by Rob Joyce
Another year, another championship is coming to Storrs. For those who think UConn is “killing” women’s basketball, apparently greatness isn’t appreciated. Because it is now four consecutive titles for the Huskies, as they become the first women’s program to reach that milestone. And for Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, they become the first basketball players to win a championship in each of their four years (when UCLA won seven straight, freshmen were not allowed to play under NCAA rules).
For Stewart in particular, her place in women’s collegiate basketball lore are being judged. A three-time AP Player of the Year, the Syracuse native delivered on her freshman year goal of wanting to go four-for-four in championships, finishing up her career in Storrs as decorated as any athlete ever. And there’s no debate that she’s in the same breath as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore
Instead of ranking who is “better”, we’ll take superlatives of sorts to go through the ever-growing list of who could be the greatest players in UConn women’s basketball history:
Best All-Around Player – Breanna Stewart:
There hasn’t been anyone who has the two-way impact of Stewie. She’s second on the all-time scoring list, fourth in rebounding and first in blocks. Her 6-foot-4 frame with a 7-foot-1 wingspan wreaks havoc on the defensive end, while offensively she is as capable of pulling up from three as she is posting up a big inside. There’s no one who has her complete skill-set, and likely won’t be for a very long time.
Most Valuable – Diana Taurasi:
Taurasi and Stewart are probably one-two on most lists of who’s the greatest in UConn history, in some order. Stewart is a more complete player, but Taurasi’s drive and fiery attitude goes unmatched, period. She was the young one (but the most talented) on the ’01-02 squad, but it’s what she did her junior and senior years that probably no one else could have done.
The Huskies won in both ’02-03 and ’03-04 for their first three-peat, but did so with Taurasi as their only All-American. Look at every other championship roster in UConn history, it’s littered with multiple All-Americans, from Lobo and Rizzotti to Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck. Those two years, though, Taurasi dragged a very good, but not historic, roster to two championships, the first year without a single senior on the roster. No teams were as singularly great because of one player like these two teams were without D. “We have Diana and you don’t” is still one of Geno Auriemma’s most memorable quotes.
Most Naturally Talented – Maya Moore:
The program’s all-time leader in points was a first-team AP All-American all four years in Storrs, won three Wade Trophies and the Wooden and AP Player of the Year awards twice each. No one before or since has made scoring the basketball look so effortless, with perhaps the purest jump shot of anyone in the women’s game. Because her 3,036 points so often stole the show, people often forget that she’s also second behind Tina Charles on the all-time rebounding list (1,276). And like Stewart, she never did it in an NCAA game, but she can dunk. Easily.
Best Leader – Sue Bird:
She won each of the first three Nancy Lieberman Awards, going to the nation’s top point guard. Her statistics have been long surpassed by plenty of others, but the swagger she brought to the Huskies goes unsurpassed. This year’s squad can match up with the 2001-02 squad that finished unblemished and is considered the standard in women’s basketball. That year, led by the senior class of Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams and sophomore Taurasi, UConn went 39-0 and cruised to a title. Bird was the heart and soul of that team, won the Wade and Naismith awards, and finished her career 114-4 in games in which she played.
Most Important – Rebecca Lobo:
Without Lobo, perhaps none of the above players, or none of the 11 championships exist. The top-rated player in the country coming out of high school in Massachusetts, everything changed when she chose to commit to UConn. Yes, the Huskies had made their first Final Four the prior year, but “Husky Mania” became a yearly fixture in 1995, when Lobo and Jennifer Rizzotti led the Huskies to a perfect 35-0 record and their first ever national championship. She sits second all-time in blocks and third in rebounding, and to this day might be neck-and-neck with Bird and Taurasi for most synonymous with Connecticut women’s basketball.