless of the outcome, the game will serve as a great tune-up for the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

With the Huskies essentially a lock for the No. 1 overall seed, they will have the easiest path to their 11th national championship appearance. With South Carolina likely on the other side of the bracket as the second No. 1 seed, a rematch with Maryland, who was in the game at MSG all the way until a late three-pointer from Saniya Chong, would be a tough matchup.

The Terps have the size and skill of forward Brionna Jones to dominate the Huskies down low, she was nearly automatic against UConn, scoring 24 points on 12-14 shooting in the loss. And of course, there’s always Notre Dame, who could meet with UConn in the Final Four or Elite Eight depending on seeding and always play the Huskies tough.

While the tournament is a while away and the Huskies are playing snoozers against the rest of the American in the regular season and conference tournament, it would be easy to ignore them until the NCAA Tournament starts.

Don’t do that. Watch the games. If they’re at Gampel, go to them. You won’t be disappointed.

There are only a handful of times left to watch players like Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck play together on the same floor. UConn isn’t always going to win by 40 points, and that scenario may happen as soon as next year. So enjoy it while it lasts, and be a first-hand witness to greatness as this team looks to add on to the program’s already historic legacy.


Dan Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @DMad1433.