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Breanna Stewart savors brief 'break' to focus on USA Basketball

Senior Breanna Stewart has helped guide three-time defending NCAA champ UConn to a 26-0 start. Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images

STORRS, Conn -- There really isn't any question about whether UConn senior Breanna Stewart is good enough to be on the Olympic team in August. What it comes down to is the number 12, which is the roster size. With 10 returning Olympians from 2012 still in the mix, can Stewart still snag a spot?

She certainly made her case this week at USA Basketball's national team training camp. If it happens, she'll be ready for it. If it doesn't, she's still going to have a jam-packed schedule in 2016.

"The past three days have been great, especially right in the middle of the college season," Stewart said Tuesday as the camp came to a close. "It's a time to not worry about UConn stuff, and make the focus on USA Basketball. It gives you somewhat of a break. Because now things are going to get serious. We have three games left, and then comes the postseason."

Considering the Huskies are 26-0 and appear to be an extremely solid bet to win their fourth consecutive NCAA title, you might not think Stewart has much to worry about in that regard. But she is not taking anything for granted, and says that there is another gear to go to -- even for a player averaging 19.5 points and 8.4 rebounds on team that has won every game this season by double digits.

"Stewie has put herself ahead of a lot of players in the WNBA that could also be on this team. And if she does make the team, it's because she deserves it. She earned it." Geno Auriemma

"You're just trying to ramp up: February, March and April, that's when we play our best," Stewart said. "You're pumped up, you're ready to go. We're going after trophies, so there's not anything more needed to get you motivated."

Stewart was a reserve on the U.S. team that won the world championship in 2014. That tournament and her other experiences with USA Basketball have more than prepared her for a chance to go to Rio de Janeiro.

"I don't think having Stewie on the team is going to guarantee us a gold medal. I'm not ready to say that," United States and UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But Stewie has put herself ahead of a lot of players in the WNBA that could also be on this team. And if she does make the team, it's because she deserves it. She earned it."

The U.S. squad tends to put a high premium on big players with versatility. That helps the Americans in many ways, but probably especially on defense. Stewart has proven that she can defend different types of players at the pro level -- even if she's not a pro just yet -- and her scoring was always a given.

However, she has also heard the mantra that Auriemma keeps repeating. The key to making this team is to be someone who truly fits into whatever roles the Americans need game-to-game.

"So it's important working without the ball, trying to get other people open, and focusing on making sure we're all on the same page," Stewart said, which sounded exactly like what she might say about her UConn team, too.

Stewart, 21, is among her peers, age-wise, with the Huskies. But she doesn't seem at all out of place with her "elders" on the U.S. team. Even those who are 10-15 years older than Stewart have praise for her, and have accepted her totally.

You could say that is pragmatism, a case of talent recognizing talent. But Stewart wouldn't fit in so well if she didn't have the personality she does.

"She's one of those kids who is humble, but confident. Who is self-assured, but respectful," Auriemma said. "She ingratiates herself to them, and then they see her do things and they go, 'Wow.'

"She looks like one of them, and she plays like one of them. She has the same mannerisms."

There is a business-like quality to it all, which Stewart long ago got used to at UConn. It's not that the players at this camp didn't have fun and enjoy each other's company. But the practices were intense and serious, because that's the nature of USA Basketball's workouts. The Americans never have that much time together, and when they do, they can't afford to waste any.

Time is a factor in another way for Stewart, of course, because her days in college are nearing an end. Wednesday, UConn faces SMU at home. Saturday against Tulane, the Huskies will honor their seniors, although the regular season doesn't end until Big Monday's game against No. 21 South Florida (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) in Storrs. Then the Huskies will play in the American Athletic Conference tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

The Huskies will host their first two NCAA tournament games, and are essentially guaranteed to be in the regional in Bridgeport. So it's likely the Huskies have 10 more games in the state of Connecticut during Stewart's career.

"The past three days have been great, especially right in the middle of the college season. It's a time to not worry about UConn stuff ... It gives you somewhat of a break." Breanna Stewart

Stewart got a chance to be on court at this camp with two players who will be her WNBA teammates soon: Seattle's Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd. Plus, Storm coach Jenny Boucek was here watching, too. (That Stewart will be Seattle's pick at No. 1 in the draft on April 14 is a foregone conclusion.)

Stewart talked with them all just a little about what it will be like in the WNBA, but not that much. That can wait until later.

"I'm just trying to stay in the moment more right now," Stewart said. "What's to come in April and May with the draft and everything is really exciting. But I don't want to overlook what's going on right now."

Neither does Auriemma, of course. This time with the national team has allowed him to reconnect with many of his former players back out on the court again, and he has really loved that. Whether he gets to coach Stewart as an Olympian remains to be seen, but he will relish the coming weeks as they pursue another NCAA title.

"As the next few weeks unfold, you start to realize that it's coming to an end," Auriemma said. "So you better enjoy what time you have left."