A perfect night
UConn wins battle of unbeatens, finishes season 40-0
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was historic night for NCAA women’s basketball.
For the first time, two undefeated teams would meet in a national championship game, and only one could leave Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with a perfect record still intact.
Head coach Geno Auriemma and his Huskies made sure Connecticut would be the lone unbeaten still standing as it stifled Notre Dame (37-1) in a 79-58 victory.
While the NCAA record books were rewritten before the game even tipped off, Connecticut’s win cemented the program as the best in women’s basketball as the Huskies captured a record ninth national championship – all under the direction of Auriemma.
And, with Tuesday’s win, Auriemma surpassed former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt as the all-time leader in NCAA titles.
“He will probably downplay it a lot,” senior Bria Hartley said. “The way he has been able to make an impact on the game of women’s basketball … for him to get the record is amazing.”
It was the ninth time Auriemma has led UConn to a national title game and the ninth time he has raised the NCAA trophy, improving his record to 9-0 in championship games.
“You come into every year knowing you have the ultimate goal of winning a national championship,” Connecticut senior Stefanie Dolson said. “You know when you get there and you’re so prepared that there is no other ending than winning.”
Auriemma holds the record for most consecutive Women’s Final Four appearances with seven and boasts the best NCAA Tournament winning percentage of any coach in history 97-17 (.851).
Auriemma’s achievements have basketball analysts drawing comparisons to legendary UCLA men’s basketball head coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA titles within a 12-year span at the helm of the Bruins’ program during the 1960s and 1970s. Wooden was also flawless in national championship games, and his accomplishments are still unmatched in the men’s game.
“Winning nine national championships is such an amazing accomplishment,” Dolson said. “For us to have two out of the nine seems like a small, little piece, but it’s a piece of the legacy that he has created here at UConn.”
“We’re flattered and grateful – you’re all those things that come with that kind of accomplishment, but that’s not the driving force … that’s not what motivates us at Connecticut,” Auriemma said.
What motivates Auriemma and his staff is sending off his seniors -- this year Dolson and Hartley -- with a national title or two.
“I am probably one of the luckiest people in coaching professions,” Auriemma said. “I get to coach players like Stef and Bria. That’s why I do what I do.”
It was fifth time the Huskies accomplished the incredible feat of an undefeated season, and third time in the last six years. Previously, the Huskies notched perfect seasons in 1995, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
There were six former players in the locker room celebrating with the Huskies on Tuesday. Four of them had been part of undefeated squads.
“As you start to look back, you see them sitting there … I’m prouder of the legacy that exists of ‘what is Connecticut basketball’ than the number of championships,” Auriemma said.
This time around, UConn was not only perfect, but concluded the season with a 40-0 record, becoming only the second team in NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball history to notch 40 victories, matching Baylor’s 2012 squad.
“We wanted to chase perfection and we did that [Tuesday night],” Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart said.
Stewart claimed her second consecutive MOP award with a 21-point, nine-rebound performance in Tuesday’s title game.
As if Connecticut’s women’s team didn’t write enough history on their own, the school pulled off the rare double as the Huskies’ men’s team toppled Kentucky on Monday night. Connecticut, which also won both titles in 2004, is the only school to achieve the dual championship.
“To have the guys win it last night and for us to win it [Tuesday night], I couldn’t be more proud to work at the University of Connecticut than I am right now,” Auriemma said.