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Nashville, Tenn. — It was a national championship game, thus the UConn women's basketball team played up to the moment.
The best teams show up in the big moments and, man, did the Huskies ever do that. They scored 16 straight points early in the first half and never looked back as they routed previously unbeaten Notre Dame on Tuesday night, 79-58, to successfully defend their crown at Bridgestone Arena.
Nine national championship appearances.
A record nine national championships for the Huskies.
Forty and zero.
"There's nothing to explain about it," UConn senior Stefanie Dolson said about the program's ability to shine brightest in national championship games. "You come into every year knowing you have one ultimate goal, which is to win the national championship. So you know when you get there (to the final), you're so prepared that there's no other ending than winning, you know?
"I think a lot of people said that we had a lot pressure going into this game. When you're prepared, you don't feel the pressure at all. We went into it knowing that we had this game. We had a lot of confidence."
The Huskies had a 54-31 rebounding advantage. They also held the Fighting Irish to 20 second-half points.
Remember, Notre Dame was the unbeaten, second-ranked team in the country. And the Huskies spent much of the game pummeling the Irish on the mat, waiting to see if the ref would stop the fight.
"UConn knows how to win championships," Huskies senior Bria Hartley said. "Nine-and-0. The men (are) 4-0. When there's a national championship on the line, we're going to go out there and play our best basketball."
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, "Connecticut, they just overpowered us. They killed us inside. Their bigs were just too much for us."
UConn sophomore Breanna Stewart more than lived up to the two national player of the year honors she collected over the weekend. She made 10 of 15 shots for 21 points and was named most outstanding player of the Final Four for the second straight year.
Dolson ended her career with 17 points, a game-high 16 rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies while junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 18 points and seven rebounds and Hartley scored 13.
Kayla McBride scored 21 for Notre Dame (37-1). Jewell Loyd added 13 points.
UConn started the night hot after slow starts in its previous two tournament games. Stewart scored on a cutter off a pass from Dolson, followed by Dolson's easy layup.
The Irish did manage to come back and take their only lead of the night, 8-6, but then the Huskies took over with a 16-point run over the next four minutes to open a 22-8 lead with 11 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first half.
Sixteen straight points.
It was the largest deficit Notre Dame had faced all season. Tennessee had taken a 39-27 lead on it back on Jan. 20. It came back to win that game, 86-70.
There were more than four minutes to play in the first half when Kiah Stokes stole the ball from McBride and threw up ahead to Stewart who was on the break.
Stewart drove right-to-left, spun around and hooked in a crazy layup that set off a roar from UConn fans. It gave the Huskies a 37-25 lead with over four minutes to play in the half.
The Huskies treated the start of the second half much like the first. Hartley drove in for a layup, and Stewart caught Mosqueda-Lewis' alley-oop pass in the post for a layup.
Jefferson followed with a steal and went the distance for a layup and a 53-40 UConn lead with over 16 minutes left in the game, prompting McGraw to call timeout.
Dolson muscled in a layup after the timeout to make it 55-40 Huskies.
Two Hartley free throws gave the Huskies their largest lead, 71-47, with 3:46 left.
Hartley nailed a 3-pointer with over two minutes left to push UConn back ahead by 22 points (76-54), and broke into a grin.