SAN ANTONIO – Hold up on the Connecticut coronation.
Sure, UConn is on the greatest run in women’s college basketball history, and yes it has torn through the NCAA tournament. But coach Tara VanDerveer and her Stanford Cardinal think they might be able to spoil the party in tonight’s national title game.
With a few tweaks here and there from their 12-point December loss to UConn, the Cardinal feel they can pull off the monumental upset, ending the Huskies’ 77-game winning streak and preventing their seventh national championship and second straight unbeaten season.
“We’ll do some things different, but a lot of the things that we need to do are easy to fix,” Stanford forward Kayla Pedersen said.
For 22 minutes, the Cardinal hung with UConn. Stanford shot 57 percent in the first half and held a 40-38 advantage at the break – the only time this season the Huskies trailed at the half.
“I’ve watched the game several times and I know that we’re capable of beating them in 20 minutes,” VanDerveer said. “At the same time, the second half of the game got away from us. We’ve probably focused more on how it got away from us.”
No team has been able to put together a 40-minute effort against UConn during the streak even good enough to threaten the Huskies. Each of the 77 victories has been by double digits.
In the Stanford game, UConn jumped out to a 19-10 lead before star Maya Moore got in foul trouble. The Cardinal made their run with the three-time All-American on the bench.
Getting off to a good start will be critical for the Cardinal.
“That’s really the key for us,” VanDerveer said. “Against this team we got to stay in contact with them. We’re not a super athletic, pressing, trapping team that can come back from being down 15.”
Today’s championship game will be the sixth time the top two teams in the final Top 25 poll will meet for the title, with the last coming in 2002 when UConn beat Oklahoma in San Antonio.
“This is what we’ve worked for and what we dreamed of since preseason,” Moore said. “We have a really good Stanford team in our way and it doesn’t take a whole lot to motivate us right now. There is so much on the line right now with our individual and team goals.”
Despite having to get through Oklahoma first, the Cardinal were already getting ready to play UConn. Center Jayne Appel said she and a few other players packed UConn scouting reports in “the bottom of our suitcase.”
“We did a lot of things wrong, according to our scouting report. We weren’t very smart,” Appel said. “We watched this morning and we were like, ‘Gosh, that was so stupid!’ in the way that we played. It was like we didn’t even read the scouting report.”
Unfortunately, the scouting report doesn’t show exactly how well the Huskies have been playing. UConn’s turned up its stellar defense in the NCAA tournament, holding opponents to just 42 points a game, and is on pace to shatter tournament records for defensive efficiency.
Also UConn has made a habit of dismantling teams in rematches. Last year the Huskies met Louisville in the championship game for the third time in the season and turned it into a rout within the first few minutes.
“There are some advantages and disadvantages for playing somebody twice on both sides,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “They’re playing us, and they know they lost and it got away from them badly in the second half. We know we played great in the second half. Hopefully we can do that again.”