Stewart Poised To Again Be A Star In NCAA Tournament

Stewie SI CoverIt that’s time of year when the best players play to their true capabilities and lead their teams to greatness. As the nation learned last season when the Huskies rolled to their NCAA record-tying eighth national championship, this time of year is “Stewie Time.’’

Entering the NCAA tournament last season just how much Breanna Stewart would be able to produce as a freshman was unknown. But by the time UConn was cutting down the nets following a 93-60 win over Louisville in New Orleans, she had been named the Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Regional and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player and had averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.0 steals in 31.2 minutes in five tournament games.

Stewart scored 21 points against Kentucky in the regional final; 29 against Notre Dame in the national semifinals; and 23 against Louisville. The folks at Sports Illustrated think so highly of Stewart that she was the sole women’s basketball players to grace one of their six SI NCAA Tournament Preview Part II regional covers.

Tekele Cotton of Wichita State, Tyler Ennis of Syracuse, Gary Harris of Michigan State, Nick Johnson of Arizona and Casey Prather of Florida were the other players that earned a spot on a cover.

With the Huskies set to open the tournament Sunday against 16th-seeded Prairie View A&M at Gampel Pavilion (8 p.m.; ESPN), Stewart is taking all of the hype and praise in stride.

“It’s cool to see, but as a player I want to be in the conversation I’m in right now,’’ Stewart said. “At the same time, it’s kind of something you have to let go in one ear and right out the other. It’s great to hear and all that stuff and great to see, but this is a team game and we’re focused on going out and trying to win a national championship.’’

Stewart leads the Huskies in scoring (19.7) and blocks (2.8) and is also averaging 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals in 29.9 minutes. She has scored at least 20 points in six straight games (21.5) and has reached double figures in scoring in 25 straight games.

Stewart opened this postseason right where she left off a year ago by averaging 21.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 blocks in being named the Most Outstanding Player of The American tournament.

She admitted this week that having previous success in the NCAA tournament will be beneficial this time around.

“I think it helps me a lot,’’ Stewart said. “Just knowing the way I played last year in the NCAA tournament it’s just another boost of confidence because it shows that I was really comfortable in that atmosphere. And I’m really looking forward to it. I’m excited to just get started with it and see what happens this year.’’

The big stage is where Stewart has proven to be a star throughout this season, averaging 20.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals with six double-doubles in 12 games against ranked opponents. She is averaging 19.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.6 blocks in 32.8 minutes with three double-doubles in five games against Top 5 opponents.

“I think that you want to play your best in a big game,’’ Stewart said. “I think that that’s when adversity is going to be the hardest and stuff like that and people are going to be hanging on you. And that’s when people want to test you in the big game. And I think that I like my team to depend on me for stuff like that and I love to make some shots.’’

Here are some more numbers regarding Stewart …

With 669 points this season and as many as six games remaining, Stewart is taking aim at Maya Moore’s UConn sophomore scoring record of 754 (2008-09). Stewart is on pace for 787.

With 94 blocks rebounds, Stewart needs four to break Rebecca Lobo’s team sophomore record of 97 (1992-93).