Twice as nice — UConn completes title sweep
By Jim Fuller
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Four years ago, they came to UConn and put their trust in the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma to drive them to levels they didn’t know they could reach.
The collegiate careers of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley ended with a second straight national title and emotional embraces that Dolson called “a long time coming.”
Dolson played a starring role in UConn’s 79-58 win over rival Notre Dame on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena in the first national-championship showdown between undefeated teams. But it was a typical UConn win with contributions from all five starters and top reserve Kiah Stokes.
UConn won a record ninth Division I title, joined the 2011-12 Baylor team as the only women’s teams to finish 40-0 and completed the championship double with the men’s basketball team for the second time (2004).
“We knew it was going to happen,” Dolson said. “We had confidence in each other and confidence in our team and, to be honest, we all knew we were going to win. That is something that is incredible. Nobody can say that they have (the record), and for him to have it is pretty special. And to get it with this team is even more special.”
Stewart led UConn with 21 points and nine rebounds as she earned Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors for the second year in a row.
Dolson had 17 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks while Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
UConn made seven straight shots to race out to a 22-8 lead. The Huskies did most of their damage in the paint, taking advantage of the absence of All-American Natalie Achonwa -- she tore her ACL in the Elite Eight win over Baylor -- as Dolson and Stewart combined to score 16 of the Huskies’ first 18 points.
It was Stewart, hitting a layup off a feed from Moriah Jefferson, who gave UConn the 14-point lead. With the Huskies leading 24-10, reserve Michaela Mabrey shot the Irish back into the game with a pair of key 3-pointers. However, after back-to-back 3s by Mabrey and McBride pulled Notre Dame within six points, the Huskies were able to regain control long enough to twice extend the lead back to 10 points.
Then Loyd hit a pair of 3-pointers 41 seconds apart to pull the Fighting Irish within five with 27 seconds to play in the half. It looked like that was how the game would stand heading into the locker room, but Mosqueda-Lewis battled two taller Notre Dame players for an offensive rebound after a missed jumper by Dolson and scored on the putback with 2 seconds left to give UConn a 45-38 halftime lead.
“I thought either (Notre Dame) was going to win because we couldn’t stop them or we were going to score a lot because when we get it going it is hard to stop us,” Auriemma said.
McBride had 19 points, Loyd 13 and Mabrey 10 for Notre Dame (37-1).
After the pregame hype surrounding the sour relationship between Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, the two both had huge smiles after Auriemma cracked a joke in the handshake just before the game started. Auriemma went to great lengths to compliment McGraw, her staff and squad, which he called “a great team.”