When the women’s college basketball regular season ended, nobody would have expected UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, one of the most heralded recruits out of high school and the 2012 national high school player of the year, to potentially replace Baylor’s Brittney Griner as the face of women’s college basketball.
Stewart doubted her ability, especially when she was out-muscled in some of her first games on the next level. She has admitted to thinking too much and wondering if she could play at the collegiate level.
After leading UConn to the national title over Louisville on Tuesday, when asked what made her game click and allow her to become the player everyone thought she may be, Stewart simply said she stopped mulling over things.
“I stopped thinking,” she said. “I second-guessed myself and nothing good came out of that.”
There are no doubters now.
Stewart was named the Most Outstanding Player of the women’s Final Four–joining Cheryl Miller as one of four freshman to ever win the award as a freshman–for leading UConn to its record-tying eighth national championship when UConn routed Louisville 93-60 on Tuesday in New Orleans.
The freshman finished with 23 points, but she essentially clinched the game for UConn in the first half. She led UConn with 18 points, made seven of 11 shots, grabbed seven rebounds, and made two three pointers as UConn led 48-29 at halftime. She did show she was human, though, by missing three of five free throws.
UConn made it to the title game when Stewart dominated Notre Dame in the national semifinal, scoring 29 points and prompting UConn head coach Geno Auriemma to say it was the best individual tournament performance he had ever witnessed.
“Given the stage, and what was at stake I don’t know that I’ve seen any bigger performance,” said Auriemma, who has coached the likes of Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tina Charles and Maya Moore, after her spectacular game in the national semifinal. “I know there’s been NCAA tournament games that we’ve had certain individuals play great, but I don’t remember a player having a better game in this environment.”
During the title game on Tuesday, Louisville men’s basketball head coach said Stewart was one of the best freshman players he had ever seen.
Stewart is 6-foot-4 and has a silky-smooth jump shot, a good mid-range game, and can slash and drive to the basket with ease. She can post up on the block, rebound, and block shots. She can even dunk.
She has three years left at Storrs and as superstars such as Griner and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne step off the stage to go to the WNBA, Stewart is just stepping onto it.
“This is unbelievable, this is what we thought about at the beginning of the season,” she said.
Auriemma said Stewart could be the best player ever to play at UConn. The white-hot klieg lights will be on her now. She is obscure no more. And Stewart has shown with her performance on the grandest stage that she has the ability to transcend the women’s game–if she remembers to stop thinking and just play.