University of Connecticut seeks eighth basketball championship win

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NEW ORLEANS — Geno Auriemma has never lost an NCAA championship game.

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma has never lost an NCAA championship game, and a victory tonight would tie UConn with Tennessee for having eight titles.  GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma has never lost an NCAA championship game, and a victory tonight would tie UConn with Tennessee for having eight titles.

Of course, his UConn Huskies have never faced a team like upstart Louisville, which is making an unprecedented run through the tournament. A victory tonight over the Cardinals would be UConn’s eighth title, matching them with Tennessee for the most ever in women’s basketball.

Auriemma didn’t want to think about it.

“Talking about things that haven’t happened yet is never a good idea,” he said.

History is on the Hall of Fame coach’s side: UConn is 7-0 in title games, including a victory in the 2009 game against Louisville and the 2004 game that was also played in New Orleans. That game was the college finale of Diana Taurasi, who finished with three straight championships.

This trip to the Big Easy could be the beginning of a new dynasty for the Huskies led by Breanna Stewart. The heralded freshman has been on one of the most remarkable runs of any first year player in the history of the NCAA tournament. She had a season-high 29 points in the semifinal victory over Notre Dame and was honored as the most outstanding player of the Bridgeport regional.

Auriemma said he couldn’t remember a player having a better game in such a setting.

Stewart already has scored 82 points in the NCAA tournament — the most ever by a UConn freshman, passing teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ 79-point effort. And she did it in four games, as the Syracuse native sat out the opening round rout of Idaho.

“I was sitting next to Jim Boeheim at the Olympics and we were talking during the gold medal game,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “He said, ‘There’s this kid that plays in the open gym with the women up at Syracuse and she’s going to UConn and is one of the best players I’ve ever seen.’ It’s not a surprise in what she’s doing. She makes it look easy.”

Stewart’s exploits are reminiscent of two of the all-time greats. As freshmen, Cheryl Miller guided USC to a title in 1983 and Chamique Holdsclaw led Tennessee to a championship in 1996.

Auriemma’s latest prize recruit missed this season’s first game against Louisville as she recovered from an ankle injury. UConn still won that game by 14 points. The Huskies have had their way with the Cardinals, winning the past 12 meetings, including that 2009 championship.

“I don’t remember a thing, you try not to remember anything about those games,” Walz deadpanned. “We’re playing better basketball. The kids are confident, not much more to say. We believe in what we’re doing. No one thought we’d beat Baylor, no one thought we’d beat Tennessee.”

Walz isn’t fazed by his team’s lack of success against Connecticut. It’s hard to blame him the way the Cardinals have rolled through the tournament behind freewheeling guard Shoni Schimmel.

First came the upset of Brittney Griner and Baylor that shocked everyone. Then came the victory over the Lady Vols — the winningest program in women’s basketball history. And finally the Final Four win over tournament newcomer Cal to get back to the title game for the second time in five seasons.

“It’s going to take the best game we’ve played to date,” Walz said. “We are going to have to play better than we played against Baylor, Tennessee and Cal. We’re going to have to play 40 minutes of pretty much perfect basketball.”

That will start with Schimmel, who has been incredible all tournament. Whether hitting 3-pointers from way behind the line, a behind-the-back bounce pass to her sister Jude, or an over-the-head fling against Griner, Schimmel has been a star.

“We’re not done with what we’ve come out here to do and that’s win a national championship,” Schimmel said. “Why not go out with a bang?”

No matter who wins the game, the Big East conference will have a ninth national championship. The conference, which will split apart after this season, has been the most dominant in women’s basketball over the past decade.

“It’s a special thing,” Walz said. “Every time you turn on a Final Four there’s Big East teams playing in it. This is the best league in women’s basketball.”

___

Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

WHO: Louisville Cardinals (29-8) vs. Connecticut Huskies (34-4)

TIME/TV: 8:30 p.m./ESPN

UCONN AT A GLANCE

Geno Auriemma is 7-0 in title games.

SEASON RECORD RESULT

1994-95 35-0 W, 70-64 Tennessee

1999-00 36-1 W, 71-52 Tennessee

2001-02 39-0 W, 82-70 Oklahoma

2002-03 37-1 W, 73-68 Tennessee

2003-04 31-4 W 70-61 Tennessee

2008-09 39-0 W, 76-54 Louisville

2009-10 39-0 W, 53-47 Stanford

Source: www.ncaa.com


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