(L-R) NCAA women's basketball players Stefanie Dolson, Kayla McBride and Breanna Stewart
University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma will see several familiar faces when he returns to the Final Four this weekend in Nashville, Tenn. Auriemma, who doubles as the head coach of USA Basketball’s women’s team, had six college players attend the national team’s mini-camp in October and five of them — including three from his defending national champion Connecticut squad — are playing in Sunday’s national semifinals.
That group includes two Naismith Trophy finalists, three Associated Press All-Americans, three John R. Wooden Award All-Americans, three conference Players of the Year and three likely first-round picks in the WNBA Draft set for April 14.
The five collegiate players were included on the 33-member national team roster released in January, which will be used to pick the U.S. team for this summer’s FIBA World Championship and the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. USA Basketball qualified for the 2014 FIBA World Championship, which begins Sept. 27 in Turkey, by winning the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Auriemma is focused on UConn and hopes to guide the Huskies to a ninth NCAA championship. He coached Team USA to its fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal in London and will coach the team again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Notre Dame plays Maryland in the first semifinal at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday followed by Connecticut vs. Stanford at 8:30 p.m. The national championship game is Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. All of the games will be broadcast on ESPN.
FIVE TO WATCH AT THE NCAA WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR
Stefanie Dolson, Connecticut: The 6-foot-5 senior center has helped the Huskies reach four straight Final Fours. Dolson averages 12.4 points, a team-best 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Dolson, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection, is an expected first-round pick in the WNBA Draft.
Dolson averaged 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds while helping Team USA win the FIBA U19 World Championship in 2011 with an 8-1 record. She was also a member of the FIBA Americas U18 team that went 5-0 in 2010. Dolson was unable to try out for the World University Games in 2013 because of injury.
Kayla McBride, Notre Dame: McBride helped the Fighting Irish beat Maryland, 87-83, in a regular-season meeting by hitting a long jumper with 11 seconds left. She averages 17.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists for Notre Dame.
In addition to being named the ACC Player of the Year, the 5-foot-11 senior guard was also an Associated Press All-American, a Wooden All-American and a finalist for the Naismith Trophy. She will likely be a first-round draft pick.
McBride helped Team USA win the FIBA Americas U18 title in 2010. She started in all five wins of that tournament, averaging 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Connecticut: The 6-foot junior guard has won four gold medals in international action, including the 2013 World University Games. She started all six games in Russia during the World University Games, averaging 13 points and 6.8 rebounds and adding 10 assists and eight steals.
Mosqueda-Lewis was also a member of gold-medal teams at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship and 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship. She averaged 14 points and 4.6 rebounds for the U16 team in 2009.
Mosqueda-Lewis averages 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds this season for the undefeated Huskies.
Breanna Stewart, Connecticut: The 6-foot-4 sophomore post has the most international experience out of the collegiate players in the national team pool. Stewart has two tournament MVP honors and five gold medals with Team USA.
Stewart averaged 16.9 points and 6.2 rebounds at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Lithuania, where she was named tournament MVP. She earned the same honors at the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
Stewart also helped Team USA win gold at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship and 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
She was also the second high schooler to play for Team USA at the Pan American Games, starting four games and averaging a team-high 15.3 points in 2011.
Stewart leads the Huskies with 19.4 points and adds 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks this season. She was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, an AP All-American, a Wooden All-American and a Naismith Trophy finalist.
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland: The 6-foot-2 senior forward leads the Terrapins with 19.1 points and 11 rebounds per game and is the program’s all-time leading scorer. Thomas is also tied for first in career rebounds. Thomas was named the ACC Player of the Year for the third consecutive season — sharing the title this year with Notre Dame’s McBride.
Thomas earned All-American honors from the Wooden Award and AP and is expected to be one of the top picks in the WNBA Draft.
Thomas was named to the 2012 USA 3x3 World Championship team but was unable to participate. She also participated in team trials for the 2011 U19 World Championship and 2010 U18 National teams.
NOTE: The sixth college player in the national team pool, Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims, fell short of the Final Four when her team fell to Notre Dame in the regional finals. Sims is a two-time World University gold medalist (2011, 2013) and likely will be be one of the top picks in the WNBA Draft. Sims is also an AP All-American, Wooden All-American and Naismith Trophy finalist.
Tom Glave has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He covered prep and college sports for newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas for nine years and now works part time in the Houston area.