THE UCONN TRANSFORMERS
The timing was perfect. By the time they got to New Orleans they were no longer the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, under an edict from university president Susan Herbst they were the lean, mean UConn Huskies. The transformation from the Univesity of Connecticut team that at times doubted itself during the regular season to the fierce, confident UConn team that tore apart their NCAA tournament opposition by an average of 33 points a game was mesmerizing. The transformation of the team mirrored the transformation of one player, freshman forward Breanna Stewart. During the regular season she wore the look of a frightened rookie the first time she was confronted with Big East power Notre Dame. She was a non factor in the regular season against top ranked defending national champion Baylor and a no-show against eventual Big East tournament third seed Louisville. After earning all Big East tournament honors Stewart laid the blame for the regular season deficiencies on herself while putting the credit for her steady improvement on her coaches, especially associate head coach Chris Dailey, the great mentor of post players who put in endless hours on the court making “Stewie” believe in herself, believe the National High School Player of the Year could be just as great at the next level. The fire in her eyes in Bridgeport, where she earned regional Most Outstanding Player honors, was evidence that the transformation was complete and what a shame it was Baylor wouldn’t be waiting in New Orleans. “Stewie” was ready for Brittney Griner, who’s presence on the WNBA team that drafts her this year will keep that team out of position to draft an even more versatile, more valuable player in three years. When the Huskies arrived for the final four they were ready, more ready than any team had ever been. There was no fear in Stewart’s eyes, nor in the eyes of the Huskies, when they took their fourth shot at Notre Dame and made the Irish look like a mid major in November. “In the locker room after the loss to Notre Dame in the Big East championship game”, recalled senior guard Kelly Faris, the undisputed leader of this team, “Coach told us when we got back together he was going to show us how to win a national championship.” Last night’s win over Louisville puts Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey in a rarified position as UConn ties Tennessee for the most national championships all time, with eight. Again the honors went to Stewart, Final Four Most Outstanding Player with 23 points and nine rebounds. Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, with 18 points, Bria Hartley, with 16, and Stefanie Dolson, with 12, are all back next season as are Stewart’s classmates, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who emerged as major factors in the tournament, and the next milestone is well within reach for Auriemma. John Wooden’s all time NCAA basketball record, 10 national championships. Don’t call them Connecticut anymore. They are UConn, and that’s just how it will read at the top of the pre season polls in November. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.