- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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SAN ANTONIO -- Connecticut beat Stanford 53-47 in Tuesday's national championship game at the Alamodome. The Huskies trailed 20-12 at halftime but went on to win their seventh NCAA title and their women's NCAA Division I-leading 78th consecutive victory, capping a second straight undefeated season. The only difference? The win was the first by single digits in their winning streak.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Much like in the teams' meeting on Dec. 23, UConn played more like UConn early in the second half. The run was 30-6 then; it was 17-2 in the opening eight minutes Tuesday after a Caroline Doty driving layup, and that run was the difference.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Connecticut's Maya Moore. She was the difference. After a dismal first 20 minutes, Moore played like two Wade Trophy winners rolled into one. In the first 11 minutes of the second half, she had 13 points, the kind of instant production Moore had been providing at the start of games in earlier rounds and even on Sunday against Baylor. Moore finished her night with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Connecticut's Tina Charles. This had nothing to do with how Charles played offense; she was actually very un-Charles like on that end. Credit Stanford's Jayne Appel for that to some degree and a lack of Charles' aggressiveness as another factor. However, Charles was a big factor on defense. Stanford couldn't get anything near the basket in the second half. Charles was able to challenge shots and still rebound, disrupting things for both Appel and Nneka Ogwumike. One of the biggest sequences of the night came with Appel on the bench following another twisted ankle, allowing Charles to switch over to Ogwumike. On consecutive possessions after UConn had taken the lead, Charles blocked Ogwumike attempts from close range. It was all Stanford had left and now that was gone. So was the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME III: Stanford's Kayla Pedersen. The Stanford junior finished with 15 points and a whopping 17 rebounds. Yet Pedersen didn't feel like she had much of an impact at all in the second half. Only five of her points came after halftime, and three were on a banked-in 3-pointer after the outcome had been decided.
TURNING POINT: UConn had already inched ahead 25-22, but when Charles blocked Ogwumike (her first block in the sequence mentioned above), snared the loose ball and fed Moore for a fast-break layup, the run grew to 15-2, the lead grew to five and the UConn fans grew in volume. The run didn't quite stop there, but it was the most dynamic play in it. Those were Moore's eighth and ninth straight points during the spurt, solidifying her place as the Final Four most outstanding player.
STAT OF THE GAME: UConn shot 48.3 percent in the second half after shooting just 17.2 percent in the first, when the Huskies' 12 points marked the lowest for a half in school history.
STAT OF THE GAME II: The Cardinal began the second half just 2-for-18 from the field and scored just seven total points in the first 12:28 after halftime. Stanford shot just 26.5 percent for the game.
STAT OF THE GAME III: Tuesday's victory marked the first time in Connecticut's 78-game winning streak the Huskies won by fewer than 10 points.
HERO OF THE DAY: Jayne Appel. She finished her Stanford career with a woeful 0-for-12 performance from the field. But her ankle was killing her. With 7:44 left, it looked like it had knocked her out for good when she went down in a heap in the lane and then practically hopped on one foot to the bench. Yet Appel kept playing in her final game. She kept running hard. She kept boxing out. She kept defending (an area where she was tremendous, limiting Charles' low-post opportunities all night and forcing her longtime basketball friend to 4-of-13 shooting). But the ankle did prevent Appel from scoring and begs the question: What would this game have been like had she been even 25 percent healthier?
MOMENT OF CLARITY: With 5:24 left in the second half, Caroline Doty hit a 3-pointer, her first in 11 tries in the Final Four. It gave UConn its largest lead to that point at 44-29. Doty's extended follow through and rye smile indicated that UConn finally felt comfortable and the sophomore had gotten the monkey off her back. It was also clear that the Huskies had gotten Stanford off their back and the championship was now secure. Just for good measure, Doty hit another less than three minutes later.
QUOTE OF THE HALF: "This is the worst I've ever seen [our offensive production]," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said at halftime. "We miss a couple shots, now we're in a hurry. We miss a couple more, now we're in even more of a hurry. We're just completely out of our rhythm. [We] have absolutely no rhythm on offense. They're being very physical in there, and we're not responding very well to it at all."
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Was it great defense or just bad shooting? Connecticut was shooting more poorly than ever before. The Huskies missed 18 of their first 20 shots and went scoreless from the 17:56 mark until 7:22 remained, missing 16 consecutive shots. Some of that has to fall on the Huskies themselves, but give Stanford credit. The Cardinal bothered UConn into some tough chances, and others near the rim were contested. The Stanford defense was not an X factor coming in, but it was the key in the first 20 minutes.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Stanford's Kayla Pedersen. Two 3-pointers by Pedersen were perhaps the two most important buckets of the first half. They are always important when baskets themselves are at such a premium. But Pedersen also was the only double-digit scorer of the half on either side (10 points) and grabbed eight boards.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike. She didn't score much with just five points -- of course, no one really does in a 20-12 game -- but Ogwumike did haul in nine rebounds. More importantly, her length seemed to bother Maya Moore, especially on her first two or three jump shot attempts. Moore was 2-for-8 with five points.
TURNING POINT: With 13:31 to play, Jeanette Pohlen nailed a corner jumper. She had appeared to be a bit nervous to start, but that make seemed to settle her down and, in turn, she was better able to settle down her teammates.
STAT OF THE HALF: Nothing speaks louder than UConn's 5-for-29 shooting. The Huskies are also 0-for-4 at the foul line. Stanford isn't exactly lighting it up, either, hitting just 25.8 percent of its shots. Also, 17 of the 26 Cardinal rebounds have gone to Ogwumike and Pedersen. Jayne Appel's ankle is definitely slowing her. The senior, playing in her final game, has just one carom on the defensive end. She can't go get the ball after defending.
THREE THINGS STANFORD HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Hang on to the ball. Stanford has shot it poorly, but seven turnovers also is something to watch. One way the Cardinal would let UConn off the deck would be turning over the ball.
2. Shoot it better. Stanford also has missed a bunch. Expecting Connecticut to continue to be this cold and inefficient is asking too much. Stanford needs to be more aggressive early in the shot clock at getting good looks.
3. Establish Ogwumike. She really hasn't caught the ball in the low post much. Her length is her biggest advantage in the matchup with Moore. She has taken advantage on defense but not on offense.
THREE THINGS CONNECTICUT HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Shoot it better. Auriemma talks about how making shots is always the key to any game. His teams never have this much trouble doing so.
2. Get the ball to Tina Charles. One way to cure some shooting woes would be to take the shots closer to the basket. The Huskies need to make getting Charles the ball in isolation against Appel a priority. She should have the upper hand there.
3. Convert offensive rebounds. Although the Huskies have done almost nothing right offensively, taking advantage of their athleticism to get points is something they normally have better luck doing.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.