Connecticut was without a true superstar this season, yet it
still dominated the women's college basketball final, beating
As the current Big East Conference held its farewell in women's basketball, the University of Connecticut left with the most coveted of parting gifts: its eighth national title.
A 93-60 rout of the University of Louisville gave Coach Geno Auriemma the same number of championships as his rival, Pat Summitt, whose pioneering career at the University of Tennessee was curtailed by early-onset Alzheimer's. He graciously called her "the greatest women's basketball coach who ever lived," but Connecticut's victory Tuesday reaffirmed it as the country's pre-eminent program.
After an early flagrant foul by guard Caroline Doty, the uncertain Huskies recovered and drew away with a decisive 19-0 run in the first half and finished with 13 3-pointers. The marvelous freshman Breanna Stewart contributed 23 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and 3 steals. The steady sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points in a hail of 3-pointers and grabbed 9 rebounds. And the senior guard Kelly Faris gave a complete goodbye performance with 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, earning this Connecticut team a special place in Auriemma's career scrapbook. (Connecticut and Louisville were rivals in the Big East, which is breaking apart after this season.)
Without a true superstar, this Connecticut squad (35-4) fought through injury and self-doubt and prevailed with renewed assuredness, collective spirit and expectation, depth, conditioning and a relentlessness that made victory in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament seem not only possible but inexorable with a resurgence over the past month.
Baylor University was heavily favored to repeat as the champion, until it was upset in the regionals by Louisville. And the Huskies lost three times to the University of Notre Dame before beating the Irish in the national semifinals. When some players did not develop as steadily as expected, especially Stewart, Auriemma questioned whether he had overestimated his team.
He had not. Connecticut regained its ballast in the tournament. And the most rewarding aspect of the season, Auriemma said, became the struggle.
"I think we've done an awful lot for women's basketball at Connecticut," Auriemma said. "Someday, when they write the history of women's basketball, we'll be prominently mentioned, and I'm pretty proud of that."
Faris became the epitome of Connecticut's resolve. Given her hustle and resourcefulness, Faris would never have a bad game, Auriemma often said. And she seldom did, always assigned to guard the opponent's top scorer, succeeding with fundamental brilliance -- a rebound, a steal, a defensive stop. Just as she muzzled Skylar Diggins on Sunday, Faris held Louisville's Shoni Schimmel to 3-of- 15 shooting in the championship game. And she hit four 3-pointers of her own.
"Will she leave as one of my favorite players?" Auriemma said. "Absolutely. They're never going to introduce her as, 'That was Kelly Faris, she was a great passer or a great shooter or a great ball-handler.' Kelly is great at putting you in position to win. That's what she's great at."
Early Tuesday, Doty threw an elbow and was called for a flagrant foul. Connecticut appeared unsettled. But the junior guard Bria Hartley (13 points, 4 assists) calmed her team and ignited a 19-0 run with a jumper, a steal and a layup and an assist to Mosqueda- Lewis, who later capped the run with a 3-pointer that put the Huskies ahead for good, 29-14.
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