By Mark Gregory
INDIANAPOLIS – Morgan Tuck has always been a winner.
The 6-foot, 2-inch Bolingbrook native won three IHSA Class 4A state titles with the Raiders, she was twice named Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year and has helped Team USA claim four gold medals in International competition.
However, with an 82-51 win over Syracuse April 5, Tuck took winning to a historic level.
She scored 19 points in the win and added seven rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot, helping the University of Connecticut claim its fourth-straight NCAA title – the first time that has ever been done since the women’s NCAA tournament began in 1982.
“This has been our goal since we came here,” Tuck said. “Since we were freshmen, we’ve wanted this for so long, and to be able to do it – get four in a row – that’s just special right there. We just love each other. We love being around each other. We have so much fun with each other off the court and it translates really well on the court. We work extremely hard – in the summer, preseason – and all that work paid off.”
The win was the 11th for the school – placing the Huskies in a tie with the UCLA men for most ever NCAA Division-I basketball titles.
“That’s very special. Some of the best players to ever play the women’s game came to UConn and we have the best coach ever,” Tuck said. “The other players paved the way and do so much for us, and it’s great that we can be part of a great legacy.”
Even more historic is the fact that Tuck and fellow seniors Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson become the first players – men or women – to ever earn four championships in a career.
Only the UCLA men’s team won more than four in a row, claiming seven titles from 1967 to 1973, but because freshmen were not eligible to compete, no player was part of more than three consecutive championship teams.
The trio posted a four-year record of 151-5, with four of the losses coming their freshman season. Every one of the 151 wins was by double digits. They went 24-0 in NCAA tournament games and won 75 consecutive games to end the four-peat.
This season, Tuck was named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America First Team, Associated Press All-America Second Team and, awarded the American Athletic Conference Sportsmanship Award and was named to the All-AAC First Team and to the Bridgeport Regional All-Tournament Team and Final Four All-Tournament Team.
“It’s just a matter of what the outside people, the outside world chooses to believe in and to vote on and give awards to, which is fine,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said about Tuck being named second team AP All-American while her senior counterparts were first teamers. “I mean, media votes and media – you have to spread things around. I understand that. I mean, it’s obvious. But I think if you polled the 365 coaches around the country and told them they could pick any five players in America to be on their team for one game, I wonder where Tuck would come in.”
Auriemma said the senior trio complimented each other well during the historic four years.
“I think in life, you know, you end up in places where you’re surrounded by either people who do great things and you’re a part of it or you surround with people who bring you down,” he said. “Morgan’s been fortunate to be around Moriah and Stewy because they’ve raised her level. Maybe playing someplace without those two, she wouldn’t be as good a player as she is. And the reason she doesn’t get lost is the other two, Moriah and Stewy, know that without Morgan they wouldn’t be here. They would be home. And Stewy might not be the National Player of the Year if it wasn’t for Morgan Tuck.”
Tuck came on big for the Huskies the last two seasons after being hampered by injuries her freshman season and missing all but eight games during her sophomore campaign.
“It’s definitely hard with injuries,” Tuck said. “But my teammates did a great job of keeping me encouraged and always making me feel like I was part of the team. Even when I wasn’t able to be out there on the court, I still felt like I was there helping. And then to get four straight, that’s just our team. Everyone contributed. Everyone did their part, and so that’s why we ended up where we are now.”
Tuck totaled 1,298 for her career at UConn, scoring 17 points against Maryland on Dec. 28 to become the 41st Husky to join the 1,000-point club.
“Morgan Tuck, day in and day out, is probably our most consistent player, and she showed that (against Texas in the Elite Eight),” Auriemma said “When Morgan Tuck plays great and when Morgan Tuck plays the way she played in the Texas game, we are really, really, really hard to play against.”
Tuck was granted a medical red shirt following the injuries her sophomore season, so Tuck technically still has one year of eligibility remaining and could return to UConn to go after a fifth championship.
Tuck announced the day after the game she would not return, however, and declared for the WNBA draft.
According to mock drafts, Tuck and Jefferson could be reunited on the Connecticut Sun, who own the No. 3 and 4 picks in the upcoming draft, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 14 in Uncasville, CT. Stewart is expected to be the top overall selection and join Niles West’s Jewell Loyd in Seattle. The first round will be televised on ESPN 2 beginning at 7 p.m. The WNBA season opens May 14.
As the UConn trio head into the next chapters of their careers, they ended their college career together, being taken out of the championship game at the same time with 1 minute, 46 seconds left.
“This was the goal, not just for us three, but all of us; to come out to prove we are the best team in the country, and we were able to do that.” Tuck said “(Walking off the floor together) It means a lot. I don’t think anyone is going to do it. Hopefully, they don’t break our record. For us to be able to do that, it speaks to our program. All of the past players, the coaches, everything they did for us – they allowed for us to do that today.”