Head coach Geno Auriemma has his UCONN Huskies women’s basketball program on the doorstep of unparalleled greatness. A win over undefeated Notre Dame in Tuesday’s championship game will move him past former Tennessee Volunteers coach Pat Summit for the most titles in the history of women’s Division I basketball.
In Auriemma’s twenty years with the UCONN program, his list of accomplishments is so vast that it is hard to figure out what motivates him. In addition to standing alone with a record nine national championships, a win over the Fighting Irish would give Auriemma, 60, his fifth perfect season, a season in which not a single opponent has come within 11 points of the Huskies. 11 also happens to be the total number of losses Connecticut has suffered in the past four years. Auriemma’s overall record over twenty seasons—715 wins and 55 losses—also boggles the mind. However, UCONN’s forty-fifth consecutive win over Stanford Sunday in the Final Four, was not so convincing.
The Huskies trailed for exactly 12:10 of the first half, hitting 10 of 18 from the field to the Cardinal’s 10 of 17, but did an about-face in the second half, outscoring the Cardinal 47-32. The Huskies also cut six first-half turnovers down to two and moved the ball much better with 11 assists to just six in the first half. For the game, UCONN connected on 27 of 54 from the floor and converted on 17 of 24 from the free throw line. F Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds and F Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 points and 5 boards.
Connecticut now has both its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the championship game for the second time. In 2004, Connecticut became the first basketball program in NCAA history to win both the men’s and women’s titles in the same season.
“I think it’s awesome,” Senior G Bria Hartley told the Associated Press.”Our men are excited for us and we’re doing the same for them. All the fans in Connecticut are really proud right now.”
The Huskies will face another undefeated no. 1 seed in Notre Dame Tuesday in the final. Many see the 37-0 Fighting Irish as the only team in the nation with a legitimate shot at knocking off the defending champs. Connecticut trounced ND 83-65 and Louisville 93-60 in last year’s Final Four en route to its eighth national championship, but this year’s Irish should prove to be a much more formidable opponent for Auriemma’s Huskies. And he welcomes the challenge, saying in an interview that women’s basketball needs rivalries like this.
Led by senior G Kayla McBride, arguably the nation’s best offensive player, Notre Dame has been almost as dominant as the Huskies this season. Dates against Virginia, Penn State and Maryland were the Irish’s only opponents all season to come within 11 points. And now that Pat Summit has retired and Tennessee’s fortunes have taken a bit of a dip recently, ND has become UCONN and Auriemma’s latest rival. Especially considering that six of the Huskies’ eleven losses over the past four years have come against Notre Dame.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat