Cardinal hits 2-for-19 skid after 20-12 halftime lead

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SAN ANTONIO — The defensive game plan was solid, the execution perfect. Stanford kept Maya Moore, Tina Charles and the entire Connecticut team from scoring for a stretch of 10 minutes, 37 seconds.

And it still wasn’t enough. The Cardinal were missing too many shots of their own.

Stanford gave up just 12 points in the first half of the national title game Tuesday night, but scored only 20. The meager lead wasn’t enough to withstand an inevitable second-half run by mighty UConn — especially not with the Cardinal still clanging away.

The result: a 53-47 loss, the Huskies’ 78th straight victory and second straight title, and a feeling of what might have been for Stanford.

“It was there for the taking,” coach Tara VanDerveer said. “It’s very disappointing, and it’s very frustrating.”

The Cardinal have played the Huskies tougher than anyone during this unprecedented back-to-back run. The six-point margin was the closest UConn has come to losing. Still, that’s little solace for a team that won a school-record 36 games and saw the longest winning streak in school history end at 27.

“You can feel sometimes so close and at the same time feel so far away,” VanDerveer said. “They’re beating these people by 30 or 40 points. We had a chance and I feel like we wasted some opportunities. … We can’t talk about (closing the gap). We’ve got to beat them to close the gap.”

Center Jayne Appel ended her standout career without a point, missing all 12 of her shots while playing in obvious pain. UConn eventually sagged off her and upped its pressure on the team’s new star, sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike, pestering her into 5 of 14. She had only 11 points after scoring 38 in the semifinals.

Stanford put UConn in its biggest hole of the season (nine points) and made the Huskies play from behind for longer than they had all season (19:07). The Cardinal gave up the fewest points ever allowed in any half of a women’s Final Four game — but also had the fewest points by a team that had ever been leading at the half.

The Cardinal opened the second half 0 of 7, 1 of 12 and 2 of 19.

“We weren’t doing anything differently in the second half, but we weren’t doing things as well in the second half,” VanDerveer said. “I think the fact we couldn’t score discourages you, too.”