UConn's trio of seniors goes out with class

UConn receives 2016 NCAA tournament trophy (0:40)

NCAA president Mark Emmert presents the 2016 NCAA tournament trophy to the Connecticut women's basketball team. (0:40)

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was the day before her class would attempt to make history by winning a fourth consecutive national championship, and Connecticut senior Moriah Jefferson was trying to explain why perceptions of her and her classmates are drawn from incomplete information.

Morgan Tuck may look calm and composed on the court, a model of subtle efficiency juxtaposed against Jefferson's perpetual motion or Breanna Stewart's long-limbed canter. But that, Jefferson noted, obscures an inner wild child loud enough behind closed doors to carry through the walls.

Jefferson acknowledged, too, that despite the speed with which she plays, she is known as "Grandma" to her teammates for reasons that have more to do with demeanor than age. The hummingbird activity slows to a Texas amble when the sneakers come off.

Then her narrative stroll came to the final member of a class that won 151 of 156 college games together, including the final 75 games by double digits.

"Stewie, she's a whole different type of person, so we can't even get into that," Jefferson offered with a wry shake of her head. "I don't even know how to explain the stuff that she does, it's just random. I'm like 'Who even thinks of that?' Like, just randomly walk up to me, smack me in the face, start dancing and then run away. ... I don't know how to explain her at all."

Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the most ruthless winners ever to play college basketball.

They only play the roles of perfectly crafted automatons when someone is keeping score.

Time will be spent attempting to explain the legacy of these three players after Connecticut, proving that Goliath must sometimes be Goliath for the legend of David to matter, rolled over Syracuse 82-51 on Tuesday. Even with a spirited Syracuse effort that included a Connecticut-like 16-0 run in the third quarter, it was a championship game equal parts coronation and competition.

Their final college game played, Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck now belong to the game's history. The thing about history is that the scale of a feat often overshadows the humanity.

It would be a shame for that to happen here. It would miss a good part of the story.

"There are three ingredients that go into this kind of success," coach Geno Auriemma said after the game, pointing to each of the three seniors in turn.

It's part of the story to watch Stewart trail a Syracuse player down the lane in the first quarter, not so much even measuring a block as stalking prey. Just as it's part of the story when, after the block, Jefferson races ahead of the pack, waits for the defense to commit and whips a pass to Tuck for a layup. They were better than the other players on the court this night.

That is undeniably a good starting point for being the best team in the country by a wide margin.

But so was the three-way embrace they shared when all exited the game together with a little less than two minutes remaining. They even found a way to share the hug.

"It is a bond that is unbreakable," Stewart said of the trio before the final. "We've been together for four years in college but have known each other long before then, and we have really grown together. When you come together with a class, that's a group that you're closest with during the four years.

"This is a big chunk of my life, and having grown up with them has definitely created something special that I've never really had before."

When it comes to doing something that neither these nor any other seniors had ever done, going from orientation to commencement as champions, that matters. Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck averaged a collective 51.8 points per game in the tournament. They shot 57 percent from the field and 57 percent from the 3-point line. Those three alone outscored Syracuse in the final game.

They outscored all of Connecticut's opponents in the tournament.

They were collectively a marvel of basketball, complete individual talents and willing cogs. If that is all that matters to some, that's fine. They are easily appreciated as such. But what transpired on the court wasn't all that mattered to them. And that, in turn, cannot be overlooked in assessing why they were so consistently, relentlessly, mercilessly good together.

"When we had Sue Bird, Tamika Williams, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones come in together, their personalities were all different, and that was what allowed it to work," associate coach Chris Dailey said. "It was the same with Tuck, Moriah and Stewie. Their personalities were very different."

Admittedly speaking from a metaphorical distance, but perhaps less so than most of us after coaching Stewart and Jefferson with a junior national team this past summer, Oregon State coach Scott Rueck noted after his team's semifinal loss that part of what allows Connecticut to occupy such singular space is that it isn't a program that wastes a lot of time managing drama within the ranks.

It isn't, he continued, that Connecticut gets all the players. It gets the players it wants.

And then, as Jefferson noted this weekend, it breaks them in half to build them back up.

"I think each generation of kids, and after 30 years you've seen it all, each generation of kids responds to what they're getting every day," Auriemma said this season. "And I think every day today, when we get a player who comes from high school, what they're getting every day at home, what they're getting every day at school, what they're getting every day with their teams is 'It's OK, don't worry about [it].' ... There's never any sense of 'No, this is not all right. You've got to do better than this. No, this is not acceptable. You've got to do better than that.' "

Rated as three of the top six recruits in the nation when they arrived in Connecticut, all heard that message plenty early in their time in Storrs.

And each leaned on the others to emerge, Stewart from the weight of expectations, Tuck from the injury that wiped out most of her second season and Jefferson from the demands of playing point guard for the ultimate taskmaster.

"You guys don't see how tough these years are," Jefferson said. "You don't see the ups and downs."

We also didn't see Jefferson or Stewart hiding in a closet, waiting to launch a barrage of Nerf projectiles at an unsuspecting Tuck, who cast herself as the mock sympathetic figure picked on by the other two. Although perhaps we got some sense of it in an awkward but perhaps endearing "knighting" ceremony among the three of them during the trophy presentation.

"We're able to play really well together because we enjoy being around each other so much off the court," Tuck said.

It probably isn't that simple. And the debate over how much that matters to success in team sports will never find resolution. There will always be examples of teammates who meshed sublimely on the field or court and clashed tempestuously off it. It may not even be a universal truth among the great teams at Connecticut, although the number of basketball alumni mingling together in the stands and later on the court of Bankers Life Fieldhouse suggests otherwise.

"You've got to be careful," Auriemma said of finding the kind of players who can make it look so easy. "You've got to get those kids who say, 'Look, I'm coming here because I want to be great, and I need you guys and your program to help me do that.'

"Not somebody who comes in and says they want to be great but on their terms, the way they've done it."

Connecticut found three of them at the same time with Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck. It didn't hurt that they wanted to be great together.