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.