The Connecticut women rallied from a horrible first half to beat Stanford 53-47 for their 78th consecutive victory and stamp themselves as one of the most dominant basketball teams of all time.
SAN ANTONIO — Every basket built their streak, every romp enriched their legacy.
From the first shot of the season, it seemed inevitable Maya Moore, Tina Charles and the Connecticut Huskies would win the NCAA women’s championship.
And so they did Tuesday night, rallying from a horrible first half to beat Stanford 53-47 for their 78th consecutive victory and stamp themselves as one of the most dominant teams ever — in their sport or any other, men or women.
Held to five points through the first 12 minutes and trailing 20-12 at halftime, coach Geno Auriemma’s team bounced back and played like champions.
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“We knew a run was coming,” said Moore, voted the Final Four’s most outstanding player. “We settled down and hit some big shots.”
Did they ever. UConn surged to start the second half, taking an 11-point lead.
Moore scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help Auriemma win his seventh national championship, one title short of Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. He has never lost in the title game.
“This one was by the far the hardest and most difficult,” Auriemma said. “Not because of what we went through, but we played a great team and they had a great game plan. It took everything we had to beat that team.”
The Huskies (39-0) are the first women’s team ever to have consecutive unbeaten seasons, but that doesn’t cover it.
They have been unstoppable over the past two seasons, winning every game until Tuesday night by double figures, and passing their own NCAA women’s Division I record of 70 wins in a row set from 2001-03 in early March. The championship victory put them 10 away from the vaunted 88-game winning streak set by the UCLA men in the 1970s.
Charles added nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. The senior and Auriemma shared an embrace after the final buzzer.
The lowest-scoring contest in NCAA championship-game history was played in front of a crowd of 22,936 that included Vice President Joseph Biden, who hugged UConn players after the game, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
While Biden showed impartiality in his cheering, Rice was rooting on Stanford — the school at which she served as provost for six years.
Rice visited with the team at a morning shoot-around, offering words of encouragement. Rice had hoped to see the Pac-10 Cardinal win its third championship and first since 1992.
Stanford (36-2) played a nearly flawless defensive first half, holding UConn to 12 points — the lowest in a championship game and the lowest in program history.
But Moore and the Huskies took over in the second half.
“I’ve never been prouder of a group of young people,” Auriemma said. “How they fought back today.”
UConn opened the second half by scoring 17 of the first 19 points to take its first lead since early in the game. Moore had 11 points during the spurt, scoring from virtually all over the court.
Her three-pointer from the top of the key made the score 23-22, giving UConn its first lead since it was 5-0. That ended a 19-minute stretch in which UConn was behind — the longest interval it had trailed this season.
Moore followed her three with a sweet jumper and a layup after Charles had blocked Nnemkadi Ogwumike on the other end.
JJ Hones’ three-pointer with 11:46 left in the game cut the deficit to 29-25, but Charles made her presence felt, scoring seven of the Huskies’ next nine points to make the score 38-27 with 7:44 left.
Stanford would only get as close as five points the rest of the way.
Even though Stanford was second in the AP poll and its only losses came to Connecticut, it would have been a monumental upset had the Cardinal won. Stanford lost to host UConn by 12 points on Dec. 23.
Percentages: FG .265, FT .750. Three-point goals: 8-22, (Pedersen 3-5, Gold-Onwude 0-1, Pohlen 3-5, Murphy 0-1, Hones 1-6, Tinkle 1-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 1, (Tinkle). Turnovers: 11, (Ogwumike, Appel 3, Gold-Onwude, Pohlen, Murphy 2, Hones 2). Steals: 2, (Pedersen, Tinkle).
Percentages: FG .328, FT .409. Three-point goals: 6-20, (Moore 3-5, Hayes 1-5, Doty 2-8, Faris 0-2). Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 7, (Charles 6, Greene). Turnovers: 10, (Moore 3, Charles 3, Hayes 3, Greene). Steals: 5, (Charles, Hayes, Greene, Faris 2).
Attendance: 22,936. Officials: Denise Kantner, Eric Brewton, Lisa Jones. Technical fouls: Stanford-None. Connecticut-None.
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