Breanna Stewart, the 6-foot-4 star for Connecticut, could win her fourth consecutive NCAA title Tuesday, ending what may be the greatest women’s basketball career in history. Next week, she’s almost certain to become the No. 1 draft pick of the Storm.
INDIANAPOLIS — So Washington is gone, and as a result, your interest in this tournament is too.
With no local team to cheer for, the odds of you watching the NCAA women’s basketball championship game might have shrunk to nil.
But I’m here to tell you that there is still a reason to watch those other Huskies on Tuesday, and that reason’s name is Breanna Stewart. After all, in less than two weeks, she’s going to be your neighbor.
The Seattle Storm has the first pick in the WNBA draft, and it’s obvious who it’s taking. The only pre-draft preparation Stewart has to do is search for a place to live.
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Passing up Breanna — or as teammates call her, “Stewie” — would be like trading in a winning Powerball ticket for a scratch & win. Why? Because UConn’s 6-foot-4 center is on track to go down as the greatest women’s basketball player ever.
If that seems like hyperbole, there are plenty of numbers to back it up. If Connecticut beats Syracuse in the championship game Tuesday, Stewart will have led her team to four straight national titles.
Fellow Huskies Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi never did that; nor did Candace Parker at Tennessee or Cheryl Miller at USC. And given how Stewart won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in UConn’s’ previous three wins, it’s clear she has been the catalyst.
Perhaps that’s why ESPN analyst Kara Lawson has already deemed Stewart the best college player of all-time. The former Tennessee star cites an all-around game that none of her predecessors could match.
The scoring, the rebounding, the shot-blocking, the assists. As far as an athlete being among the best at everything in her sport, Stewart may be the closest we’ve seen to 2000’s Tiger Woods in golf.
Then again, there have been myriad college standouts whose dominance didn’t translate to the pros. Could that possibly be the case with Stewart?
“She’s going to one of the top 10 players in the league right away,” Lawson said. “I hate comparisons, but the player I feel like I would compare her to is Tim Duncan. Not necessarily in the way she plays, but because you’re going (to be) drafting someone that is going to play for a long time and will give you a chance to win a championship every year. It’s franchise-changing.”
Stewart just won her third straight Associated Press Player of the Year award, so it’s no surprise she owns impressive numbers. This season, she averages 19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists. But the most astonishing aspect of her statistics is the rate at which they progress.
Her blocks, assists, steals, and defensive rebounds per 40 minutes have improved every season since her freshman year. Her three-point percentage has risen from 33.3 percent to 43.0, her free-throw percentage from 77.7 to 82.7, and her two-point percentage from 55.8 to 62.9
Putting a ceiling on her seems about as futile as putting a defender on her. Or trying to score on her. Either way, it’s a lost cause.
Stewart isn’t too keen on talking about her WNBA future right now. She has a championship to win, some history to make and a legacy to leave.
She admitted she is excited about “the next chapter in my life and basketball career,” but didn’t want to go much further than that.
Well, what do you know about Seattle?
“I don’t know much,” she said. “I’ve heard good things.”
Don’t expect Stewie to captivate you with her personality. She doesn’t have the brashness that has come to define Taurasi, but she does have a talent that, 20 years from now, may be viewed as peerless.
So if you’re inclined, you can tune in Tuesday and watch what may be the greatest college career in women’s basketball history come to an end.
And a week and a half later, you may watch the best pro career start up in Seattle.