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Stand-Up Triple: Stewart, Jefferson, Tuck Not Only Exciting, But Also Extremely Rare Trio

Throughout the championship era, UConn has fielded many of the greatest players in the history of women's college basketball.

But seldom, if ever, has a senior constellation of stars hovered over a program as successfully as Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.

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"How do you pick your favorite combination? That's like saying, 'Who is your favorite child?'" former player-turned-broadcaster Kara Wolters said. "It all depends on what you want to base it on. But they are pretty much on Mount Rushmore with the other great classes."

From different parts of the nation, blessed with unique skills and body types, Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck, particularly over the past two seasons, have contributed greatly to UConn's domination of the sport.

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And this season they have taken the Huskies to the precipice of an accomplishment no program has achieved —– winning four straight national championships.

"It's incredible to think that their senior class came in as freshmen and made it clear it wanted to do something that no one else in history has ever done," Stephanie White, coach of the Indiana Fever and an ESPN analyst, said. "UConn has done a lot. But they wanted to separate themselves. It speaks to their spirit, their belief in themselves and the ultimate trust they have in each other and their teammates and coaches."

The Huskies have many of the best one-two combinations to ever play the game, starting in their first championship season of 1995 when senior Rebecca Lobo and junior Jennifer Rizzotti helped lead the charge.

Since then, Rizzotti has paired with Wolters, then Wolters with Nykesha Sales. They were followed by Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova, who then gave way to a fabulous class that brought the Huskies Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams and Asjha Jones.

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From there, the program morphed into the Maya Moore era where, during the 2009 season Moore, then a sophomore, combined with junior Tina Charles and senior Renee Montgomery as All-Americans.

Most recently, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Stewart, then Stewart, Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis have teamed up.

But there seems something unique about the Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck combination,

"It's nice to have three players like that playing different positions," said Katie Smith, the former Olympian and now a New York Liberty assistant coach. "You have your point [guard] in Jefferson, the head of the whole operation. You have Stewie, who you can't quite label, a talent who does a little bit of everything and is a very willing teammate. And then you have Tuck, the jack-of-all trades who can pass and stretch the floor [with her shooting].

"And they are all so unselfish in the context of the team. They make the right pass. They take the right shots. They guard. You have all the skill sets playing off one another so impressively. And they think the game so well. They were raised in that environment as they grew up in the program and now they've gotten even better.

"I can't think of any trio that has performed at this level. Connecticut has had a lot of them. Stanford may have had some. Georgia, too," Smith said. "Then there were the three 'Meeks' at Tennessee [Chamique Holdsclaw, Semeka Randall and Tamika Catchings].

"Kudos to Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey and the staff. They have a way of finding [great players]."

Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee star who now works as an ESPN analyst, said what Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson have accomplished at UConn sets them apart historically.

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"To do what they have done ranks right up there. I would say it's the most impressive feat we've seen in the history of women's college basketball, if you think about it," Lawson said. "What's more important than winning a championship and to be in position to win it four years in a row? … How could you say any group of players did more? They are playing for the opportunity to be the best group that's ever played. That's pretty heavy stuff.

"To me, it all illuminates the character traits those three have; tremendous drive to be successful, the mentality and focus and unselfishness among each other to bring others along. The vast improvement in all of their games as they have taken on and matured in different roles each year; it's been remarkable to watch.

"This group fits together the best. … If you are talking about a Big Three, well, what would you want out of it? You say OK, I first want a superstar, somebody who you can say is the best player in the game, maybe the best player in the history of the game, who is a positional-less force that excels in every single aspect of the game. That's Stewie.

"Now, you need a point guard who is a superb athlete and a terror on defense. You want them to be able to do everything on the offensive end and can guard anyone on the perimeter. That's Jefferson.

"Then you need someone who is smart as you can be and tough, who is also versatile defensively, who knows the plays inside and out and who fits right in with her personality so she can be vocal and have the respect of the entire team. That's Tuck."

After losing four games in their national championship freshman season, Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck have presided over a program that won an undefeated national championship in 2014, lost only one game in 2015 and entered the NCAA Tournament this season 32-0 and on a 69-game winning streak.

Each in their own way has made an impact on opposing coaches.

"Breanna Stewart is just a matchup nightmare. When guards try to guard her, she is able to post them up. And when posts try to stop her, she can go outside and take them off the bounce [dribble] and shoot the pull-up," Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said.

"My true favorite is Moriah. I really appreciate the effort she puts forth whenever she's on the floor. She plays hard whenever she is on the floor and that is what I am all about and I enjoy watching it.

"The unsung player, although not so unsung anymore, is Tuck. She's so consistent and I know she is one of his [Auriemma's] favorite players. She is the X-factor. She will be a key factor as they move forward."

Four times in UConn history has a trio of players all won WBCA first-team All-America recognition simultaneously: Bird, Cash and Diana Taurasi (2002), Charles, Montgomery and Moore (2009), Dolson, Hartley and Stewart (2014) and Jefferson, Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis last season.

Moore said this group has received its inspiration from Stewart, the two-time national player of the year.

"Since the first day she arrived, she's been hungry to become the best player she can be," Moore said. "She came to the right place to reach her potential. I look at how people interact with their teammates, how they carry themselves on the floor when things aren't going well or they injured or otherwise struggling. How do they handle adversity?

"Breanna has experienced all of that and has emerged with Moriah and Tuck as a great senior leader. I am proud of how Breanna has represented the culture of the UConn program. These seniors, in the four years they have been here, have really dominated. They have a chance to go for four titles and that not only is unprecedented, it's really exciting to think about."

As they may move through the final stage of the process, perhaps even Auriemma will take a look back and enjoy what he now has.

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"I feel a lot different at this time of the year because every year you have seniors and players coming down to the time where they aren't going to be together anymore," Auriemma said. "It's always a time to look back and appreciate, which I tend never to do during the season.

"You don't find me in the middle of January saying to myself, 'Man, I'm going to miss Stewie, she's so great.' But when March comes around, you see things in a different light and that's when you want them to play their best because no matter what happens no one tends to remember what happens before.

"I want March to be the best month of Stewie's life."

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