The 2013-14 college basketball season belongs to Connecticut.
A day after Shabazz Napier and his Huskies capped off an improbable run to the men's championship, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart did the same on the women's side. The Connecticut forwards combined for 39 points and held Notre Dame to 35.5-percent shooting, as the Huskies pulled away in the second half for a 79-58 win.
The victory makes Connecticut the second men's and women's teams in history to sweep their Division I tournaments—joining the 2003-04 Huskies. But while the UConn men were defined by a dominant singular run by one player and a series of captivating, down-to-the-wire contests, only the opposite can be said about the women, who won their ninth national championship.
Tomorrow: Humanity invents a third gender, UConn wins its national basketball championship.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) April 9, 2014
"It means we've done something no one else has ever done," Auriemma told reporters (via ESPN). "Flattered and grateful and all the things that come with this kind of accomplishment...I'm more proud of the legacy that exists and what Connecticut basketball is as opposed to the number of championships."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart led the way, but they were far from the only major contributors. Center Stefanie Dolson turned in a sterling all-around performance, scoring 17 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and dishing seven assists. The backcourt of Moriah Jefferson and Bria Hartley struggled with their shots, but locked down defensively and willingly faded to the background as it became clear this was the frontcourt's night.
It was a pure team effort from start to finish. And, considering the stakes, one of the most impressive wins of the Geno Auriemma era.
Billed as a battle of goliaths, Tuesday night was anything but. It was the first-ever head-to-head matchup of undefeated teams in the NCAA championship game, but only the Huskies looked like a true juggernaut.
Connecticut trailed only once. The game was not tied after the 15:07 mark in the first half. By the time the Huskies and Irish were 10 minutes into the first half, Connecticut had opened up a double-digit lead it held almost the rest of the way. A quick-hit run led by Kayla McBride, Michaela Mabrey and Jewell Loyd allowed the Irish to close within five and go into halftime down just 45-38, but Auriemma's squad established its dominance from the opening whistle of the second half.
The Huskies opened on an 8-2 run, pushing a manageable deficit to 13 and leaving Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw little choice but to call timeout. Connecticut responded with another run that pushed the lead past 20. The Irish scored only four points in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half. That drought all but ended any chance of a Notre Dame victory.
Playing with precision and overwhelming the Irish with length on both ends, UConn at times looked like it was running through practice drills. One possession would end with a Dolson layup assisted by Stewart, and on the next, the big center would return the favor. Then there were skip passes, backdoor cuts and a bevy of made baskets inside the painted area.
A well-above-average three-point-shooting team throughout the season, Connecticut increased its lead despite knocking down just 4-of-19 from distance. Hartley, a 36.6-percent shooter from deep this season, shot only 2-of-9 from three-point range and 4-of-15 overall, scoring 13 points. Even Mosqueda-Lewis, the most consistent deep shooter on the team, struggled with her three-point stroke, hitting only 2-of-7 attempts from behind the arc.
None of it mattered.
Connecticut still managed to shoot 46.6 percent from the floor, and for all its foibles outside, Notre Dame's evening was worse.
McBride scored a team-high 21 points, but she was the only Irish player to step up in their biggest game. Loyd's 13 points came on 4-of-15 shooting. The frontcourt of Ariel Braker and Taya Reimer had nearly as many fouls (six) as points (eight). Mabrey came off the bench for a solid 10-point performance, but the rest of the Irish reserves combined for four points.
Nothing quite went right for the Irish, who still finished their season a staggering 37-1 with a ton of history made in the process. They simply ran into an unstoppable buzzsaw.
"I said something like, `I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while you guys are just that good.' What a great season, you know things like that," McGraw said (via ESPN). "I thought...LeBron was the only thing they were missing."
The prevailing storyline coming out of Tuesday night will understandably be Storrs' overtaking of March and April. But these two runs could not possibly have been more different.
While the men slogged through a gauntlet as a No. 7 seed, the Connecticut women were an undefeated, overwhelming force that thrashed any team that remotely got in its way. The Huskies finished their entire season without an opponent coming within single digits. They are the second team in Division I basketball history—men's or women's—to reach the 40-win plateau in a single season. When looking back through the annals of Auriemma's reign, there's certainly an argument to be made about where this team stands all-time.
Geno Auriemma might never get the credit he deserves from the sporting public, but he is one of the best basketball coaches on the planet.— Kevin Gleason (@th_KevinGleason) April 9, 2014
This is Auriemma's fifth undefeated season and his third in his last six seasons at the helm. Only John Wooden (10-0) has a better record in national championship games than Auriemma (9-0). He's now passed longtime rival Pat Summitt for most national championships for a women's coach in history, while defeating McGraw—the woman who has arguably replaced Summitt as his greatest coaching rival.
“We don’t have a relationship,” McGraw told reporters of her relationship with Auriemma (via Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post. “I think that got lost. When we were in the same conference, I think there was a modicum of it, but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something.”
Whether he has the respect of his fraternity or not, it's hard to argue with Auriemma's results. With seven straight Final Four appearances and another back-to-back championship run, he has every right to feel righteous in his accomplishments.
Just don't think that will come as any comfort to a certain resident advisor.