TAMPA, Fla. — Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies are a perfect 10.
The Hall of Fame coach joined some elite company in UCLA’s John Wooden after tying the Wizard of Westwood with his 10th NCAA Tournament title.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Moriah Jefferson each scored 15 points Tuesday night to lead the Huskies to a 63-53 victory over Notre Dame. It was UConn’s third straight title; Auriemma and the Huskies have won all 10 of their trips to the national championship game.
Breanna Stewart added 15 rebounds and eight points. The two-time AP Player of the Year has saved her best games for the brightest lights.
She earned most outstanding player of the Final Four honors for the third time, making her the first woman ever to achieve that. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the only men’s player to do it when he played for Wooden’s Bruins.
She stated when she came to UConn that her goal was to win four championships. She’s now one title away from being the first to win four straight. Stewart has been a huge reason why the Huskies have been on their won three consecutive titles. The 6-foot-4 star is the latest in a long line of outstanding UConn players that Auriemma has coached, including Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Maya Moore.
Those players have helped Auriemma win those 10 championships over 20 years. It took Wooden 12 years to get to 10.
“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.”
Auriemma won his title one night after fellow USA Basketball Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth men’s championship at Duke.
“Our Dad was very proud of Geno and Mike and how throughout their years as collegiate head basketball coaches they have diligently led their student-athletes to be successful on the court, in the classroom and in their lives,” Wooden’s children Nan and Jim Wooden said in a statement.
Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd did all she could to get the Irish over the top. Coach Muffet McGraw had her team back in the championship game for the fourth time in five seasons. The Irish have come up short each time, including the last two against UConn.
Notre Dame’s lone title came in 2001.
Loyd had 12 points for the Irish, going 4 for 18 from the field. She missed all eight of her shots in the second half.
The Irish (36-3) were able to slow the Huskies in the early going, not letting the Huskies get any kind of run going on offense. On one of the rare fast break opportunities
UConn (38-1) only led 25-21 with 4 minutes left in the half before Jefferson stole the inbounds pass and drove the length of the court for a layup. The Huskies scored six of the final eight points of the half to open up a 31-23 lead at the break.
After the Irish cut it to five to start the second half, UConn scored seven straight to open up a double-digit advantage. The Irish wouldn’t go away, thanks to Brianna Turner, who missed the earlier meeting which the Huskies won by 18 points.
She was scoreless in the first half, but came alive after the break. She had eight straight points for the Irish, including banking in a shot from the top of the key as the shot clock was reaching zero. That put the Irish within 54-48.
After the teams traded baskets, Mosqueda-Lewis scored seven straight to restore the double-digit advantage with just over four minutes left and Notre Dame couldn’t recover.
Auriemma took Stewart out with about 30 seconds to play and gave her a big hug.
Turner finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Connecticut-Notre Dame matchup was just the second time in the history of the tournament that the same teams played in the final in consecutive years. UConn beat Tennessee in 2003 and 2004.
It was also the 55th meeting between the top two teams in the AP poll with the No. 1 team holding a 34-21 lead. UConn, which finished the season atop the poll, has been involved in the last five of them.