The start of a new tradition
Mohegan - Breanna Stewart was walking back from midcourt, bathed in the cheers of 8,034 fans, who saluted her and the Most Outstanding Player trophy in tow. Her UConn teammates mobbed her, rubbing her head and messing up her hair.
If only any of the Louisville players got that close to her at any moment Monday night.
Stewart's 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists helped the Huskies earn the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament championship, a 72-52 victory over Louisville at Mohegan Sun Arena.
UConn (34-0) has nearly two weeks off now, awaiting its NCAA Tournament draw. The Huskies will play the opening rounds at Gampel Pavilion March 23 and 25.
"There are so many ways I can improve," Stewart said. "Being able to do a lot of different things on the court, that means there are so many other things that you can get better at, just not getting complacent and wanting to be the best player I can be."
Stewart joined teammates Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis on the all-tournament team along with Louisville's Shoni Schimmel and Courtney Williams of South Florida.
Hartley had 16 points and six assists, Mosqueda-Lewis scored 13 and Dolson had 10 points and 16 rebounds, although UConn coach Geno Auriemma teased her about her 4-for-13 shooting.
""It's not so much the trophies and the watches or whatever you get, the hats and shirts, they're meaningless," Auriemma said. "It's nice but they don't really mean anything. The significance of this is you have a goal when you start October 15th. Our goal is to win the conference championship, and then the process is about that. So when you actually do it reinforces that our process is right. We're doing it the right way."
Schimmel led the Cardinals (30-4) with 20 points.
Louisville, which made last season's national championship game, will play host to one of the nation's four regionals later this month. It's possible the Cards would meet Connecticut again.
"You know, we know that we very well could play them again. And, you know, I believe we can beat 'em. I mean, hell, what do you play the game for?" Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "I had a reporter ask my player last time, 'do you think you could beat UConn?' (She) said yes and then (the reporter) blasted (her) for it.
"What the hell you supposed to say, no?" Walz said. "Yeah, we show up to play the game to win. If nobody thinks they can be beat them, let's save a bunch of money and not have the tournament and give 'em the trophy now. But I believe everybody thought the same thing about Baylor last year.
"It might not be us that does it, but I know how Geno prepares his kids. And he's not in that locker room right now going, 'It's going to be a breeze for the next three weeks. Let's go to the casino and roll some dice for the next three days.' That's not how he prepares his kids. I'm excited we're going to get the opportunity to continue to play."
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