Four-Peat: UConn beats ‘Cuse for 4th straight national title

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INDIANAPOLIS — Breanna Stewart and UConn stand alone. Geno Auriemma, too, after another flawless season by the dominating Huskies.

UConn won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night, capping another perfect season by routing Syracuse 82-51. Until now, only the UCLA men’s team had won four in a row in Division I, rolling to seven consecutive championships under John Wooden from 1967-73. With Tuesday’s victory, Auriemma passed the Wizard of Westwood with his 11th national title.

Stewart said when she came to campus four years ago that she wanted to win four titles. She delivered on that promise by scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in her final college game.

The Huskies (38-0) have been nearly unbeatable since Stewart arrived. They lost four games her freshman year and only one since. The win over Syracuse was the 75th straight for UConn – all by double figures. Stewart and her fellow seniors went 24-0 in NCAA tourney games, too.

The three-time AP Player of the Year has said it is up to others to decide her place in women’s college basketball lore. There is no denying she is the most accomplished player ever, winning more titles than fellow UConn greats Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, who watched from the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Like the other great UConn teams, this version had a killer instinct. The Huskies scored the first nine points of the game. Stewart had 10 points in the first 6 minutes as UConn built a 23-6 lead. When the Orange made a little run to cut its deficit to 25-13, Moriah Jefferson hit a 3-pointer off a nifty play just before the first-quarter buzzer. UConn’s big three of Stewart, Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who have helped the Huskies to an NCAA record 151 wins over their four years, combined for 26 of the 28 points in the period.

They also handled the Orange’s press with precision passing that led to easy layups. The Huskies were up 50-23 at the half and extended the lead to 33 early in third quarter before Syracuse scored 16 straight points to get within 60-43 with 2:02 left in the period that brought the Orange fans to their feet. Consecutive layups by Napheesa Collier restored the 20-plus point lead and UConn cruised from there.

Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson left the game for good with 1:46 left. They shared an embrace together before hugging Auriemma. The trio then went down the bench hugging every member of the team.

With the victory, UConn continues its perfect run in NCAA championship games. Auriemma has never lost in 11 title appearances. While the names may change, the results are always the same: UConn is still there holding that trophy in the end. This one gave the Hall of Fame coach a sixth undefeated season.

To win her fourth championship, Stewart had to beat her hometown team. Fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-8) had the best season in school history, advancing to its first NCAA championship game. They hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament until this year.

These two teams hadn’t played since the Orange left the Big East for the ACC after the 2013 season. Syracuse has now lost 24 straight against UConn, a skid that dates to 1996.

Cornelia Fondren scored 16 points to lead Syracuse.

UNBEATENS

With Lubbock Christian and Thomas More finishing off their undefeated seasons Monday night in the Division II and III title games, this marks the third year that all three champions didn’t have a loss. It also happened in 1995 and 2014 – and UConn won the D-I titles those years, too. Lubbock Christian and Thomas More players held the flag during the national anthem before the game.

TIP-INS

Syracuse: The Orange had been stellar in the tournament from behind the 3-point line. They came into the game after making 48 3-pointers, averaging nearly 10 a game, and were shooting 33.6 percent from behind the arc. In the title game, they were just 2 for 19.

UConn: The Huskies were also undefeated in 1995, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014. … Auriemma has 109 NCAA Tournament victories, only trailing Pat Summitt (112) for most in the history of the sport. … The Huskies won three straight titles from 2002-04. … Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson had a boot on her left foot after breaking the third metatarsal in the national semifinals. Gabby Williams started in her place.

NIL and NCAA: What to know about the new policy and how NBC Sports can help

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As of July 1, 2021, a new NCAA policy has been in effect allowing student-athletes from all three divisions to monetize their name, image, and likeness (often referred to as NIL). As long as the activities are “consistent with the law of the state where the school is located,” athletes now have the opportunity to accept endorsements from brands, monetize their social media presences, and work with professional firms to coordinate deals.

Click here for additional information and guidelines regarding NCAA NIL policies and keep reading to find answers to questions such as how NIL works as well as how NBC Sports can help.

What is NIL and NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct is coming to a school near you. The program enables college student-athletes to earn money from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) through a unique marketplace that connects athletes with advertisers. NBC Sports Athlete Direct will work to provide equal opportunities to all student-athletes, regardless of which team you play on or any statistical performance.

How will the NIL Marketplace work?

Advertisers will use NBC Sports Athlete Direct to make NIL offers available to college student-athletes. College student-athletes will then have the option to participate in the NIL offer. Those who decide to participate and complete the advertiser’s campaign requirements will be compensated based on a predetermined rate.

How much money can athletes make participating in NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Compensation will vary by advertiser campaign.

When will NBC Sports Athlete Direct launch and how can I sign up?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct will officially launch in the Fall of 2022 but prior to that, we will be launching a pilot program soon, exclusively for Temple and Vanderbilt student-athletes.

In the meantime, click here to fill out a student-athlete interest form and once it is available at your school, we will notify you and provide you with additional information on how to sign up.

If I participate in NIL offers from NBC Sports Athlete Direct, do I still have the freedom to do other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Yes, this program is non-exclusive so our student-athletes will have the freedom to participate in other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct.

What are the rules or restrictions for participating in this program?

Unfortunately, international students and students under the age of 18 are not eligible to participate in the pilot program at this time.

Kentucky to allow college athletes to earn off likeness

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday allowing the state’s college athletes – including players on the nationally renowned Kentucky and Louisville men’s basketball teams – to make money through the use of their name, image or likeness.

The Democratic governor said he took the action as a matter of fairness for college athletes. It will spare Kentucky’s colleges from being at a competitive disadvantage with rivals in other states that will have laws enabling athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness, he said.

“This is important to our student-athletes, who for decades, others – whether it’s companies or institutions – have profited on,” Beshear told reporters. “These athletes deserve to be a part of that.”

Beshear said his executive order takes effect July 1, when similar legislation passed in several other states will become law. His office said he was the first governor to make the change by executive order.

The governor’s action won praise from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. UK plays in the Southeastern Conference and UofL competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Bringing the state of Kentucky into competitive balance with other states across the country and, more specifically, the Atlantic Coast Conference is critical,” Vince Tyra, U of L’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said in a release issued by the governor’s office.

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the governor’s action “provides us the flexibility we need at this time to further develop policies around name, image and likeness.”

“We are appreciative of that support, as it is a bridge until such time as state and/or federal laws are enacted,” Barnhart said in the same release from Beshear’s office. “The landscape of college sports is now in the midst of dramatic and historic change – perhaps the biggest set of shifts and changes since scholarships were first awarded decades ago.”

In Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, laws go into effect July 1 that make it impermissible for the NCAA and members schools to prevent athletes from being paid by third parties for things like sponsorship deals, online endorsements and personal appearances.

The NCAA had hoped for a national law from Congress that has not come, and its own rule-making has been bogged down for months. College sports leaders are instead moving toward the type of patchwork regulation they have been warning against for months.