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History Is Made: UConn Defeats Syracuse To Win Fourth Straight National Title By Rich Elliott

POSTED April 06, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

INDIANAPOLIS – This is the exact position Breanna Stewart hoped to be in four years ago. She had yet to play a game as a member of the UConn women’s basketball team, but she had the moxie to publicly declare that she wanted to win four national championships.

There have been countless players that have shared this same dream and harbored these same expectations over the years. Each of them saw their career end unfulfilled.

Stewart was unfazed by the past. She was confident in her own ability. Her confidence only grew knowing that she would have Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck as her running mates. Win after win, championship after championship, the dream remained alive. And, before 14,514 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the NCAA tournament final Tuesday, Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck completed the grand slam as UConn defeated Syracuse 82-51 to become the first team in Division I history to win four straight national championships.

``It was the perfect ending,’’ Stewart said. ``I'm not sure what word you can use to describe it. We had a goal coming in as freshmen, and now as seniors we did that. We did what we wanted to do. And it was a lot of fun.’’

It was the second largest margin of victory ever in a national championship game. UConn defeated Louisville 93-60 in New Orleans in 2013.

Stewart, who grew up in North Syracuse, finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in being honored as the Final Four Most Outstanding Player for an unprecedented fourth straight season. Tuck added 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jefferson had 13 points, three rebounds and five assists.

``It’s a feeling that you have that’s indescribable,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``They’ve created an amount of excitement that the game has not seen in a long, long time, if ever. And they’ve left an imprint on this game that’s going to last a really long time. And I think it’s a blueprint for kids coming after them that if you want to know how to do it they showed everybody how to do it. And they did it the right way. And they did together and they did it with people that they love. And  I’m really, really proud of them.’’

Tuck and Jefferson were named to the all-tournament team for the second straight season. Tuck, who has one year of eligibility remaining, will announce today whether or not she will return next season or turn professional and declare for the WNBA draft.

Brittany Sykes (12 points) from Syracuse and Talia Walton from Washington were also named to the all-tournament team.

The championship is the record 11th overall for UConn (38-0) and Auriemma. He has now won more championships than any other coach in the history of Division I college basketball. Legendary men’s basketball coach John Wooden won 10 at UCLA.

The Huskies, who completed the sixth undefeated season in program history, have won a record 24 straight NCAA tournament games and 75 straight games overall. Equally impressive, UConn improved to 11-0 in national title games.

``I think at this time of the year your confidence level and your ability have to mesh,’’ Auriemma said. ``There’s teams maybe that come here with a lot more confidence than ability and it catches up to you or a lot more ability than they have confidence. So when those two things mesh, I think you have a pretty unbeatable combination. And we’ve generally put ourselves in the position where we’ve got enough talent, we’ve got enough ability to win, and our confidence level is really high.

``And you’ve got – 11 championships, right? Three people are directly responsible for eight of them. So when you’ve got those three in your lineup, Stewie, (Diana Taurasi), and Maya (Moore), at this time of the year, generally speaking, if you have the best player on the floor good things can happen. And, generally speaking, every time we’ve come to the Final Four with one of those guys, we’ve had the best player on the floor. Doesn’t mean they won all the time. So, like everybody else, streaks are meant to end. Someday.’’

Gabby Williams finished with nine points, eight rebounds and three assists for UConn, while Kia Nurse had nine points and five rebounds.

Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck complete their career together as the winningest recruiting class in the history of Division I women’s basketball (151-5). Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore were 150-4 at UConn from 2007-11.

Jefferson also joined Tennessee’s Laurie Milligan (1995-98) as the only players to appear in 24 NCAA tournament games.

``I think your legacy when you play here kind of speaks for itself,’’ UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph said. ``The fact that no one has been able to do what they do puts them in a class of their own. They operate every single day not necessarily to be the class that won four championships, although that has always been the end goal. They operate every day to kind of leave behind a legacy that can be carried on.’’

The Huskies, who have won 24 straight games against Syracuse, took command immediately by scoring the first nine points of the game and 23 of the first 29. They led 50-23 at halftime as Stewart (14), Tuck (13) and Jefferson (11) combined for 38 points.

The Orange did show some fight in the third quarter, scoring 16 straight points to close to within 60-43 with 2:13 left.

``There was a time during the huddle in the game when Syracuse went on that run of theirs where we talked about that you can’t stumble into the history books,’’ Auriemma said. ``Like if you're going to do this, you need to do it the right way. You need to break through the finish line, not stumble across it.’’

The Huskies’ lead never did fall below 17.

Cornelia Fondren led Syracuse with 16 points and three rebounds.

The Orange (30-8) had averaged 9.6 made 3-pointers in the first five games of the NCAA tournament. They were 2-for-19 against UConn.

``They're a great team, and Geno has done an amazing job,’’ Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ``I’m really happy for Breanna Stewart. I remember she came to my camp in ninth grade. I watched her grow up and be the kind of player that she is and to …  She’s just a great player and just a great kid. And we talk about a kid being that good from Syracuse, it really doesn’t happen that often. So give her a lot of credit. I’m really happy for her and really proud of her and all the things that she’s accomplished.’’

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