UConn women display all-around dominance in title game, final UPS Index
Connecticut's dominance over the course of the women's basketball season drew a comparison to the Miami Heat.
As evidenced by yet another finish atop the UPS Team Performance, even LeBron James would have a difficult time playing as efficiently as the Huskies.
Imposing its will on every facet of the game just like it has all season, UConn capped a 40-0 campaign with a 79-58 rout in Tuesday's title tilt over previously unbeaten Notre Dame. The victory left little doubt who the best team in the land was, extending the Huskies' Index margin over the second-place Fighting Irish to more than eight points.
"That was an unbelievable team we played tonight," said Auriemma, who brought his ninth championship -- and second in a row -- back to Storrs. "And we played about as well as we played at any other time in the season for sure."
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges data covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance. Highlighted statistics include effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency and miscues.
After being combined with winning percentage and quality-of-opponent metrics, the numbers are normalized and an overall index is created for all 343 NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of excellence and overall balance.
This unprecedented clash of unbeatens was arguably the most highly anticipated women's basketball game in history. The Irish had beaten their former Big East rivals three times a season ago, then lost 83-65 in the Final Four before the schools moved to separate conferences this season.
A thrilling contest figured to be on tap since Notre Dame led the nation in field-goal percentage (50.6) and scoring (86.1), and was second in 3-point shooting (40.2). UConn ranked second in shooting (50.3), 10th in scoring (82.1) and 17th in 3-point shooting (36.6)
But although the Irish's offense may have looked stronger on paper, UConn clearly had the better offense on the hardwood, finishing at 46.6 percent to Notre Dame's season-low 35.5 percent. For all their success over the course of the year, the Irish's poor shooting wasn't a total shocker: The Huskies topped the Index in defensive efficiency -- as well as offensive and ball-handling efficiency.
The thoroughness of UConn's dismantling led Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw to compare Auriemma's club to the NBA champion Heat, led, of course, by James, who is widely known by followers of NBA analytics for his offensive efficiency.
"I said something like, 'I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while you guys are just that good.' What a great season, you know things like that," McGraw said. "I thought ... LeBron was the only thing they were missing."
Notre Dame finished a whopping 11 points below its previous lowest output and was grasping for answers afterward. Jewell Loyd, averaging a team-best 18.6 points, was held to 13 and made 4 of 15 shots for her worst shooting effort of the season.
"I think a lot of it was ourselves," said Irish guard Kayla McBride, who scored 21 points. "I think we were kind of beating ourselves, we weren't in the rhythm in the offense, we weren't making the extra pass, we weren't playing the normal way we've been playing the past 37 games."
A more likely explanation was that Notre Dame had not seen a defense as good as UConn all season. Only one team in Division I was within 10 points of the Huskies' defensive efficiency rating.
"Our defense today was unbelievable," Auriemma said. "It was incredible. I mean, to hold that team to 20 points in the second half, that's incredible."
UConn figured to be tested on the glass, but that was where it actually enjoyed its biggest edge. The Irish entered the Final Four ahead of the Huskies in the Index in rebounding percentage, but that was before UConn center Stefanie Dolson grabbed 16 boards to help her team to a whopping 54-31 advantage.
"Stefanie Dolson played the game of her life and got every rebound," Auriemma said. "And that was the key."
The backboards were also where the loss of Notre Dame senior forward Natalie Achonwa was most apparent. Achonwa averaged 7.7 rebounds, but was lost March 31 when she tore her left ACL in an 88-69 win over Baylor in a regional final.
"We just knew we had to rebound the ball," Auriemma said. "We knew we had to outrebound them by a lot. Not by a little."
Notre Dame did hang on to second in the Index, and was the only team in the nation that UConn did not enjoy a double-digit overall efficiency rating over. Final Four participants Stanford and Maryland -- who lost by a combined 45 points to UConn and Notre Dame in the national semifinals -- finished third and ninth, respectively.
There were two major Index categories that did not feature UConn on top. Liberty led the way in rebounding while Mississippi State topped the miscues algorithm after leading all major conference teams by forcing an average of 21.5 turnovers.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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