No. 1 Connecticut 53, No. 2 Stanford 47

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.”