Despite the record-setting perfection of the women’s basketball team over the past two years, Geno Auriemma always found flaws in his team’s performance. During the first half of Tuesday’s NCAA championship game in San Antonio, it seemed that all those flaws were exposed. UConn scored 12 points to Stanford’s 20 in a first half that could only be described as ugly, as both teams shot poorly, and Auriemma said he was rendered nearly speechless.
But the Huskies opened the second half with a 17-2 run sparked by All-American junior Maya Moore and senior Kalana Greene over the first six and a half minutes to defeat Stanford 53-47, complete a 39-0 record this year, become the first women’s team to record back-to-back perfect seasons, and win a seventh NCAA championship banner to hang in Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies have now posted four undefeated championship seasons and won 78 consecutive games. The only other college team to complete consecutive unbeaten seasons is the UCLA men’s team coached by John Wooden in the early 1970s.
“This was the hardest, most difficult win, not because of what we went through this season but because we beat a great team with a great game plan,” Auriemma said.
Moore, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led all scorers with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Senior All-American Tina Charles had 9 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots, while sophomores Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes, who had shot poorly in the tournament, combined for 15 points. Stanford’s scoring was led by Kayla Pedersen (15 points, 17 rebounds) and Nnemkadi Ogumike (11 points, 13 rebounds).
“I’ve never been prouder of a group of young people, because of how they fought back today,” Auriemma said. “People asked how we would react if we were down. Well, we reacted exactly the way champions react. We won the game.”
In the halftime locker room, the Huskies and the Cardinal players understood what was at stake in the final 20 minutes of the 2009-2010 season.
“We knew what we had to do,” Moore said. “It was a new half. We had to just keeping playing hard and executing what we didn’t in the first half. We knew we weren’t going to finish the game the way we started.”
Said Stanford’s Pedersen, “We told everybody we knew they’re going to make a run. We kept fighting, but things weren’t falling for us. They started rebounding. We needed to make our own run and we didn’t do that.”
Both coaches saw opportunity.
“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but there was hope,” said Auriemma.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, “Connecticut is beating people by 30-40 points. We had a chance and I think we wasted some opportunities. It was there for the taking. Maya Moore was the difference. She really stepped up and made plays for them. She’s a great player and she made big plays.”
VanDerveer said she was most disappointed in the loss because senior All-American center Jayne Appel did not win a championship. Appel played with an ankle injury and had to leave the game briefly after re-injuring the ankle in the second half. She did not score any points.
A full-page Nike ad in the April 7 sports section of USA Today celebrates the Huskies’ 78-0 record, debunking the suggestion – made by some – that UConn is “too good.” “That’s like complaining that hi-def TV is ‘too good’ and wishing the picture were a little blurry,” says the ad.
The Huskies are expected to return to Bradley International Airport this afternoon at approximately 3:30 p.m., where there will be a short public event. That event will include remarks from Auriemma, and the team will also be in attendance.
The team will then return to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs for a Championship Pep Rally. The doors to Gampel Pavilion will open at approximately 5 p.m. and the team is expected to arrive in Storrs at approximately 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.