Connecticut women win national championship

SportsNational Collegiate Athletic AssociationEducationGeno AuriemmaNCAA Final FourBarack ObamaLifestyle and Leisure

Seldom in sports do things work out this way, perfectly as planned, from blueprint to the victory stand.

But it does happen, sometimes three times.

Things click, chemistry blends with talent, determination meets destiny, and magical seasons supersede ambitious goals.

The 2008-09 Connecticut women, driven by three players as gifted as any they have ever had, won it all Tuesday night -- every game, almost every minute and, ultimately, the national championship.

"Now we can breathe," Renee Montgomery said.

Challenged briefly in the first half, the Huskies ultimately rolled, defeating Louisville, 76-54, at the Scottrade Center to win their sixth national championship in 15 years.

"President Barack Obama, we'll be seeing you at the White House," Connecticut junior Tina Charles said.

Charles, so maligned in the past for her postseason performances, was at the forefront of the attack.

"It was just another challenge for me," she said. "I wanted my teammates to know they could depend on me." With her 25 points and 19 rebounds, she became the sixth player in NCAA championship game history to have 15 or more points and 15 or more rebounds. She was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four.

"If you can't throw a 6-foot-4 body at her, it just makes it difficult to slow her down," Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said. "The kid scored 25 and 19. I'm not sure you can do better than that."

Coach Geno Auriemma's team completed its third undefeated season, joining the 1995 and 2002 champions.

"I tried to explain to my players that it's impossible to be perfect," Auriemma said. "But we can work every day to be as close as we possibly can." Connecticut's third win over the Cardinals this season was certainly a charm, its 39th straight victory of 10 points or more. The Huskies are the first team in NCAA history -- men's or women's -- to win each game by a double-digit margin.

"Tonight, we gave you everything that we've got," Auriemma said.

Montgomery ended her career with 18 points, passing the mantle to Maya Moore, the consensus national player of the year, who also scored 18.

Senior Angel McCoughtry, Louisville's All-American, led the Cardinals with 24 points in her final game.

This didn't begin like the last meeting between these teams ended, when Connecticut beat the Cardinals by 39 in the Big East tournament championship game March 10.

McCoughtry opened the scoring with a three-pointer, and Louisville's energy carried it through the first television timeout tied, 9-9.

The tension moved deeper into the half with McCoughtry leading the way and Connecticut fumbling away the ball.

She scored nine of the Cardinals' first 15 points, and with Montgomery turning the ball over three times, it was still tied, 15-15, with 11 minutes 17 seconds left in the half.

"It was one of those games when you sit there and think that we did a lot of good things," Walz said. "We had the tempo the way we wanted it to go. . . . We just missed some shots we normally make."

And then it was over.

"Hey, you know, it's the big stage," Walz said. "It was our first time playing in a championship game." Utilizing Charles inside, the Huskies outscored the Cardinals 22-8 down the stretch to take a 39-25 lead into the half.

"The worst part of doing something like this is being asked what it feels like," Auriemma said. "You just can't put into words what it feels like. But it's the first time since the brackets came out that I don't feel like I'm going to be sick."

jaltavilla@courant.com

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