Four years ago, a group of freshmen talked about winning four consecutive national titles during their time at UConn.
Now, the Huskies are just one win away from becoming the first team in NCAA women’s basketball history to accomplish the feat. They will face Syracuse at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the chance of bringing even more prestige to an already storied Connecticut program.
While the group talked privately about the possibility, it was Stewart who made their dream public four years ago.
“We knew we had the opportunity to do something special,” Jefferson said. “We came in with a lot of great players surrounding us so we knew our pieces were there and we had the outside pieces. We definitely talked about it, but Stewie (Breanna Stewart) is the one that said it on TV.”
Chasing history is nothing new for the Connecticut program — they have been doing it for years. The Huskies have claimed an NCAA record 10 titles since 1995. There have been 17 Final Four appearances, five undefeated seasons and countless awards.
“We understand who we’re playing,” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “We understand the magnitude of this game — we embrace it.”
While Syracuse will do its best to disrupt Connecticut’s momentum in the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup, the Huskies are completely locked in to the task at hand.
“We've been here before, and this isn't our first time doing things,” Stewart said. “We know what it takes to get to this level, to get to this stage, and to succeed on this stage. We are going in with the mindset that we're going to win a National Championship."
The Huskies enter Tuesday’s title game on a 74-game winning streak and have won 23 consecutive games in NCAA Tournament play — and there are no signs of Syracuse stopping UConn’s incredible run when the two meet in the championship game.
Why? Because Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma’s track record speaks for itself. The Hall of Fame coach is 10-0 in national title games.
“I think at this time of the year your confidence level and your ability have to mesh,” Auriemma said. “There's teams maybe that come here with a lot more confidence than ability and it catches up to you or a lot more ability than they have confidence. So when those two things mesh, I think you have a pretty unbeatable combination. And we've generally put ourselves in the position where we've got enough talent, we've got enough ability to win, and our confidence level is really high.”
The UConn players know Auriemma will do everything possible for his seniors to go out winners.
“You can definitely feel the difference in the last couple of weeks with Coach and how emotional he has been,” Jefferson said. “You normally don't see him like that. You can tell how much he wants it for us and how much we want it for ourselves. Everybody is working on the same page to get this done.”
The Connecticut underclassmen are motivated to do the same.
“Those three have done a lot for this team, for this program and for women’s basketball in general,” said sophomore guard Gabby Williams. “It would almost be wrong for them to go out any other way.”
And, on Tuesday night, that senior sendoff is sure to be one for the record books.