Six games stand between UConn and history
Stewart wasn't being boastful when she said her goal was to win four national championships in four seasons. Now that the NCAA tournament bracket has been unveiled, Stewart as well as Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck know what stands between them and an unprecedented fourth consecutive national title.
"I think we talk about it a little bit, more so looking at things that we are about to be done soon and looking at it in that kind of sense," Stewart said after UConn was selected as the No. 1 overall seed. "The other side of it is the other side of it is the motivation to finish it off.
"To have three national championships under my belt and be going for a fourth, I am kind of spoiled. We are able to see a light at the end of the tunnel."
The light at the end of the tunnel kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. when UConn hosts No. 16 seed Robert Morris in the first round in a game televised on ESPN2. Either Duquesne or Seton Hall would be waiting on Monday night in the final Gampel Pavilion game for Jefferson, Stewart and perhaps Tuck is she opts to leave at season's end rather than taking advantage of a fifth season of eligibility.
UConn won't need to travel far for the regionals as the Huskies are slotted in the Bridgeport region. Texas, UCLA, Michigan State, Mississippi State and South Florida are the other top seeds in UConn's bracket.
"I think it is different because it is the last time, in the locker room the teammates know that watching the selection show," Jefferson said. "Now we know who we are going to play, what time we are going to play so we will stay close and get prepared for that game."
Unlike last year when UConn's bracket was quickly announced, it was the last of the four regions to be shown by ESPN.
"We were kind of guessing around thinking but then when you see the way the brackets are coming out, 'all right let's see who is in our bracket,'" Tuck said. "It is kind of different because last year we were kind of the first bracket announced so we didn't have to wait around for it so seeing how the other brackets laid out, seeing who was playing who gave us a good big picture
"I think once the tournament starts it will feel a little more real because we are getting close to that. Yes, it is six games but it is kind of hard to think three weeks ahead because we have to take it one day at a time because we don't want to look ahead and disrespect the team we are about to play and end up losing. We know we are near the end and we want to make it last, make it be as special as possible."
Tennessee was mentioned in the first two brackets leading to speculation that the long-awaited UConn-Tennessee rematch could come in this year's NCAA tournament. However, Tennessee was the No. 7 seed in the bracket headlined by SEC rival South Carolina. It wasn't long after that when it became apparent that South Florida would be placed in UConn's region and fellow American Athletic Conference foe Temple did not make the 64-team field.
"You get to the point where USF isn't in and you know they are going to be in your region so it is kind of crazy to see where all the teams fall," Jefferson said.
"This is the best time of the year, you get to play in the NCAA tournament, in front of your home fans, it is your senior year and you have to go out and give it all you've got.
"It is super exciting. It has been a long four years and it is starting to wind down, you really have to come out every day and treat it like it is your last (game) because pretty soon it is going to be."