NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Geno Auriemma breezed past Pat Summitt by winning his record ninth championship. With sensational sophomore Breanna Stewart back at Connecticut for two more seasons, winning a 10th or 11th title is a real possibility.
That would move Auriemma and Connecticut past UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most in all of college basketball.
Auriemma downplayed comparisons to Wooden when the Huskies broke UCLA’s 88-game winning streak a few years ago. They will only resurface again with Auriemma one title behind the Wizard of Westwood.
Like Wooden, Auriemma has made a habit of replacing one superstar with another. First it was Rebecca Lobo, then Diana Taurasi, who won three straight championships from 2002-04. Maya Moore won back-to-back titles, and now there’s Stewart.
The 6-foot-4 wing player, who became only the third sophomore to win Associated Press Player of the Year honors last weekend, won two titles in her first two years, earning most outstanding player honors at the Final Four both times. She has a chance to be the winningest women’s college player ever.
“Obviously I am going to try and drag it out as long as I can and enjoy this moment,” Stewart said. “But when it is time to get back to business, I’m going to go after No. 3.”
Stewart is nearly impossible to guard. She can score from anywhere on the court, shooting 3s, driving to the basket, or converting acrobatic layups. She came into UConn with a lot of hype as the best high school player and has lived up to it.
“I’m here to reach my fullest potential, become as good of a player as I can be and win national championships,” Stewart said. “That’s it. I win two, I want to win three. If I win three, I want to win four.”
The Huskies do lose two very talented players in Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. They’re the last links besides Auriemma and his coaching staff to UConn’s NCAA record 90-game winning streak.
“It’s overwhelming,” Auriemma said. “Those two kids are two of the most unbelievable kids I’ve ever been around my whole life, and to see their faces when they walked off the court, I don’t usually get this emotional, but this one got to me.”
Auriemma not only has Stewart back, but he also returns honorable mention All-Americans Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Moriah Jefferson and adds another stellar recruiting class.
This season’s championship came in unprecedented fashion. The Huskies went 40-0 for the first time — matching Baylor as the only schools to accomplish that feat. UConn had to beat another undefeated team, rival Notre Dame, to complete its fifth perfect season.
“We beat a great, great team,” Auriemma said.
The Huskies have won 46 straight games dating to last season’s title run, and they could approach their own record of 90.