Husky three-peat: UConn beats Notre Dame 63-53 for record 10th national title
By Cheryl Coward and David Siegel
TAMPA, Fla – It may not have been the most dominant national championship that Geno Auriemma and Connecticut have won, but it is definitely one they will savor. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hit key shots, Breanna Stewart pulled down 15 rebounds, and Moriah Jefferson shut down Notre Dame All-American Jewell Loyd as the Huskies defeated a gritty Notre Dame team 63-53 before 19,810 in Tampa for a record ten national titles.
“Well, obviously it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to do what we did,” said head coach Geno Auriemma postgame. “And it was really hard to do it. We knew playing Notre Dame was going to be really, really difficult. 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.”
Auriemma joins UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden as the only two college coaches to win 10 national championship titles.
Senior forward Mosqueda-Lewis scored her points in bunches, and at key moments. First, she hit seven early on, as UConn turned a 9-9 tie into a 16-11 lead. She then iced the game with seven points with four minutes left in the game, after the Irish cut the Husky lead down to six. She nailed a spot up three-pointer, a mid-range jumper off a curl, and then a driving layup, turning a 56-50 lead into a 63-50 one.
“You know, every senior that plays college basketball wants to win their last game in their career,” said Auriemma. “And I’m happy for (Kaleena) that she got a chance to do that and with Kia (Nurse) as well. And I’m glad that the two buckets that (Kaleena) made down the stretch were kind of the difference in the game. And that’s the way she’s supposed to go out, because she made a big difference all year and throughout her career.”
All Final Four honors went to Jefferson, Stewart, and Morgan Tuck (12 points, five rebounds and seven assists) along with Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd and freshman phenom Brianna Turner.
Stewart was named the Most Outstanding Player for the third-consecutive year, becoming the first player to ever achieve that mark. Other multi-year MOPs include: Cheryl Miller (USC, 83-84), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee, 97-98), Diana Taurasi (UConn, 03-04), Candace Parker (Tennessee, 07-08).
Loyd, who scored 31 points the first time these two teams met, finished with 12 points, but ten of those were in the first half. UConn’s adjustment at halftime was to move Jefferson on Loyd, face guarding her all over the court. Loyd went 0-for-8 in the second half. Instead it was Turner who kept Notre Dame in the game. The freshman, scoreless in the first half on only one shot, hit 7-of-8 in the second half for a team high of 14 points, plus ten rebounds.
Notre Dame controlled the boards, 45-to-34, but committed 17 turnovers, and shot only 33 percent for the game. While UConn struggled, shooting only 38 percent in the first half, they were more precise in the second, hitting 44 percent, and 50 percent of their threes. They only committed four turnovers in the second half, as Jefferson and backcourt mate Kia Nurse combined for one turnover in 33 minutes.
It was a “disappointing way to end the season,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw about the game, “but I thought it was a great achievement to get here.”
“I feel as though offensively we never got into any rhythm,” she continued. “I thought Jefferson was outstanding, I thought they put a lot of pressure on the ball, and that really hurt us.”
McGraw further complimented Jefferson on her defense.
“I thought she was a great defender tonight. I thought she made things hard for Jewell. We weren’t able to really get anything going, because most of our offense runs through Jewell. And she really did a great job denying her the ball.”
In the end, as it was for their entire season except the one game against Stanford, UConn made the big plays when they needed to. Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes leave Connecticut with three national championships. Tuck, with a redshirt year on her resume, keeps alive her shot at five titles.
- UConn sports a perfect 10-0 all-time record in the NCAA title games, including wins in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 campaigns.
- The Huskies have now won nine national championship titles as a No. 1 seed. They have been a No. 1 seed 18 times in the NCAA Tournament, including nine-consecutive seasons.
- UConn is the only program in NCAA history to win three consecutive titles on multiple occasions. The Huskies rolled off three straight titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and now in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Tennessee is the only other program to win three straight: 1996, 1997, 1998.
- Coach Geno Auriemma now has 103 wins all-time in the NCAA Tournament, 11 behind Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.
- As a program, UConn has won 103 games in the NCAA Tournament, which is second only behind Tennessee’s 120.
- UConn has won 18-straight NCAA Tournament games.
- Junior Breanna Stewart’s 15 rebounds are the fifth-most ever in a NCAA championship game, tying Medina Dixon (Old Dominion – 1985) and Rachel Hemmer (Stanford – 1992).
- Notre Dame outrebounded the Huskies by 11 – the most by any team this season.
- Notre Dame made its fifth NCAA championship game appearance, becoming the fourth school to play in five or more NCAA title games.
- Muffet McGraw became one of just four Division I coaches to lead their team to five NCAA title game appearances, joining Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma and Louisiana Tech’s Leon Barmore.
- The total attendance for the Final Four was 39,540.
- NCAA officials for Tuesday included Dee Kantner, Denise Brooks and Mark Zentz.
- Kantner called her seventh title game in the last eight years and her 12th overall.
- Denise Brooks officiated her third straight championship game.
- Mark Zentz officiated his first championship game and his second Final Four in three years.