Nashville, TN-For the second straight night, Storrs, Conn. is the center of the college basketball world.
One night after the UConn men won their fourth national title, Geno Auriemma’s women’s squad battered and bruised their way to a record ninth program championship with a 79-58 victory over Notre Dame, winning the first-ever championship game between two undefeated programs, men or women. Auriemma, whose team finished 40-0, now has one more than legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, and, combining the men and women, UConn improved its mind-numbing record to 13-0 in championship games.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the coaching profession because I get to coach players like Stephanie [Dolson] and Bria [Hartley],” Auriemma said to ESPN, before tearing up. “Yeah, I get to coach guys like that, and that’s why we can do what we do. … To see their faces [as seniors] when they walked off the court, I don’t usually get this emotional, but this one got me.”
It’s the fifth time the Huskies have won a title with an unblemished record and just the eighth undefeated championship season in women’s NCAA history. The last was Baylor, which finished 40-0 in 2012.
Factor in the stakes, the records, the never-forgotten Big East rivalry despite football-driven realignment’s best efforts, and Tuesday’s final from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville was described pre-game as “the biggest game in the history of our sport,” by ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, herself a former UConn standout. It probably didn’t amount to those heights, but there were enough layers to make it a distinct possibility.
It’s why the storylines — both UConn teams vying for duel titles for just the second time in NCAA basketball history (UConn did it in 2004), the stewing rivalry between the two preeminent programs in women’s college basketball, the barbs traded by the two coaches prior to the game — made the game so riveting.