NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Geno Auriemma and Connecticut stand alone in women’s college basketball, and they reached the top in unprecedented fashion.
The Huskies routed Notre Dame 79-58 in the first championship game featuring undefeated teams, winning their record ninth national title. Auriemma broke a tie with Pat Summitt and Tennessee for most all-time, doing it in her backyard.
Breanna Stewart, The Associated Press Player of the Year, scored 21 points to lead the Huskies (40-0), while Stefanie Dolson added 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. Auriemma took out his senior center with a minute left and the game well in hand, with the pair embracing in a long hug.
“We beat a great, great team,” Auriemma said. “Notre Dame is a great team. For them to have the season they had and lose their starting center and to do what they did, I can’t say enough about their players, coaching staff, and it took everything we have. I knew if we played great we’d have a chance to win.”
The victory also meant that UConn is now the center of the college basketball world, with both the men’s and women’s teams winning the championship in the same year again. The men’s team beat Kentucky in the title game Monday night. This pair of victories came a decade after the Huskies became the only school to accomplish the feat.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what the men did last night,” Auriemma said.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw congratulated the UConn coach when they shook hands after the game.
“I said something like, ‘I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while, you guys are just that good.’ What a great season, you know things like that,” McGraw said. “I thought ... LeBron was the only thing they were missing.”
While the names change at UConn, from Rebecca Lobo to Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and now Stewart, Auriemma has been the constant, winning nine titles in only 20 seasons — including the last two. He’s never lost in a national championship game.
It was the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and UConn.
The loss was Notre Dame’s third in the title game in the past four years. Kayla McBride finished off her stellar career with 21 points to lead the Irish.
Stewart, Dolson and Kiah Stokes dominated the interior. The Huskies outrebounded the Irish 54-31 and held them to a season-low in points.
After the teams traded shots early on, Stewart — who earned outstanding player of the tournament honors for the second straight season — fueled a 16-0 run as the Huskies held the Irish without a point for nearly five minutes. Stewart’s lay-in with 11:02 left made it 22-8.
A minute later, Dolson had an acrobatic tip to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for another layup.
The Irish stayed close in the first half thanks to hot 3-point shooting by Michaela Mabrey and Jewell Loyd. Trailing 37-25 with 4:09 left in the first half, the pair sparked a 13-6 run, hitting three 3-pointers which brought the Irish faithful to their feet.
UConn led 45-38 at the half, shooting 57 percent from the field.
The Huskies closed the door on any Irish comeback, scoring 18 of the first 22 points in the second half to put the game away. Stewart and Dolson had 10 points during the burst.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the coaching profession because I get to coach players like Stefanie and Bria Hartley,” Auriemma said, fighting back tears. “Yeah, I get to coach guys like that and that’s why we can do what we do.”