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The past and future of women's college basketball intersected inside UConn's locker room about an hour after the program seized its eighth national championship on April 9 in New Orleans. While 6' 4" freshman forward Breanna Stewart, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and the heir to Baylor's Brittney Griner as the sport's greatest talent, posed for photos with her teammates, Maya Moore, the current WNBA star and former three-time national player of the year, compared Stewart to Kevin Durant. "There are only a few players who have the size of a post player with guard-like skills," Moore said. "She can do things on the perimeter and not look awkward. I'm really excited to see where her game can go."
Where the Huskies are going next season is Nashville, the site of the Final Four. You can also book them for the Final Four in Tampa in 2015. With a combined 52 points in two games, including 23 in the 93--60 drubbing of Louisville for the championship, Stewart was the first freshman to be named the Final Four's MOP since Tennessee guard Tonya Edwards in 1987—though only a fraction of Stewart's talent was on display at the New Orleans Arena. She will be the centerpiece of a UConn team that's already expected to go undefeated next season, especially now that Notre Dame, which beat the Huskies three times this season, is heading to the ACC. Four starters and seven of the top eight scorers will be back, including four All-America-caliber players in Stewart, center Stefanie Dolson (13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds per game), guard Bria Hartley (9.2 points) and small forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who averaged a team-high 17.2 points and was the nation's most accurate three-point shooter (49.2%). While do-everything guard Kelly Faris, whose defensive intensity was an example for the younger players, is graduating, the Huskies will add perimeter depth with speedy 5' 9" recruit Saniya Chong, who can spell playmaker Moriah Jefferson (4.7 point, 1.8 assists).
Before the 2012--13 season began, coach Geno Auriemma proclaimed that Stewart could leave Storrs as the best player in UConn history—no small statement considering that the program produces All-Americas as fast as Café du Monde pops out beignets. But Stewart's carefree personality, usually her greatest strength, became a weakness; she averaged 10.8 points and hit just 45.2% of her field goals in the final 10 games of the regular season. "She didn't have the intensity to finish plays," says associate head coach Chris Dailey.
The fog lifted in March thanks to early-morning workouts with Dailey that focused on post moves and jump shooting. Dailey demanded not only that Stewart hit shots, but that she also swish them. In the NCAA tournament she emerged as the game-changing player the coaches had believed her to be, averaging 20.8 points. In New Orleans she nailed seven of eight three-pointers and 61.0% of her shots.
"Her balance is bad and the timing of her jumping is ridiculously poor," says Dailey. "There are so many things she needs to do and that sounds daunting, but then you think about what she's already done. She's only going to get better."
The Huskies expect to contend for a title every season—Auriemma needs just two more to tie John Wooden's NCAA record of 10 at UCLA—and the favorite tag has rarely been a burden. To wit: Connecticut's record when playing as the nation's No. 1 team is 296--14. Before the final in New Orleans, Dailey, who has been in Storrs for 27 seasons, summed up the Huskies' mind-set. "What would winning eight mean?" she said. "It would mean [we'd] want more."