April 10, 2013

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UConn wins national title

 NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Geno Auriemma has been chasing Pat Summitt since he started coaching. Now with his eighth national championship, he has finally caught her.

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Connecticut players celebrate as they carry their head coach Geno Auriemma after defeating Louisville 93-60 in the national championship game of the women's Final Four of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

AP

It might not be long before Auriemma stands alone with freshman Breanna Stewart leading the way.

Stewart scored 18 of her 23 points in a dazzling first half and Connecticut won its eighth NCAA title with a 93-60 rout of Louisville on Tuesday night. It was the most lopsided victory in a title game, and it put the Huskies back atop college basketball after missing the game the past two years.

The title tied Auriemma and the Huskies (35-4) with Summitt for the most in women's basketball history.

"The only person I compare myself to is Pat Summitt and to be there in that spot with her means a lot to me," Auriemma said. "The fact that I tied Pat Summitt's record puts you in the category of the greatest women's basketball coach that ever lived."

Stewart, his prized freshman, was unstoppable, hitting shots from everywhere on the court to earn Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. She's only the fourth freshman ever to have that honor and first since 1987. Even her father in the stands repeatedly said "wow" as his daughter took the game over and Cardinals men's coach Rick Pitino, in town to cheer on the Louisville women, called her one of the best freshman in basketball.

"This is unbelievable," Stewart said. "This is what we've thought about since the beginning of the season. And now to be here and actually win it, it's a great feeling and I don't think it's going to set in for a while. I just played really confident and stopped thinking. When I second-guess myself, nothing good comes out of that."

After Auriemma cut down the final strand of the net, his team carried him around the court in celebration.

Summitt, who stepped down a year ago and suffers from early-onset dementia, released a statement through her son, Tyler.

"Congratulations to Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut Huskies on a remarkable season and an eighth national title," she said. "Geno is a proven champion and a leader in our game. My best to him, his family, his team and staff."

The loss ended an unprecedented tournament run by Louisville. The Cardinals became the first No. 5 seed to make the championship game, pulling off the greatest upset in tournament history when they beat Brittney Griner and Baylor in the regional semifinals. Jeff Walz's team then beat Tennessee in the regional final before topping Cal in the Final Four.

"The run we went on was remarkable and something I'll always remember" Walz said. "We're walking out with our head high and proud of what we've done."

The Cardinals just didn't have enough to beat their Big East foe. Louisville was trying to become just the second school to win both the men's and women's championship in the same season and the first since UConn in 2004. Pitino, fresh off his team's 82-76 win in the title game over Michigan on Monday night, was sitting behind the Cardinals bench, trying to spur on the women's team. He talked to the players at their pregame meal and told them to just enjoy the moment and have fun in the game.

It wasn't to be. Instead, the trip to the Big Easy marked the beginning of the Stewart era.

Sharpshooting from deep or pounding the boards, she had one of the most remarkable runs of any first year player in the history of the NCAA tournament. Stewart finished with 105 points in only five games — she missed the first round rout of Idaho to rest a sore calf — the most by any first-year player since 2000, according to STATS. UConn's Maya Moore held the previous mark with 93 points.

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