INDIANAPOLIS — The Connecticut women’s basketball team is now in a class by itself.
Head coach Geno Auriemma was quick to give away the secret to his success in the middle of the confetti-covered court.
“There’s three key ingredients that go into this kind of success – one, two, three,” Auriemma said, pointing to seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.
All three scored in double figures on the night for a collective performance that produced a fitting ending for a class that set a goal of winning four titles when they were freshmen.
Stewart netted a game-high 24 points along with 10 rebounds and six assists. Tuck tallied 19 points and Jefferson added 13 points, while both dished out five assists against the Orange.
“This was a goal that all of us had,” Tuck said. “To come out and to show we’re the best team in the country and I think we were able to do that.”
With 1:46 remaining, Auriemma called a timeout so the trio could walk off the floor together for the final time. They embraced each other and their Hall of Fame coach in a big group hug.
“It was definitely a special moment,” Jefferson said. “Something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. We were so excited to get a chance to do this — four in a row is amazing. I’m just happy I did it with these two.”
Stewart, who was voted the Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player for the fourth time, said it was the perfect ending to an incredible career.
“We talked about it yesterday,” Stewart said. “We wanted to all go out and have a great game and finish things off the way we started. To play with these guys is unbelievable. I think they deserve a lot more credit than they get. I’m going to miss them.”
Auriemma will surely miss them as well.
“When you have players like these three and they’re the kind of individuals that they are and have the character they have and how they conduct themselves everyday … I’ve never been around a better group of great players who really, really love the game and love their teammates. They’ve done something that’s never been done before — ever — and that means it was something really hard to do.”
Not only did the seniors lead the Huskies to a fourth straight title, they did it in flawless fashion for the sixth time in program history and the second time in the past three years. Every win of the 38-0 season was by double digits. The victory also stretched the Huskies’ winning streak to 75 games, the second-longest streak in NCAA history.
“They’ve created an amount of excited that the game has not seen in a long, long time — if ever,” Auriemma said. “They’ve left an imprint on this game that’s going to last a really long time. I think it’s a blueprint for kids coming after them. If you want to know how to do it … they showed everyone how to do it and they did it the right way. They did it together and they did it with love.”
The UConn senior class achievements may have left an imprint on women’s college basketball history, but so has Auriemma.
“If we were to come to any other school as a group we couldn’t have done what we did here,” Stewart said. “That’s because of Coach and our other coaches and the players who have come before us. He pushed us to levels that we didn’t know we could even reach.”
Auriemma’s achievements have long drawn 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. Now, Auriemma has set the bar even higher for college basketball with 11 championships.
Again, he credited his players for the indelible mark he has left on the game.
“What those 11 national championships mean to me is how many great players I’ve had an opportunity to coach and how many great people have come through our program,” Auriemma said. “It doesn’t matter whose name I’m above or whose name I’m under or next to … as long as I have those players in my memory, I’m good.”
He’ll remember this class for sure. And so will college basketball history for a long, long time.