Top-ranked Connecticut’s record 90-game winning streak in women’s basketball ended Thursday night when No. 9 Stanford outplayed the Huskies from the start in a 71-59 victory at Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal have their own streak going.
Stanford hasn’t lost in 52 games at home. On Thursday, the Cardinal took an early 13-point lead, never trailed and didn’t let the mighty Huskies back in it after halftime. They kept pounding the ball inside and banging the boards.
UConn fans accustomed to watching coach Geno Auriemma’s team blow past opponents hadn’t seen a loss since the 2008 NCAA semifinals – Stanford got the Huskies that time, too, 82-73 in the Final Four at Tampa, Fla.
"At some point reality had to set in, and today reality set in," Auriemma said. "I’m not destroyed about it. Winning that many games in a row, it’s unheard of."
These teams have a bit of a history. Last season, Stanford almost beat Maya Moore and UConn in the national championship game before losing 53-47.
That the Cardinal won in the rematch shouldn’t have been a total surprise.
Stanford was unbeatable at home, had given the Huskies fits in past meetings, and UConn came close to losing to then-No. 2 Baylor last month.
Jeanette Pohlen hit five 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 31 points for the Cardinal (9-2). Moore couldn’t find a rhythm until it was too late, held to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
"I thought we let it get away from us," Auriemma said. "I think the atmosphere and what was going on and when Maya couldn’t get going early. I think it affected the rest of our guys. We just didn’t play like ourselves. Give credit to Stanford. I think they played an unbelievably good game."
Last week, the Huskies (12-1) topped the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-74 by beating No. 22 Florida State 93-62. They then won their 90th in a row this week at Pacific.
"When you see what happens tonight and how it happened, I think you can appreciate it even more what it took to get to that point and how many things can go wrong and how you can have bad nights," Auriemma said.
He said such a winning streak requires good players, luck and "that all your best players have to play great every night. And we didn’t get that tonight."
Pohlen sealed it with six free throws in the final 42.5 seconds. She shot 8-for-15 overall and had nine rebounds and six assists. Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 12 points and six rebounds, and Kayla Pedersen had 11 rebounds for an inspired Stanford squad that held a 43-36 advantage on the boards.
It was a physical game from the opening tip, with players pushing and shoving all night in the paint.
"I thought we showed moments of fight where we came together and were playing together at times," Moore said. "Then we would hurt ourselves … and momentum would shift right back to them."
Moore’s 3-pointer with 10:50 left cut Stanford’s lead to 48-44. Then Pedersen answered moments later on the other end. Moore tried to will her team back late, scoring eight straight during one stretch. But she missed the front end of a one-and-one off the rim with 1:42 left that could have made it a four-point game.
"I think we worked very hard defensively," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She’s a great player. She’s human."
Kelly Faris scored 19 points and Bria Hartley 14 for the Huskies, who never found their usual dominant form while playing in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 7,329-plus for this highly anticipated, nationally televised showdown between the top programs from either coast.
"I think that’s an incredible, incredible accomplishment," VanDerveer said of UConn’s run. "Since we last played them and beat them, we’ve lost eight games and two of them were to them. I’m really proud of our team for really stepping up and not being intimidated by the streak. Tonight was our night."
Former Stanford star Candice Wiggins, who got the Cardinal back to the Final Four in that 2008 NCAA run, danced onto the floor in celebration the second the final buzzer sounded and slapped high-fives with players. VanDerveer returned to the court and thanked the crowd, then Pohlen did the same.
Yet nobody rushed the court after a monumental victory for this program, which hasn’t won it all since 1992.
"It’s not a national championship, but it’s a very big game for us and we’re very excited," VanDerveer said.
Former players from both schools were in the stands: Wiggins, Jayne Appel, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and JJ Hones of Stanford sitting together on one baseline, and ex-UConn stars Alana Beard and Tina Charles. And also Ruthie Bolton, a member of VanDerveer’s gold medal winning 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta.
Even former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was there, flashing a huge smile and bouncing along to the music when the Cardinal won. VanDerveer’s mother, Rita, made the trip to see this one, too.
"Good job guys," Auriemma and a couple of UConn’s players said while waving to Stanford after the Huskies’ postgame news conference.
UConn was headed home from the Bay Area on what certainly would be an extra-long redeye flight out of San Francisco. The team just beat the big East Coast blizzard to get here, leaving at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. UConn played at Maples for the first time since Dec. 28, 1993, and Stanford has won all three meetings in the rivalry on its home floor.
"I’m just happy for our team," VanDerveer said. "The streak is something that they did. We’re about Stanford and what we want to do."
For the Cardinal, this was a long time coming. VanDerveer, who joined the elite 800-win club last week, thought about that championship loss for months and felt her team missed a big opportunity, saying it fueled her to be a better coach and did the same for her players. Stanford hasn’t won it all since 1992 despite making the past three Final Fours.
Stanford led at halftime for the third straight time facing UConn, having blown a 20-12 edge at the break in the title game last April. This marked the sixth meeting between the schools since the 2007-08 season.
UConn had trailed all of 134 minutes during the entire winning streak, including only 13 minutes in the second half. The UCLA men’s last loss before the 88-game winning streak was to Notre Dame; then it was the Irish who ended the run.
Moore missed her initial four shots and didn’t score her first points until knocking down a 3 at with 3:14 left in the opening half. The two-time national player of the year came in averaging 24.8 points and received a rousing ovation from the Stanford crowd when starting lineups were introduced, though Auriemma was booed.
It was Pohlen, not Moore, who was by far the best player on the floor.
"I just had that mentality. I’m not giving up until that buzzer goes off," Pohlen said. "I think our team was really looking for me to get my shot. I’m just happy that we defended Maples. We got the win, and our team played awesome."
Stanford hasn’t lost at home since a 68-61 upset by Florida State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March 2007.
The Cardinal already had played a brutal nonconference schedule this month, traveling to DePaul and Tennessee, losses that dropped them from their earlier No. 3 ranking, and beating No. 4 Xavier in a surprising 89-52 blowout Tuesday.
Stanford, picked to win its 11th straight Pac-10 crown, made 9 of its first 13 shots and four of five 3s and used an 11-0 run to go ahead 17-4.
UConn started 2 for 12 and missed its first five 3-point tries while also committing three turnovers in the opening 6:31 to fall behind 17-4. Hayes’ 3 at 13:10 was UConn’s first.
"It’s a huge win but it is December," Pedersen said. "This instills confidence that we can beat any team. We haven’t won anything yet."