UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) New league, same result. It’s another championship for UConn.
Breanna Stewart scored 20 points and top-ranked Connecticut beat No. 3 Louisville 72-52 on Monday night to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament.
”You have a goal on October 15 when you start and the whole process is about that. New league, new coaches, new venue that was all exciting for us,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ”I don’t know how many conference championships the American is going to host in their lifetime, but we won the first one and there’s something special about that.”
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It’s the 19th conference tournament championship for the Huskies, who won their first 18 in the Big East Conference.
With the victory, UConn (34-0) becomes the 14th team to enter the NCAA tournament without a loss. It’s the sixth time that the Huskies have accomplished that feat. They’ve gone on to win the national championship four of those years.
UConn got off to a quick start, scoring the first eight points of the game. Louisville trailed 28-20 with 6 minutes left in the first half before Stewart took over.
Her three-point play started a 12-2 run to close the half. Stewart, the tournament’s MVP, had seven points during the burst as UConn led 40-22 at the break.
”We always try to go on a run,” Stewart said. ”We wanted to go into halftime on a good note and stepped up our game.”
Louisville (30-4) scored the first five points in second half, but could get no closer because of Stewart and the Huskies.
”It’s going to take 40 minutes of very, very good basketball in order for anybody to beat them,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. ”That’s one thing I’ve been preaching to our players the entire time. You can’t play for 20, can’t play for 30, it takes 40 minutes of basketball.”
Bria Hartley added 16 points and Stefanie Dolson had 10 points and 16 rebounds for the Huskies, who have won 40 straight games – the third-longest streak in school history. It was the third straight game that UConn put a team away by the end of the first half.
”I think things are definitely clicking,” Dolson said. ”We went out there and played extremely well as a team and executed on offense and played great defense. The NCAA is coming up and every team is getting better. We can’t stay complacent and not better ourselves. I’m extremely excited we won, but we got to keep getting better from here.”
Shoni Schimmel led Louisville with 20 points, but was 7 for 25 from the field. She had little help as no other Cardinals player reached double figures.
Once again, Louisville had no answer for the Huskies, losing for the third time this season and the 16th straight time overall. The Cardinals have only beaten the Huskies once and that was in the first meeting between the schools back in 1993.
”I’m not naive enough to think that we can play Louisville twice a year for the next 10 years and they never beat us,” Auriemma said. ”They are too good a team and he’s too good a coach for that to happen.”
Walz hopes he doesn’t have to see UConn again until potentially the Final Four. The Cardinals are hosting a regional in the NCAA tournament and there is a chance that UConn could be sent down there as a one seed.
The teams likely won’t face off in conference action anymore, with Louisville heading to the ACC next season. Both sides hope to keep the series alive though.
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