Connecticut has a tough legacy to follow

UConn stats you need to see (1:00)

Connecticut women's basketball continue to break records after defeating Syracuse for their 11th national title. (1:00)

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a team tradition, said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

A couple of days after Tuesday night's 82-51 win over Syracuse in the NCAA championship game, the members of the Huskies team will gather in the team locker room. They will spend a little time together as a group, then Auriemma will toss the seniors out.

"I tell them to get out, that this isn't their team anymore. Then they leave, we close the door behind them and we talk about next season," Auriemma said.

Next season at Connecticut will be one of the biggest transitions that Auriemma said he will have faced in more than three decades in Storrs.

"It's going to be one of our more difficult adjustments," Auriemma said. "I'm kind of looking forward to it. I really am."

It has become a given that as the last games of the NCAA women's basketball season are contested every year, the Huskies are in them. Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck closed out their clean sweep of four straight national titles.

"And we don't have anybody like Stewie or Tuck or Moriah," Auriemma said.

They are moving on. Are they taking the given with them?

Auriemma said that back in 2002, when the senior class of Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams and Asjha Jones departed, he knew he had Diana Taurasi coming back.

"I thought, 'Hey, we're starting out the season with the best player in the country. How bad can that be?'" Auriemma said. "These three leaving, the rest of the players coming back are in for a rude awakening.

"And it will last for a while. They'll have to earn it like these other guys."

The rest of the country is certainly hoping the Huskies come back to the pack, that the gap between UConn and everyone else isn't quite as wide as it has been these past few years.

Since Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck arrived at Connecticut, nobody has played within 10 points of the Huskies in the NCAA tournament. In fact, over 24 NCAA tournament games since their freshman season, the Huskies have won their tourney games by an average margin of 32.8 points.

But things are changing. The players left behind know it.

"It's going to be really different," said freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, who missed the title game with a broken foot sustained in the semifinal on Sunday. "[Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck] really were the backbone of our team. No matter what happened, they were always calm and knew what to do. It's going to be different not having them here. But we've learned so much from them. We are going to do whatever we can to be like them."

Guard Gabby Williams, who will be a junior next season, went to Auriemma's office recently to talk about next year. He told her to let him worry about it for now.

She said Tuesday night that she's looking to become a more versatile player in anticipation of playing a larger role.

"We basically looked to these seniors for everything, but next year it's going to be who steps up," Williams said. "The guys who are coming back next year are going to have to be the people who other people look for now. We have to keep our heads, keep the team together. The mental part will be the hardest part."

Next year's Huskies team will be looking for a new point guard, a dominant post presence and new tone-setters, with the possibility that there will be no senior starters on the floor for Connecticut for the first time in nearly a decade.

In fact, there's a decent chance the Huskies won't be the No. 1 team in the country when the preseason rankings are unveiled in the fall. The Huskies went wire-to-wire at No. 1 this season, the third straight season they finished as the top-ranked team in the country.

But will it be Notre Dame or Baylor that starts the season at the top in November?

And will the Huskies again figure out a way to reload rather than rebuild?

And will the pressure be off of these players?

"If the pressure is off, I don't know if that's a good thing," Williams said. "We are going to come out with a fiery passion to prove that UConn still has a legacy."

Auriemma's team won't be falling off the basketball map anytime soon. The now 11-time national champion wouldn't allow it. There is still plenty of talent, potential and name recognition in Storrs. But is it Final Four-level talent? The short answer is, quite possibly. But it's not a sure thing. And it's been a while since the women's basketball world could say that about UConn.

The program's newest young star, Samuelson, will be back after the broken bone in her left foot heals, a rehabilitation that could take as long as six months. Samuelson, after a slow start, picked up steam late in the season and averaged 14.8 points a game in the nine games heading into the national semifinals.

She will join a lineup of experienced players that will include juniors-to-be Kia Nurse and Williams, who is in line to become a starter for the first time in her career at guard, and sophomore guard Napheesa Collier. Nurse started 37 games this season and scored in double figures in 15 of them, including five of the Huskies last 10 games.

Nurse, the most experienced returner, wasn't ready Tuesday night to turn the page.

"It will be different, but at this point, this is the last time this group of people will be together," Nurse said. "Next year is next year, and it's a long way away."

Williams and Collier, meanwhile, provided valuable minutes this season and laid the groundwork for future contributions. The duo combined to score 28 points against Final Four foes Oregon State and Syracuse in supporting roles, with Williams starting in place of the injured Samuelson.

Saniya Chong, who played limited minutes this season, has a chance to be the only senior starter on the floor at guard, but she will be pushed by the next bright, young talent.

Crystal Dangerfield, the No. 3 recruit in the country out of Mufreesboro, Tennessee (the first recruit from Tennessee in Auriemma's tenure), will be headed to Storrs. The McDonald's All American will likely jump in quickly at point guard to replace Jefferson.

Auriemma has already compared Dangerfield to Jefferson, calling her a "unique little guard, where she is strong enough and quick enough that she can get things done that a lot of players can't," when she signed her letter-of-intent back in November.

What the Huskies won't have is a definitive post presence, a go-to paint player to replace Stewart as a force inside.

With four straight national titles, the Huskies leave the next group a lot to live up to. The rest of the teams in the country have to hope it will take these players a while to get there.