Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, right, drives around Cincinnati's Jasmine Whitfield, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Uncasville, Conn. Connecticut won 72-42. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
The news came hours before tip-off but it served as a harbinger of what would follow: Sophomore forward Breanna Stewart, who had already earned Associated Press National Player of the Year honors, had been named the Ann Meyers Drysdale National Player of the Year by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
A short time later, Stewart took the floor in Nashville, Tenn., against Stanford in the Final Four and, after a slow start, played like -- you guessed it -- the national player of the year. She led all scorers with 18 points, and added 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. And now the player with more individual honors than anybody on the planet will have a chance to win her second national title in as many seasons. The Huskies will face old rival Notre Dame Tuesday night for that right.
After the game, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer offered a measured take on Stewart's success.
"It's who all she plays with [that makes her special]," VanDerveer said. "By herself out there, she would be another 6-foot-4 kid with some versatility. But we played against some of that. Stewart plays with [Stefanie] Dolson, who allows her to play 4 [power forward]. She plays with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who forces you to spread the floor. Or she plays with [Moriah] Jefferson, who gets steals and creates for her. So she's a very talented player. But the story of Connecticut is not just one player.
"That was evidenced by their four All Americans. They have the most talented team in the country. When you're playing with other really talented players, as LeBron James wanted to, as Michael Jordan did, when you're around other players, in some ways there's less pressure on you and there's this synergy, and it makes life easier. So she's very, very good. And she brings a great dimension to their team. But they are clearly not a one-person team. That's why they repeatedly win."
Back in February, Louisville coach Jeff Walz offered this, when asked if the Huskies could still win with a six-player rotation.
"Of course you can," Walz said. "I say this again … it must be awful to have to play Breanna Stewart 37 minutes. I have no idea how [Auriemma] sleeps at night. Imagine him going home on Sunday knowing he had to play Moriah Jefferson 40 minutes and Stefanie Dolson for 39. I probably wouldn't be able to eat. Look who [he] is playing. It's not like they are playing two walk-ons."
Stewart joins a distinguished list of UConn players to win the award, joining Maya Moore (2009, 2011), Tina Charles (2010), Diana Taurasi (2003) and Rebecca Lobo (1995). Meanwhile, Stewart remains a finalist for the Wade Trophy, Wooden Award and Naismith Award