NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut Huskies remain perfect in every way.
Behind the unstoppable trio of forwards Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and center Stefanie Dolson, the Huskies routed Notre Dame 79-58 in the NCAA championship game Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
In the first title-game matchup between unbeaten teams, Connecticut (40-0) opened the second half with a 16-4 run, breaking open what was a seven-point game at the half.
Stewart finished with 21 points, and Mosqueda-Lewis added 18. Dolson contributed 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Auriemma is now 9-0 in NCAA title contests, breaking a tie with former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for the most women’s hoops titles in NCAA Division I history.
Connecticut led by 14 early and looked on the way to an easy win before Notre Dame (37-1) made things interesting toward the end of the first half. However, the Huskies went back to doing what they did early in the first half — pounding the ball inside to the three frontcourt players — and they went up 63-42 before Notre Dame forward Ariel Braker snapped the run by scoring with 9:42 left.
All-America guard Kayla McBride led the Irish with 21 points, and guard Jewell Loyd added 13 points.
For the first 10 minutes, the Huskies shredded Notre Dame, getting any shot they wanted from just about any spot on the floor — and given that the Fighting Irish were playing without injured 6-foot-3 forward Natalie Achonwa, what Connecticut wanted was layups.
Including put-backs, the Huskies got plenty of them — eight, to be exact — while sprinting out to a 24-10 lead. Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart each had eight points during that spurt, and Dolson scored the other six.
By that time, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw had seen enough, and she went to various zones, even including a triangle-and-two. That disrupted the continuity of the Connecticut offense for a bit, but eventually the Huskies started hitting longer shots, including two 3-pointers by Mosqueda-Lewis.
In the meantime, the Irish, sparked by guard Michaela Mabrey’s instant offense off the bench, found an offensive flow of their own. Mabrey hit two 3-pointers, and McBride, who led the Irish with 13 first-half points, hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 29-23 with exactly six minutes left in the half.
The teams mostly traded buckets from there, with the Huskies holding a 45-38 lead at the break behind 14 each from Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart.
NOTES: The storied programs met for the 42nd time. Connecticut had a 30-11 edge coming in, but the Fighting Irish won seven of the past nine. The programs took turns ending each other’s seasons in the past three NCAA Tournaments. In 2011, Notre Dame beat Connecticut 72-63 in the Final Four. In 2012, the Fighting Irish again prevailed in the Final Four by an 83-75 count. Last year, the Huskies routed Notre Dame 83-65 in the Final Four before going on to beat Louisville 93-60 for the national title.