Stanford Falls in Battle with Connecticut
April 5, 2009
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Geno Auriemma has coached perfect teams and national champions before. He's also worked with some of the best players in the history of women's basketball.
On the doorstep of another unbeaten season, the Connecticut coach wants to add senior guard Renee Montgomery and the rest of the these Huskies to those lists.
'I don't want this team to come up short,' Auriemma said. 'I don't want them to stop playing. I wanted them to be in the championship game. You love when your best players, the ones who have given their heart and soul to the program and have accomplished so many things have a chance to win the last college game of the year.'
Montgomery scored 26 points, Maya Moore added 24, and unbeaten UConn cruised to its first title game in five years with an 83-64 victory over Stanford on Sunday night.
UConn will face Big East rival Louisville on Tuesday night. The Cardinals missed their first 13 shots before rallying to beat Oklahoma 61-59.
The Huskies (38-0) already have routed Louisville twice this year, including dismantling the Cardinals 75-36 in the Big East tournament championship game in early March.
'I wish we were playing anyone but Louisville,' Auriemma said. 'Anyone, I don't care who. The last team you want to play is a team you beat the way we beat them the two times we beat them, especially the last time we played them.'
The Huskies have made almost everyone look silly this season, winning by nearly 31 points a game and not allowing a team to come within single digits.
With an imposing lineup that featured five starters over 6-feet, Stanford (33-5) was supposed to be an obstacle. The Cardinal were the last team to beat Connecticut, knocking them out of the Final Four last season.
That challenge didn't last long - just like most of the other ranked teams UConn has faced this season.
After Jayne Appel got off to a quick start, the Huskies swarmed the Stanford star on defense, sometimes sending four players at her. The Cardinal couldn't stop Renee Montgomery on the other end, who sliced through Stanford's defense with ease.
'They went on a run where one time we totally lost Montgomery,' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. 'For their team they really capitalized on any time someone was open.'
Appel finished with 26 points, but she had little help. Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 12 points and 12 rebounds and Kayla Pedersen added 10 points.
UConn beat Stanford 87-60 in the Final Four en route to its first undefeated season in 1995, and also went unbeaten in 2002. The Huskies also entered the NCAA tournament undefeated in 1997, but fell to Tennessee in the regional final.
Besides Connecticut, only the Lady Vols and Texas have run through a season unbeaten.
This was the second straight season that Stanford and Connecticut met in the Final Four. The Cardinal walked away with a 82-73 win last season before falling to Tennessee in the title game.
On Sunday, they tried to run with the Huskies early and led 14-13 in the first half. Appel was unstoppable, scoring 10 of the team's first 14 points on an array of post moves.
But then the Huskies clamped down, going on one of their vaunted runs that have carried them all season long.
Connecticut scored 18 of the next 22 points to take a 31-18 lead. As she has been for most of the season, Montgomery was the catalyst.
The senior guard, who was the first UConn player to have her jersey retired while still playing, started the spurt with a 3-pointer. She had seven points during the burst that ended with Kaili McLaren's putback with 5:39 left in the half.
'Renee Montgomery was the difference maker,' VanDerveer said. 'That's the player of the year right there.'
The teams traded baskets for the rest of the first half as UConn went into the break up 37-24. It was the 32nd time this season that they held a double-digit lead at the half.
UConn put together a 13-0 run after intermission, holding Stanford without a point for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half. Moore, The Associated Press player of the year, had seven during the surge.
Appel finally ended the drought with a layup, but it was too late as Stanford trailed by 24 points at that point. The Cardinal could only get within 19 the rest of the way.
'Connecticut was head and shoulders above us tonight,' VanDerveer said.
Stanford had won 20 straight coming into the Final Four, including capturing its sixth straight Pac-10 tournament title. But the Cardinal couldn't get going offensively besides Appel, who grabbed seven rebounds to break the single-season school record set by Nicole Powell in 2003-04.
The victory over Stanford helped ease some painful St. Louis memories for the Huskies, who lost in the 2001 national semifinals to Notre Dame in the Gateway city.
It also set up only the fourth meeting in the championship between teams from the same conference.