INDIANAPOLIS – Breanna Stewart and UConn stand alone. Geno Auriemma, too, after another flawless season by the dominating Huskies.
UConn won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night, capping another perfect season by routing Syracuse 82-51. Until now, only the UCLA men’s team had won four in a row in Division I, rolling to seven consecutive championships under John Wooden from 1967-73. With Tuesday’s victory, Auriemma passed the Wizard of Westwood with his 11th national title.
“What those 11 championships mean to me is how many great players I’ve had the opportunity to coach,” Auriemma said. “How many great people have come through the program. It doesn’t matter whose name is above, or whose name I’m under. As long as I have those players in my memory, I’m good.”
Stewart said when she came to campus four years ago that she wanted to win four titles. She delivered on that promise by scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in her final college game.
“It’s unbelievable,” Stewart said. “That was our goal coming in here once we were freshmen and to carry it out and win like this as seniors is unbelievable.”
The Huskies (38-0) have been nearly unbeatable since Stewart arrived. They lost four games her freshman year and only one since. The win over Syracuse was the 75th straight for UConn – all by double figures. Stewart and her fellow seniors went 24-0 in NCAA tourney games, too.
Stewart earned the most outstanding player of the Final Four all four years of her career. No other women’s player has won it more than twice and only Lew Alcindor did it three times on the men’s side.
The three-time AP Player of the Year has said it is up to others to decide her place in women’s college basketball lore. There is no denying she is the most accomplished player ever, winning more titles than fellow UConn greats Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, who watched from the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Like the other great UConn teams, this version had a killer instinct. The Huskies scored the first nine points of the game. Stewart had 10 points in the first 6 minutes as UConn built a 23-6 lead. When the Orange made a little run to cut its deficit to 25-13, Moriah Jefferson hit a 3-pointer off a nifty play just before the first-quarter buzzer. UConn’s big three of Stewart, Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who have helped the Huskies to an NCAA record 151 wins over their four years, combined for 26 of the 28 points in the period.
They also handled the Orange’s press with precision passing that led to easy layups. The Huskies were up 50-23 at the half and extended the lead to 33 early in third quarter before Syracuse scored 16 straight points to get within 60-43 with 2:02 left in the period that brought the Orange fans to their feet. Consecutive layups by Napheesa Collier restored the 20-point lead and UConn cruised from there.
Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson left the game for good with 1:46 left. They shared an embrace together before hugging Auriemma.
“There’s three key ingredients that go into this kind of success. One, two, three,” Auriemma said, pointing to his three seniors.
The trio then went down the bench hugging every member of the team.
“We’re going out with a bang, we’re going out with a bang, that’s it, no more. We knew what we’re supposed to do,” Stewart said.
Auriemma has never lost in 11 title-game appearances. While the names may change, the results are always the same: UConn is still there holding that trophy in the end. This one gave the Hall of Fame coach a sixth undefeated season.
To win her fourth championship, Stewart had to beat her hometown team. Fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-8) had the best season in school history, advancing to its first NCAA championship game. They hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament until this year.
These two teams hadn’t played since the Orange left the Big East for the ACC after the 2013 season. Syracuse has now lost 24 straight against UConn, a skid that dates to 1996.
Cornelia Fondren scored 16 points to lead Syracuse.
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