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UConn women beat Notre Dame for 10th national basketball title

Senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, left, and junior guard Moriah Jefferson hug it out as the Connecticut Huskies celebrate on the Amalie Arena basketball court Tuesday night.
Senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, left, and junior guard Moriah Jefferson hug it out as the Connecticut Huskies celebrate on the Amalie Arena basketball court Tuesday night.
Published Apr. 8, 2015

TAMPA — As the final moments elapsed on the Connecticut women's latest nationally televised clinic, Geno Auriemma pumped both fists fervently and turned to embrace his trio of assistants.

Then the final horn resonated throughout Amalie Arena, trumpeting the Connecticut coach's entrance into his sport's most rarefied air.

Behind clutch 3-point shooting in the second half, the top-ranked Huskies (38-1) held off No. 2 Notre Dame 63-53, capturing their third consecutive national title and 10th overall before a crowd of 19,810.

Auriemma, 61, joins John Wooden as the only major college basketball coaches — men or women — to win 10 national titles. Phil Jackson (11 championships) is the only coach in major American sports history to win more.

"None of those other guys you mentioned coached any bad teams with bad players on 'em, so we all have that in common," said Auriemma, undefeated in national title games.

"Any time you're trying to win any tournament, but 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. To do that 10 times in a row … it's too big for me to think about it. It's too much."

Initially, it appeared his latest landmark victory hardly would be a textbook one.

The nation's most efficient 3-point shooting Division I team entering the Final Four (40.8 percent), the Huskies went 3-for-13 from long range in the first half.

After 20 minutes, they had eight turnovers, one shy of their total in Sunday's 23-point semifinal rout of Maryland. Hampering matters was the fact Associated Press national player of the year Breanna Stewart rolled her ankle while filling a lane with 8:04 to play in the half, and exited briefly.

Fortunately for the Huskies, the Irish, held to a season-low point total, committed 13 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. In one stretch, they went more than four minutes without a field goal, and shot 30 percent from the floor (9-for-30) for the half.

Irish second-leading scorer Brianna Turner, the ACC Freshman of the Year, was held scoreless on one field-goal try in 18 minutes.

"I really thought we had nothing to lose, and we would come out loose," said Irish coach Muffet McGraw, whose team (36-3) has lost its past four to UConn, including last season's national title game. "Turns out, it was just the opposite and I don't know why."

Still, the Huskies led only 31-23 at intermission, separating themselves only via a 12-2 spurt midway through the half.

Then, their long-range touch returned.

At least five times in the second half, Notre Dame came within a basket of making it a one-possession game as Turner (14 second-half points) came alive. UConn answered with a trey each time, finishing 5-for-10 from long range in the second half.

"Every time we were challenged, we responded," Auriemma said.

Sinking the most pivotal one was Division I career 3-pointers leader Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. When Lindsay Allen's layup cut Notre Dame's deficit to 56-50 with 5:29 to go, Mosqueda-Lewis answered with a trey in transition 31 seconds later. Fifty seconds after that, her jumper pushed the lead back to double digits.

"Kind of the difference in the game," Auriemma said.

Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 15 points, as did point guard Moriah Jefferson, who totaled 10 assists and six steals in the Final Four.

Stewart, swarmed inside most of the game, managed only eight points but had 15 rebounds and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

In a few days, she and Jefferson begin their quest for a fourth career national title.

"I think it's really surreal and I haven't even had the chance to even think about that, the fact that I've won three national championships," Stewart said. "But I said I wanted to win four, and you can't win four without winning three."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.