St. Louis With one final blowout, UConn grabbed the national title and a piece of basketball history.
Tina Charles had 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds Tuesday night as UConn routed Louisville, 76-54, and captured the Huskies’ sixth national championship.
It wasn’t just that Connecticut claimed another title. It was how they did it.
UConn won every one of its 39 games by double digits, an unprecedented run in college basketball.
Charles was the star of the last big win. She commanded both ends of the floor and Louisville, which lost badly to UConn for the third time this season, had no one who could stop her.
Coach Geno Auriemma had said before the tournament that his junior center would be the key to UConn winning the title. A year after he benched her in the NCAAs for inconsistent play, Charles delivered.
“I’m really happy for her,” Auriemma said.
“I told Tina before the game, I said ‘Sunday night you played against an All-American center and you played defense and you worked as hard as the best center in America and now you have to prove it tonight’ and she did.”
Charles was 11-for-13 from the field, and fell just one rebound short of becoming only the second player ever in a championship game to have at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. She was named the outstanding player of the Final Four.
Maya Moore and senior Renee Montgomery each added 18 points for the Huskies.
“It was another challenge and I wanted to show my teammates they could depend on me,” Charles said. “I wanted to send off Renee being happy. I wanted her to have all smiles for the next step in her career.”
Angel McCoughtry finished off her stellar career for Louisville with 23 points. Candyce Bingham was the only other Cardinal in double figures with 10 points as Louisville (34-5) shot a dismal 31 percent from the floor.
Unlike its previous two wins over Louisville, it took about 15 minutes for UConn to begin pulling away from the Cardinals.
With the game tied at 17, Connecticut scored nine of the next 11 points, including seven by Charles, to take a 26-19 lead on her three-point play.
After Bingham scored to draw Louisville to 30-24, the Huskies turned up their defense. Louisville missed 18 straight shots spanning the half and Connecticut built a 19-point advantage.
“It’s the big stage, our first time playing in a national championship game,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “The first five minutes was what I was most concerned about. We went back and forth and I felt really good about things. Then we started to rush some shots.”
Louisville (34-5) came into its first title game with little pressure. The Cardinals were big underdogs, bidding to knock off three No. 1 seeds on their way to a championship.
Busloads of Louisville fans made the 250-mile trip from Kentucky to pull for the Cardinals, and even though the game wasn’t sold out for the first time in 17 years, the matchup of Big East schools still had a raucous feel to it.
But it was the Connecticut players celebrating at the end as they carried Auriemma off the court.
The victory put the Huskies in the same class as UConn’s other unbeaten teams, in 1995 and 2002. Besides Connecticut, only Tennessee and Texas have run through a season without a loss.
The title was Connecticut’s first since 2004. UConn was suffering through its longest “drought” since first winning in 1995.