NEW ORLEANS — After all the years and countless milestones, it’s hardly possible for Connecticut to bounce a pass anymore without making history.
Geno Auriemma, the master craftsman, and his series of master classes, have become as synonymous to women’s basketball as Howard Johnson was to the ice-cream cone.
Things just seemed vastly different in the world once they came along.
On Tuesday, after being re-routed at times by injuries and, well, you know, Notre Dame, the Huskies arrived at the place they’ve come to know so well.
This eighth team brought to the national championship game by Auriemma did what the previous seven accomplished. It won.
Led by freshman Breanna Stewart, Connecticut’s newest sensation, who had 23 points and nine rebounds, the Huskies beat Louisville, 93-60, to win their eighth national championship.
Stewart was selected most outstanding player of the Final Four, only the third freshman and the first in 25 years. The margin of victory was the largest in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
“Leading up to the tournament it was a little bit of a struggle, despite our record,” Auriemma said. “It was nothing that those on the outside could see, but it was an internal struggle to get connected and to be the kind of team I know we could be.
“But the last month has been everything and more than I could have hoped for. “
Connecticut is 8-0 in national championship games and here is basically how this one went: With 13 minutes 51 seconds to play in the first half, Bria Smith’s free throw gave Louisville a 14-10 lead.
And then it was over.
Over the next 5:25, the Huskies, with classic, clinical precision, sped to their championship.
Connecticut went on a 19-0 run, starting with a Bria Hartley basket with 12:54 remaining and ending with a looping three-point basket by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with 8:48 to play.
It was Connecticut, 29-14.
And in the most literal sense, the torch was officially passed to Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis.
“As the clock was winding down I was just trying to figure out who the first person was I would hug,” Stewart said.
Auriemma is tied with Tennessee’s Pat Summitt for the most titles in Division I women’s basketball. And he’s two from tying former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden for the most.
Connecticut (35-4) had five players in double figures. All-American Mosqueda-Lewis had 18 points, including five three-point baskets. She had nine rebounds.
Kelly Faris, who transformed herself from a team player to a team leader, scored 16 points. She had nine rebounds and six assists.
Hartley, whose season was seriously uprooted in August by an ankle injury suffered playing for USA Basketball in Greece, scored 13 points.
And Stefanie Dolson, the All-American junior center, had 12 points and six rebounds.
“I think many people on the outside may have doubted it [that Connecticut could win the title] because of all the ups and downs,” Faris said. “There were times when I was mad at the world that things were going wrong and I couldn’t figure it out.”
Sara Hammond scored 15 points for Louisville (29-9).