I've come to the conclusion that Breanna Stewart is underrated.
So much of UConn's success is swept under the rug by the usual complaints. Some say the game isn't competitive, a statement proven wholly untrue by the rest of this year's NCAA Tournament bracket.
Others say that UConn gets the best players every year. This may be somewhat true but it's not a situation which Geno Auriemma inherited, and there are still plenty of talented players to go around.
In this case, UConn didn't just "get the best players." With Breanna Stewart, UConn got one of the best college basketball players ever.
A unique talent with size, handle, and impressive shooting ability, Stewart has played so extraordinarily well that the Final Four game Sunday night where she scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds was seen as a down game. ESPN's 538 completed a detailed analysis on how great Stewart has been on both ends of the court. Spoiler alert: very.
"The Huskies aren't just garden-variety dominant," the article stated. "They're axis-breaking-outlier dominant."
The immense success of this season, at 37-0 right now, with convincing wins over many highly-ranked teams, is not just UConn being UConn. It is an unprecedented run which previous UConn teams, and other powers such as Tennessee, Notre Dame or Duke, have been unable to match. And it is occurring in an era where the game is actually as competitive as it has ever been.
This success should primarily be attributed to the players. Not to a school, or a coach, however excellent they may be. The majority of the credit for this spectacular run belongs with Stewart, and her classmates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who set out to accomplish something special from the start.
Tonight will be our final chance to watch Stewart and Jefferson, and perhaps Tuck as well. For Stewart, the ending to her college career will be particularly special.
Stewie grew up in North Syracuse, New York, five minutes away from the Carrier Dome. Though it may make UConn fans cringe, she owns Orange gear and is still a huge fan of their teams. She spent many a night at the Carrier Dome watching Syracuse play and understandably has many relationships in the university and basketball community around there.
So it was obvious that when Geno and the Huskies were looking to schedule her homecoming game that they place a call to their former Big East rival in hopes of providing a special moment for their senior star. It is something which UConn can usually make happen because prospective opponents are often thrilled to host one of the best teams in the country, draw a larger than average crowd, and expose their players to what greatness looks like.
Syracuse denied the request. When asked, a spokesperson simply said it "didn't work out on their schedule."
UConn went with the next best option and played at Colgate, an hour away from Syracuse in an arena which seats less than 2,000.
The Orange may regret this slight, as it seems to have given the best player in the country added motivation, in case going for a record fourth title and playing in her final collegiate game wasn't enough.
"I know Stewie wanted to play at Syracuse," Morgan Tuck told the Indianapolis Star. " It did kind of suck that she wasn't able to do that, and I think she's going to take that as motivation."
"I did assume that I was going to get that. It would have been really nice to play at home," Stewart said in the same article. "It's five minutes away from my house. But when it didn't happen, there's not a lot you can do about that. It sucked. It sucked that I couldn't go."
Though Syracuse may not have anticipated such a high-profile matchup with the Huskies, any women's basketball team with NCAA Tournament aspirations must know that at some point the road goes through UConn. In tonight's championship game, the normally cool Stewart will be playing with an extra edge.
I don't think they'll like her when she's angry.