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It was the win everyone expected. UConn cruised to its fourth consecutive national title Tuesday night in Indianapolis, beating Syracuse 82–51 in front of 14,514 fans. Fittingly, the Huskies were led by the big three: Breanna Stewart had 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists; Morgan Tuck had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists; and Moriah Jefferson had 13 points and five assists.
Here are three quick thoughts after UConn’s 11th title in program history:
Geno Auriemma is underrated as a big-game coach
You might have heard this before, but Auriemma is the best coach in the women’s game (and has arguably done more for women’s basketball than anyone). And as of Tuesday night’s 11th title, he’s now the most decorated coach in all of Division I college basketball, surpassing legendary UCLA men’s coach John Wooden, who had 10. Auriemma’s a master motivator and terrific recruiter. It’s harder to recruit to UConn than you think because most kids have to accept sitting on the bench for a couple years. But more than that, he thrives when the spotlight’s the brightest. With Tuesday’s win over Syracuse, the coach, who’s in his 31st year in Storrs, moves to a staggering 11–0 in title games.
It’s easy to look at UConn’s talent and history and think the Huskies will roll through every game. Typically they do, but it’s because they’re prepared. Syracuse’s zone defense works well for its women’s team the same reason it works well for its men’s team: Lots of opponents don’t have a worthwhile zone offense. So credit the Huskies for finding the gaps and getting good looks all night. (And know it could have been even uglier if Huskies’ freshman sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson, who broke a bone in her left foot in the national semifinal and sat out the title game, was launching threes from the corner.) Even when Syracuse rattled off a 16–0 run midway through the third quarter, UConn did not flinch. That’s rising to a big moment.
The Huskies’ ability to draw fouls is not appreciated enough
Coming into Tuesday night, UConn had shot 543 free throws this season. That’s 15.1 attempts per game, which ranked just 159th in the country. (It did boast the best team percentage from the charity stripe though, at 79.7%) But against the Orange’s zone, UConn did an unusually good job of drawing fouls and getting to the line. By halftime, the Huskies had already topped their season average of attempts per game, shooting 13 of 16 from the line. Their tenacity in attacking the glass and getting second-chance opportunities, either from the field or from the line, helped push them to a 50–23 halftime lead. UConn finished 20 of 23 on free throws. Syracuse, by comparison, attempted just 10 and only hit half of them.
Breanna Stewart’s legacy? We have to wait and see
It’s easy, when you’ve done something no one else has, to be considered the best, or maybe even the greatest of all time. UConn senior Breanna Stewart is the latest person to join that discussion, after doing what no other UConn standout, and there have been a lot of them, has done in leading her team to four titles. Asked before the Final Four if she’s worthy of being considered the greatest of all time, Auriemma was thoughtful. “You know, we have a tendency to do that in America,” he said. “If you're the best right now, you're the best of all time. I don't necessarily live in that world. I just, suffice to say, that what Breanna Stewart has done during her four years at Connecticut and what she's especially done in the NCAA tournament, the way she's competed, the way she's played in the Final Four, that's never been done.” Stewart was also asked that question, and she gave the right response: that her legacy is supposed to be defined by other people. She just wants to be remembered as a winner.
That much she’s checked off. She’s set the absolute highest of bars by winning four in a row. But there was a time other seemingly impossible bars were set, like when Wooden’s UCLA men won 10 titles. Tuesday, Stewart helped surpass that. And so some day, somewhere, there’s a chance someone could match her four titles. We just have to wait and see.