UConn makes it a perfect 10
TAMPA – It was UConn’s show when it showed up in Tampa and it was UConn’s show Tuesday night as the Huskies wrote another fabled chapter in a grand history that keeps getting grander.
For the second year in a row, UConn sent home Notre Dame disappointed with a 63-53 victory to claim its third consecutive national championship and a record 10th title in front of 19,810 predominantly Husky fans. Along the way they carried coach Geno Auriemma out of the arena and into history.
That’s now 10 championship game appearances and 10 wins. Perfection and only legendary UCLA coach John Wooden and Phil Jackson have 10 championships in any other major sport.
“Obviously it is incredibly rewarding to be able to do what we did and it was really hard to do it,’’ said Auriemma. “We knew playing Nortre Dame was going to be really, really difficult and it was everything we thought it was going to be. But, these guys made some plays in the second half that kind of showed our true character. We talked about it in the locker room and everytime we were challenged, we responded and I couldn’t be happier for them to night.”
Breanna Stewart also made history of her own with her third Most Outstanding Player Award, the other college player to do that except for Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
It wasn’t a dominating UConn performance but it was a performance that says so much about the Huskies. On a night where things came hard, there was no outstanding individual performance to hang the title on, instead there was a collections of big plays here and there, a little bit from everywhere that carried the day.
Nobody was bigger than Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis. The most prolific 3-point shooter in NCAA history was smothered most of the game and had just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting until the last 4:58 and then she went out like a lion leaving her self with one more title and one last golden memory.
With Notre Dame within six, 56-50, Lewis came down and buried her second 3-pointer from the wing for a nine-point lead. She followed that up with a jumper from 15 feet and then coverted a layup accounting for UConn’s final seven points of the game and a 63-50 lead.
“I’m glad that the two buckets K made down the stretch , they were kind of the difference in the game and that is the way she is supposed to go out,” said Auriemma.”She made a big difference all year and throughout her career.”
“It meant a lot to step up for me teammates and in a big time when they needed me,” said Mosqueda-Lewis who finished with 15 points. “and I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to go out with a national championship and to be able to hold that trophy up at the end of the game and end my senior year the way I wanted to and the way any basketball player wants to is amazing”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw felt the damage of Mosqueda-Lewis’ 3-pointer.
“I thought the 3-pointer that Lewis hit in transition was critical,” said McGraw. “We had just cut (the deficit) to six. We didn’t switch the ball-screen. They got a free-throw jumper for two, and we came down and turned it over. Transition from Mosqueda-Lewis for a three, and now it’s a five-point swing, six went to 11 and that was the game.
There were no long runs for the Huskies against the stingy Irish who limited Mosqued-Lewis’ touches and 3-point attempts and smothered Breanna Stewart who had eight points but a game-high 15 rebounds. Morah Jefferson managed 15 points.
But, the Huskies didn’t need the big run thanks to Jefferson who bottled up Notre Dame All-American Jewell Lloyd holding her to just 12 points on 4-18 shooting. The Irish also turned the ball over 17 times.
“I thought Moriah was a great defender tonight,” said McGraw. “I thought she made things hard for Jewell. She made – we weren’t able to really get anything going because most of our offense runs through Jewell and she really did a great job of denying her the ball.”
“Jewell is a really good player and you have to just try your hardest not to let her catch the ball,” said Jefferson. “I just tried to deny her and make sure she couldn’t catch it and send her backdoor to Breanna and Kiah who were right there.”
In a rythmless first half UConn pushed a three-point lead to 25-19 on a Morgan Tuck 3-pointer with 6:15 left. By half it was, ), 31-23, but both a precarious lead and deficit. Notre Dame had 13 turnovers in the half while UConn shot just 38 percent.
But there was a balance to the Husky effort with Stewart (6 points), Tuck (6 points), Jefferson (7 points) and Mosqueda-Lewis with eight points. It was enough.
As for Auriemma he reflected on the his growing place in history when all was done.
“None of the other guys (Wooden, Jackson) had any bad teams with bad players so we all have that in common,” said Auriemma. “To do this 10 times in a row, to win 10 and be 10-0 in National Championships is – again, it’s too big for me to think about. It’s too much. Too much.
It’s all too big for most think about. Ten titles in ten appearances. The dynastic rolls on.