NEW ORLEANS – Geno Auriemma has been chasing Pat Summitt since he started coaching. Now with his eighth national championship, he has finally caught her.
It might not be long before Auriemma stands alone with freshman Breanna Stewart leading the way.
Stewart scored 18 of her 23 points in a dazzling first half and Connecticut won its eighth NCAA title with a 93-60 rout of Louisville on Tuesday night. It was the most lopsided victory in a title game, and it put the Huskies back atop college basketball after missing the game the past two years.
The title tied Auriemma and the Huskies (35-4) with Summitt for the most in women’s basketball history.
“The only person I compare myself to is Pat Summitt and to be there in that spot with her means a lot to me,” Auriemma said. “The fact that I tied Pat Summitt’s record puts you in the category of the greatest women’s basketball coach that ever lived.”
Stewart, his prized freshman, was unstoppable, hitting shots from everywhere on the court to earn Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. She’s only the fourth freshman to have that honor and first since 1987. Even her father in the stands repeatedly said “wow” as his daughter took the game over and Cardinals men’s coach Rick Pitino, in town to cheer on the Louisville women, called her one of the best freshman in basketball.
“This is unbelievable,” Stewart said. “This is what we’ve thought about since the beginning of the season. And now to be here and actually win it, it’s a great feeling and I don’t think it’s going to set in for a while. I just played really confident and stopped thinking. When I second-guess myself, nothing good comes out of that.”
Summitt, who stepped down a year ago and suffers from early-onset dementia, released a statement through her son, Tyler.
“Congratulations to Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut Huskies on a remarkable season and an eighth national title,” she said. “Geno is a proven champion and a leader in our game. My best to him, his family, his team and staff.”
The loss ended an unprecedented tournament run by Louisville. The Cardinals became the first No. 5 seed to make the championship game.
“The run we went on was remarkable and something I’ll always remember” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We’re walking out with our head high and proud.”
The Schimmel sisters who carried Louisville in the tournament had a rough go against UConn. Shoni Schimmel missed her first six shots and scored just seven on 3-of-15 shooting. Jude Schimmel was saddled with three fouls in the first half.