HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s latest victory parade had a French Quarter feel to it.
About 10,000 fans lined Hartford’s Bushnell Park on a cold and windy Sunday afternoon to cheer the national champion UConn women as they passed by on the top of a double-decker bus, tossing Mardi Gras beads down to the crowd below.
“We wanted to give the fans a little taste of what it was like for us down there in New Orleans,” said sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
The Huskies carried with them the NCAA championship trophy, which they brought back from Louisiana last week after winning the program’s eighth title with a 93-60 victory over Louisville.
Skylin Foster, 8, of Vernon was one of the lucky ones to catch a string of beads from a player.
“Actually two of the players,” she said. “I got some for my little sister. I like the players because they are fast, and I bet they can beat boys.”
The crowd was much smaller than in previous years and well short of the 300,000 people who in 2004 celebrated the duel championships won by the UConn men and women.
“I don’t know if people have just gotten used to them winning and it’s just another national championship,” said Maita Parainca, a fan from Bloomfield. “It’s a little disappointing.”
The eight NCAA titles ties Tennessee for the most by a women’s program.
Between the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Huskies have won 11 NCAA titles since 1995.
This was the Huskies second victory celebration this week. A crowd of about 2,000 greeted the team when they returned from New Orleans on Wednesday.
Barbara Levine, 58, of North Haven said she would not have missed it for the world.
“UConn basketball is right up there with God, mom and apple pie as far as I’m concerned” she said.
“We don’t really have professional sports in Connecticut, and the UConn women are just great to watch, and they are great kids.”
Connecticut finished the season 35-4, losing only to last year’s champion, Baylor, and three times to rival Notre Dame. They avenged those losses in the national semifinals.
Over the past three seasons, UConn has lost just 11 games — including twice in the Final Four. Nine of the defeats came to Notre Dame and Baylor. With Irish star Skylar Diggins and Baylor’s Brittney Griner graduating and heading to the WNBA, it’s easy to start talking dynasty.
The Huskies lose only three players, Kelly Faris, Caroline Doty and little-used Heather Buck to graduation.
Freshman Breanna Stewart, who finished with 104 points in five NCAA tournament games and was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, said her goal is to participate in four of these parades.
“The goal at UConn is to win national championships,” she said. “So we can try. Why not try?”
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