ST. LOUIS — Unbeaten, unchallenged and national champions. After one last blowout, Connecticut could finally exhale and take its place in basketball history. Tina Charles had 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds Tuesday night as UConn routed Louisville 76-54 and captured the Huskies' sixth title.
"I'm so overwhelmed how I feel about the way it ended," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said a few minutes after he helped cut down the nets at the Scottrade Center and was carried off the court. "This is the first time since the brackets came out I didn't feel like I'm going to get sick, physically sick, thinking about everything that was ahead of us."
It wasn't just that Connecticut claimed another championship. It was how they did it.
UConn won every one of its 39 games by double digits, a first in college basketball.
"This is first time we can stop and enjoy the win for more than a couple of days," said senior guard Renee Montgomery, with a beaming smile and a championship net dangling around her neck. "We're always looking to the future. Now we have time to enjoy this win and all the other ones."
Charles was the star of the final victory. She commanded both ends of the floor and Louisville, which lost badly to UConn for the third time this season, had no one who could stop her.
Auriemma had said before the tournament that his junior center would be the key to UConn winning the title. A year after he benched her in the NCAAs for inconsistent play, Charles delivered.
"I'm really happy for her," Auriemma said.
"I told Tina before the game, I said 'Sunday night you played against an All-American center and you played defense and you worked as hard as the best center in America and now you have to prove it tonight' and she did."
Charles was 11-for-13 from the field, and fell just one rebound short of becoming only the second player ever in a championship game to have at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. She was named the outstanding player of the Final Four.
Maya Moore and Montgomery each added 18 points for the Huskies.
"It was another challenge and I wanted to show my teammates they could depend on me," Charles said. "I wanted to send off Renee being happy. I wanted her to have all smiles for the next step in her career."
Angel McCoughtry finished off her stellar career for Louisville with 23 points. Candyce Bingham was the only other Cardinal in double figures with 10 points as Louisville (34-5) shot a dismal 31 percent from the floor.
"We have nothing to be disappointed about," McCoughtry said. "We're going to hold our heads up high and we're grateful to be here. We have so much to be proud of."
Unlike its previous two wins over Louisville, it took about 15 minutes for UConn to begin pulling away from the Cardinals.
With the game tied at 17, Connecticut scored nine of the next 11 points, including seven by Charles, to take a 26-19 lead on her three-point play.
After Bingham scored to draw Louisville to 30-24, the Huskies turned up their defense. Louisville missed 18 straight shots spanning the half and Connecticut built a 19-point advantage.
"It's the big stage, our first time playing in a national championship game," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "The first five minutes was what I was most concerned about. We went back and forth and I felt really good about things. Then we started to rush some shots."
Louisville came into its first title game with little pressure. The Cardinals were big underdogs, bidding to knock off three No. 1 seeds on their way to a championship.
Busloads of Louisville fans made the 250-mile trip from Kentucky to pull for the Cardinals, and even though the game wasn't sold out for the first time in 17 years, the matchup of Big East schools still had a raucous feel to it.
But it was the Connecticut players celebrating at the end.
The victory put the Huskies in the same class as UConn's other unbeaten teams, in 1995 and 2002. Besides Connecticut, only Tennessee and Texas have run through a season without a loss.
The title was Connecticut's first since 2004. UConn was suffering through its longest "drought" since first winning in 1995.
Only the Lady Vols, with eight titles, have more than the Huskies.
With most of Connecticut's team returning, it might be only a few more years before that changes.