Why risk raising a callous thumbing through the record book for the chapter UConn has failed to update lately?
Here’s all you need to know: The Huskies did not win the regular-season Big East championship in either of their last two seasons. Each went to Notre Dame. You may remember Notre Dame.
In fact, the two-year drought had happened only three times since UConn’s first Big East title in 1988-89.
This did not sit well with UConn. And it made Monday’s battle for the first American Athletic Conference banner a little more critical for the Huskies, Louisville and the women’s record 22,163 who jammed KFC Yum! Center Monday to watch. UConn wanted the title. The Cardinals wanted the title. UConn usually gets what it wants.
After spotting the Cardinals the game’s first seven points, the Huskies shut down their offense and pounded the offensive boards for a 68-48 win and the first AAC title.
So ends the seventh undefeated regular-season in program history, its first since 2009-10. And UConn’s 37th straight win leaves them at 31-0 heading into this weekend’s AAC Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Breanna Stewart again led UConn with 22 points and 14 rebounds. The Huskies had three others players in double-figures; Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (13 points, 10 rebounds), Bria Hartley (14 points) and Moriah Jefferson (11 points).
Tia Gibbs led the Cardinals (27-3, 16-2) with 16 points. Sara Hammond had 12. But Shoni Schimmel, with over 2,000 points in her career, was held to just nine points, mostly due to the defensive
This was an exciting night, so rare in the first season of mediocre AAC play for the nation’s No. 1 team. It recalled memories of UConn games at Notre Dame and Tennessee (back in the day) where large partisan crowds gathered to cheer – for its demise. The atmosphere was Final Fourish with a flourish.
No. 3 Louisville’s only conference loss this season had been to UConn on Feb. 9 at Gampel, a 17-point game that represented the closest any AAC team had come within the Huskies this season.
After years of playing important games on UConn’s turf, this was Louisville’s night, a night for Walz, its dynamic young coach, and its senior class, led by Shoni Schimmel, its 2,000-point scorer.
A win would not only have earned the Cardinals a share of the title, it would have also forced a post-game coin flip by Danielle Donehew, the AAC’s associate commissioner, to determine the first seed in the upcoming tournament. The freshly minted coin, one embossed logo, was ready for take air.
But it didn’t get that far, just the latest frustration for Walz, who has played UConn in two national championship games, but has never beaten it since he arrived from Maryland in 2007. The Cardinals are now 0-14.
On pure adrenaline, the Cardinals took a 7-0 lead in the first 1:56. They were on the way to making seven of their first nine shots. Keep in mind, UConn had not trailed by more than four at any time this season. The building was roaring.
Finally, Mosqueda-Lewis broke UConn’s silence with a three, the first of her 13 first-half points. He scored again 30 seconds later and when Jefferson’s three drained UConn was down by just one, 11-10.
But by this time, the momentum had already shifted. Having survived the early rush, UConn began to assert itself. Hartley’s three tied the scored for the first time at 16 with 14:13 to play in the half. And from that point on, Louisville’s last lead was 22-21, the product of two Sara Hammond free throws with 11:53 to play.
Over the final 12 minutes, the Huskies advantage on the offensive boards (10-3) caused major problems for Louisville, which also was just 12 of 32 from the field in the first half.
And as a result, and despite a 2-for-9 performance from the harried Stewart, the Huskies outscored the Cardinals 22-7 to the end of the half.
UConn did not take a 20-point lead until Stewart’s free throw made it 62-42 with 3:34 to play. But by then, Louisville’s offense had already sputtered and shut down. They missed 31 of their last 44 shots.