NEW ORLEANS — Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma is not one for a free-wheeling style, gimmick defenses or doses of humor when his players make mistakes.
That’s not how it is when you’re at the controls of a machine, particularly one you built yourself. The method is tried-and-true: a roster of excellent players, aggressive play featuring simple man-to-man defense and no nonsense.
And the pace — every play counts, every second.
All of it was on display Tuesday at the New Orleans Arena as the Connecticut women’s basketball team ran through yet another opponent in the NCAA tournament, dominating Louisville 93-60 to win the national championship.
The title is Auriemma’s and UConn’s eighth, tying the school and coach with former Tennessee legend Pat Summitt for the most all time.
“It feels great because of the reaction on these kids’ faces,” Auriemma said. “They’ve had an amazing run. The only team in the tournament that’s had a more amazing run is Louisville. The fact that I tied Pat Summitt’s record is great to be up there with the greatest women’s coach.”
The championship capped off what appeared to be a relatively down year for Connecticut, despite its 35-4 record. UConn did not win the Big East Conference regular-season or tournament title.
“A lot of people on the outside doubted,” senior guard Kelly Faris said. “We had our ups and downs.”
But the Huskies, who had lost in the Final Four to Notre Dame the previous two years, were not to be denied, starting a 19-0 run five minutes into the game and sailing from there. UConn won by an average of 25.5 points in the Final Four and 38 points in the tournament.
With a team in the Final Four for a record sixth consecutive year, UConn was led by forward Breanna Stewart, who scored 23 points and nine rebounds. She became the first freshman since 1987, and just the fourth overall, to be selected the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 18 points, shooting 5-of-8 on 3-pointer. Faris added 16, guard Bria Hartley 13 and center Stephanie Dolson 12.
Louisville (29-9), the first No. 5 seed to reach the Final Four, had knocked off a No. 1 and two No. 2s with its free style of play, and it was looking to join its men’s team as national champions.
“We’re not going to hang our heads,” the Cardinals’ Antonita Slaughter said. “We did the unthinkable.”
However, in the final, they were smothered under a tsunami of depth. That started becoming evident early in the first half.
The Cardinals led 13-8 with 14:40 left in the first half when the game changed dramatically as UConn substituted junior point guard Bria Hartley and 6-foot-2 freshman forward Morgan Tuck into the lineup.
Tuck immediately scored a putback, and that started the Huskies on a 21-1 run — including 19 consecutive points — that produced a 29-14 lead at the 8:44 mark. Hartley pushed UConn’s fast break to another level, and Stewart — who had three points before the run — scored seven during it.
Slaughter ended the run with consecutive baskets, but UConn ran off a 10 points in a 46-second span, including 3s by Mosqueda-Lewis and Faris off passes from Hartley.
By the time starting point guard Caroline Doty returned from going to the bench after a flagrant foul, UConn led 37-20 with 5:04 left before halftime. The lead reached 48-25 at the 1:27 mark, and the Huskies trotted off the court with a 48-29 edge at halftime.
Through it all in the first half, Stewart was a constant, scoring 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds.
The second half began with Louisville’s Sara Hammond hitting a jumper and Shoni Schimmel getting a long 3, and things were starting to look just a bit like Louisville might make a run. And if loose but innovative coach Jeff Walz had something special up his sleeve ...
But Faris answered with two 3s, and it didn’t take long to realize that any best-laid plans by Walz were being laid to rest. After baskets by Sheronne Vails, Louisville trailed 54-38.
Then a six-point burst, with Hartley getting two fast-break baskets, pushed it back to 60-38 with less than five minutes gone in the second half, and the lead grew with each Auriemma substitution.