NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Geno Auriemma and Connecticut stand alone in women’s college basketball, and they reached the top in unprecedented fashion.
The Huskies routed Notre Dame, 79-58, in the first championship featuring undefeated teams, winning their record ninth national title. Auriemma broke a tie with Pat Summitt and Tennessee for most all time, doing it in her backyard.
Breanna Stewart, who was The Associated Press Player of the Year, scored 21 points to lead the Huskies (40-0) while Stefanie Dolson added 17 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists. Auriemma took out his senior center with a minute left and the game well in hand with the two embracing in a long hug.
“We beat a great, great team,” Auriemma said. “Notre Dame is a great team. For them to have the season they had and lose their starting center [Natalie Achonwa] and to do what they did, I can’t say enough about their players, coaching staff and it took everything we have. I knew if we played great we’d have a chance to win.”
The victory also meant Connecticut is now the center of the college basketball world with the men’s and women’s teams winning the championship in the same year again. The men’s team beat Kentucky in the title game Monday night. This sweep came a decade after the Huskies became the only school to accomplish the feat.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what the men did last night,” Auriemma said.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw congratulated the Auriemma when they shook hands after the game.
“I said something like, ‘I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while you guys are just that good.’ What a great season, you know things like that,” McGraw said. “I thought … LeBron [James] was the only thing they were missing.”
While the names change at Connecticut, from Rebecca Lobo to Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and now Stewart, Auriemma has been the constant, winning nine titles in only 20 seasons — including the past two. He has never lost in a national championship.
“Congratulations to the UConn Huskies for winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship!,” Summitt said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “My compliments also to coach Geno Auriemma for winning his ninth national title. He has accomplished this feat in record time.”
It was the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and Connecticut and the first time the Huskies went 40-0 — matching Baylor as the only schools to accomplish that feat. The victory was also Connecticut’s 46th in a row dating to last season’s NCAA tournament title run. It’s the third longest streak in school history — well short of the NCAA-record 90 in a row they won.
The loss was Notre Dame’s third in the title game in the past four years. Kayla McBride finished off her stellar career with 21 points to lead the Irish (37-1), who were looking for their first championship since 2001.
After proving to be no challenge for the Huskies in the first 15 years of the rivalry which began in 1995, Notre Dame had owned the series lately, winning seven of the previous nine meetings. Connecticut, though, has won the past two, eliminating Notre Dame in the Final Four last season before topping them in the championship this year.
The two former Big East rivals, who have no love lost for each other, put on a show in a game that women’s basketball hoped could transcend the sport. The coaches added to the drama of the game with their verbal sparring Monday. But it was Auriemma who got the last word again.
Even with the loss, it was a spectacular season for the Irish. Notre Dame lost Skylar Diggins to graduation and changed conferences to the ACC. Neither mattered as it ran through opponents, winning by an average of 25.6 points while taking both the conference regular-season and tournament championships.
The Irish lost senior Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final win against Baylor. Notre Dame wore warmup shirts with Achonwa’s nickname “Ace” below her No. 11.
The team played inspired basketball in the Final Four win against Maryland where Notre Dame outrebounded the Terrapins by a record margin. The Irish couldn’t muster a similar effort against Connecticut and its gigantic front line. Stewart, Dolson and Kiah Stokes dominated the interior. The Huskies outrebounded the Irish, 54-31, and held them to a season-low in points.
The Huskies closed the door on any Irish comeback by scoring 18 of the first 22 points in the second half to put the game away. Stewart and Dolson had 10 points in the burst.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the coaching profession because I get to coach players like Stefanie and Bria [Hartley],” Auriemma said, fighting back tears.
“Yeah, I get to coach guys like that and that’s why we can do what we do.”
Dolson had promised President Barack Obama last year at the White House that the Huskies would be back, and Connecticut delivered.