INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Breanna Stewart and UConn stand alone. Geno Auriemma, too, after another flawless season by the dominating Huskies.
UConn won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night, capping another perfect season by routing Syracuse 82-51. Until now, only the UCLA men’s team had won four in a row in Division I, rolling to seven consecutive championships under John Wooden from 1967-73. With Tuesday’s victory, Auriemma passed the Wizard of Westwood with his 11th national title.
Peerless again. Perfect again.
“What those 11 championships mean to me is how many great players I’ve had the opportunity to coach,” Auriemma said. “How many great people have come through the program. It doesn’t matter whose name is above, or whose name I’m under. As long as I have those players in my memory, I’m good.”
Stewart said when she came to campus four years ago that she wanted to win four titles. She delivered on that promise by scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the final game of her brilliant college career.
“It’s unbelievable,” Stewart said. “That was our goal coming in here once we were freshman and to carry it out and win like this as seniors is unbelievable.”
Stewart and her fellow seniors Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson posed on the ladder after cutting down the net for the final time. Mission accomplished.
“It wasn’t a sense of relief, it was a sense of success. This is exactly what we wanted,” Stewart said. “Going into every one of our national championship runs, we were confident and that’s what we were tonight, confident. We made history and to be able to say that we did that with those two guys, we’re going to remember that forever.”
The Huskies (38-0) have been nearly unbeatable since Stewart arrived. They lost four games her freshman year and only one since. The win over Syracuse was the 75th straight for UConn, all by double figures. Stewart and her fellow seniors went 24-0 in NCAA tourney games, too.
Stewart earned the most outstanding player of the Final Four all four years of her career. No other women’s player has won it more than twice and only Lew Alcindor did it three times on the men’s side.
The three-time AP Player of the Year has said it is up to others to decide her place in women’s college basketball lore. There is no denying she is the most accomplished player ever, winning more titles than fellow UConn greats Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, who watched from the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
‘I’ll say this. She’s the greatest NCAA Tournament player I’ve ever been around,” Auriemma said. “When the lights were the brightest, that’s (when) she was at her best.”
Like the other great UConn teams, this version had a killer instinct. The Huskies scored the first nine points of the game. Stewart had 10 points in the first 6 minutes as UConn built a 23-6 lead. When the Orange made a little run to cut its deficit to 25-13, Jefferson hit a 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer. Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck, who have helped the Huskies to an NCAA-record 151 wins over their four years, combined for 26 of the 28 points in the period.
They also handled the Orange’s press with precision passing that led to easy layups. The Huskies were up 50-23 at the half and extended the lead to 33 early in third quarter before Syracuse scored 16 straight points to get within 60-43 with 2:02 left in the period that brought the Orange fans to their feet. Consecutive layups by Napheesa Collier restored the 20-plus point lead and UConn cruised from there.
“Not shocked by how good they are, not shocked by the things they did in the game. We were definitely prepared for it,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “One of the things I told our kids is you have no reason to be scared when you’re prepared and we competed. We didn’t play scared.”
Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson left the game for good with 1:46 left. They shared an embrace together before hugging Auriemma. The trio then went down the bench hugging every member of the team.
“There’s three key ingredients that go into this kind of success, ‘One, two, three,’” Auriemma said afterward, pointing to his three seniors.
Auriemma has never lost in 11 title appearances. While the names may change, the results are always the same: UConn is still there holding that trophy in the end. This one gave the Hall of Fame coach a sixth undefeated season.
To win her fourth championship, Stewart had to beat her hometown team. Fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-8) had the best season in school history, advancing to its first NCAA championship game. They hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament until this year.
“I’m really happy for Breanna Stewart, who came to one of my camps. She’s a great player,” Hillsman said. “When you have a player that great coming from Syracuse, that doesn’t happen that often.”
These two teams hadn’t played since the Orange left the Big East for the ACC after the 2013 season. Syracuse has now lost 24 straight against UConn, a skid that dates to 1996.
Cornelia Fondren scored 16 points to lead Syracuse.
With Lubbock Christian and Thomas More finishing off their undefeated seasons Monday night in the Division II and III title games, this marks the third year that all three champions didn’t have a loss. It also happened in 1995 and 2014 — and UConn won the D-I titles those years, too. Lubbock Christian and Thomas More players held the flag during the national anthem before the game.
Syracuse: The Orange had been stellar in the tournament from behind the 3-point line. They came into the game after making 48 3-pointers, averaging nearly 10 a game, and were shooting 33.6 percent from behind the arc. In the title game, they were just 2 for 19.
UConn: The Huskies were also undefeated in 1995, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014. ... Auriemma has 109 NCAA Tournament victories, only trailing Pat Summitt (112) for most in the history of the sport. ... The Huskies won three straight titles from 2002-04.