NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Geno Auriemma and Connecticut stand alone in women’s college basketball, and they reached the top in unprecedented fashion.
The Huskies routed Notre Dame 79-58 Tuesday night in the first championship game featuring undefeated teams, winning their record ninth national title. Auriemma broke a tie with Pat Summitt and Tennessee for most all-time, doing it in her backyard.
Breanna Stewart, The Associated Press Player of the Year, scored 21 points to lead the Huskies (40-0) while Stefanie Dolson added 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. Auriemma took out his senior center with a minute left and the pair embraced in a long hug.
The Irish stayed in the first half by hot 3-point shooting by Michaela Mabrey and Jewell Loyd. Trailing 37-25 with 4:09 left in the first half, the pair sparked a 13-6 run, hitting three 3-pointers that brought the Irish faithful to their feet.
UConn led 45-38 at the half, shooting 57 percent from the field and having 16 assists on 21 baskets.
The Huskies closed the door on any Irish comeback by scoring 18 of the first 22 points in the second half.
The victory means UConn is now the center of the college basketball world with both the men’s and women’s teams winning the championship in the same year again. The men’s team beat Kentucky in the title game Monday night. This pair of victories came a decade after the Huskies became the only school to accomplish the feat.
While the names change at UConn, from Rebecca Lobo to Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and now Stewart, Auriemma has been the constant, winning nine titles in 20 seasons, including the last two. He’s never lost in a national championship game.
“Congratulations to the UConn Huskies for winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship!,” Summitt said in a statement. “My compliments also to coach Geno Auriemma for winning his ninth national title. He has accomplished this feat in record time.”
It was the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and UConn and the first time the Huskies went 40-0 — matching Baylor as the only schools to accomplish that feat. The victory was Connecticut’s 46th straight dating back to last season’s NCAA Tournament title run. It’s the third longest streak in school history — well short of the NCAA record 90 straight the Huskies won.
The loss was Notre Dame’s third in the title game in the past four years. Kayla McBride finished her stellar career with 21 points to lead the Irish, who were looking for their first championship since 2001.
After proving to be no challenge for the Huskies during the first 15 years of a rivalry that began in 1995, Notre Dame had owned the series lately, winning seven of the previous nine meetings. Uconn, though, has won the last two, eliminating Notre Dame in the Final Four last season.
The two former Big East rivals, who have no love lost for each other, put on a show in a game that women’s basketball hoped could transcend the sport. The coaches added to the drama of the game with their verbal sparring Monday. But it was Auriemma who got the last word again.
Even with the loss, it was a record-setting season for the Irish.
Notre Dame lost Skylar Diggins to graduation and changed conferences to the ACC. Neither mattered as it ran through opponents, winning by an average of 25.6 points.
The Irish lost senior Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final win over Baylor. Notre Dame wore warmup shirts with Achonwa’s nickname, “Ace,” below her No. 11.