- Graham Hays, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 12, UConn's first NCAA title and just the second unbeaten season in women's NCAA history.
Gaze deep into the mists of history and you'll see a time when Rome was just a few buildings on a hill, the Great Wall of China was nothing more than a construction project and Starbucks was just a solitary coffee outpost in Seattle's Pike Place Market.
But every dynasty, whether it comes while subduing Gauls or spreading latte foam to every corner of the world, encounters a point at which the pendulum swings and the energy of expansion transforms into empire.
For Geno Auriemma's women's basketball program at the University of Connecticut, that moment came April 2, 1995, when the Huskies beat Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Volunteers 70-64 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, completing a perfect 35-0 season and earning the program's first national championship.
The Huskies, who won every regular-season and Big East conference tournament game by at least 10 points, had no difficulty getting past Maine, Virginia Tech and Alabama in the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. But to earn the title, the Huskies had to go through Virginia, Stanford and Tennessee in the final three rounds. Fittingly, the opposition represented three of the most dominant programs in the women's game at the time.
Playing the last of four NCAA Tournament games at home in Storrs, Conn., the Huskies first avenged a 1991 loss in their initial visit to the Final Four, beating Virginia 67-63 to win the East Regional. Fresh off that triumph, Connecticut scored a surprisingly easy 87-60 win against Stanford in the Final Four in Minneapolis, setting up a rematch with Tennessee for the championship. Slightly more than two months before the title game, in a nationally televised showdown between the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams which also served as the first-ever meeting between the programs, Connecticut had defeated Tennessee by 11 points in Storrs.
By the time the Huskies reached the title game against the Lady Vols, Auriemma had already cemented the school's place in the upper echelon of women's college basketball. The Huskies were making their seventh consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and had won 64 of their last 67 games. But it was the pursuit of perfection and the presence of Rebecca Lobo, supported by Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters and Jamelle Elliott, that set the team apart from other would-be contenders to the throne. Connecticut had a story capable of seizing the headlines at a time when women's basketball coverage was still frequently relegated to box scores and the agate type.
All they had to do was beat Summitt's legendary Tennessee program for a second time.
The Lady Volunteers took a six-point lead at halftime, but Lobo rallied from foul trouble, scoring 11 of her 17 points in the second half to lead a comeback that saw the Huskies outscore the more experienced Lady Vols 38-26 in the final 20 minutes. As was the case all season, Lobo lived up to the star billing but got plenty of support from Rizzotti (15 points) and Elliott (13 points). And when it was all over, the Huskies had their perfect season.
There were great programs in women's college basketball long before the Huskies arrived on the scene, and there were good teams at Connecticut long before that championship season, but something changed for all involved with the sport that night in Minneapolis.
Summitt and Tennessee would reclaim the title the following season, and the Huskies wouldn't win their second championship until 2000, but the balance of power had shifted. By making the most of their one shot at perfection, the Huskies had seized a share of the spotlight not only for the University of Connecticut, but for women's basketball as a whole.
Click here to see when the next memorable moment will air in our countdown.