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Huskies reload with 3 top freshmen for title run

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STORRS, Conn. (AP)

UConn freshmen Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson huddled together recently in a dorm room closet, waiting for their chance.

When teammate Morgan Tuck entered the room, they pounced, spraying her with fire from their Nerf guns before collapsing in laughter.

''The three of us, we've become really, really close, on the court and off the court,'' Stewart said. ''It's usually me and Moriah against Morgan, though. We pick on her, hit her with pillows, stuff like that.''

On the court, the three together are expected to pummel opponents for the next four years.

Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson make up the most heralded class to enter UConn since the 1998 group that included Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash.

''They don't play like freshmen at all,'' said UConn center Stefanie Dolson, a junior. ''They are already playing like upperclassmen. Everyone is fighting for their spot on the team and when the freshmen are playing the way they are, everyone's got to play up to that level.''

Most of the preseason accolades have been directed toward Stewart, who is 6-foot-4 but can play any position on the court. She was the consensus national player of the year coming out of high school, and was named the Big East's preseason player of the year. She can dunk, dribble the floor and step outside and hit the 3-point shot.

She is expected to be the program's next Maya Moore or Diana Taurasi.

''I think that everything people say about me is great, but I don't think about what people expect,'' she said. ''I'm just coming in here to work hard and get better and see what happens from there.''

Tuck is also expected to see a lot of playing time. At 6-2, she gives the Huskies another inside presence with Dolson. But she also has a jump shot and came in third place in the Huskies' annual 3-point shooting contest among all the men and women players.

''The difference with these two kids, Breanna and Morgan, is that they are really confident,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ''They're really confident and they know it and they play like it, and it's real. There's no fake about these two guys. They know they're good. They act like they're good. They've proven they're good at every level they've been at, and there's nothing that's going to shake that.''

Jefferson's not bad either. She was considered the nation's top point guard coming out of high school in Glenn Heights, Texas. But she's likely to see less playing time as a freshman than Tuck or Stewart because she is playing behind junior all-conference guard Bria Hartley and sophomore Brianna Banks.

''I'm not going to complain about playing time or anything like that,'' she said. ''I can learn a lot from them, being upperclassmen. I have a role on the team, and if watching them and learning from them is part of it, that can only help me when it's my time.''

The three freshmen already have spent a lot of time together on the court, helping the U.S. national team to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. Tuck was the team's leading scorer and Stewart the most valuable player. Jefferson averaged over five points and four assists.

Coach Katie Meier said she was impressed with the maturity level of all three.

''Freshmen are usually so about themselves,'' she said. ''They don't think about themselves, they are so aware of the other nine people on the court and what the smartest play to do (is), based on the other nine people. They aren't thinking about themselves. That's something you don't even see in seniors.''

The three also attended summer school together, where they shared a suite on campus. Jefferson and Stewart are still roommates and Tuck lives right next door.

''We've spent so much time together, basically every day since the summer,'' Tuck said. ''I think that's going to really help our chemistry on the court this season.''

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Associated Press Sports Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.

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