Breanna Stewart was the 2014 national player of the year, and it would surprise no one -- least of all Geno Auriemma -- if she earned that honor again in 2015. She's that good, that valuable to her team -- and, frankly, that much better than everybody else in college basketball.
“Stewie’s the best player in the country and there are a lot of other really good players in the country,” Auriemma said, via SNY.com's Carl Adamec. “You know how I know? There are 365 Division I coaches. If you put a gun to their head and say, ‘You can only have one player in America, who would you take?’ Anybody who took anyone other than Stewie should just pull the trigger. Stewie just doesn’t go out every night trying to get everybody to say, ‘Wow, she’s the best player in the country.’ She doesn’t do that. That’s not who she is.
“She likes to play basketball, she loves the game, and loves the big games. The bigger the game, the better she plays. When the time is right, when March comes around, Stewie is at her best. Does that mean she’ll deliver all the time? This is a real challenge for Stewie. This is the first time she’s been the oldest player on her team. She was always that great player that had older guys around her to carry her along when things didn’t go well. This year is the first time she’s been that person that everyone looks up to and it’s not easy to be in that situation in Connecticut.”
On Monday night, Stewart scored 29 points, had 11 rebounds and blocked seven shots in UConn's 88-65 win over South Florida. And even though she's been shining at UConn for almost three seasons now, Auriemma still finds himself impressed.
“She was unbelievable tonight, and they were pretty physical with her," he said of Stewart's performance against USF. "I wish this was men’s basketball or some other teams in the country. I wish they treated Stewie with a little more respect. Stewie gets her butt beat every possession. If you watch the game and you watch closely, no one gets beat up more than that kid when she cuts, when she goes into the lane, wherever she goes. And she hardly ever shoots any free throws. There’s a different standard for Stewie than there is for anybody else," Auriemma told Adamec.
“I think it’s ‘Hey, she’s the best player in the country, they’re up by 25, hell with it.’ If it was someone else, they’d be going to the line. We’ve played against a lot of kids and they’ve lived at the free throw line. As a matter of fact, they would shoot two free throws before the game started just on principle.”
Depth, toughness and amazing talent. These are all good things to have in a team if you're Auriemma, especially when Stewart is the centerpiece.