Tampa, Fla.- The no.1 UConn Huskies defeated Notre Dame 63-53 to win their third straight National Championship and 10th in program history.
UConn senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and junior Moriah Jefferson lead all scorers with 15 points each. Although UConn outscored opponents by over 40 points per game this season, something about this particular championship run just felt different to them.
“I think that this season was different because we had to grow as players and as people off the court and that’s what we did,” junior forward Breanna Stewart said.
With this latest championship, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma is now tied with John Wooden as the only coach in college basketball history to win 10 National Championships. Auriemma credits the long line of great players he has coached for his success.
“Anytime you’re in a championship situation, especially the National Championship, so many things have to go right and you have to have players that make those plays that make it go right,” Auriemma said. “To do that 10 times in a row, to win 10 and be 10-0 in National Championship games is too big for me to think about.”
Notre Dame came out with high energy as they were embracing the role of the “underdogs.” Led by four points from sophomore forward Taya Reimer, Notre Dame found themselves with a 9-6 lead heading into the first media timeout. Notre Dame also forced three UConn turnovers while holding them to 3-for-7 from the field.
After the timeout the Huskies got going offensively led by Mosqueda-Lewis. Mosqueda-Lewis knocked in a put back layup followed by a three-pointer and another layup in part of a 10-2 run that gave UConn a 16-11 lead. Notre Dame was 1-for-10 over this stretch as the momentum started to shift.
Notre Dame would crawl back into the game as UConn experienced shooting woes of their own going 2-for-10 from the field. A jumper from Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd would cut the deficit to 22-19 with 6:43 left in the half.
Both teams struggled on the offensive end in the first half as UConn held a 31-23 lead at the break. UConn shot 38 percent from the field while Notre Dame shot just 30 percent. Notre Dame also had 13 turnovers while UConn had eight turnovers.
Jewell Loyd was the only player to reach double-digits in scoring as she led all scorers at the half with 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting from the field.
UConn opened the second half ready to put their offensive woes behind them. Led by four points from freshman guard Kia Nurse, UConn went on a 7-0 run to open up a 38-26 lead that forced Notre Dame to call a timeout just 2:44 into the half.
Notre Dame would begin to find some offensive flow in the second half as they tried to cut into UConn’s lead.
After going scoreless in the first half, freshman forward Brianna Turner hit five of her first six field goal attempts in the second half for 10 points. With eight minutes remaining in the game UConn was clinging to a 51-44 lead as Turner made a point to make her mark on the game in the second half.
“I think I wasn’t aggressive enough,” Turner said. “I was really timid in the first half.”
Turner was anything but timid in the second half as she finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Notre Dame would pull within six with 5:29 to go before Mosqueda-Lewis sparked the Huskies. Mosqueda-Lewis hit a three-pointer, follow by a jump shot and a layup that gave UConn a 63-50 lead with 2:37 to go, officially ending Notre Dame’s comeback hopes.
“We knew playing Notre Dame was going to be really difficult and it was everything that we thought it would be,” Auriemma said. “These guys made some plays in the second half that really showed our true character. Every time we were challenged we responded.”
Breanna Stewart was named the Most Outstanding Player for the third season in a row. Although she said her teammate Moriah Jefferson deserved the award, Stewart became the first woman to ever win the award three times.
“I think that it’s a cool feeling but the championship is most important,” Stewart said.