UConn women's basketball team returns home with 10th trophy
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn President Susan Herbst calls the school's basketball teams the university's front porch - it's the first thing the outside world sees.
The women's team added some decoration to that porch Wednesday, bringing its third straight NCAA championship trophy back to campus after Tuesday night's 63-53 win over Notre Dame in Tampa, Florida. It is the program's 10th title and the 14th for UConn, which also has won four men's championships.
The winning, Herbst said, never gets old.
''This brings people's eyeballs to UConn,'' she said. ''And at that point we can show them that we have a wonderful school of education, an excellent medical school, a fabulous program in genomics, an incredible honors program.''
But on Wednesday, it was all about celebrating the school's basketball success.
President Barack Obama phoned coach Geno Auriemma to congratulate the Huskies and invite them back to the White House. Several hours later, several hundred fans welcomed the team back to Connecticut.
Senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who had 15 points in the title game, carried the championship trophy off the team's charter flight. The Final Four's most outstanding player, Breanna Stewart, wore one of the nets the Huskies cut down around her neck.
Once back in Storrs, the team travelled by double-decker bus through campus tossing T-shirts at the several hundred people who gathered outside Gampel Pavilion for a rally.
Carolyn Aiksnoras, a senior from Oxford, was one of several fans holding up giant cutouts of coach Geno Auriemma's head.
''I love telling people I go to UConn,'' she said. ''I love telling people I'm a Husky.''
''This team means everything for this school,'' added Melinda Fragomeli, 21, a junior from Roxbury. ''This is my third year and third championship. I don't even know what it's like not to win the championship. It's not the only reason I came to UConn, but it was a large factor.''
A damp day with temperatures in the 30s kept the crowd down, but if the team was disappointed by the turnout, the players did not show it.
Stewart, who has won a title in each of her first three seasons at UConn, said the fan support reminds the players they are part of something much bigger.
''This is a tradition that means something, and we're just excited to be part of it,'' she said.
The 14 titles have coincided with the growth of the school, which has received billions of dollars in state spending that has transformed the campus. Applications for undergraduate admission at UConn have risen each year for over a decade, from 13,600 in 2001 to more than 34,000 this year.
Auriemma said he believes the athletic success has been a catalyst for that growth.
''People don't pick up the paper in the morning to find out how the psychology department did last night,'' Auriemma told the crowd. ''No offense to the psychology department.''
Anne Engdahl, 71, of Bozrah was at the school's bookstore Wednesday to pick up a national championship T-shirt. She said the team is a source of pride not just for the school, but for the entire state.
''It's just the way the young ladies conduct themselves, on and off the court,'' she said. ''There is a standard they feel it's so important for the young ladies to uphold. We get old, but this never does.''