Connecticut beats Stanford 53-47 for NCAA title
SAN ANTONIO – There was no panic in the locker room. No pep talk, either. Maya Moore and her Connecticut Huskies knew the score.
“It couldn’t get any worse,” she said. And it was all slipping away – the streak, the perfect season, the championship.
Leave it to Moore. The tournament’s most outstanding player took over the NCAA title game Tuesday night, rallying the Huskies from a horrible first half to a 53-47 victory over Stanford.
“We knew a run was coming,” she said. “We settled down and hit some big shots.”
Suddenly, a team that was stagnant on offense and trailing 20-12 at the break was moving and scoring.
“Just no fear,” said Moore.
That could be a motto for coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies. UConn (39-0) is the first team ever to have consecutive unbeaten seasons, but that doesn’t cover it.
The Huskies have been unstoppable over the past two years, winning 78 straight – every game until Tuesday night by double figures – and passing their own NCAA women’s Division I record of 70 straight wins set from 2001-03. The championship victory put them within 10 of the vaunted 88-game streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men in the early 1970s.
Thanks to Moore. The sensational junior scored 11 of the Huskies’ first 17 points in the second half. She finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds to help Auriemma win his seventh national championship, moving within one title of Pat Summitt and Tennessee.
“It’s what great players do,” Auriemma said. “They do it at the most pressure packed times that makes them who they are.”
“That’s what makes them great. Maya’s a great scorer and you get that reputation by scoring points under pressure. She certainly did that.”
Tina Charles added nine points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks. The senior and Auriemma shared an embrace after the final buzzer.
The lowest-scoring game in NCAA championship game history was played in front of a crowd of 22,936 that included Vice President Joe Biden, who hugged the UConn players after the game, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While Biden showed impartiality in his cheering, Rice was rooting on Stanford – the school at which she served as provost for six years.
She visited with the team at a morning shootaround, offering words of encouragement. Rice had hoped to see the Cardinal win their third championship and first since 1992.
Stanford (36-2) played a nearly flawless defensive first half, holding UConn to 12 points – the lowest ever in a championship game and the lowest in school history.
“I can’t even imagine them scoring only 12 points,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “It was just an incredible job.”
But then Moore and the Huskies took over.
“Maya Moore was the difference,” VanDerveer said. “If she’s on our team, we win. She really stepped up and made big plays for them. Really, she’s a great player and she made big plays.”
UConn opened the second half by scoring 17 of the first 19 points to take its first lead since early in the game.
Moore’s 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 23-22, giving UConn its first lead since it was 5-0. That ended a 19-minute stretch in which UConn was behind – the longest that UConn had trailed this season. The only time that the Huskies were behind longer than 10 minutes also had been against Stanford, the first time they met.
Moore followed up her 3 with a sweet jumper and a layup on the break after Charles had blocked Nnemkadi Ogwumike on the other end.
JJ Hones’ 3-pointer with 11:46 left in the game cut the deficit to 29-25, but then Charles made her presence felt, scoring seven of the Huskies next nine points to make it 38-27 with 7:42 left.
Stanford would only get as close as five the rest of the way. UConn let the Cardinal close the gap late, making just 9 of 22 free throws for the game.
This was the sixth time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final AP Top 25 poll met for the title. The last came in 2002 when UConn beat Oklahoma in San Antonio.
Even though Stanford was second in the poll all season and its only loss came to Connecticut, it would have been a monumental upset had the Cardinal won.
The two teams have developed a cross-country rivalry over the past three seasons, since Stanford beat UConn in the 2008 national semifinals. The Huskies haven’t lost since, defeating the Cardinal three times during that stretch.
They played back on Dec. 23, when UConn came away with a 12-point victory. Stanford led that game by two at the half, but the Huskies went on a 30-6 run in the second half to take control.
VanDerveer had talked on Monday about how important it was for her team to get out to a quick start. UConn scored the first five points, but then went over 10 minutes without one, missing 16 straight shots – including eight 3-pointers – as Stanford took a 12-5 lead.
Moore’s acrobatic layup finally ended UConn’s drought with 7:22 left in the half, but Jeanette Pohlen answered right back with a 3-pointer. Kayla Pedersen’s 3-pointer made it 18-9 – the biggest deficit UConn had faced the entire season.
In the second half, though, Stanford couldn’t hold on.
Pedersen led the Cardinal with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who had 38 points in the national semifinals, added 11 points and 13 boards.
“Twelve points in the first half was extremely helpful for us, but we weren’t able to capitalize,” Pedersen said. “We kept fighting, kept fighting and things weren’t falling for us. We needed to make our own run and we didn’t really do that.”
Jayne Appel, who came into the game with an injured ankle, was ineffective going scoreless. The senior missed all 12 of her shots.
“I’m really sad for her to go out on this kind of game,” VanDerveer said. “She just was not able to push off her ankle and her foot’s bothering her. I’m more sad for her than anyone else.”
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