UConn, Stanford have something to prove

Huskies' perfect season comes up against the West Coast powerhouse

April 06, 2010|By John Altavilla | Tribune Newspapers

SAN ANTONIO — — The Connecticut women have focused intently, dominated historically and won just about every minute of each of their 38 games. And here they are again.

"What's gone into coming back [to tonight's national championship] has been so incredible and so amazing," Geno Auriemma said.

The Huskies have created their own system of measure by which all teams that follow will now be compared.

"We force ourselves every day to do things that are against human nature," Maya Moore said.

But it is not yet a championship season. There is one more necessary step before the Huskies can allow themselves to exhale and exalt.

"We asked for this. We want to be great. We want to be the best team that we can be," Kalana Greene said. "We never said we wanted it to be easy. We know if we lose one game and don't win the national championship, we didn't reach our goal."

Enter Stanford, the perennial national powerhouse stocked with All-Americans and Olympic prospects. It's the other No. 1 seed in tonight's national championship game at The Alamodome.

Nearly two years ago in Tampa, Fla., the Cardinal defeated the Huskies in the national semifinals. That was 78 consecutive victories ago for the Huskies - enough for one undefeated national championship season, but not quite enough for two.

Stanford (36-1) would like to provide the other bookend.

"I was talking to family and friends and someone actually said to me they hoped UConn would beat Baylor [in Sunday's semifinal]," Stanford's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said. "They said they wanted us to face UConn and have the chance to beat what people are now calling maybe one of the most dominating UConn teams ever." This will be the seventh national championship game in UConn history. They have won all six previous games, including last year against Louisville in St. Louis. That victory followed the Huskies' victory over the Cardinal in the semifinals.

This season, the Cardinal led the Huskies 40-38 at the half of their Dec. 23 game in Hartford before the Huskies pulled away for an 80-68 win. Since then, the Cardinal have won 27 straight and spent much of the time in between watching film of that loss.

"I think at this point of the season, that we are better equipped to deal with UConn's pressure," Gold-Onwude said. "Our coaches are more prepared, as well. There had been so few games played up to that point in the season that UConn hadn't sculpted itself. They had question marks, too. I think now we can figure out what will make us successful." Each team is coming off solid wins, but UConn has won its first five tournament games by 208 points.

Stanford, playing in its third straight Final Four, beat Oklahoma, 73-66, behind sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike's 38 points and 16 rebounds, which set a national scoring record for an NCAA semifinal game.

UConn outlasted Baylor, 70-50, behind 34 points from Moore and 21 from Tina Charles, named Monday as winner of the Naismith Award.

"It's going to be a battle that's going to show who has the fight to the finish," said Ogwumike, the Pacific-10 Player of the Year." And I mean, UConn doesn't just have Maya. They have Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Caroline Doty, Tiffany Hayes. And we don't just have one player, either." Unfortunately for Stanford, one of those players, senior center Jayne Appel, has been battling an ankle injury that has followed knee problems. And the ankle has slowed her.

But Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer says the biggest key might lie in her team's aggressiveness.

"We were not aggressive enough in that last game," she said. "We were not as energetic as we could have been.

Last meeting
Date: Dec. 23

Score: UConn 80, Stanford 68

Site: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.

Attendance: 16,294

Halftime: Stanford, 40-38.

Turning point: After UConn trailed for the last time at 44-42, Kalana Greene hit a layup, Maya Moore hit two free throws and followed with a 3-pointer to start a 32-8 run over 12 minutes that gave the Huskies a 74-52 lead with 5:20 left. Moore finished with a game-high 23 points, and teammate Tina Charles had 20 points and 12 rebounds. Nnemkadi Ogwumike led Stanford with 20 points.

Tonight's game
Connecticut (38-0) vs. Stanford (36-1)
Site: The Alamodome, San Antonio

Time: 8:30

TV: ESPN

Series history: Tied, 5-5

Streaks: UConn, W38, Stanford W27

Big stars on stage: Maya Moore and Nnemkadi Ogwumike have been teammates on USA Basketball teams, and Sunday night they turned in two of the greatest performances in NCAA tournament history. Ogwumike scored 38 against Oklahoma, setting a record for a semifinal game. Moore's 34 points against Baylor were the fourth-best in a semi. Ogwumike was also the first player in NCAA Final Four history to have at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in one game. "I wasn't aware of it, actually," she said. "But it's great to be considered one of the greatest. But it's all because of my teammates."

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