MINNEAPOLIS -- It would certainly be inaccurate to suggest that the success of the top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut women's basketball team lies entirely with only two players, for no successful team lives and dies with only two fully functioning parts.
But the Huskies certainly wouldn't have gone so far down the road to a national championship, which includes yesterday's 87-60 pasting of No. 4 Stanford, if not for the special talents of Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters.
Virtually everyone has heard of Lobo, the 6-foot-4 senior forward from Southwick, Mass., who has snagged every national Player of the Year award available this year.
But Lobo, who had 17 points and nine rebounds, shared the stage yesterday with Wolters, who scored 31 points and pulled down nine rebounds to get the Huskies (34-0) into today's title game, a rematch with No. 3 Tennessee.
"I think we're all just really excited we're in the championship game," Wolters said. "We're playing Tennessee and that makes it a lot more exciting. Regardless of who we're playing, we're in the national championship game."
And Wolters and Lobo had unexpected and welcome support from Jamelle Elliott, a 6-foot junior from Washington who had 21 points.
"The reason we're playing [today] is that I've got these three [Lobo, Wolters and Elliott] and [Stanford coach] Tara [VanDerveer] doesn't," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "I'm just tremendously proud of the job that Kara, Rebecca and Jamelle did. We played 30 minutes of really, really great basketball and these three up here were just terrific."
The Connecticut frontcourt was spectacular in what figured to be its biggest test since they beat the Lady Vols, 77-66, in Storrs, Conn., in mid-January. The Huskies were facing a Stanford team that had seven players 6 feet 2 or taller.
The three combined to shoot 22-for-35 from the floor and hit 23 of their 29 free-throw attempts to keep the Cardinal (30-3) off-balance all game.
On defense, Lobo and Wolters in particular clogged the middle and altered Stanford shots so thoroughly that the Cardinal shot 22 percent from the field in the first half and 31 percent for the game.
"We were totally out of sync, and we dug ourselves much too big a hole to get out of, especially against a team like Connecticut," said VanDerveer.
Said Stanford senior Rachel Hemmer: "I said all week the difference in the game would be if we could not allow them to get their favorite shots in good positions. We didn't do that. There was not much I could do guarding someone who is [6 feet 7] when I am only 6 foot 3."
Yesterday's game was just the latest in a remarkable run for Connecticut, which seeks to become the second team in NCAA women's history to complete an unbeaten season.
The task will not be easy, as the Lady Vols have keyed on meeting Connecticut since the January loss than dropped Tennessee from the top ranking.
The Huskies, who dominated the Big East and, save for last weekend's 67-63 regional final win over Virginia, have cruised through the NCAA tournament with an average winning margin of 28.
But persistent questions have arisen about the relative softness of their schedule, compared with that of Tennessee, which has met the other seven regional finalists and played 19 games against ranked opponents.
All the doubts, however, will blow away if the Huskies complete their miracle season today with a win over the most recognized name in women's basketball.
"I wish we didn't have to play [today]. I wish we could just go home and enjoy this win and fly home to Connecticut and live with this one for a long, long time," said Auriemma. "But if you're going to get into the history books like we're trying to do, then we've got to get up and we've got to play."
The flight home will be a lot more pleasurable with a national championship trophy in tow.