UConn defeats Louisville to win National Championship

By Brett Martel
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Shoni Schimmel tried to fling a long, hard bounce pass to Jude Schimmel along the right sideline — the kind of crowd-pleasing play the sisters often pull off — only to have Connecticut’s Bria Hartley pick it off and break the other way.

Soon after, Jude Schimmel appeared to be in tears as she went to the Louisville bench with three fouls in the middle of the first half, watching helplessly while her older sister’s deep jump shots kept rattling off the rim and the Cardinals fell farther and farther behind.

Against mighty Connecticut, Shoni and Jude Schimmel’s “rez ball” repertoire of flashy passes and shots produced about as many misses and turnovers as points and the Cardinals’ stirring run of NCAA tournament upsets came to an end. UConn’s 93-60 win Tuesday night was the biggest blowout ever in a women’s NCAA title game.

“You have to give credit to UConn. They’re a great team. They shot the ball very well and they have an awesome coach,” Jude Schimmel said. “I don’t know, it just went really well for them.”

With their eighth national title — tying Tennessee for most all time — the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma prevented Louisville from joining UConn (2004) as the only school to win national titles in both men’s and women’s basketball in the same season.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that unfortunately we just came up one game short, but I’m proud of my players,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said.

Louisville men’s coach Rick Pitino made the trip to watch the game, one day after his team won the NCAA championship against Michigan, and gave the women’s team a pre-game pep talk. And there was a buzz back home in the Bluegrass State as fans wondered if there would be two titles to celebrate instead of just one.

After all, the women had knocked off Baylor in the tournament’s biggest upset in history, then added Tennessee to their list of victims before becoming the first No. 5 seed to reach the title game by beating Cal.

Even Auriemma had said he wondered going into the game if UConn playing not just against Louisville, but some sort of karma.

“The only team that was better than us the last month was the University of Louisville,” Auriemma said. “They did something I haven’t seen done in the NCAA tournament.”

Even after the loss, Walz made it clear he hadn’t lost sight of his team’s accomplishment.

“It’s without a doubt going to go down as one of the greatest runs in women’s basketball,” Walz said. “The run that we went on I think is remarkable and it’s something I’ll always remember. And I told our players, when we walk out of this place, we’re walking out with our head high.”

Louisville looked ready to give UConn a touch game during the opening eight minutes, but the Huskies took control with a 19-0 first-half run and never looked back, stifling the Cardinals at every turn.

Sara Hammond was the only Louisville player to reach double figures with 15 points. Shoni Schimmel finished with 9.

Even if the sisters had pulled off another rendition of “rez ball,” the free-wheeling style of play they developed growing up on a Native American reservation in Oregon, it might not have been enough to prevent Connecticut from completing another chapter of postseason dominance.

Antonita Slaughter struggled to hit 3-pointers as she had, hitting only one after making six in the NCAA semifinal against California.

Bria Smith’s dribble drives were met with a stout wall of defenders. She hit the floor hard several times, and wound up with seven points, one game after scoring 17.

Walz had said leading up to the game that his team would have to play its best game of the season, even better than it did when knocking off defending champion Baylor and its 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner.