Connecticut Huskies top Stanford Cardinal for NCAA title

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

SAN ANTONIO -- The University of Connecticut completed an unprecedented two-season run in women's college basketball with a 53-47 victory over Stanford in the NCAA title game on Tuesday night at the Alamodome.

Now all that's left to decide is where this incarnation of the Huskies belongs among the preeminent teams in the history of college athletics.

Top-ranked Connecticut (39-0) extended its NCAA-record winning streak to 78 games and became the first to go undefeated in back-to-back seasons. It's the seventh title for the Huskies and the fourth time they have gone unbeaten on the way to a national championship.

They also accomplished the feat in 1995 (35-0), when the Huskies won their first title, and in 2002 (39-0). Connecticut had one loss in its two other national championship seasons.

Accustomed to winning games comfortably, the Huskies had to rally after scoring 12 points in the first half, the fewest in a half in program history, and trailing by eight. It also was the fewest points by any team in any half in a Final Four game.

Junior forward Maya Moore was the catalyst. Shaking off a 2-for-8 shooting performance in the first half, the 2009 national player of the year scored nine points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 14 minutes 27 seconds to play, in a 16-2 run shortly after intermission and finished with 23 points.

Then teammate Tina Charles, this season's national player of the year, took her turn, scoring seven points in an ensuing 9-2 burst that gave the Huskies a 38-27 advantage with 7:44 remaining. After two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, Charles finished with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks before a crowd of 22,936 that included Vice President Joe Biden.

Junior forward Kayla Pederson led Stanford (36-2) with 15 points, and junior guard Jeanette Pohlen and sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike each had 11 to round out Cardinal players in double figures.

After shooting 17 percent in the first half, Connecticut made 14 of 29 field goals the rest of the way and limited Stanford to 27 percent (18 of 68) for the game.

"To be honest with you, and you know me, it was one of the few times I was speechless," Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma said of his team's first-half travails. "I've never seen anything like it my life and all my years at Connecticut. We were so out of it, and we just talked about slowing everything down . . . and then Maya just made some huge shots. It's unbelievable."

Auriemma became the first coach to guide teams to consecutive undefeated seasons since John Wooden did the same for the UCLA men in 1972 and '73. Auriemma moved within one title of tying Pat Summitt's NCAA-record eight with Tennessee.

The NCAA tournament was not so much a competition as a month-long coronation during which Connecticut treated opponents as all but incidental. The Huskies won their first five games in the tournament by an average of 42 points, and that included a 70-50 victory over Baylor -- considered narrow by Connecticut standards -- in the national semifinals on Sunday.

Perhaps the most revealing indicator of the Huskies' supremacy was entering the NCAA final, they had trailed 96 out of 3,080 minutes during the winning streak and were behind for 3:37 in all second halves combined.

The only notable challenge Connecticut faced before the Final Four came in an 80-68 victory over Stanford on Dec. 23. In that game, the Huskies trailed in the second half, 44-42, before pulling away with a 30-6 surge.

Stanford, the top seed in West Region and one of the sport's traditional powers, had the Huskies on the ropes in the first half, limiting them to 17 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes. The defense also caused problems for Moore and Charles, who combined for five turnovers.

But that all-American duo flourished in the second half, and Connecticut withstood a late burst in the final minutes to ascend to a place all its own in the chronicle of women's basketball.

"It's so hard to be consistent every single day and come out and practice as hard as we do," said Moore, who was named most outstanding player in the Final Four. "Everybody has had doubt the whole year, questioning us, and we're just glad we got what we've been working for."

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