UConn rolls to eight national title

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- Don't look now, but they're back.
In steamrolling through the NCAA Tournament for its record-tying eighth national championship, the Connecticut Huskies pummeled six opponents by an average margin of 34.7 points.
On Tuesday night at New Orleans Arena, the Huskies saved their most dominating performance for last.
Fueled by freshman Breanna Stewart's 23 points and nine rebounds, UConn used a 19-0 blitz in the first half to bury outclassed Louisville 93-60, giving coach Geno Auriemma his eighth national championship to tie him with Tennessee legend Pat Summitt record for the most titles in NCAA history.
"It feels great because when you see the reaction on these kids' faces, they've been through a lot," Auriemma said. "The fact that I've tied Pat Summitt's record puts me in a category with one of the greatest women's basketball coaches. To be there in that spot with her means a lot to me."
Keeping alive Auriemma's perfect record in national championship games, the Huskies (35-4) have won eight titles since 1995. The others came in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010.
The Huskies' 33-point margin in the championship game was yet another record, eclipsing Tennessee's 23-point victory over Louisiana Tech in 1987.
Connecticut placed five players in double figures. Stewart was voted the Final Four's most outstanding player -- the third freshman in NCAA history to get the honor and the first since Tennessee's Tonya Edwards in 1987 -- but she was far from alone.
In addition to Stewart's 23, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 18, Kelly Faris 16, Bria Hartley 13 and Stefanie Dolson 12. The Huskies shot 63 percent from the field in the second half (17 of 27) and had 24 assists on 35 made baskets.
"What makes them so unique is their ability to score from all five positions on the floor," said Louisville coach Jeff Walz said, whose fifth-seeded Cardinals had posted dramatic upset victories over No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 seeds Tennessee and California before collapsing under the weight of UConn's relentless defense and sharp-shooting in the championship game. "That's what happened tonight."
Connecticut's scoring balance was particularly evident whenever Louisville tried to make a run. After trailing 48-29 at halftime, the Cardinals opened the second half with two 3-pointers, but Faris answered with consecutive 3-pointers of her own to stem the tide.
"I thought Kelly Faris was great," Walz said. "She may not always be the high scorer, but she defends so well, and then she goes off from the 3-point line and comes down with back-to-back 3s to counter any kind of run we could make. They're a tough matchup for anyone."
Auriemma said he was proudest of his team's turnaround after the Big East Tournament, when it lost for the third time this season to Notre Dame in the championship game.
"For the last month and leading up to that, it was a little bit of a struggle," Auriemma said. "It was a struggle for us internally to get connected and be the type of team we could be.
"But this last month has been everything and more that I could hope for. Sometimes you stumble upon a championship. This group, especially Kelly, deserved it, because they competed for the national championship every day."
Faris said after the Big East championship game loss that Auriemma told his players in the locker room: "You know what? When we get back together, I'm going to show you how to win the national championship."
"I don't know how he figures it out. I'm just happy to have him on my side."
Louisville (29-9) got 13 points from Sara Hammond, but the Cardinals trailed by as many as 35 points, 87-52, with 5:54 left.
Walz came away thoroughly impressed by Stewart, who came out of the blocks on fire early in the season before struggling through a midseason lull. Then Stewart turned it on during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 20.8 points in five games. She did not play in Connecticut's 68-point victory over Idaho in the first round.
"I've seen her play in the summer a bunch and in high school, and she's just a phenomenal player," Walz said. "I think Geno saved her for the tournament because he didn't play her as much throughout the year. She got some injuries at some point and had some growing pains as a freshman, but she sure figured it out at the right time."
The Huskies broke open the game with a stunning 19-0 explosion in a 4:06 span of the first half, turning a 14-10 deficit into a 29-14 lead on their way to a 48-29 halftime advantage.
During the decisive run, Stewart scored seven points -- including a 3-pointer from the left wing, an 18-foot jumper near the top of the key and a layup -- and Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley added six each.
Other than poor foul shooting in the first half (2 of 5), Stewart was unstoppable, making 7 of 11 from the field, including both 3-pointers she attempted.
"We really kept moving," Stewart said of the Huskies' 48 first-half points, the fourth-highest first-half total in NCAA Tournament history. "We were going inside and outside."
NOTES: Less than 24 hours after winning the men's national championship in Atlanta, Louisville coach Rick Pitino flew to New Orleans to cheer on the women's team. He sat just a few rows behind the Louisville bench. ... Connecticut's victory gave the Big East nine NCAA women's titles, surpassing the SEC's eight. ... The All-Final Four team included four Huskies -- Stewart, Faris, Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley, along with Louisville's Antonita Slaughter.

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