Perfect ending for UConn's seniors
It wasn't just that the Huskies finished the season 38-0 for its second undefeated season in the last three years but it was the way that Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were able to leave the court together with 1:46 left to play.
Natalie Butler, Saniya Chong and Napheesa Collier were waiting at the scorers' table and with the ball in Stewart's hands, UConn coach Geno Auriemma asked for the subs to be let into the game. Stewart slammed the ball to the court in a moment of pure elation, caught it and a huge smile came over her face as she stood not far from the deliriously happy UConn bench. Jefferson and Tuck quickly closed in and the trio who accomplished such incredible things over the last four seasons embraced before being greeted by coaches and teammates.
"I can hear Coach (Auriemma) saying that he wants to get the subs in," Stewart said. "I knew it was for the three of us and to be able to show that kind of emotion as we walked off, hugging each other and having a group hug with Coach, with us we do everything together, there is no individual in our group."
"Coming off the court with Morgan and Mo, it was perfect to be able to celebrate that with them, enjoy that with them, to have our fans, friends, family cheering for us as we walked off. We came in together so we might as well walk off the court together.
Making things even more perfect, fellow senior Briana Puldio hit a corner jumper with 11 seconds left in the game to provide the capper. A day earlier Auriemma said that if Pulido made a 3-pointer that practice would be over and she connected.
"It’s such a fitting ending," UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse said. "(Pulido) comes to practice each and every day, plays her role and makes sure there is energy. For her to come in and hit that basket was incredible; it was a fabulous ending."
Pulido shot sent the UConn players on the bench into a frenzy.
"It feels very special," Pulido said. "I am really glad to be on a team with amazing basketball players."
Jefferson is the first player in NCAA Division I women's basketball history to go 24-0 in the NCAA tournament. She is also part of the winningest class in NCAA women's basketball history.
"Greatest feeling in the world," Jefferson said. "We've won three championships before but this by far feels the best."
The only bit of unfinished business will come on Wednesday when Tuck makes her intentions known as she has yet to announce whether she will return to UConn for a fifth season or leave at season's end to embark on a pro career.
UCONN TO HONOR CHAMPS
UConn announced plans for the return to campus to celebrate the program's 11th national title.
The team and its travel party will leave Indianapolis via charter flight at 2:30 p.m. and is expected to return to Bradley International Airport at approximately 4:15 p.m. There will be no public event at the airport.
The team will then return to campus for a National Champions "Victory Lap" through campus beginning at approximately 5:15 p.m. The team will ride in an open-air double decker bus and will be accompanied by the UConn pep band and cheerleaders.
The "Victory Lap" route will begin at the Mansfield Town Square in Storrs Center, located on Route 195/Storrs Road. Then it will leave Storrs Center, head north on Route 195 before making a quick turn onto Mansfield Road to enter campus. The team will then turn onto Gilbert Road (past the South and West Campus and Alumni residence halls) and right onto Hillside Road (past McMahon Hall and the UConn Co-Op) before arriving at Gampel Pavilion.
There will be a championship rally inside Gampel Pavilion. Doors to Gampel Pavilion will open at 4:30 p.m.
In the event of inclement weather, the Victory Lap will be cancelled and the team will go directly to Gampel Pavilion for the rally. A decision will be made by 1:00 p.m. and the public will be informed through social media @UConnWBB and @UConnHuskies on Twitter and on UConnHuskies.com.
Fans can track the Huskies’ exact progress from Bradley International Airport to campus with updates from Twitter at @UConnWBB.
Parking for the event on campus will be available in both the North and South Parking Garages. For those wishing to park at Storrs Center, there is free two-hour parking in that garage.