NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At the final buzzer, his record ninth NCAA title secured, Geno Auriemma earned the right Tuesday to climb a ladder and snip a bit of the net, to stand above everyone in women’s basketball.
As Connecticut defeated its fiercest rival, Notre Dame, 79-58, Auriemma and the Huskies (40-0) completed their fifth undefeated season. He now has one title more than his former nemesis, Pat Summitt and Tennessee, and only one fewer than John Wooden, whose pyramid of success brought 10 national titles to the men’s team at UCLA.
A school whose early mission was agriculture, UConn has come to regularly harvest basketball championships. The women’s team again shares a national title with the men, as it did in 2004. Since 1999, the Huskies men and women have made a combined 17 appearances at the Final Four. Duke is next with eight.
For a night, at least, no one worried that the Huskies would have to join a more substantive football league than the fledgling American Athletic Conference to continue to succeed in basketball.
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“We’re in a league of our own,” Auriemma said earlier in the tournament.
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.”
In the first matchup between undefeated teams in the women’s title game, UConn pitilessly exploited the absence of Notre Dame’s 6-foot-3 post player, Natalie Achonwa, who tore a knee ligament in the regional final.
The Irish (37-1) had no answer for the height and interior skill of UConn’s 6-4 Breanna Stewart, the national player of the year, or 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson. Stewart finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Dolson contributed 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points.
UConn took an early 22-8 lead with a 16-0 run, every point coming inside. The Huskies scored 52 points in the lane to 22 for the Irish.
While Auriemma can be blunt and polarizing — a columnist at The Tennessean suggested he was the “arrogant, egomaniacal, unbeatable coach everybody in women’s basketball hates” — his teams are built on a model of assured calm and selfless discipline.
And while Auriemma tends to draw the spotlight, his coaching model is built on the collective, not the individual.
The Huskies won Tuesday as they have won since their first title in 1995. With an attacking offense built on spacing, movement, screens and crisp passing.
And a defense that changed shapes but never its intent to hound and confuse and disrupt.
If victory for UConn has stirred both appreciation and resentment from others, so be it, Dolson said.
Her team possessed a certain confidence, she said, “That we know no one wants to see us win, so we’re going to win anyway.”
|UConn won its ninth NCAA women’s title.|
|2014||UConn 79, Notre Dame 58||40-0|
|2013||UConn 93, Louisville 60||35-4|
|2010||UConn 53, Stanford 47||39-0|
|2009||UConn 76, Louisville 54||39-0|
|2004||UConn 70, Tennessee 61||31-4|
|2003||UConn 73, Tennessee 68||37-1|
|2002||UConn 82, Oklahoma 70||39-0|
|2000||UConn 71, Tennessee 52||36-1|
|1995||UConn 70, Tennessee 64||35-0|
The Associated Press contributed to this report.