Commentary

Stanford snaps UConn's win streak

Pohlen nets 31 points as Cardinal slow down game, dominate Huskies throughout

Originally Published: December 30, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford wasn't really thinking all that much about the history, either its own against UConn or that of women's basketball in general.

This was more about the chalkboard and video and practice and repetition, the stuff Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer so dearly loves. It was about facing a great program but knowing there were things to expose -- and then actually doing that.

[+] EnlargeJeanette Pohlen
AP Photo/Paul SakumaFrom a 3-pointer to open the game to the free throws she hit to close it out, Jeanette Pohlen's 31 points never allowed UConn to get a lead.

UConn's winning streak -- which had stretched to 90 and brought the Huskies and women's hoops an avalanche of attention -- came to an end Thursday. It will be a particularly happy New Year's celebration for the Cardinal and their faithful, after a 71-59 victory Thursday ended mighty UConn's streak.

"Connecticut was a great opponent, and I compliment them on how hard they played," VanDerveer said. "Tonight was Stanford's night."

Indeed, it has been UConn's night -- and morning and afternoon -- for the past two and half seasons. The streak began Nov. 16, 2008, against Georgia Tech. It continued through two national championships and a particularly close call, a one-point victory this November over Baylor.

The Huskies (12-1) lost point guard Renee Montgomery, the No. 4 pick in the WNBA draft, after their perfect 2008-09 season. They lost center Tina Charles, the WNBA's No. 1 pick, after another perfect campaign last season. They've dealt with guard Caroline Doty missing much of the 2008-09 season and all of this season because of knee injuries.

Yet nothing was able to stop them -- until Stanford did it in front of 7,329 yelling, clapping, gleeful fans Thursday at sold-out Maples Pavilion.

"This losing stuff is getting old, man. I hate it," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said with a wry smile after the game. "I'm not disappointed that we lost. There's a sense of disappointment that we didn't play well. There's been other times during this whole [streak] where we didn't play well. It's just that we haven't faced anybody as good as Stanford played tonight.

"We were totally out of character, and I think Stanford, the way they played, took us out of our character. Whoever we are, whatever we've been and however way we've done it, we weren't allowed to do that tonight. That's because of what they did."

And nobody did it better than Stanford senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who had 31 points, nine rebounds and six assists. After playing all 40 minutes, she looked fresh enough to go another 40.

"She was spectacular, tremendous," Auriemma said. "We had a freshman on her a lot, and she really took advantage of that, like I was afraid she would. That's what good players do."

Meanwhile, the Huskies' senior superstar, Maya Moore, didn't really look like her usual self. She had 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists, shooting 5-of-15 from the field. Not a terrible game … just not enough on a night when her teammates weren't able to help more.

"They were determined to make sure somebody else on our team other than Maya Moore was going to be the one that was going to carry the team," Auriemma said. "They've certainly been hurt by Maya enough the last couple of years. Usually, when that happens, some of our other guys make some shots, make some plays, we get a lead and things loosen up a bit. That didn't happen."

In fact, from the 3-pointer that Pohlen opened the game with to the free throws she hit to close it out, Stanford never allowed UConn to get a lead.

"I think it was a feeling we had out on the court; we knew we had each others' backs," Pohlen said. "We were very focused on what we needed to do defensively, which I think was the key.

"I've never seen [Maples] this loud or crazy. Even our freshman year, the Tennessee game here, it was packed but nothing like this. It was amazing. Such a great atmosphere to play in."

Speaking of the freshman season of both Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen, that was the last time UConn lost a game. It was against Stanford, then led by Candice Wiggins, in the Final Four semifinal in Tampa, Fla. That 82-73 defeat on April 6, 2008, was one of only two games that Moore had lost in her UConn career -- the other was against Rutgers earlier that season -- until Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeMaya Moore
AP Photo/Paul SakumaMaya Moore shot 5 of 15 from the field, 4 of 11 from 3-point range and attempted just one free throw on the way to 14 points.

But the Cardinal didn't win the national championship in 2008, losing in the final to Tennessee. UConn has ended Stanford's season at the Final Four the past two seasons: in the semis in 2009 and the championship game in 2010.

Stanford also lost its previous regular-season matchup with UConn, that one a December contest last season at Connecticut.

In that game, the Cardinal played very well in the first half before UConn turned on the jets in the second. In the NCAA title game this past April, neither team played well, and Stanford again lost after holding a halftime lead.

Going into the break on Thursday, the Cardinal were up 34-30, and were determined this time, the ending would be different.

"I think I said to the team, 'It's zero-zero right now. The second half is a new game, and we need to win this one, too,'" Pedersen said of the players' halftime chatter.

Stanford freshman Chiney Ogwumike, when she was in the game, had the task of checking Moore. The freshman Ogwumike played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble, eventually fouling out, but definitely contributed to Moore's tough evening.

Struggling even more for UConn was junior Tiffany Hayes, who was 1-of-9 from the field and finished with just three points and one rebound. Sophomore Kelly Faris led the Huskies with 19 points, while freshman Bria Hartley had 14.

UConn cut the lead to four a couple of times in the second half, but Stanford kept responding. With the Huskies trailing by six with 1:42 left, Moore missed a free throw and Pedersen grabbed the rebound. The elder Ogwumike, junior Nneka, hit a layup at 1:14 that was all but the final nail.

We were totally out of character, and I think Stanford, the way they played, took us out of our character. Whoever we are, whatever we've been and however way we've done it, we weren't allowed to do that tonight. That's because of what they did.

-- Coach Geno Auriemma, on UConn's loss Thursday

It was fitting, though, that Pohlen got to officially seal it with free throws, going 6-for-6 from the line in the final 42 seconds. She also pulled down the last rebound, tossing the ball in the air in celebration.

It wasn't a sky-high toss, though. More a "hooray, we're happy, but this isn't a national championship" toss.

Indeed, the Cardinal were staying very level-headed afterward.

"It's a huge win, but it's December," said Pedersen, who had eight points and a team-best 11 rebounds. "This instills confidence that we can beat any team, if we really dig down and follow our scouting report. We haven't won anything yet."

Well … actually, they have. They won a game that all of the women's basketball world has been waiting a long time for someone to win.

At first, VanDerveer was reticent to talk about it on "big picture" terms. As usual, she was more into dissecting the X's and O's. But when prompted a little more, VanDerveer acknowledged, "I told our team, 'We have a chance to be part of history.' But now, I'm more like, 'How can we run our offense better?'

"I think I'll probably wake up tomorrow and feel differently about it. But right now, I'm just thinking, 'What's going to help us improve?'"

And UConn's loss will help the Huskies think about that same thing. Rest assured, by the perturbed look on Moore's face, UConn will most certainly learn something from this defeat.

Auriemma said the things that he has been pointing out to his players that could hurt them in games will have more resonance since they've actually lost.

[+] EnlargeTara VanDerveer
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStanford slowed down the game, outrebounded UConn 43-36 and made sure someone other than Maya Moore would have to step up for the Huskies.

"I used this example one day at practice," Auriemma said. "When you tell a kid not to touch a stove because it's hot, and the kid doesn't listen to you and they touch it, once they burn themselves -- now they won't touch it.

"There will be a different feeling in practice. And I'm happy that [the Huskies] are going to get to show a different side to them. It's easy to go out and be the way we've been by winning. Where we go from here, that's going to define these guys way more than the 90 wins.

"The 90 -- that belongs to somebody else and a couple of these guys. What happens from here on in belongs strictly to them."

Thursday night, though, belonged to Stanford. The Cardinal had lost back-to-back games earlier this month, at DePaul and at Tennessee. But neither defeat really dented their confidence.

"UConn's done a fabulous job, and that's a great record they have," VanDerveer said. "And I'm really proud of our team. What's most important to me is our team played really well together, and they had a great time doing it. It's not a national championship, but it's a big game for us."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.