Women's basketball: Huskies punch out Irish
UConn dominates Notre Dame to capture record setting ninth national title
NASHVILLE - No one could have expected that the battle of unbeatens would be won so comfortably. Except maybe UConn, which knocked off Notre Dame 79-58 to claim its ninth national championship Tuesday in convincing fashion.
"I think under the circumstances, we pretty much only had five players, six players the whole tournament," Geno Auriemma said, "I think it's pretty remarkable what these kids did."
The Irish simply couldn't contend with the Huskies' size on the interior. UConn scored 52 points in the paint on the night, and the high-percentage nature of those shots allowed them to shoot at an efficient 46.6 percent from the floor.
Without Natalie Achonwa-who tore her ACL in the Elite Eight-to play on the inside, Breanna Stewart had her way seemingly every time she touched the ball in the post. Stefanie Dolson did much the same. They finished with a combined 38 points and 25 rebounds.
"We knew that we could really dominate them in the paint," Stewart, who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, said. "Just trying to get at them early and just being aggressive, getting to the basket, that was one of our game plans."
Just nine minutes into the game, the Huskies had handed the Irish their biggest deficit of the season at 14 points.
UConn's extra size was just as evident on the glass. The Huskies dominated the rebounding battle, 54-31, and grabbed 22 offensive boards in the process.
Dolson was especially effective in that area and picked up 16 rebounds, her best total in an NCAA tournament game and just two off her career high.
"We knew they're an extremely tough rebounding team," Dolson said. "Even though they're a little undersized now without Achonwa, they really crash the boards hard. So we knew going into it we were going to have to have one of our best rebounding games."
After scoring 38 points in the first half, Notre Dame (37-1) seemed certain to easily break the 56-point mark, the most points UConn had allowed in an NCAA tournament game this season.
They did, but just barely, and with plenty of trouble.
Instead, the Huskies dominated on the defensive end out of the break, limiting the Irish to just four points over the first 10 minutes. UConn forced Notre Dame to rely on mostly jump shots, swarming whenever the ball came inside to prevent easy baskets.
In total, they managed just 20 over the game's final 20 minutes and limped to a 35.5-percent shooting night.
UConn's ninth national championship pushes it ahead of Tennessee as the winningest program in women's basketball history.
The Huskies are just the second team to ever finish 40-0 and have now finished the season unbeaten five times. Outside of that, only three women's basketball teams have ever gone undefeated and no school lays claim to more than one such season.
The 21-point victory extended UConn's winning streak to 46 games, dating back to it opening round NCAA tournament victory against Idaho last March. Over that span, the Huskies have not played a single game decided by single digits.
"It just shows how strong we are and how unique we are as a team," Stewart said. "The fact that we can come into games and win by such a big margin, that's what separates us."
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