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USA - Stewart now living up to the hype
NEW ORLEANS (NCAA) - Enormous expectations greeted Breanna Stewart upon her arrival at the University of Connecticut last autumn and for good reason.
After her senior season at Cicero North High School in Syracuse, New York, Stewart was honored as the National Player of the Year by Gatorade, USA Today, Parade Magazine, McDonald's (Morgan Wootten Player of the Year Award), the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and Naismith.
Stewart was also as a standout in United States youth teams the last four years.
If she struggled to meet the soaring expectations at first, she's surpassing them now.
Stewart had the biggest performance of collegiate career on Sunday to fire UConn past Notre Dame and put the Huskies in the women's NCAA tournament title game.
The 18-year-old forward erupted for 29 points in an 83-65 UConn win.
The 1.91m Stewart hit 10 of her 16 shots from the floor, including four of five from the arc, and also swatted four shots.
"My God, she was amazing tonight," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
"Given the stage, and what was at stake, I don't know that I've seen any bigger performance."
"I know there's been NCAA tournament games that we've had certain individuals play great, but I don't remember a player having a better game in this environment."
That's high praise from a coach that knows a thing or two about big-time performances.
His UConn teams have won the NCAA title seven times.
Auriemma is also a gold-medal winning coach with the United States, at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women and the 2012 London Olympics.
He wasn't the only coach to sing Stewart's praises on Sunday night.
"You don't expect a freshman to rise to the occasion like that," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
McGraw failed in her bid to lead Notre Dame past UConn for a fourth time in a row this season.
"Phenomenal performance for her (Stewart)," McGraw said.
Next up for UConn is surprise package Louisville, the team that ended the title defense of Baylor in the third round.
The Cardinals won Sunday's first Semi-Final against California, 64-57.
One player the Huskies must keep tabs on is Antonita Slaughter.
She had six three-pointers in the win over Cal for Louisville, who have been in the clouds ever since their famous win over Baylor.
"No one expects us to be here," Slaughter said. "No one expects us to be in the championship game."
Louisville's win gives the school a chance to have two NCAA champions this season because on Monday night, the Cardinals take on Michigan in the men's Final.
Louisville are the 10th team to have both teams at the Final Four.
Connecticut are the only ones to have won both.
The Huskies captured the men's and women's NCAA crowns in 2004.