Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Connecticut star Maya Moore drives past Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen in UConn's 53-47 win at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Connecticut star Maya Moore drives past Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen in UConn's 53-47 win at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The University of Connecticut, a team that has come to expect perfection, overcame an astonishingly bad stretch of play Tuesday night to outlast Stanford for the women's NCAA basketball championship.
Stanford came far closer than any other opponent to breaking a winning streak that now encompasses 78 games and two straight unbeaten seasons capped by national titles. That makes seven national championships for UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, who will coach the U.S. women's Olympic team in 2012.
It sure didn't look like it was headed that way in the first half, as UConn scored just 12 points before a perplexed crowd at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
But in the end, it was too much Moore.
The smooth-as-satin junior forward took the game into her own hands early in the second half.
She yanked down a rebound and hit a turnaround jump shot. She blocked a shot and hit another jumper. She fed teammate Kalana Greene at the basket to start a three-point play. Then she hit another jumper. Then a layup.
The burst took UConn from a 20-12 disadvantage to a 27-22 lead in a four-minute stretch that essentially decided the national championship.
The Huskies rode that momentum to a 16-point lead, then held off a late Stanford rally to win 53-47. It was the first time in the 78-game streak that UConn did NOT win by a double-digit margin.
Both teams played stifling defense in a first half paced more like a Greco-Roman wrestling match than a basketball game.
But while UConn was shooting an impossibly bad 17 percent from the floor (and missing its first five foul shots, too) Stanford wasted a golden opportunity. The Cardinal shot only a bit better than the Huskies — slightly better than 25 percent, missing many close shots and several wide-open ones.
Still, until Moore's Michael Jordanesque explosion early in the second half, it looked like Stanford might turn out to be the streak buster.
The high-scoring Husky offense, powered by Moore and her prolific senior teammate Tina Charles — UConn's all-time leading scorer and rebounder — simply failed to appear. After taking a brief 5-2 lead, UConn scored no points at all for a stretch of nearly 11 minutes.
But the real Huskies showed up in time to pile up 41 points in the final 18 minutes of the game. Moore finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
It did not help Stanford that 6-foot-5 inch senior center Jayne Appel was nursing a sore ankle, or that she had to leave the game for several key minutes after re-injuring it. Appel ended a brilliant career with dismal 0-for-12 shooting performance.
The first half belonged to Stanford's Kayla Pedersen, who had 10 points and 8 rebounds (she finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds — three of the points coming on an improbable banked-in three-point shot that helped fuel Stanford's late rally).