The journey was not easy for the UConn women’s basketball team. There was a time when Coach Geno Auriemma thought that he might have overestimated the overall talent of this group.
Players struggled with consistency. They struggled with confidence. They struggled with injuries and they needed to evolve into a more cohesive unit.
In the days leading up the NCAA tournament, though, the Huskies made the necessary changes, leaving no doubt that they were capable of winning a national championship. And in the NCAA tournament final Tuesday they reaped the benefit of their labor as Final Four Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart had 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists and UConn earned its NCAA record-tying eighth national championship with a 93-60 victory over Louisville before 17,545 at New Orleans Arena.
The Huskies (35-4) joined Tennessee as the only programs in the history of the sport to win eight national championships. There are only four other schools that have won at least two –Louisiana Tech, Baylor, USC and Stanford.
UConn, which is a perfect 8-0 in the final, has won seven national championships since 2000 and are 482-39 (.925) in this span.
Louisville, who was the first No. 5 seed to reach the final, also lost to the Huskies in the tournament final in St. Louis in 2009. The Cardinals had defeated a No. 1 seed (Baylor) and two No. 2 seeds (Tennessee, California) en route to their second appearance in the tournament final.
Louisville was attempting to join UConn as the only school to win the men’s and women’s basketball national championships in the same season. The Huskies accomplished the feat in 2004.
Stewart is just the fourth freshman all-time to be named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, joining Cheryl Miller of USC (1983), Clarissa Davis of Texas (1986) and Tonya Edwards of Tennessee (1987).
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points (5-of-8 3-pointers) and nine rebounds for UConn. Kelly Faris had 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Bria Hartley contributed 13 points and four assists. Stefanie Dolson had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Sara Hammond had 15 points and five rebounds to lead Louisville. The Cardinals shot 37.1 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers.
The Huskies, who was 13-of-26 from 3-point range, trailed 14-10 with 13:51 left in the first half. But they scored the next 19 points to seize control of the game. Stewart had seven points during the run. Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley each had six.
Louisville went scoreless for a stretch of 5:25, missing seven straight shots and committing two turnovers.
UConn had an 11-2 run later in the first half to open a 48-25 lead with 1:17 left. Stewart had six points in this run.
The Huskies led by as many as 35 in the second half.