NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Breanna Stewart scored in seemingly every way possible, piling up 18 points as Connecticut used a 19-0 run to race to a 48-29 halftime lead over Louisville in the women's NCAA championship game Tuesday night.
When the 6-foot-4 Stewart wasn't putting back teammates' misses inside, she was draining a pair of 3s or hitting mid-range jumpers. And with a tip-in with 7:04 left in the first half, Stewart surpassed former UConn star Maya Moore for the most points by a freshman in the NCAA tournament since 2000, according to STATS LLC.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made three 3-pointers and had 12 first-half points for UConn.
Sara Hammond had 11 points for Louisville, which had strung together upsets against Baylor, Tennessee and California to reach the title game. Louisville was trying to become only the second team to win both the men's and women's titles in the same season (UConn, 2004), and men's coach Rick Pitino gave them a pregame pep talk and stayed to watch the game.
Instead, the Cardinals saw their hopes for one last magical win dwindling as the teams went to the locker room.
Louisville, which has done unorthodox things throughout its string of upsets, opened the game with Hammond hitting a 3 for the game's first basket. The Cardinals stayed right with UConn through the first 10 minutes, using a 6-0 run that included four points by Hammond to take an 11-7 lead.
Louisville was still up 14-10 a little more than seven minutes into the game when Bria Hartley's smooth jumper from the top of the key got UConn rolling. Hartley followed that with a steal and layup to tie it, and then Mosqueda-Lewis hit a jumper as Connecticut quickly to a double-digit lead with the 19-0 run spanning more than five minutes.
The run included a three-point play by Mosqueda-Lewis and one 3-pointer each by Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis, the last putting the Huskies ahead 29-14 with more than eight minutes still to go.
"Going inside and outside, that's tough to guard in general," Stewart told ESPN at halftime. "If I keep doing that, I think Louisville will have a tough time guarding me."
Louisville coach Jeff Walz had said leading up to the game that his team would have to play its best game of the season, even better than it did against Baylor. That meant the Cardinals would likely need another big game from sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel, who had helped carry Louisville on its surprising run to the title game.
They both had a rough start.
Shoni Schimmel missed her first six shots and Jude Schimmel was on the bench, briefly in tears, after committing her third foul with 9:21 still to go in the half.
At a break in the first half, Walz told ESPN his team panicked during UConn's monster run: "They started executing. ... We've got to figure out a way to get them out of the paint."