Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have Connecticut back in the championship game for the third straight year. Now the Huskies are one victory away from a third straight title.
Stewart scored 25 points and Tuck added 24 to lead Connecticut to an 81-58 win over Maryland on Sunday in the Final Four.
Connecticut will face Notre Dame for the title on Tuesday night in a rematch of last season’s championship game.
“Every time we play Notre Dame, it’s something. I just have a lot of respect for what they’ve been able to do,” Coach Geno Auriemma said. “They’ve got a heck of a team, and their team has gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. Jewell’s [Loyd] a great player, obviously, but all their other players have gotten significantly better since the beginning of the season.”
The Huskies have won nine titles overall, and a victory over the Irish would tie Auriemma with vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most all-time with 10. It would also be the second three-peat for Connecticut, which won three straight championships from 2002 to 2004.
Making the Final Four seems like a rite of spring for the Huskies (37-1) lately, as the team has appeared in the last eight national semifinals.
Connecticut had cruised through the NCAA tournament, but Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said her team wouldn’t be intimidated by the Huskies.
“I think the biggest thing against Maryland is they can break you down with their guard play, and then they’re so big inside,” Auriemma said. “If you make a mistake on their guards, you’ve got the big guys to deal with. We needed to try and make sure that we only gave up one thing, that we didn’t give up both. So we tried to concentrate on taking away their threes, which they’re really good at. And then try to create some mismatches on this end with Tuck and Stewie, because I thought that’s where we had the advantage.”
“These guys are great to coach. You give them a game plan, and they followed it.”
The Terrapins took it right at them from the start, hanging with Connecticut for the first 10 minutes. Maryland only trailed 22-19 before Connecticut scored seven straight points capped by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ three-pointer that made it a 10-point game. Maryland (34-3) didn’t back down, pulling within 39-33 on Lexie Brown’s three-pointer with 1:52 left in the half.
Then Tuck took over.
She scored the final five points of the half to give the Huskies a double-digit advantage going into the break.
Tuck missed last season’s championship run while she was recovering from microfracture surgery on her right knee, which allowed her to play in only eight games. The redshirt sophomore made her presence felt on the game’s biggest stage, finishing just two points short of her career high.
“We talked about that we had a mismatch in the post, and me and Stewie are both quicker than them, so we just tried to put it on the floor and go by them,” Tuck said.
She started the second half with another three-pointer as Connecticut scored the first nine points to break the game open. Her layup capped the burst and gave Connecticut a 53-33 advantage. The Terrapins could only get within 14 the rest of the way as Stewart and Tuck answered every Maryland run.
The loss ended a school-record 28-game winning streak for Maryland, which hasn’t won in its four meetings with the Huskies.