Defense proves to be key to Huskies ninth title under Auriemma
NASHVILLE- "I have always said if you play great defense you put yourself in position to win the game," head coach Geno Auriemma said.
Although UConn had won a majority of their games by over 20 points, Auriemma said the Huskies give credit to their backcourt for maintaining their offensive flow.
"If your offense is great that night you can win by a lot," Auriemma said. "But if your offense isn't great that night you can still win if you play great defense and that is what we have done all season."
Despite UConn's very slow starts in its past three games, its stifling defense has prevented opponents from creating a large lead. While it seems like the Huskies are struggling when any opponent takes a lead, they are never truly down and out. There is always a turning point where the team clicks and a significant turnaround is executed.
UConn's overwhelming defense is in part due to their size. Kiah Stokes, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart all add length to the backcourt. Their length and skill make it challenging for any player to get a shot off, while Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson's speed and quick hands help with steals and transitions.
"They have such great size," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Kiah Stokes has been playing really well this year. She gives them a nice lift off the bench. They have that big lineup that they play pretty frequently and that creates a lot of matchup problems for us."
Before the matchup of the two unbeaten teams, Stanford had scored the most points (56) against UConn. The Cardinal used their strong offense in the first half to execute their points, however after the Huskies got in sync, it became harder to get shots to fall.
"In some ways it takes one thing to get here, but then to beat Connecticut when you are here, we needed something else," Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We needed to be bigger, but we weren't able to do that."
UConn held Notre Dame to a mere four points for the first ten minutes of the second half and 20 points total in that half. On top of that, the Huskies held the Irish to 35.5 percent shooting. Notre Dame had been the most reliable and consistent team throughout the season shooting at 51-percent clip, however UConn overwhelmed them as they fell under pressure.
"We were in the locker room and we knew that Notre Dame's not just going to fall over," Stewart said. "They are a good team and they are going to fight. We wanted to make sure the way we came out in the first half is the way we came out in the second half. Once we really put our foot on the gas and really charged at them, they didn't seem to have an answer."
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