Coach McGraw and her Fighting Irish team made UConn’s march to their tenth title in 20 years anything but a foregone conclusion. With a smart game plan against Connecticut’s killingly fast offense– slow the game down, force Connecticut to play court game, disrupt Stewart’s access to the ball — Notre Dame kept the game rubber band close. UConn would go on a run, you’d get a feeling “here it goes, they’re going to snap,” and then the Irish would reel the Huskies back in.
It felt like UConn, as a team, was playing “whack-a-leprachaun” – every time there was a surge someone – and it was everyone: Jefferson, Nurse, Stokes, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Tuck and that tall kid – took the basketball in hand and stuffed them back.
Not until about the five-minute mark in the second half, with Kaleena’s Mosqueda-Lewis’ dagger three followed by a back breaking two, did it feel like arena staff could safely break out the National Blue Championship gear. Notre Dame simply couldn’t score enough points to defeat a team that evolved from its matador-esque defense back in November to a shut-down, harassing, nightmare inducing wall.
“I really thought we had nothing to lose, and we would come out loose,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw, whose team (36-3) has lost its past four to UConn, including last season’s national title game. “Turns out, it was just the opposite and I don’t know why.”
Yes, press row might have dubbed Stewart MOP, but she knew better:
It wasn’t the same kind of Breanna Stewart-takes-over-the-world performance we saw in the past two national championship games. In fact, Stewart was downright contrite Tuesday about winning most outstanding player in the Women’s Final Four for a record third time. Stewart said her teammate Moriah Jefferson deserved it.
“I told her we could share it,” Stewart said.
Jefferson didn’t play the perfect game, but she played a perfectly complete one.
“She just has a powerful presence that she’s grown into, which makes it that much sweeter to see her transformation as a leader,” one former Connecticut player said of Jefferson in the winning locker room. “Her energy is so contagious. Her body language, her attitude, it’s all just very life giving to her team. And then she can also back it up with her ridiculous talent. She’s so fast, she’s so quick, she’s a great defender, she finds her teammates. Then what elevates her to another place is she can shoot the ball; she can knock down the 3.
“I just admire her.”
And when Maya Moore admires you, well, you must be some kind of special.
In the end, whoever you name as the “best” player of the tournament, watching Stewart struggle to compose herself as she spoke to Holly reminded us that most folks have not a clue about what goes into earning a championship. Much less 10.
Yes, UConn has been dominant. And Notre Dame’s heartbreak has been… heartbreaking. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the sport doesn’t have the ability to step up and challenge Auriemma’s program. If fact, there are signs they can (hello, Dayton!) and will. An interesting perspective from Kate on Wooden/Auriemma/dominance:
Stay with me here — it might sound outlandish, but when you look at history, a pattern emerges.
The first NCAA men’s championship was played in 1939. Exactly 25 years later, Wooden won his first title. Over the next 11 years, the Bruins would win nine more, beating North Carolina by 23 points one year, Purdue by 20 points the year after. The Bruins finished undefeated four different times and, during this stretch, never finished with more than two losses. Wooden won his final title in 1975, exactly 36 years after the first championship game.
The first women’s championship game (AIAW) was played in 1972. Exactly 23 years later, Auriemma won his first title with UConn. Beginning in 2000, for the next 15 years, the Huskies would win nine titles, beating Louisville by 33 points one year, Notre Dame by 21 points the year after. UConn went undefeated four times and never finished with more than four losses. Auriemma won his 10th title exactly 43 years after the first championship game.
This happened in Major League Baseball, too.
Now, all we need to do is make sure Indiana has cleaned up its political mess (did anyone notice the boos when Indy 2016 was mentioned?) and we can start 2015-16 with a clean palate. ’cause I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Notre Dame is going to be scary good next year. And Texas. And Tennessee. And the Pac12 looks to be a hot-bed of feistiness. And I can’t wait to see what happens with Maryland. And… well, you get my point.
More on the game:
Huskies Beat Notre Dame 63-53 For 10th National Title, Courant
UConn women win 10th national title, defeating Notre Dame, Register
Auriemma not apologizing for getting best players year in, year out, Register
A look back at each of UConn’s 10 national titles, Channel 8
Mosqueda-Lewis Goes Out With A Bang, Courant
UConn Women’s Basketball Team To Do ‘Victory Lap’ Through Storrs, Courant
UConn holds off Notre Dame to claim 10th national title, USA Today
Through 10 titles, winning never gets old for Connecticut, USA Today
UConn fends off Irish, wins program’s 10th title, ESPN
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis makes big impact in final game, ESPN
UConn women beat Notre Dame to give Geno Auriemma 10th national title, Sporting News
UConn completes NCAA three-peat; Auriemma matches Wooden mark, Tampa Tribune
UConn dashes Notre Dame’s dream again in NCAA finale, Tampa Tribune
Raising bar, visibility to new heights, Tampa Tribune
Women’s Final Four notes: Rivalry brings attention to sport, Tampa Tribune
UConn women beat Notre Dame for 10th national basketball title, Tampa Bay Times
UConn coach Geno Auriemma extends his legacy, Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay shines with women’s Final Four, Tampa Bay Times
Huskies Beat Notre Dame 63-53 For 10th National Title, Orlando Sentinel