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UConn women overcome Stanford and an embarrassing first half

It began on the steps of the Connecticut state capitol on a cold April day last season with Geno just being Geno. The parade celebrating the University of Connecticut’s sixth title had just ended. The Huskies coach stepped to a microphone.

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to go 39-0 next year,” said Geno Auriemma, the Connecticut coach. “The only reason I say that is, if we win every game we play next year we’ll be 40-0.”

Your first thought: He must be joking. Your second thought: Maybe he’s not.

You know how basketball is: So much can happen between the blueprint and the bouquets that just getting the chance to win a national championship is a blessing.

But to win another championship in the same fashion, so fluently, so flawlessly, so fabulously, as Connecticut did Tuesday, is something the sport may never see again.

“Unbelievable,” Auriemma said.

The magnificent run to a seventh national championship for the nation’s preeminent college basketball program ended with an unusual but emphatic 53-47 win over Stanford in front of 22,936 at the Alamodome.

“It’s hard to be consistent every single day,” said Maya Moore, who led the Huskies with 23 points, 18 in the second half.

Yes, it is. The Huskies won despite shooting only 32.8% (19 for 58), the lowest percentage in any of their 78 straight wins. But a win is a win.

" President Barack Obama, we’re baaaaack,” said Tina Charles, informing the White House that the Huskies plan to return for a second straight spring.

Connecticut is 7-0 in national championship games.

Kayla Pedersen led Stanford (36-2) with 15 points. Both of the Cardinal’s losses were to the Huskies.

“We came up short,” said Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer. “We didn’t score all the points we needed to score.”

The Huskies were plucked from the jaws of embarrassing disaster after scoring 12 first-half points, the fewest ever scored in one half of a Final Four game.

“There was a point when I literally thought we might never score again,” Auriemma said. “It was one of the few times I can ever remember being speechless. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

The Huskies trailed 20-12 at the half and then came out smoking in the second, scoring 17 of the first 19 points, including 12 straight. Moore’s three-pointer with 14:23 to play gave Connecticut a 23-22 lead. During its winning streak, it has never trailed later than 14:47.

“During halftime, we said we knew they would be making a run,” Pedersen said.

Soon afterward came Connecticut’s first 10-point lead (38-27) when Charles scored at the rim

Connecticut’s bold approach had carried it through the season, but the only thing Auriemma ever really feared, an ill-timed doomsday scenario, reared its head with unfathomable fury in the first half.

The Huskies fought back to 20-17 and then caught a break when Stanford’s All-American center, Jayne Appel, already dealing with a bad right ankle, aggravated it taking a charge with 15:48 to play. It took all she had to hobble to the bench.

Appel had the ankle retaped, went to the locker room and returned with 12:30 to play, the Huskies ahead, 27-22. But she was not right. And soon she was back on the bench. She did not score a point for the first time in her career.

A three-point play by Kalana Greene and five points by Moore gave Connecticut a 25-22 lead with 13:38 to play. Stanford was one for 10 in the half.

Connecticut made only five of its 29 shots (17.2%) in the first half and Charles, the consensus national player of the year, had only two points (one for six). She would finish with nine.

The guard play was simply not good, Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty, one for 14 against Baylor on Sunday, were two for 11 in the first half. Doty’s two three-pointers in the second half made up for it.

The Huskies took a 5-0 lead on two baskets by Hayes with 17:59 to play, but it was quickly clear things that were not right.

Connecticut missed 18 of its first 20 shots (Moore was 0 for 5) — including 16 straight over 10:37 — and that drought enabled the Cardinal to score 12 unanswered points to take the biggest lead (12-5) any team held this season against the Huskies.

jaltavilla@courant.com


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