NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Stefanie Dolson grabbed the microphone on stage after the NCAA final and uttered four words: “President Obama, we’re ba-aaack!”
With heralded freshman Breanna Stewart, sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and most of the team back, this could be the next great Connecticut era. That’s a scary thought for the rest of women’s college basketball, after the Huskies captured their eighth national title.
“It was important for us to put a mark on this program that coach has built,” Dolson said. “It has a great opportunity to keep going.”
Over the past three seasons, UConn has lost 11 games — including twice in the Final Four. Nine of the defeats came to Notre Dame and Baylor. With Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner graduating and heading to the WNBA, it’s easy to start talking dynasty and a few more trips to the White House.
“We feel like all we can go is up from here,” said Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 18 points in the 93-60 rout of Louisville in the championship game on Tuesday night. “We have so many young people and so many people with experience in a national championship game. That’s only going to make us better.”
Stewart will be the key to that success. Auriemma said when he signed her that the Huskies might not lose many games with her. She’s already 1 for 1 on the biggest stage.
UConn and Auriemma won an eighth national championship, tying Pat Summitt for the most titles in women’s basketball. It may not take long for Auriemma to stand alone atop the list.
While Auriemma said he didn’t want to look ahead, he added: “Stewie certainly is different than any other college player that’s playing right now.”
Stewart had an unprecedented run through the NCAA tournament. Sharpshooting from deep or pounding the boards, she had one of the most remarkable debut runs in the history of the NCAA tournament. Stewart finished with 104 points in only five games — she missed the first-round rout of Idaho to rest a sore calf — the most by any first-year player since 2000, according to STATS. UConn’s Maya Moore held the previous mark with 93 points.
She accomplished something that Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Moore couldn’t do in their first year — win a title. It’s not farfetched to consider Stewart leading Connecticut to an unprecedented four straight championships.
Tennessee won three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98 before falling short in the final in 1999. Still, a lot can happen in the next three years.
“It’s so hard to look ahead,” Auriemma said. “So many things have to go right in the future. The three freshman that we have, I want them to keep getting better and better and better every day. Where that takes us, I don’t know.”
UConn cruised through the tournament winning by an average of 35 points, blowing out Maryland, Kentucky and Louisville. Yet the team struggled and didn’t win a regular season or Big East tournament title for the first time in 19 seasons.
That shouldn’t happen any time soon with the Big East splitting up after this season. UConn will be part of the new American Athletic Conference. With Notre Dame gone to the ACC and Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) leaving after next season, the Huskies should have no problem piling up more conference titles.
But not winning the conference title this year left UConn in an unfamiliar position heading into the NCAAs. It did get the players refocused for the NCAA tournament and another championship run.
“After the Big East tournament loss, we sat in the locker room, and (Auriemma) looked at us. And he said, ‘When we get back together, I’m going to show you how to win a national championship,’” senior Kelly Faris said.
And he did, keeping intact one of the more remarkable streaks in sports. Auriemma and his team have never lost an NCAA title game, going 8 for 8.
“I’ve said this before: I really believe that coaches lose more championship games than they win,” Auriemma said. “You don’t have your team ready for whatever reason, mentally usually. I’ve been in the Final Four a couple of times where we’ve lost, and mentally we weren’t right.
“But we’ve never been in a championship game where mentally we weren’t right. That’s something I’m really proud of.”
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