UConn’s defense rescues Huskies for 7th title

The shots weren’t falling for Tina Charles and Connecticut, so
the Huskies did what they do better than any team in NCAA
tournament history.

UConn clamped down on the defensive end, swarming Stanford,
swatting shots and making that 12-point first half nothing more
than a minor setback on the way to a 53-47 victory in the NCAA
championship game Tuesday night.

“We knew we weren’t going to finish the game the way we
started,” Connecticut forward Maya Moore said. “Our defense was
outstanding in the second half. Tina Charles was blocking shots
left and right. We never looked back.”

The Huskies scored a dozen points in the first half against
Stanford, a record for fewest in a title game, and hit just two of
their first 20 shots. But UConn’s defense never let the game get
out of hand.

UConn held Stanford to five points in the first 11 minutes of
the second half. It was one last suffocating performance by the
Huskies in a tournament filled with them.

Already the top defense in the country, UConn turned it up in
the NCAAs. The Huskies allowed 43 points a game in the tournament,
topping the 2007 Tennessee team that gave up 47.3 points in its
title run.

The Huskies trailed 20-12 at halftime Tuesday night. The only
other time they were down at half this season was in December
against Stanford.

This second half went similarly to that one, Cardinal forward
Nnemkadi Ogwumike said.

“They amped it up like they did when we played them December,”
Ogwumike said.

Charles had six blocks for UConn, none bigger than swatting
Ogwumike twice on back-to-back possessions while the Huskies got
off on 17-2 run to open the second half.

After blocking Ogwumike the first time, Charles grabbed the ball
and fired it upcourt to Moore for an easy layup. When Ogwumike
tried a jumper the next time down, Charles got her hand up and
knocked the shot down again.

“They kind of pressed us a little more,” said Ogwumike, who
finished with 11 points. “They were trying to pressure us, and
also sag in.”

After Ogwumike was blocked for a second time, UConn guard
Caroline Doty went down the other end and hit a jumper, pushing the
UConn lead to 29-22. By then, the Huskies had scored more points in
the first seven minutes of the second half than they did in the
entire first.

And when baskets started falling, UConn got back to
focusing.

“When you’re not scoring and you’re constantly running back,
you’re thinking about, ‘We didn’t score, oh my God! We didn’t score
again,”’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That weighs on your
mind and then you make mistakes defensively.”

The Huskies held Stanford to 27 percent shooting in the second
half, and most of those baskets came when it was too late. Sixteen
of the Cardinal’s final points came in the final four minutes.

“We had to keep playing hard and execute what we didn’t execute
in the first half,” Moore said. “Sometimes it’s just that
simple.”