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The Untouchables

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published April 07. 2010 4:00AM   Updated April 07. 2010 7:28PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Celebrating UConn players carry head coach Geno Auriemma on their shoulders during their post-game celebration following the Huskies 53-47 victory over Stanford in the NCAA National Women's Basketball Championship game.

San Antonio - The best team in the country for the last 77 games, the UConn women's basketball team scored 12 points in the first half Tuesday night.

Forget about perfect. This was flat-out disastrous.

Forget about winning an NCAA record number of consecutive games, all by double figures. The Huskies barely broke into double figures in the first 20 minutes against Stanford.

"To be honest with you, and you know me, it was one of the few times I was speechless," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I've never seen anything like it in my life and all my years of Connecticut. We were so out of it."

And then, on the night with a ceremony that only a Final Four can generate - a standing ovation for the soldiers hoisting a court-sized U.S. flag, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the seats, red, white and blue confetti - there was perfection after all.

Win No. 78 in a row took a dose of chutzpah and a lot of Maya Moore, as UConn came back from a nine-point deficit in the first half against Stanford, crawling its way to a seventh national championship with a 53-47 victory before 22,936 fans at the Alamodome and etching its name beside back-to-back unbeaten seasons for the first time in the history of the game.

Moore finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, scoring 18 points in the second half. Tina Charles joined her on the All-Tournament Team, adding nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"I don't see myself going to sleep anytime soon," said Moore, who scored 34 points in the semifinals to help lift the Huskies to the championship game.

"I think you have to experience it to know the feeling," Charles said. "I could say a bunch of words, but you have to experience it."

UConn also won national championships in 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and last year in St. Louis, polishing off the first 39 wins in a row with a victory over Louisville. Then, this season the Huskies reeled off 39 more without All-America point guard Renee Montgomery and carried it off, still, without anyone coming close.

That was until Tuesday, when Auriemma thought his team might never score again, with Stanford breaking the string of double-digit margins.

"This one's by far the hardest, not because of what we went through this season, but because we played a great team and had a great game plan," Auriemma said. "It took everything we had. I've never been prouder of a group of young people.

"It would have been easy for them to pack it in. We reacted exactly the way good teams react."

It was the third straight Final Four meeting between UConn and Stanford, with the teams splitting a pair of semifinals the last two years.

This time, UConn was playing the Cardinal on the second anniversary of the Huskies' last loss, April 6, 2008, against Stanford, in the national semifinals at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

Early on Tuesday, the date seemed rather fitting, perhaps.

The Huskies, who came into the game averaging 81.8 points per game, shot 5-for-28 in the first half (17.9 percent), with seven turnovers, including turnovers on three of their last four possessions.

Stanford took a 12-5 lead with 11 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the half on a 3-pointer by Kayla Pedersen (15 points, 17 rebounds), which capped a 10-0 run and prompted a UConn timeout.

The game then went into a four-minute snooze-fest, as neither team scored through the next two television timeouts.

UConn, though, trailed Stanford during the teams' regular-season game in Hartford this year, as well, and came back to win, handing the Cardinal (36-2) their only loss prior to Tuesday

UConn did the same this time, going on a 17-2 run to start the second half, getting 11 of those points from Moore and prompting the UConn fans to get on their feet. Moore put the Huskies ahead to stay 23-22 on a 3-pointer with 14:25 to go, rattled in a jump shot, then got a layup out ahead on the break. Caroline Doty scored her first points of the Final Four on a driving layup to make it 29-22.

Doty's second consecutive 3-pointer gave UConn a 47-31 lead with 2:37 left, but Stanford finally got hot, with Pohlen hitting a pair of 3-pointers and Pedersen one to pull within seven at the 1:14 mark.

The Cardinal made the final few moments of the game interesting, as UConn finished the game 9-for-22 from the free throw line.

Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike (11 points, 13 rebounds) made the All-Tournament Team, while Stanford All-America center Jayne Appel had the first scoreless performance of her career, going 0-for-12.

"Maya Moore was the difference," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.

"If she's on our team, we win. They've gone two straight seasons undefeated. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit. … I think we wasted a lot of opportunities in both halves."

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