Connecticut Huskies defeat Baylor Bears in women's Final Four
Monday, April 5, 2010
SAN ANTONIO -- The Connecticut women's basketball team found itself in the most unfamiliar of places on Sunday night in its national semifinal against Baylor. Accustomed to handling opponents with ease, the Huskies instead were immersed in their closest game of the season and facing the possibility of trailing in the second half for the first time.
But in the end, the outcome was the same, with Connecticut winning its 77th in a row, 70-50, by showing mettle worthy of the reigning national champion. That was most evident during a game-securing 16-4 run after the Bears at had cut the deficit to three early in the second half.
"We've played a lot of basketball this year, and there haven't been a lot of opportunities where we've been challenged, where we've been pushed to that extent that we were tonight," Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma said. "I kind of enjoy that. I do. I get a kick out of it. We like the challenge. We like the competitiveness of the game. It makes you really feel like you've accomplished something at the end of the night."
Junior forward Maya Moore, the 2009 national player of the year, scored a game-high 34 points, including 21 in the first half, and senior center Tina Charles, this season's player of the year, added 21 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Now Connecticut gets one day off before trying to complete an unprecedented two-year run in women's basketball.
A victory in Tuesday night's national championship game against Stanford, which beat Oklahoma in the other semifinal, would make Connecticut the only team in Division I women's basketball history to win consecutive titles with undefeated seasons. The last college basketball team to do that was the UCLA men in 1972 and '73.
The top-ranked Huskies (38-0) entered the Final Four having dispatched NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 47 points, and although the upstart Bears kept the game competitive in the early stages after intermission, Connecticut's wealth of talent and experience on the national stage proved too much to overcome.
Baylor (27-10) pinned its hopes for an improbable victory on 6-foot-8 freshman center Brittney Griner, who carried the Bears over the first four games of the tournament with 35 blocks. Griner did have five blocks against Connecticut, but her hard work defensively left her vulnerable on the other end.
Griner, who had been averaging 17 points per game in the tournament, finished with 13 and missed 8 of 13 shots. She also was just 50 percent (3 of 6) from the free throw line and had three turnovers.
Griner did have a hand in Baylor's surge that cut the margin to 41-38 with 14 minutes 55 seconds to play, but from there Connecticut pushed the lead back to double figures and never trailed by fewer than that the rest of the way.
Guard Morghan Medlock had a team-high 14 points for the Bears, who beat traditional power Tennessee, the top seed in the Memphis Region, and No. 2 seed Duke among others to reach the Final Four in its home state. No other Baylor player scored in double figures.
Connecticut played its usual stout defense, limiting Baylor to 38 percent shooting and 1 of 7 from three-point range. The Huskies also were relentless on the offensive glass, with a 12-5 advantage in that category thanks primarily to Moore and Charles, who combined to collect 10 offensive rebounds and helped Connecticut to a 16-0 advantage in second-chance points.
That duo didn't get much help from teammates throughout the game. No other Huskies player had more than seven points or four rebounds.
Connecticut shot 42 percent and missed 14 of 17 three-point attempts. U-Conn.'s starting back court of Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty went a combined 1-for-14 shooting, but the Huskies offset that poor shooting from long range by forcing 20 turnovers that they converted to 18 points.
"I don't think it's anything different than what we always try to do," Moore said of her and Charles leading the team. "We always come out every game trying to be aggressive, and you don't really have to convince us to come out and be aggressive."