SAN ANTONIO _ For the past two years, a stretch of unmatched dominance that incorporated an NCAA-record 77 consecutive victories, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team had been perfection personified.
But the Huskies, who had stormed their way to their seventh NCAA championship game by winning their first five games by an average margin of 41.6 points, were far from it in last night's title game against Stanford at the Alamodome. Still, UConn overcame all its imperfections _ including a paltry 12 points in the first half _ to score a 53-47 victory over Stanford, the last team to beat the Huskies in the national semifinals of the 2008 Final Four in Tampa, Fla.
The Huskies, who had been tested in their 70-50 victory over Baylor in the semifinals when the Lady Bears pulled within 3 in the second half, saved their grittiest and most impressive effort for last in overcoming a 20-12 halftime deficit with a 32-9 run. It extended UConn's winning streak to 78 games (and counting) and enabled the Huskies to cement their place in the NCAA record books as the first women's team ever to win back-to-back undefeated national championships.
Maya Moore, the two-time Wade Trophy winner, led UConn (39-0) with 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting and 11 rebounds while Tina Charles, the Naismith Trophy winner, added 9 points and 11 rebounds. Kayla Pederson had 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead Stanford (36-2), whose only two blemishes this season came against UConn. Jeanette Pohlen and Nnemkadi Ogwumike each had 11 points while All-America senior center Jayne Appel, hobbled by a right ankle injury suffered with 15:48 to go, was held scoreless after going 0-for-12.
After Boston College's Ayla Brown sang the national anthem, and Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Biden settled into their midcourt seats behind the scorer's table, there was every hope and expectation this matchup between the best teams from the East and West coasts would provide as scintillating a final as the men in Monday night's title game in Indianapolis between Duke and Butler, which the Blue Devils won, 61-59, after Gordon Hayward's last-gasp 3-pointer narrowly missed its mark.
``I think that's the hope of everybody every NCAA game,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the day before the game. ``I think everybody turns on the television, everybody that's at an event in the NCAA tournament, I think that's their secret wish; that somebody makes a shot as time's running out.
``Somebody drives the length of the court, like Jeanette Pohlen did [in Stanford's victory over Xavier in the Sacremento Region final], and makes a layup and you win and you go to the Final Four.''
If Stanford was going to defeat the Huskies, as it did in Tampa two years ago, then it was going to take more than a layup. The Cardinal survived a first-half rock fight with UConn, shooting a combined 13 for 60 from the field with 14 turnovers, as Pedersen had 10 points and 8 rebounds _ which was twice the first-half production the Huskies got from Moore (5 points, 4 rebounds) _ to help Stanford control a 20-12 halftime lead.
UConn's 5-for-29 first-half shooting resulted in the lowest first-half point total in Final Four and school history and left the Huskies facing their second (and largest) halftime deficit of the season after trailing Stanford 40-38 at the intermisison of an 80-68 victory over the Cardinal Dec. 23 in Hartford.
But, just as was the case in that regular-season matchup, the Huskies mounted a decisive 32-9 run, with Moore scoring 16 points in that stretch. Moore helped UConn take a 23-22 lead, its first since 5-4, with a 3-point burial and then added another trey to extend the lead to 41-29 with 7:11 to go, which was all the buffer the Huskies, who made 6 of 12 foul shots down the stretch, needed to clinch their fourth undefeated season and seventh national title.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell