New Orleans, LA – After the Louisville men's team won the NCAA championship on Monday, the Cardinals' women's squad will try to earn a sweep of the basketball titles on Tuesday.
They'll face a familiar foe in Connecticut at New Orleans Arena in what amounts to the Big East's swan song.
It's been a magical run for Louisville, which, as a five seed, is the lowest- seeded team to reach the women's title game. Jeff Walz's Cardinals first disposed of Middle Tennessee and Purdue, then pulled off the shocker of the tournament with an 82-81 win over Brittany Griner and defending champion Baylor in the Sweet 16 before knocking off Tennessee in the regional final. The win streak reached five games with a 64-57 victory over California in the Final Four on Sunday.
The Cardinals, who are seeking their first ever national title, are 19-15 in 16 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances, with the team's runner-up finish to UConn in 2009 marking its best-ever tournament run.
A fixture in the Final Four lately, Geno Auriemma's Huskies made their sixth straight Final Four, navigating the tournament field as a number one seed with victories over Idaho, Vanderbilt, Maryland and Kentucky. UConn then earned a spot in the title game with Sunday's 83-65 win over Notre Dame, beating the Fighting Irish for the first time in four tries this season.
This is UConn's eighth appearance in the championship game, with a spotless 7-0 mark thus far. Overall, Connecticut is 90-17 in NCAA Tournament play over 25 appearances in the event, with 14 Final Fours and seven NCAA titles (1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010). Another win Tuesday would match Tennessee's record of eight national championships.
It was Connecticut which came out with the victory in the only previous meeting with Louisville this season, a 72-58 decision at home on Jan. 15.
The Cardinals, on Sunday, overcame a 10-point deficit at the half to earn a spot in the title game, knocking off a stunned California squad. Louisville, which shot just 40 percent from the floor in the first half, upped that to 50 percent after the break. Antonita Slaughter led the way with 18 points in the victory, on six 3-pointers. Bria Smith was instrumental in the win as well, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while Shoni Schimmel tallied 10 points and doled out six assists.
A First-Team All-Big East selection this year, Schimmel leads the Cardinals in both scoring (14.3 ppg) and assists (3.6 apg). Sara Hammond (10.7 ppg) and Smith (10.2 ppg) are also posting double figures in the scoring column, with Hammond pacing the team on the boards (6.4 rpg). The Cardinals have enjoyed a +14.4 scoring margin this season, averaging 72.1 ppg, while allowing just 57.6 ppg.
Notre Dame had no answer for UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, who erupted for a career-high 29 points in the Huskies' 18-point romp over the Irish on Sunday. The 6-foot-4 youngster was 10-of-16 from the floor overall, 4-of-5 from behind the arc and added five rebounds and four blocks in the win. Kaleena Mosqueda- Lewis tacked on 16 points against Notre Dame, while Bria Hartley and Kelly Faris finished with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
A potent team at both ends of the floor, UConn boasts of an eye-popping +32.7 scoring margin this season, averaging a robust 82.2 ppg, while limiting opponents to a meager 49.5 ppg. In addition, the team owns a +10.9 rebounding margin and is forcing 19.1 turnovers per game. Mosqueda-Lewis is the driving force at the offensive end, averaging 17.6 ppg. The 6-foot sophomore led the nation in 3-point accuracy this year (.487), setting a school record for 3- pointers made in a season with 113. Scoring depth continues for UConn with Stefanie Dolson (13.6 ppg), Stewart (13.5 ppg) and Faris (10.1 ppg) all making their presence felt on the scoreboard.