The 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball tournament bracket was unveiled yesterday, and surprising absolutely no one the Connecticut Huskies are the top seed. The program has seen its fair share of great players and teams over the years, but could this be the most dominant UConn squad of all time? Through January 26, the Huskies had beaten their opponents by an average of nearly 40 points per game. Former Huskies stars Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson, Tina Charles, and Maya Moore talked about how the 2014-15 team stacks up against the school's best — and the talented squad's chances in the NCAA tournament.
SIK: You all won national titles at UConn. What is the first thing you notice about this year's team?
BIRD: They have some of the best players in the country in Breanna [Stewart] and Kaleena [Mosqueda-Lewis], but compared to the last couple of years, they're pretty young. Earlier in the year, I'd say they were figuring out their leadership roles. I think they've made a lot of strides, though, and now this team might be deeper than a lot of former UConn teams.
DOLSON: Definitely. I first notice how well they share the ball because there are so many different threats. They know exactly where each person is going to be. Before they lost to Stanford [in November], I don't think they had found their identity. They weren't playing well together, but I went to their shootaround before they beat Duke the following month, and it was like I was watching a completely different team. All the girls know their roles now. The older players, like Stewie and Kaleena, have gotten better, and younger players are stepping up.
SIK: Last fall, Breanna played with three of you on Team USA at the FIBA World Championship. And Stefanie, you played with her at UConn for two years. How impressive is she?
CHARLES: She's unique. She has a great work ethic, and she's a great teammate. She's willing to listen, willing to do whatever — it doesn't matter [to her] what her role is. She maximized her minutes [as the youngest player] on the world championship team.
MOORE: Yeah, it was really great getting a chance to spend some time with Breanna. Her basketball instincts are fun to watch.
BIRD: Stewie's skill set and size make her so effective. To be her height and wingspan and able to move the way she does — you just don't see that often. She can step out and shoot threes or take people off the dribble, and she's going to continue to get better. She'll become smarter, more experienced, and probably stronger, too.
DOLSON: The only way people think they can guard her is by being physical, but she's gained a lot of muscle and gotten stronger since I played with her.
CHARLES: Really, the sky is the limit for her. She's an impact player. She actually reminds me of Maya during my time at UConn.
MOORE: I'm excited to watch her continue to mature and wow us.
SIK: What shot would you make Breanna take in a game of H-O-R-S-E?
BIRD: Um ... maybe a half-court shot? That might be my best chance.
CHARLES: Yeah, maybe we'd get lucky with that?
DOLSON: No way! I've seen her make lots of half-court shots. I'd make her shoot from behind the basket. It's the only difficult shot, or maybe a bounce shot because I'm good at that. But she'd probably make that, too.
SIK: You all agree that Breanna is incredibly talented, but how do so many different players keep finding ways to step up for UConn?
DOLSON: I always loved playing with Kaleena. Teams couldn't double-team me because they had to guard her, but that's how the team is. Everyone knows that if one person is doing really well, then you have to do other things.
CHARLES: For sure. The best thing about UConn basketball teams is always the camaraderie. Everybody is going to do whatever it takes — whether it's making that extra pass, sprinting up the floor, or boxing out to get a rebound.
BIRD: I think it's Morgan Tuck and Kia Nurse who keep the team going. With their style of play, they're the kind of players who really represent the backbone of the team. What they're doing every night is almost just as important as points and rebounds or anything like that.
DOLSON: Right. Anyone can slump or have a bad night, so sometimes you have to do the little things, and they are really good at that.
SIK: Not to look too far into the future, but how realistic is it that this team could win four straight national titles?
MOORE: Winning a national championship is incredibly hard. But I know at any moment Breanna can make a play to help her team win against anyone. I like their chances!
BIRD: The Stanford game proved that anything can happen on any given night. But I don't think it's too far-fetched to think the Huskies can win. It's very realistic if they play their game.
DOLSON: Every team wants to beat them, but I would love for Stewie and [fellow junior Moriah Jefferson] to get four rings. I would be jealous, but I'd be so proud and happy for them.
CHARLES: When I was at UConn, if we played hard, stayed disciplined and knew what the game plan was, our biggest challenge was ourselves. Coach [Geno] Auriemma has a way of turning players around come Final Four time. As long as the team stays disciplined, I don't see how anyone can stand in the way.
Photo: STEPHEN SLADE (CURRENT UCONN TEAM)