After two wildly disparate halves of basketball, the UConn Lady Huskies are the proud owners of a bouncing national title, their second in a row, and two perfect back-to-back seasons following their 53-47 defeat of Stanford Tuesday night in San Antonio.
The first half was simply a horror show, opening with four missed shots, a move that would prove to be a specialty of both teams. Maya Moore was benched, and UConn hit the locker room trailing 20-12. And then the Husky Ladies came out with 20 minutes between them and the trophy and decided to play a little basketball. They started with a 17-2 run, took over the lead with 14:24 remaining, and kicked in Maya Magnificent's afterburners.
The game hinged on Moore, both ways. It took her twelve minutes and change to score in the first half; in the second she poured it on, scoring 18 points and finishing just into a double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds). In Papa Geno's postgame words, "Maya's the best player you can think of when you need points."
For the second consecutive game, Auriemma relied more heavily on his starters than he has all season, with all five logging at least 30 minutes on the court. Newly-minted Naismith luminary Tina Charles finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Stanford began scratching and clawing their way back with less than three minutes remaining, but they started too late. Trailing 47-31, they made a game effort to climb out of the well with a pair of threes from Jeanette Pohlen. They cut the lead to nine, then to six, then to five … and that was as close as it got. Kayla Pedersen and Nnemkadi Ogwumike recorded double-doubles, to little avail. A single-digit loss, a UConn opponent first in 2010, would be their only consolation.
You have to feel for Jayne Appel. Clearly favoring her injured ankle, there was never much distance between her feet and the floor, and she ends her Stanford career with a scoreless game and seven rebounds. You have to feel for all the Stanford girls, really. But you also can't turn your backs on UConn for a red second, a hard lesson the Lady Cardinal has had delivered twice this season.
And where does UConn go from here? From 1971-1974, John Wooden's UCLA Bruins won 88 straight basketball games. Auriemma's brood is up to 78.