Records are made to be broken, and just when a mark seems unattainable it is attained. But what Geno Auriemma continues to do at Connecticut is to test that theory. Connecticut won their 10th national championship in 20 years with a 63-53 win over Notre Dame on Tuesday night, their third in a row. Since 2000, 16 NCAA Tournaments, Connecticut has more national championships (nine) than NCAA Tournament losses (seven). The record is 78-7.
It was the fourth time in five seasons as Notre Dame reached the title game, but the 2001 championship still stands as the only one in program history. Just as in Nashville a year ago, second best is not good enough. You got the feel watching this game that the Irish were only as threatening as UConn allowed them to be. While the game seemed close, Notre Dame was clearly at arm’s length throughout.
Connecticut was not as sharp as we are accustomed to. Some of that credit goes to Notre Dame, but you never really felt like Notre Dame could win the game. Though as close as five late, the Irish could not get over the hump, or really out of their own way—with turnovers a major issue. It is also next to impossible to win when your all-American goes 4-for-18 as Jewell Loyd did, 0-for-8 in the second half.
UConn’s two-time National Player of the Year, Breanna Stewart, became the first woman to be named Final Four Most Outstanding Player three times. She struggled offensively scoring eight, but she pulled down 15 rebounds and was a menace on the defensive end. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 15, and hit a pair of critical threes to erase any remaining doubt as to the outcome. Moriah Jefferson added 15 while running the show from the point.
Geno Auriemma now has the same number of national championships as John Wooden, and many comparisons are made. I am not warm to the idea of combining college basketball records, the women’s with the men’s, but an exception should be made in this context. Wooden won 10 championships in 12 seasons at UCLA from 1964-1975. The game was not the same quality all over the country. With the tournament completely regionalized, UCLA had a relatively easy path to the Final Four. Once there, Wooden’s brilliance, and some incomparable players, won the day.
While the women’s game is better and more balanced than ever before, it is far from nationally competitive. As a result, the top programs have to try and play during the season out of conference to provide challenges and something that is compelling. Connecticut put up numbers in the American conference few have ever seen. You wonder if they play 1,000 games in that league if they will ever lose one. As with UCLA in Wooden’s day, UConn only has maybe 6-8 games a season to even challenge them. But when they are challenged, Geno’s brilliance, and some incomparable players, wins the day.
UCLA featured legends like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, UConn has featured legends like Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and now Breanna Stewart. There are reasons why these elite talents go to play for such coaches. They want to grow, athletically and intellectually. Wooden was known for his philosophies at least as much as for basketball, Auriemma is underrated in that area himself.
So a comparison is fair here, and Auriemma does not figure to be done. They are the favorite to win every year—something that will not change as long as he is there.