- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS — Breanna Stewart enrolled at UConn in 2012 with the lofty goal of winning four national championships. Now, the Huskies are one victory away from history.

They will play former Big East foe Syracuse on Tuesday night with a chance to become the first team to win four consecutive Division I titles. UCLA won seven men’s basketball championships from 1967 through 1973, and a UConn victory would give coach Geno Auriemma a total of 11 national championships — one more than Bruins coach John Wooden for the most in the history of college basketball.

While Stewart didn’t guarantee four titles when she was a freshman, she did promise a victory against Syracuse.

“I’m not going to go and say that we’re going to lose,” Stewart said after the Huskies beat Oregon State, 80-51, on Sunday night in the Final Four. “To end my college career, to end it with the other seniors, there is no other way that I want that to happen.”

Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman wasn’t planning on using the comments as extra motivation for his team.

“I don’t think she knew who she was playing yet,” Hillsman said, laughing. “So, what is she supposed to say? I told our fans and our crowd that we’re going to win, too.”

Auriemma shrugged it off.

“Having said it and now being on the verge of being able to do it, those are amazing things that it’s like a storybook,” Auriemma said. “You have to admire her. She’s got a lot of guts, Stewie does, and you know what we talk about on our team a lot is courage. And, it takes a lot of courage sometimes to say certain things and to be able to do certain things.”

Stewart and her fellow UConn seniors have won 74 consecutive games and have never lost in the NCAA tournament, going 23-0. To win the title, Stewart and the Huskies will have to beat her hometown team.

“It definitely feels like it’s coming full circle,” Stewart said. “From my freshman year, when we played in the Big East, we played against Syracuse. Following that, there was no Big East, so we obviously didn’t get to play them and now having an opportunity to finish it off against them.”

The former Big East foes met at least once a year before the Orange went to the ACC after the 2013 season. The Orange have lost their last 23 meetings against UConn, a skid that dates to 1996.

“I’ve been on every possible end of the spectrum of a UConn game — in a regular-season game, in a Big East tournament game, on senior night at their place,” Hillsman said. “I think teams get overwhelmed with their speed and quickness and their strength. It is an overwhelming thing because they’re very good, but at least we understand that because we’ve seen it and we’ve experienced it.”

Not only is Auriemma seeking his 11th championship, UConn has never lost when it has advanced to the title game, going a perfect 10-for-10.

“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.”

Auriemma then also admitted that it helped having players like Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Stewart.

“Three people are directly responsible for eight of them,” he said. “So, when you’ve got those three in your lineup, Stewy, D, and Maya, at this time of the year, generally speaking, if you have the best player on the floor, good things can happen.”

One player who won’t be joining the Huskies for the championship game is freshman guard Katie Lou Samuelson, who broke a bone in her left foot in the semifinal win over Oregon State. Samuelson started 22 of UConn’s 37 games this season, averaging 12.4 points per game in the NCAA tournament and 11.0 points per game on the season.

Syracuse, which advanced to its first title game with an 80-59 victory over Washington in the Final Four, has been stellar in the tournament from behind the 3-point line. The Orange has made 48 3-pointers so far in the NCAA tournament, averaging nearly 10 a game — up one from the regular season.

It is also making 33.6 percent from behind the arc, up four percent from the regular season.

“Our goal is to make 10 [3-pointers] a game,” Hillsman said. “If it takes 40 to make 10, it’s 40. If it takes 50, it’s 50.”

Hillsman said that Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim has been one of the team’s biggest fans. While he didn’t think Boeheim would be at the game Tuesday night, he has been offering support.

“We’ve texted. He’s always — like I said, he’s the man,” Hillsman said. “He’s a Syracuse guy. He’s very supportive, and it’s good.”


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