By Carl Adamec
NEW ORLEANS — Geno Auriemma will likely never say it. But you can hear it from everyone around the women’s college basketball world.
UConn has Breanna Stewart, and they don’t.
Stewart had 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, and three blocked shots Tuesday night as the Huskies won their eighth national championship by pounding Louisville 93-60 before a sellout crowd of 17,545 at New Orleans Arena.
The freshman forward was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, the first rookie in UConn history so honored.
“I consider Geno to be like the old saying about Dean Smith,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “Remember? The only one that could hold Michael Jordan from scoring 20 was Dean Smith. The only one that can keep Breanna Stewart from scoring 25 is Geno.
“She’s unbelievable and in the postseason she finally got into the flow of things. She’s the X-factor. You’ve got a 6-4, 6-5 kid that can play inside and out and shoot the 3 like she does. She’s a nightmare.”
And they’ll see three more years of her.
“I don’t think we had any doubts,” Stewart said. “We knew as a team how good we could be. We just had to bear down and play together.”
And play together they did. Stewart was the brightest star but the support came from here, there, and everywhere.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points and nine rebounds. Kelly Faris had 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and lock-up defense on Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel in her final game. All three joined Stewart on the all-tournament team.
“I didn’t know how good this would feel,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “You dream about this moment and then it’s even better than you dreamed it would be. We worked our butts off this season and it happened.”
UConn (35-4) draws even with Tennessee with eight NCAA crowns. Louisville (29-9) was seeking its first title and the Cardinals were hoping to join UConn (2004) as the only school to win the men’s and women’s championship in the same year. Louisville men’s coach Rick Pitino, who addressed the Cardinals before the game, was in the crowd to cheer the women on.
And he and their fans had plenty to cheer about as the Cardinals led 14-10.
Then UConn hit them with one of their patented runs.
“I thought we came out and fought with them in the beginning,” said Louisville’s Sara Hammond. “They executed their game plan to perfection. Then you look up at the scoreboard and they’ve gone on a big run. We never stopped fighting.”
UConn erased the deficit with a 19-0 run in a 4:10 span.
Back-to-back baskets by Hartley started it and Mosqueda-Lewis’ three-point play gave the Huskies the lead. Stewart then scored the next seven points and Hartley made two free throws. Mosqueda-Lewis’ trey made it 29-14 with 8:45 left in the half.
Consecutive treys by Faris and Stewart and a Stewart free throw gave UConn a 23-point lead. It was 48-29 at halftime.
“Everyone was just feeling it,” Faris said. “We all feed off each other and that’s when we are at our best. We knew coming into the game how important it would be to get hot from the outside. If someone was hot, we fed them the ball.”
Louisville got no closer than 16 in the second half.
The Huskies handed five of their six NCAA tournament opponents their worst loss of the season. It’s the first time UConn has won the national championship without winning the Big East regular season or tournament title.
“This last month has been everything and more that I could ever hope for with this team and these players,” Auriemma said. “They deserve it. They really do. Sometimes you stumble upon a championship and sometimes other teams hand it to you. But this group, especially Kelly because she competes for a national championship every day in everything she does, deserves it.”
Stefanie Dolson added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists for UConn, which shot 53.0 percent from the floor and was 13-for-26 from 3-point range. The Huskies out-rebounded the Cardinals 44-28.
Hammond had 15 points and five rebounds for Louisville. But Schimmel was just 3-for-15 from the floor for nine points and was a non-factor. The Cardinals, who made 16-of-22 3-point tries in their upset of Baylor in the Sweet 16, were 5-for-23 from behind the arc Tuesday night. Antonita Slaughter represented Louisville on the all-tournament team.
“They played great,” Walz said.
And they have Stewart, and Louisville didn’t.