There’s plenty of ways to quantify UConn women’s basketball’s unmatched success over the last 25 years. There’s the national championships, consecutive weeks in the AP top five, the streak without back-to-back losses and many, many more that could fill this entire page alone.
But Breanna Stewart has a new, less scientific method: The eye test.
“You can tell,” she said. “If you’re watching a player, you can tell if they’re from UConn or if they’re not.”
So what exactly looks different?
“I think you can just tell the demeanor in which we carry ourselves,” Stewart said. “The way we’ve been wired since we were 17. I’m not trying to discredit any other school but everyone knows we have a program at UConn that people come in and they leave better than what they were.”
Without directly referencing it, Stewart is talking about the culture that Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey have crafted in Storrs. From the day players step on campus, they’re put in an environment that’s going to make them uncomfortable. It’s a sink or swim situation: The players that learn to deal with it thrive. The ones that don’t join a long list of players who have transferred out of the program.
“When you come here to play, basketball is just a part of what you have to get good at,” Auriemma said. “When you have kids that become comfortable around you guys (the media), then they become comfortable in any scenario. There’s nothing anybody can do to them that would go ‘Oh you know what, I’m not ready for this.’ I feel like they leave and they’re prepared for just about anything that could happen.”
Playing for UConn isn’t for everyone. Some aren’t willing to follow the numerous rules and codes of the program. Others can’t deal with the constant demands from Auriemma and the coaches. The pressure of the expectations — seeing the national championship banners and All-Americans on the wall every day — can be too much.
But that’s also the point. In order to be the best program in college basketball, the Huskies have to separate themselves from the competition.
“The thing that I think sets you apart from everybody else is when you’re in college and you do the same thing everybody else does, then don’t expect to get anything different than what everybody else gets,” Auriemma said. “You gotta prepare different, play differently, practice differently, you gotta think differently and because you do that, you learn how to survive in any environment.”
UConn, undoubtedly, is different than any other program in the nation. The Huskies win more often and more consistently to the point where they have no peer in the sport. Notre Dame and Baylor are the next closest and UConn still laps those schools in any accomplishment. That leaves an imprint on the players and stays with them when they get to the next level.
“You learn how to win. You learn how to compete. That doesn’t go away,” Auriemma said. “They come here, they win a championship or two or three or four and when they leave, it’s not like ‘You win some you lose some.’ No. You either win them all or you win most of them. And more importantly, you win championships. That doesn’t go away. I guarantee you, Sue and D, in Tokyo, have no less a desire to win their fifth gold medal than their first national championship at UConn ever. That mentality, that drive is still that strong. And we try to instill that in our players from the day they get here.”
Katie Lou Samuelson has been to the XL Center plenty of times during her UConn career. But when she came to a game last week as a fan, it was like she was coming to an entirely different arena.
“I had no idea where to go. I was like so I’m not going in the bottom, so I texted people ‘Where do I park, how do I get in, what do I do?” she said.
While Samuelson is one of five former Huskies on the Team USA roster against UConn, she’s the sole player to have been teammates with anyone on the current squad. That gives the game a little extra meaning for her.
“When I get that chance to go out there, I’m going to play as hard as I can,” Samuelson said. “Hopefully give it to them a little bit.”
All the current UConn players were looking forward to facing Samuelson, though Christyn Williams is taking a different approach.
“Oh Lou, that’s gonna be funny. I can’t take Lou serious,” Williams laughed. “Yeah Lou, playing with her last year, she’s great. It’ll be good to see her on the court again.”
One of the most unique aspects of the exhibition against Team USA is that UConn will share the court with some of the players they idolized growing up and often hear about from the coaching staff. With Samuelson and Napheesa Collier gone, nobody on the Huskies’ roster ever played with Breanna Stewart. Though Stewart and Bird have visited campus recently, the experience of playing an all-time great in practice pales in comparison to live game action.
Sow who are the current Huskies most excited to face?
“Specifically sharing a court with Sue Bird,” fellow point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “She’s been here for practice, we practiced with her the other day and to finally be out there with her is going to be pretty cool.”
“Stewie. I kind of played against D and Sue when I was in Miami for the USA training camp,” Christyn Williams said. “I’m excited to meet Maya Moore. I have not met her yet but I’m just excited to meet her.”
“Definitely Stewie. And Diana and Sue,” Megan Walker said. “Sue came to practice on Friday. Just playing with D and Stewie will be great.”
When UConn takes the court against Team USA, things will look different than a typical game for the Huskies. Instead of the collegiate rules that UConn usually uses, FIBA rules are in play. Here are some of the notable differences:
Shot clock: Instead of the standard 30-second shot clock that the NCAA uses, FIBA uses a 24-second clock that resets to 14 seconds after a rebound.
Three point line: The distance for treys is 22 feet, 1 3⁄4 inches — the same distance the men’s game and the WNBA use. The current arc for women’s college basketball is 20 feet, nine inches.
Timeouts: Coaches are only allowed to call timeouts during dead balls.
Goaltending: Whereas in college the ball can’t be touched once it hits the rim, FIBA rules allow players to play it as soon as it makes contact with the iron.