NEW ORLEANS — Geno Auriemma and Connecticut are back on top. With freshman Breanna Stewart leading the way, it might be a while before they relinquish that spot.
Stewart scored 18 of her 23 points in the first half and Connecticut won its eighth national championship with a 93-60 rout of Louisville on Tuesday. It was the most lopsided victory in a title game.
The title tied Auriemma and the Huskies (35-4) with Pat Summitt and Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball history.
It might not take long for Auriemma to pass Summitt the way Stewart and the rest of his Huskies played. His prized freshman was unstoppable, hitting shots from everywhere on the court.
The loss brought to the end an unprecedented tournament run by Louisville. The Cardinals became the first No. 5 seed to make the championship game, pulling off the greatest upset in tournament history when they beat Brittney Griner and Baylor in the regional semifinals. Jeff Walz’s team then beat Tennessee in the regional final before topping Cal in the Final Four.
Louisville was trying to become just the second school to win both the men’s and women’s title in the same season.
Stewart finished with 105 points in the tournament in only five games — she missed the first round rout of Idaho to rest a sore calf. It’s the most by any first-year player since 2000, according to STATS. UConn’s Maya Moore held the previous mark with 93 points.
The 6-foot-4 star passed Moore with a neat tip-in with 7:04 left in the first half. She scored seven points during a 19-0 run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead and put the Cardinals in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“We rushed a lot, we started to panic a bit,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “They started executing.”
Stewart later swooped in for an incredible offense rebound that she put back to make it 39-23. The Huskies led 48-29 at the half as Stewart had 18 points. The 19-point advantage fell four points short of the championship record set by Tennessee against Louisiana Tech in 1998.
UConn dashed any hopes of a Louisville comeback going on a 12-2 run after the Cardinals had cut its deficit to 60-44. The only question over the last 10 minutes would be whether this was the biggest blowout in title game history, and the Huskies easily surpassed Tennessee’s 23-point win over Louisiana Tech in 1987. The Huskies beat Louisville by 22 points in the 2009 title game.
Stewart’s exploits are reminiscent of two of the all-time greats. As freshmen, Cheryl Miller guided USC to a title in 1983 and Chamique Holdsclaw led Tennessee to a championship in 1996.
Louisville was trying to become the lowest seed to win a NCAA championship on the women’s side. Villanova, as an eight seed, was the lowest ever to win it on the men’s side back in 1985.
The Schimmel sisters who really carried Louisville in the tournament had a rough go against UConn. Shoni Schimmel missed her first six shots and finished with just seven points on 3 of 15 shooting. Jude Schimmel was saddled with three fouls in the first half.
With UConn’s victory the Big East conference won a ninth national championship. The conference, which will split apart after this season, has been the most dominant in women’s basketball over the past decade.
And having both teams in the championship game was a fitting end to its current configuration. Neither team will be in the new Big East next season as both teams will be in the American Athletic Conference. Louisville will then head to the ACC the year after.
This was the first of UConn’s championships when the Huskies didn’t win a regular season or Big East tournament championship, making it a little bit sweeter for seniors Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty and Heather Buck. UConn’s other national championships came in 1995, 2000, 2002-04, 2009-10.
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Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma tied former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for the the most women’s NCAA titles at eight.×
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