Women's Basketball: UConn ready for Syracuse, set to make history

Players on the UConn bench celebrate during the closing moments of their victory over Oregon State in the national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday April 3, 2016. UConn is looking for their fourth consecutive national championship on Tuesday when they face Syracuse. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

INDIANAPOLIS — Four years ago, when the recruiting class of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson stepped on campus at UConn, it was natural to have expectations of competing for national championships.

However, they set the bar even higher for themselves.

Stewart said that she wanted to win four national championships, a statement that neither she nor her teammates have ever shied away from.  

Now, the talented trio and the No.1 seed UConn Huskies are one win away from accomplishing that feat. The Huskies will take on the No. 4 seed Syracuse Orange in the National championship game tonight.

“Having said it and now being on the verge of being able to do it, those are amazing things that it's like a storybook,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “You couldn't -- if you wrote it, they would think it was a made-for-TV novel or something, miniseries. Just doesn't happen that way. And the fact that [Stewart’s] got close to it and Moriah is that close to it and Tuck is that close to it, you just got to admire it.” 

If Stewart needed any extra motivation, the Syracuse native will be playing against her hometown team. Stewart said she grew up going to games with her father at the Carrier Dome.

“I think it is really fitting to be closing my career against the team that I grew up watching and going to their games,” Stewart said. “It’s cool to say that in the National Championship game you are playing against your hometown team.”

Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson have accomplished a lot in their time together in Storrs both as a team and individually. They are looking to complete a second undefeated season and they currently have a 74 game winning streak.

Stewart, will end her career second on UConn’s all-time scoring list, fourth on the all-time rebounding list and first on the all-time blocks list.

Jefferson will end her career as the UConn all-time leader in assists and second on the all-time steals list.

Tuck who has yet to make a decision on using her final year of eligibility, has scored over 1,000 points for the Huskies.

Playing in their final game together this group has developed a special bond over the years as they play as teammates for the final time.

“It’s been amazing -- I don’t think any better word would describe it,” Jefferson said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, freshman year was the biggest struggle of my entire life and I think they would say the same thing so just to be able to push through each year and accomplish what we wanted to has been good.”

History will be on UConn’s side as they are playing in their 11th National Championship game. The Huskies have not lost a title game in program history.

On the other hand, Syracuse is making their first ever championship game appearance after a road to the title that was filled with upsets.

As members of the old Big East Conference, both of these teams are familiar with each other. UConn is 37-12 all-time against Syracuse and have won the last 23 matchups.

Syracuse has made a run through the tournament by playing a hectic style of basketball where they really pressure teams defensively. Syracuse is averaging 12.8 steals per game, the second most in the nation.

Syracuse has also found success in taking a large amount of three point shots. Syracuse is averaging 8.9 made three point shots per game this season, the 11th most in the nation. They have not always shot the best percentage however, as they are making just 30 percent of their three-point attempts this year.

For an UConn team that has been susceptible to the three-point shot at times this year, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma expects the three-point shot to have a big impact on the game.

“I think defensively guarding the three becomes the most important thing you have to do and the hardest thing you have to do,” Auriemma said. “And right now [Syracuse] is on a roll. And they're shooting it with a lot of confidence. We'll have to figure out a way to minimize that.”


Spencer Mayfield is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at spencer.mayfield@uconn.edu.