The game demanded perfection. For without perfection in this first-ever NCAA basketball championship game between two unbeaten teams — men or women — there could be no record ninth national title for UConn and Auriemma.
And so it was at 10:29 p.m., with 61 seconds remaining in UConn's 79-58 rout of Notre Dame, that Stefanie Dolson left the court with a smile — the perfect smile — that signaled to Notre Dame, Tennessee, Stanford, Duke and all the others that basketball history had arrived at Bridgestone Arena. More than that, history was about to plant one humongous hug on the UConn women's basketball program.
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True enough, seconds later, Bria Harley, like Dolson completing her final game at UConn, left the court and engaged Auriemma in a long, emotional, humongous hug.
"There's always a moment," Auriemma said, "that kind of brings you to your knees."
And this was it.
They didn't invent basketball in Storrs folks, but UConn can be forgiven if it feels like it perfected it this week. Ten years after UConn became the first school to capture the men's and women's titles in the same season, the Huskies again are the kings and queens of college basketball.
Auriemma, little Luigi from Montella, Italy, who grew up to become the women's game finest coaching mind, has broken Summit's record of eight national championships.
He stands one shy of John Wooden's record of 10 and although it is unfair to compare the men's and women's game, it is fair to compare the two men's insatiable daily pursuit of perfection.
"Where it happens, whether it was here or another city doesn't make no difference to me," Auriemma said. "When you get reminded all the time about what [nine] means, you start to think about what it means. It means we've done something nobody has ever done. You're flattered. You're grateful. But it's not what drives us at UConn. We try to do the right thing.
"There were six ex-players in the locker room and four of them had played on undefeated national champions. You're more proud of the legacy of UConn basketball than the number."
So there in the midst of the pandemonium was Moriah Jefferson dancing with Auriemma's wife, Kathy. There were Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis gleefully mussing up Geno's hair. And there was Geno and his mom in a tender embrace.
In his interview with ESPN after the game, Auriemma teared up. Such was the depth of his feelings for these two seniors. The two walked into a team that was in the middle of its record 90-game winning streak and ever since that first game Auruiemma said he cannot remember any two players who had given more energy to the program.
"So when they came off the floor, we knew exactly what was coming to an end and it was overwhelming," Auriemma said. "Those are two of the most unbelievable kids I've ever been around in my whole life. To see their faces when they walked off the court, I don't usually get this emotional, but this one got to me."
Taya Reimer and Markisha Wright may have helped Notre Dame crush Maryland 50-21 on the boards in the semifinals, but news flash — this wasn't Maryland. The Huskies demolished Notre Dame in the frontcourt. It was ludicrous in retrospect to believe Notre Dame could beat the Huskies without injured Natalie Achonwa. Breanna Stewart, Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis picked Notre Dame apart inside. In UConn's previous three games, Stewart has shot just 13-of-34 from the field. She hit 10-15 for 21 points in this one. Dolson had 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. KML had 18 points.
The Huskies were too long. The Huskies were too strong. Their interior passing was too fine. Stewart, showing everyone who the best player in the nation is, owned the lane Good grief, she almost threw down a dunk on one offensive rebound. The Huskies outscored Notre Dame 52-22 in the paint.
UConn would have beaten Notre Dame, which finishes 37-1, with Achonwa. Without her, they could never beat the Huskies. Never.
"They just overpowered us," McGraw said. "They killed us inside."
Eight times there have been perfect seasons in women's basketball. This is five for UConn, which finishes 40-0. That's a fistful of perfection. The human condition, of course, demanded no such perfection. We are imperfect beings. And imperfect athletic beings, sometimes petty, always hyper-competitive, suffer lapses of grace in the face of extraordinary pressure. Certainly, Auriemma's loose tongue has gotten him into jams during the past three decades in Storrs. Yet before UConn smoked Notre Dame to complete the greatest week in the history of Connecticut basketball, it was McGraw who awkwardly bemoaned a loss of civility between the two powerhouse programs.
Asked what would bring the civility back, McGraw said: "I think we're past that point."
Asked if there is hate between them, McGraw said: "That's a fair assumption."
Civility, it has been said, costs nothing and buys everything. That's not entirely true. It could not buy McGraw her first national title since 2001 and, besides, she must share in the blame for any loss of recent courtesy. She was the one who stood there in front of the ESPN cameras on selection Monday and said things like, "We were disappointed they couldn't fit us into their schedule this year." Said things like, "Kayla McBride is the best player in the country." And, "We've gotten pretty good at beating them."
I was there at Gampel Pavilion when Auriemma was told of that last quote. Notre Dame had beaten UConn seven of the previous nine times yet it wasn't the 2-7 that passed from his lips. It was this, "8-1, Muffet, 8-1."
That's eight national championships to one. Now it is 9-1. And the most hyped game in women's college basketball history was a rout.
Notre Dame and UConn will resume their series next year, so all of this hatred stuff will be juicy fodder and who did or didn't back out of a game this season will be old news. Me? I think Muffet was hunting for more respect from Geno and I think the only way to get it is to win national titles. For this night all that mattered was how badly UConn dominated. Notre Dame had scored in the 80s in all five of its tournament games. The Irish got 58. Defense is all the rage in Storrs. First Kevin Ollie's team rode defense to an incredible national title Monday in Dallas and now Auriemma's team has done the same. The Huskies shut down all the finest teams in the land. And now as they look down, all must bow to UConn.
In a classy, heartfelt statement, Summitt sent along congratulations to UConn and Auriemma.
"Yeah, he's not bad," Dolson said of Auriemma. "He's all right. We're proud of him. Nine national championships is such an amazing accomplishment. And to have two of the nine seems like a small piece, but it's a piece of history and a piece of the legacy he has created.
"Seeing all the old players come back to cheer us on in this game is something I'll never forget. It's a family. We're all connected."
And Geno isn't done.
The family is all connected and, make no mistake, it is history that connects them.