INDIANAPOLIS – In time, future generations will want to know about the man who built the castle in the cornfield, the women’s basketball program that for decades defined greatness, consistency and dedication to task.
They will look back and study his methodologies, remember the great players that passed through UConn and turned it into the model others could only aspire to imitate.
Eventually, they will turn to what happened on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the nation’s heartland. They will call it the coronation, the day when the Huskies, for once and all, for the past and the present and perhaps the future, stood apart in their prominence.
Here is what they will say: The greatest senior class in the history of the game, and their architect, Geno Auriemma, did something no one had ever done before, not Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols, not John Wooden’s Bruins.
Led by their big three of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, wearing the uniform for the final time, playing with force and determination, UConn drilled Syracuse, 82-51, to win the 2016 NCAA national championship and make more history.
“This team is its own entity,” Geno Auriemma said.
Stewart led the Huskies with 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Tuck had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And Jefferson scored 13 points with five assists.
The title was an unprecedented fourth straight for the Huskies (38-0). It was their record 11th, one more than Wooden won at UCLA. And it ties Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles in Chicago and Los Angeles.
The win was also the NCAA-record 151st for the class of Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson, the only trio in NCAA Division I basketball history to win four national titles.
And it affixed a bright blue bow on a sixth undefeated season that will take the Huskies into next year on a 75-game winning streak, 15 short of tying its all-time record.
They won by slipping through the tough exterior of a bold Syracuse program playing in its first Final Four. The Orange made it this far relying on their defensive fortitude, boundless energy and timely three-point shooting.
But even Orange coach Quentin Hillsman apparently had a premonition when he said he thought the Huskies had forgotten how to lose.
“That’s kind of a really good thing to forget,” Gabby Williams said.
Until the third quarter, when the Orange cut a 60-27 lead to 60-43, forcing mistakes with their press, Syracuse was no match for UConn, whose desire more than matched their skill, whose solutions certainly confounded it.
Napheesa Collier was the one who ended the confounding 16-0 run with two quick baskets that restocked the lead and sent the Huskies into the fourth quarter ahead, 64-43.
After dreaming so big, waiting so long and playing so flawlessly all season, the Huskies were not to be denied.
“Those were the conversations we had,” Moriah Jefferson said of the senior class. “We knew we had the opportunity to do something special. We came into the season with a lot of great players surrounding us, so we knew our pieces were there and we had the outside pieces.”
This was their night. This was their moment, just as Stewart imagined it would be when she arrived on campus. Her class batted 1.000 in national championships – four for four.
“Stewie, Mo” Jefferson “and I kind of talked about it when we first came here,” Tuck said of winning four straight.
There was never any doubt about the game. The Huskies roared to a 9-0 lead in the first 3:27 using a pair of three-pointers from Stewart and Jefferson to help build the lead.
Syracuse’s immediate response was to try to make their trademark three-pointers – they had 12 in their semifinal win over Washington – but they missed their first three and the Huskies slowly built the lead.
The first 10-point lead came on a three-pointer from Stewart with 4:12 to play in the first quarter. That made the score 18-6. The Huskies built the lead to 17 points (23-6) before the quarter ended with them leading 28-13.
Any hope the Orange had of tightening the deficit with pressure defense quickly faded when the Huskies were so adept at breaking it. They turned the ball over six times in the first half and shot 16 for 31 to take a 50-23 lead.
Stewart had 14 points in the half. Tuck added 13 and Jefferson had 11. And the Huskies totally controlled the boards, outrebounding the Orange, 26-12.
Syracuse was not moving the ball around well in the half, shooting only 30 percent from the field (9 for 30). It was 2 for 12 from three-point range with only one assist.