John Wooden has company.
And so does Geno Auriemma.
Wooden became a legend coaching the UCLA men to 10 national championships in basketball in a 12-year span in the 1960s and 1970s, earning the nickname the Wizard of Westwood.
Auriemma equaled that achievement Tuesday night in Tampa when his Huskies defeated Notre Dame 63-53 to earn his 10th national championship, two more than legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
In the buildup to the game Tuesday, Auriemma warned that he and his Huskies are bound to eventually lose one of these title games. But that warning seemed almost ridiculous during the championship game, which the Huskies controlled throughout. Auriemma is 10-0 in national championship games.
“I’ll be the first to say, I’m not John Wooden,” Auriemma said in his postgame interview with ESPN. “I’ve got a bunch of friends that would tell that I’m right. I’m not. But as I said the other day, I just think what we’ve done here the last 20 years is pretty remarkable in its own right.
“I’ll let the people who write the history decide where I fit in.”
While he is not as revered as Wooden -- perhaps because he’s still coaching, maybe because he is viewed as opinionated and brash -- Auriemma is building a mountain of accomplishments that might prove every bit as difficult to match for future women’s coaches as Wooden’s achievements have been on the men’s side.
Auriemma was asked repeatedly before Tuesday’s game about matching Wooden’s 10 titles and building a dynasty in the women’s game the way Wooden dominated for more than a decade in the men’s game.
“I just know that in our sport, from 1995 to today, what we've done against our peers is as good if not better than anybody else has done in their sport against their peers,” Auriemma said. “I don't care whether it's harder in that sport or this sport or that sport.
“I understand all that. Don't get me wrong. But given the rules that we play with, with all the people we compete against, I'm pretty proud we've done it the way we've done it for as long as we've done it.”
Notre Dame and coach Muffet McGraw lost in the championship game for the fourth time in five years. The Fighting Irish watched Texas A&M celebrate in 2011, Baylor in 2012 and UConn last year and once again Tuesday night.
Once again this season, Naismith Player of the Year Breanna Stewart played a huge role, leading the Huskies to their eighth consecutive Final Four and helping Auriemma make history. But junior guard Moriah Jefferson, a product of Glenn Heights, Texas, gave Notre Dame fits in the title game.
Her quick hands and feet allowed her to tip balls and disrupt the flow of the Notre Dame offense. The Fighting Irish chose to play off her on the other end, perhaps remembering her 0-for-8 performance in UConn’s win at Notre Dame in the regular season in December. Jefferson came up big offensively as well, scoring 15 points with four steals and five assists.
Stewart was held to eight points but grabbed 15 rebounds, overcoming a first-half ankle injury. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also scored 15 points including two big shots late in the game to thwart a Notre Dame run.
“I know we’ve won a lot of these but I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of a group of kids that I am of this group because I didn’t trust them in the beginning of the season,” Auriemma said in his postgame ESPN interview. “I didn’t trust them one bit.
“…Each day they got more trustworthy themselves I think that just culminated tonight.”
- - - - - - -