UConn’s Stewie simply the best

UConn's Breanna Stewart is the best player in women's college basketball

Stewie is intent on world domination.

Stewie is capable of disproportionately cartoonish feats of strength.

No, not that Stewie.

I’m not talking about the mischievous character from the animated TV series “Family Guy”, but the Stewie the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team refers to when the subject is the best player in the country.

The same woman who giggled while she stood between two teammates as they held up “bunny ears” behind President Barack Obama during a White House photo op two years ago returned to a familiar gym on Saturday and delivered a familiar performance.

Junior forward Breanna Stewart didn’t single-handedly destroy Texas in the NCAA Albany Regional semifinals at the Times Union Center.

It just seemed like it, at times.

In 2012, Stewart had 42 points, 23 rebounds and seven assists in Cicero-North Syracuse’s dismantling of Nazareth in the semifinals of the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions at the TU Center.

On Saturday, it was 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists to lead everyone in each of those categories.

She also had three blocks, two steals and just one turnover in 31 minutes before leaving for her first rest of the game with 9:04 left and UConn up by 86-43.

As much as head coach Geno Auriemma relishes the opportunity to bust his players’ chops, he held nothing back in assessing whether there was anyone better than her in the U.S.

“Not in college,” he said. “People are under this impression, because Stewie doesn’t get 30 [points] every night, that she can’t. If Stewie wanted to do what she did today, she could do it every night.

“And if we didn’t have the balanced team that we have, she would be doing that every night and everybody would be talking about her being, by far, the best player in America. But because she’s content to just play and not worry about the numbers part of it, people forget just how good she is.”

Saturday afternoon’s game served as a reminder that no one really needed.

At 6-foot-4, she’s been called the Kevin Durant of the women’s game, which doesn’t quite fit since she merely holds her own from three-point range on a team with an incredible stable of long-range shooters.

Still, she’s making that shot as a 6-4 player, which forces UConn’s opponents to send their taller players away from their comfort zone near the basket.

Stewart, an almost 80-percent free-throw shooter, can score from anywhere.

Early in the game, she banked a turnaround jumper from 12 feet that would’ve done Tim Duncan proud, then mesmerized a Longhorns defender with a crossover dribble to free up space for a jumper that gave UConn a 39-19 lead.

The Huskies outscored Texas, 18-4, in the first 3:29 of the second half, as four diffeent Huskies hit a three.

Stewart wasn’t one of them, because she was too busy getting assists on three of those. On one, she passed up an open three to give it to Moriah Jefferson, and on the next one, she kicked it out of the post to Kia Nurse in the left corner.

“She’s a matchup nightmare, and we don’t have an answer for her,” Texas coach Karen Aston said.

“Those of you up this way who saw her play in high school and saw her play in this town in state tournaments, there’s never been a kid like that play high school basketball in New York, I don’t care if it’s Tina Charles or Sue Bird or Chamique Holdsclaw, it doesn’t matter,” Auriemma said. “There’s never been a 6-4 kid who does the things that Stewie does.”

Stewart’s Cicero-North Syracuse team followed up its semifinal win in 2012 with an easy victory over Murry Bergtraum for the state Federation championship.

Then it was on to UConn, where she has won national championships in each of her first two seasons and is the reigning national player of the year.

That doesn’t mean her game is flawless, at least not to hear her coach tell it.

He sarcastically said on Friday how proud he was to see her get in a defensive stance at practice for the first time in three years, calling it a “major accomplishment.”

“With Stewie, you’re always picking apart little things that she needs to get better at, because the big things, she’s

really good at,” Auriemma said. “Stewie … she’s different. So I’d appreciate it if you guys would tell her she’s not as good as she thinks she is and make her play hard this weekend.”

“Um … I actually didn’t hear those comments,” Stewart said with a chuckle on Saturday, with her coach sitting two chairs down. “But I guess he can think whatever he wants.”

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