INDIANAPOLIS -- You have to like a question with three choices and no wrong answers. But which one is the most right?
UConn's Breanna Stewart is one victory away from a fourth NCAA women's basketball title, as she and the Huskies take on Syracuse on Tuesday (ESPN, 8:30 ET) for the national championship.
So the query naturally arises: For a program going for its 11th NCAA title, who is the greatest UConn player?
Because Stewart is the best player on this team aiming for four in a row and has been the Women's Final Four's most outstanding player the past three years, this is obvious, right?
Not so fast. If you narrow the candidates to three -- Stewart, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore -- each has her bona fides. You can narrow it further if considering only NCAA titles, as Moore won two compared to Taurasi's three and the three that Stewart has now.
But in the end, they all have a place atop UConn's Mount Rushmore. And it is one of the joys of sports fandom to engage in "who's the greatest" debates.
Earlier in this season, UConn coach Geno Auriemma talked about the inevitability that Taurasi (Class of 2004), Moore (2011) and Stewart (2016) would be linked in this kind of conversation.
"There's always going to be a tendency to try to put the three of them in some sort of holy trinity because of their talent and impact on the program," Auriemma said in December. "Stewie is so different than Maya and Diana, and yet when the game ends, you look up and say, 'That's the same kind of impact that Maya and Diana used to have.'"
The basic statistics: Taurasi, a 6-foot guard, averaged 15.0 points, 4.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds, with 147 blocked shots, in her UConn career. The numbers for Moore, a 6-foot forward: 19.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, with 204 blocked shots.
"There's always going to be a tendency to try to put the three of them in some sort of holy trinity because of their talent and impact on the program." UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Moore, Stewart and Taurasi
For Stewart, a 6-4 whatever you want to call her (just listing her as a forward doesn't do her justice), with one more game to play, it stacks up like this: 17.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, with 412 blocked shots.
So it is hard to pick, but as we said, you really can't be wrong. Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, who was Taurasi's teammate for two years at UConn and has played with and against all three in the WNBA and in international competition, has been asked her view about best Husky a lot lately.
"My standard line on this is that it's hilarious that the only way she's going to separate herself is if she wins four titles," Bird said of Stewart. "Which speaks to how amazing a lot of the players have been over the years."
Carrying the load
Let's look at the circumstances, especially in regard to Taurasi. She entered the program in the fall of 2000, when UConn was coming off its second NCAA title. She was a native Californian who had her choice of schools but picked UConn in part because she related so well to Auriemma's personality. He was ultra-confident, and she was, too.
"Somebody asked her, 'Why would you go to Connecticut when they have three All-Americans at the position you want to play?'" Auriemma recalled Monday. "She said, 'If they didn't have them, I wouldn't want to go there.
"You put Stewie or Maya on the teams of '03 and '04, and they don't win the national championship." UConn associate coach Chris Dailey, who says Diana Taurasi is the greatest Husky of all time
"Right away, you know she's telling you, 'I'm going there because I'm better than them.' So that was her greatest strength. Initially as a freshman what she had to overcome was, 'No, you're not. But you will be.' And little by little, she did [that]."
Taurasi's worst moment at UConn came her freshman season, when she was 1 of 15 from the field in a 2001 national semifinal loss to Notre Dame, 90-75. The next year, she more than held her own with four senior standouts -- Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams -- as UConn went undefeated. That remains what many consider the best women's college team ever; the seniors were all WNBA first-round draft picks, with Bird and Cash going 1-2, Jones No. 4 and Williams No. 6.
In Taurasi's junior and senior years, it was the full-on "Dee" show, as UConn won two more championships. Those titles are a major reason that those who give her the nod for greatest Husky do so.
UConn assistant coach Chris Dailey likes this question of "who is UConn's best" about as much as she would like going into the title game without doing any scouting. You're asking her to pick among her kids, and she does not want to. But ...
"I know who I think, and by my comments, you can tell," Dailey said. "It is Diana. And I would say this: You put Stewie or Maya on the teams of '03 and '04, and they don't win the national championship. Some of that is personality, and some of it is positional, because Diana is a point guard.
"Diana has the ability to make everyone better because she has the ball in her hands so much and can impose her will on the game. It's harder to do that when you don't have the ball in your hands as a guard."
But don't think Dailey doesn't lavish praise on Moore and Stewart, too.
"What they were able to do is amazing," Dailey said.
Obstacles to overcome
Even with the greatest of players, there are challenges. The old saying about your greatest strength being your greatest weakness applies with all three, Auriemma said.
Taurasi's great strength of confidence was an obstacle to the extent that she had to realize there was room for improvement, he said. Which is funny to think now, considering the nearly 34-year-old three-time WNBA champion Taurasi still talks about what she needs to do better.
With Moore, the obstacle was her understanding how to include everyone around her.
"Maya had to learn how to play with four other really good players on her team, because Maya always wanted to do everything by herself ... And she's [since] probably won as much, if not more, than anybody and continues to win." UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Moore
"Maya, she's like a corporation," Auriemma said. "Like, 'This is how we're going to do it, and nothing's going to get in my way.' Maya had to learn how to play with four other really good players on her team because Maya always wanted to do everything by herself and win it by herself."
After the Huskies lost to Stanford in the national semifinals in 2008 when Moore was a freshman, she came into Auriemma's office with a "revelation."
"She goes, 'I just realized I can't do this,'" Auriemma said. "I said, 'Really? You just realized this is five-on-five?' And she's [since] probably won as much, if not more, than anybody and continues to win."
Moore, the 2014 WNBA MVP, helped Minnesota win its third league title last year. She and Taurasi are locks for the U.S. team in the upcoming Summer Olympics, where Taurasi will be going for her fourth gold medal and Moore for her second.
That's where this debate can get a little hazy, though, because Taurasi and Moore both have bigger bodies of work than Stewart. The term "greatest Husky" probably should be limited to what each did in college, yet it's hard to keep the enormous professional success of Taurasi and Moore out of mind when evaluating them. It's kind of like when a judge tells juries that some evidence is inadmissible. They still know it exists.
All eyes on Stewie
Longtime Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs talked to multiple women's basketball observers and weighed in on the best Husky debate. His conclusion: the multidimensional wonder Stewart is the best player, but Taurasi was the most valuable. Again, he referenced her winning NCAA titles with the 2003 and '04 UConn teams, which had good players but not quite as much talent as the Huskies are accustomed to.
Stewart's teammate Moriah Jefferson votes for her but acknowledges she might be biased. Teammate Morgan Tuck went the more historical route, though, giving the edge to Moore because that's whom Tuck saw the most when she began to watch basketball seriously.
"On my first visit to UConn, she was still here," Tuck said. "And it's like, 'It's Maya Moore, and she's showing me around campus!' That was awesome.
"But Diana has three championships, and her demeanor is a little different. She knows she's a great player, and she just goes out and plays that way."
Tuck would never short-change her fellow senior Stewart, though. And neither does Auriemma, much as he loved coaching Taurasi and Moore.
Auriemma makes the distinction that, in his view, Stewart has had more of an impact on her NCAA tournament appearances than anyone else. That's in part because she so consistently rises to the occasion, but it's also because of the constant mismatches she creates with her size and skill set. Stewart is the only player in Division I history to top 300 in both assists and blocks.
While Stewart can seem the least intense of the three, Auriemma said that's not necessarily the case.
"Stewie pretends like she's humble and nice and kind and would rescue cats from trees," he said. "That's the impression she wants you to have. She walks out on court, and she's doesn't look like Maya. She's not built like a great player. So everything about her is deceptive, including the fact that all of us see a different side of her."
"She walks out on court, and she's doesn't look like Maya. She's not built like a great player. So everything about her is deceptive, including the fact that all of us see a different side of her." Geno Auriemma on Breanna Stewart
Which of Stewart's strengths also has been a weakness? Her ability to make things look easy has led to a belief that they really were easy.
"A lot of times her freshman year, she wanted it to be easy," Auriemma said. "When it wasn't, she couldn't deal with it. Now she's the first one to talk about, 'Hey, this is going to be hard, but we've got it.'"
Bird said she ultimately gives the edge in the best Husky debate to Taurasi, again because of "who she was and what she brought out of her teammates." But Bird acknowledges that if UConn wins on Tuesday, Stewart will have a trump card.
"If the day ever came when we're all sitting around talking about it, she can always lay down the four championships," Bird said. "And there's nothing you can say, right?"