NASHVILLE — Geno Auriemma battled Pat Summitt for years in the race for women's basketball supremacy. By Tuesday night, he passed the retired Tennessee legend in her own backyard.
His Connecticut Huskies beat another rival, undefeated Notre Dame, 79-58 for their ninth national title and second in a row. That moved Auriemma past the eight Summitt won with the Lady Vols. The Huskies have won their last two titles by a combined 54 points.
It also put a cap on another perfect season. UConn (40-0) hasn't lost a game since last year's Big East championship against the Fighting Irish. It's the fifth time in program history the Huskies have completed an undefeated national championship season.
And it's the second time both the UConn men and women have won titles in the same year, the first being in 2004. Not only are the Huskies the only program to have had both teams in the Final Four the same year four times, but they're the only program to have won both titles in the same year once, much less twice.
Auriemma was overtaken by emotion in a postgame interview with ESPN, calling himself the luckiest coach in the world to work with this team, especially the seniors.
"I couldn't be more proud of what we did, and the way we played the entire 40 minutes," Auriemma said. "We beat a great, great, great team tonight.
"I knew if we played great we would win ... and we played better than I thought we were going to play."
The teams traded buckets early and Notre Dame took an 8-6 lead. It was brief, however, as UConn jumped out to a 22-8 lead thanks to a 16-0 run. Notre Dame came back several times in the first half, but got no closer than five. UConn punched back every time Notre Dame rallied and took a 54-38 lead into halftime.
UConn finished them off with a 17-4 run to open the second half. That's when the Irish started to lose their cool.
Rebounding was always going to be key for UConn as Notre Dame (37-1) was without top defender Natalie Achonwa, who tore her ACL in the Elite Eight matchup against Baylor. At the break, the battle on the glass was close, with the Huskies at 20 and the Irish at 18. But UConn ultimately won that fight, finishing with a 54-31 edge.
Breanna Stewart had 21 points to lead the Huskies. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18, and Stefanie Dolson had 17 while also leading her team with 16 rebounds.
Kayla McBride had 21 points for Notre Dame, which suffered its largest margin of defeat since a 70-46 loss to UConn Jan. 16, 2010.
Last year when the programs were still conference foes in the Big East, the Irish beat the Huskies three consecutive times before the NCAA tournament. But UConn knocked Notre Dame out in the Final Four.
This year? Advantage Auriemma. History is his.