UConn Wins Women’s N.C.A.A. Title
NASHVILLE — His record ninth N.C.A.A. title secured, Geno Auriemma climbed a ladder Tuesday night, snipped the final strands of the net and pumped it in his fist, literally standing above everyone in women’s basketball.
As Connecticut routed Notre Dame, 79-58, Auriemma and the Huskies (40-0) completed their fifth undefeated season. He now has one title more than his former nemesis, Pat Summitt of Tennessee, and only one fewer than John Wooden, whose pyramid of success brought 10 national titles to the men’s team at U.C.L.A.
A school whose early mission was agriculture, UConn has come to regularly harvest basketball championships. The women’s team again shares a national title with the men, as it did in 2004. Since 1999, the Huskies men and women have made a combined 17 appearances at the Final Four. Duke is next with eight.
For a night, at least, no one worried that the Huskies needed a more substantive football league than the fledgling American Athletic Conference to continue to succeed in basketball.
“We’re in a league of our own,” Auriemma said earlier in the tournament.
In the first matchup between undefeated teams in the women’s title game, UConn pitilessly exploited the absence of Notre Dame’s 6-foot-3-inch post player, Natalie Achonwa, who tore a knee ligament in a regional final.
The Irish (37-1) had no answer for the height and interior skill of UConn’s 6-4 Breanna Stewart, the national player of the year, or 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson. Stewart finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, while Dolson contributed 17 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points and 7 rebounds.
UConn took an early 22-8 lead with a 16-0 run, every point coming inside. Eventually, the Huskies scored 52 points in the lane to 22 for the Irish.
“We knew we had a size advantage and could get really get the ball in the paint,” Dolson said.
And while Auriemma did not say anything effusive about his ninth title, Dolson said, “It definitely means a lot to him, to have something no one else can say they have.”
While Auriemma can be blunt and polarizing — a columnist at The Tennessean newspaper suggested he was at times the “arrogant, egomaniacal, unbeatable coach everybody in women’s basketball hates” — his teams are built on selfless discipline.
The Huskies won Tuesday as they have since their first title in 1995. With an attacking offense built on movement, screens and crisp passing. And a defense that never loses its intent to hound and confuse and disrupt.
Most impressively, the Huskies bewilder opponents while seldom committing fouls. Notre Dame, the nation’s No. 1 shooting team, hit only 22 of 62 attempts (35.5 percent) against relentless UConn.
If repeat victory for UConn — this was a second consecutive title — has stirred both appreciation and resentment from others, so be it, Dolson said. “We know no one wants to see us win, so we’re going to win anyway,” she said.
Jeff Judkins, the women’s coach at Brigham Young, and a former men’s assistant at Utah, noted that he had coached against Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino and John Calipari and that Auriemma deserved the comparison.
The truest association might be to Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, who like Auriemma, has ornamented his college abundance with Olympic gold.
“Geno, in my book, is one of the best coaches ever, when you dominate a sport like he has,” Judkins said.
Repeatedly, Auriemma, 60, has been asked why he never left to coach a men’s team. For starters, he makes about $2 million a year at UConn. And he is able to recruit many of the country’s best players to an isolated campus.
“It’s like we were going for a race and you’re driving a Porsche and I’m driving a truck,” Judkins said. “You’ve got a better chance of winning.”
Women stay in school for four years instead of departing after one, like many men’s players. And after overseeing his son’s A.A.U. team, Auriemma decided that women were more coachable than men.
“A lot of things have happened to make me think I’ve got a pretty good job where I am,” he said.
Many celebrate UConn’s 2002 championship team of Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Swin Cash as the greatest in women’s basketball. Others prefer Maya Moore’s teams that built a 90-game winning streak to the current Huskies team, which lacked depth. But Gary Blair, who coached Texas A&M to the 2011 national title, considers this to be Auriemma’s best starting five.
His reasons: Stewart is the most versatile player in the country. Dolson is as resourceful as Tina Charles was. Point guard Moriah Jefferson willingly restricts her focus to assists and steals. Shooting guard Bria Hartley has a flair for the timely basket.
Of the feathery 3-pointers of Mosqueda-Lewis, Blair said, “Who’s a better shooter that they’ve ever had? If you want to play a game of H-O-R-S-E, I’m taking Lewis over any of his great ones.”
When Mosqueda-Lewis missed eight games during the season with an elbow injury and mononucleosis, Auriemma told her, “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Nobody else is going to feel sorry for you.”
This directness can be traced, in part, to two sources. First, Auriemma grew up outside Philadelphia, where what is pronounced as “attytude” is a fine and necessary art.
Second, Auriemma said, his parents, who immigrated from Italy when he was 7, trusted coddling less than they trusted banks. He described the family approach as “I’m not worried about your feelings. I’m just going to tell you the truth. What are you going to do, run away from home?”
In demanding greatness, he views himself as a kind of personal trainer, pushing his players beyond the limits they set for themselves. It was disrespectful, Auriemma said, to treat his team as female basketball players instead of simply as basketball players.
Nora Lynn Finch, the associate commissioner for women’s basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference, said, “I think there are not enough coaches who set the standard and will not lower the bar.”
Summitt set the same uncompromising standard at Tennessee. And while she and Auriemma feuded, and she eventually stopped scheduling UConn over concerns about the recruiting of Moore, Summitt also kept her sense of humor. When two goldfish in her office fish tank tried to devour each other, she named them Pat and Geno.
Now that Summitt’s career has been ended by early-onset Alzheimer’s, respect and belated friendship have superseded bickering. Auriemma said he would take no added pleasure in winning a ninth championship in the state where Summitt built her dynasty.
“At some point,” he said, “you just stop and go, O.K., what’s the point?”
Similarly, he demurred when asked about title comparisons to Wooden. He laughed and said there were no men’s coaches telling anyone, “If I win 8 or 9, I’ll catch Geno Auriemma.”
What he was most proud of, said Auriemma, who came to UConn in 1985, was the sustained excellence of his teams.
“Every coach,” he said, “wants their legacy to be, I was really good at what I did for a really long time.”
Posted on April 9, 2014, in Basketball, Current Events, Hot Women, Sports and tagged 40-0, college basketball, connecticut, geno Auriemma, huskies, national champions, NCAA, ncaa title, notre dame, uconn, uconn huskies, undefeated, womens basketball. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on UConn Wins Women’s N.C.A.A. Title.