The cut-down, basketball-net necklace Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis modeled late Tuesday night was as appropriate as any expensive jewelry.
Her five points -- a 3-pointer followed by a jumper from top of the key -- clinched the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship for the Connecticut Huskies, whose 63-53 conquest of Notre Dame made serious history at Amalie Arena.It was a rematch of last year’s national championship game and featured the same results -- a UConn victory. This one was in doubt until the end, with UConn unable to pull away from the stubborn Irish as potential history loomed.
The Huskies, who led 31-23 at halftime, opened the second half with a seven-point run to go up 38-26, then their biggest lead. They knew better, of course.
“I mean, we knew that Notre Dame was going to try to come back, they wouldn’t ever go away, and we had to put them away,” Mosqueda-Lewis said.
As the player who delivered the five-point knife, Mosqueda-Lewis clutched the national championship trophy afterward, parading it amidst confetti showers. A big hug from head coach Geno Auriemma as time expired and the Huskies whooped it up had meant just as much.
“This doesn’t come close to what he’s given me,” Mosqueda-Lewis said of the significance of Tuesday’s championship and Auriemma’s influence. “But I’m glad I can go out this way.”
UConn’s third consecutive NCAA title is the program’s 10th overall, a major milestone for Auriemma, who ties UCLA legend John Wooden for the most NCAA basketball championships. Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn’s lone senior starter, also made personal history by ending her career as a three-time champion, as did teammate Kiah Stokes, a center who contributed 10 minutes and four points Tuesday.
“Every senior who plays college basketball wants to win their last game in their career,” Auriemma said. “And I’m happy for K that she got to do that and for Kiah as well. And I’m glad that the buckets that K made down the stretch were kind of the difference in the game. That’s the way she’s supposed to go out. She made a big difference all year and throughout her career.”
On a night when the top two scoring teams in Division I squeezed out points as if from a strangled garden hose, Mosqueda-Lewis’ five-point outburst with five minutes remaining had a hammer effect.With UConn sweating a narrow 56-50 lead, guard Moriah Jefferson snatched the rebound off a miss by Notre Dame’s Jewell Lloyd and quickly pushed the ball ahead. She fed Mosqueda-Lewis to the right of the arc and the senior forward sank the triple for a 59-50 lead at 4:58.
Twenty-nine seconds later, teammate Breanna Stewart grabbed another rebound and fed it to Jefferson. Taking another dish, Mosqueda-Lewis hit the pull-up jumper with 4:08 remaining to extend UConn’s lead to 61-50.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw called a timeout.
“I thought the three that Lewis hit was in transition was critical,” McGraw said. “We had just cut it to six. We didn't switch the ball screen. They got a free‑throw jumper for two, came down and turned it over. Transition from Mosqueda‑Lewis for three, and now it's a five‑point swing -- six went to 11 -- and that was the game. And so I would say that's pretty typical of Connecticut, that scoring in transition, especially for Lewis.”
The all-time NCAA leader with 398 career 3-pointers, Mosqueda-Lewis was 2-for-7 on 3-point attempts against the Irish. She logged a season-high two blocks against Notre Dame and added five rebounds. She and Jefferson each led UConn with 15 points.
Mosqueda-Lewis also was the only UConn player in foul trouble Tuesday (she had three), but it turned out not to matter.
“We knew playing Notre Dame was going to be really, really difficult,” Auriemma said. “And it was everything that we thought it was going to be. But these guys made some plays in the second half that kind of showed our true character. We talked about it in the locker room a little bit that every time we were challenged, we responded.”