7:30 PM EDT, April 9, 2013
Somehow, they did it again.
Coach Geno Auriemma and his University of Connecticut women's basketball team weren't supposed to win the NCAA National Championship in 2013. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, defined at UConn as only going to the Final Four. Everyone up to President Barack Obama picked Baylor to repeat as national champion behind dominant 6-foot-8 All-America senior center Brittney Griner, the diva of the dunk.
At mid-season, the smart money was on the Baylor scenario. The Bears beat UConn and Notre Dame, the apparent top challengers, and UConn endured three achingly frustrating losses to Notre Dame. For the Huskies, guard Bria Hartley was slow coming back from an injury. The highly promising freshman Breanna Stewart would at times disappear like the ghost in Hamlet, and her classmates Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson hadn't quite clicked into the college game. To win, or not to win?
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to New Orleans. Louisville, a scrappy team with eight losses, knocked off Baylor, an upset about as major as upsets get.
Meanwhile, out in the Storrs section of Mansfield, Mr. Auriemma's charges were playing less like Kelly Clarkson and more like Kelly Faris. Ms. Hartley rediscovered her confidence; Ms. Stewart found her groove; and Ms. Tuck and Ms. Jefferson emerged as very good college players. But good enough to finally beat Notre Dame?
Handily. They waxed the Fighting Irish on Sunday night, 83-65, setting up the championship match against Louisville. Would the Cardinals slay another giant? Not in this story. UConn has won its eighth national championship, tying Mr. Auriemma with the great Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in that category.
More important, in a year when conference realignment has broken up the original Big East — it burned out like a celestial star, with its teams winning the men's and women's titles — UConn made a statement that it's still on top, still ready to take on all comers.
Others may have thought they weren't supposed to win, but the Huskies thought they were. And so they did. You have to love it.
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