Stanford slows UConn but fails to make most of it

The defensive game plan was solid, the execution perfect.
Stanford kept Maya Moore, Tina Charles and the entire Connecticut
team from scoring for a stretch of 10 minutes, 37 seconds.

And it still wasn’t enough. The Cardinal were missing too many
shots of their own.

Stanford gave up just 12 points in the first half of the
national championship game Tuesday night but scored only 20. The
meager lead wasn’t enough to withstand an inevitable second-half
run by mighty UConn – especially not with the Cardinal still
clanging away.

The result: a 53-47 loss, the Huskies’ 78th straight victory and
second straight title, and an agonizing feeling of what might have
been for Stanford.

“It was there for the taking,” coach Tara VanDerveer said.
“It’s very disappointing and it’s very frustrating.”

The Cardinal have played the Huskies tougher than anyone else
during this unprecedented back-to-back run. The six-point margin
was the closest UConn has come to losing. Still, that’s not enough
solace for a team that won a school-record 36 games and saw the
longest winning streak in school history end at 27 in a row.

“You can feel sometimes so close and at the same time feel so
far away,” VanDerveer said. “They’re beating these people by 30
or 40 points. We had a chance and I feel like we wasted some
opportunities. … We can’t talk about (closing the gap). We’ve got
to beat them to close the gap.”

Center Jayne Appel ended her standout career without a point,
missing all 12 of her shots while playing in obvious pain. UConn
eventually sagged off her and upped its pressure on the team’s new
star, sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike, pestering her into 5-of-14
shooting. She had only 11 points after scoring 38 in the
semifinals.

“I just don’t think we were concentrating enough on our
shots,” said Ogwumike, the Pac-10 player of the year. “I know I
wasn’t. We were either over- or underfocusing. It was causing us to
miss shots that we make every day. … We couldn’t make easy shots
that could’ve created a larger lead.”

Coming into the game, VanDerveer told her players to make sure
someone stayed out on perimeter shooters, remembered to box out for
rebounds and hurry back in transition to prevent any easy layups.
They did it all so well that UConn missed 18 straight shots.

Stanford put UConn in its biggest hole of the season (nine
points) and made the Huskies play from behind for longer than they
had all season (19:07). The Cardinal gave up the fewest points ever
allowed in any half of a women’s Final Four game – but also had the
fewest points by a team that had ever been leading at the half.

Making only 8 of 31 shots left Stanford ahead by just a few
baskets, a dangerous thing against Connecticut.

“(Allowing only) 12 points in the first half was extremely
helpful for us, but we weren’t able to capitalize,” said Kayla
Pedersen, who proved to be Stanford’s most productive player with
15 points and 17 rebounds. “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.”

The Cardinal opened the second half 0 of 7, and 1 of 12.

By the time, JJ Hones made a 3-pointer for Stanford’s second
basket of the second half, the Huskies already were on their way,
having just ripped off a 17-2 run.

“We weren’t doing anything differently in the second half, but
we weren’t doing things as well in the second half,” VanDerveer
said. “I think the fact we couldn’t score discourages you,
too.”

The Cardinal’s second-half shooting skid crept to 2 of 19 and 3
of 28.

But the players didn’t give up. They hit three late 3s to pull
to 47-40 with 1:12 left, then made it 52-47 in the closing seconds.
They needed all sort of breaks to go their way and it just wasn’t
going to happen – not against UConn.

“What we learned most from this game is how poised we stayed,”
Ogwumike said, “and how hard we have to work to get to where we
want to go.”

There is something else for the Cardinal to look forward to –
playing the Huskies again next season. In Palo Alto.

“That’ll be good for our team,” VanDerveer said.