Women's Basketball: Music City Mauling
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- UConn's slow start gave Stanford an early lead, however, just like the past two games, the Huskies were able to shake it off, forget the first half and advance to the championship game of the Final Four as they defeated Stanford 75-56.
Stanford was able to capitalize on UConn's cold shooting in the beginning of the first half. The Cardinal picked up a quick five points off of UConn turnovers, which allowed them to stay one step ahead of the Huskies.
"I think the game played out, at least in the first half, exactly how I thought it would play out," head coach Geno Auriemma said. "We knew it was going to be a little bit of a struggle. It's hard to make shots at the Final Four. Once we settled in and got our rhythm, I thought we played one of the best games we played all year, given the fact that we played a really good team."
Stanford's Lili Thompson racked up 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, giving the Cardinal a huge advantage on the frontcourt. Although UConn was able to keep Chiney Ogwumike relatively quiet in the first half, Stanford had other tricks up their sleeve.
"I think it's always an honor for a team to focus so much on me on the inside, but I trusted my teammates," Ogwumike said. "I think they were the reason we were competitive in the first half. They were aggressive and knocking down shots."
Ice cold or nah?
With less than 10 minutes left in the half, UConn was able get out of a scoring rut and go on a 10-0 run to gain it's first lead since the 16 minute mark. Even though the Huskies shot a very low 38.5 percent in the first half they stepped up in the second half.
"I think we kind of picked up the pressure in our defense... it really changed the momentum of the game," Bria Hartley said. "I think that's what our defense does. When we go out there and really make it tough for them to score and we can create offense off of that it really helps our offense and we are able to play a lot better."
Hartley, Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson, Moriah Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn as they each racked up double digit points, while Jefferson also recorded her 100th steal this game to help the Huskies in transition. Kiah Stokes had a solid game as she went 4-4 in field goals and racked up four rebounds one block and one steal.
"Kiah has been a really good defense player and shot blocker," Auriemma said. "We are not afraid to put her out there in big moments. That's the best game she's ever played I think since she came to Connecticut."
Stanford in trouble
Midway through the second half, four of Stanford's five starters were in foul trouble. Thompson, Mikaela Ruef and Ogwumike racked up three fouls each, while Amber Orrange had four fouls. UConn went 17-24 from the foul line and had an offensive advantage. The looming threat of fouling out had the Cardinal more hesitant when defending, which allowed the Huskies to capitalize on the weak defense.
"I have always said if you play great defense you put yourself in position to win the game," Auriemma said. "However good your offense is will depend on what the spread is. If your offense is great that night you can win by a lot, but if your offense isn't great that night you can still win if you play great defense."
Battle of the undefeated teams
This whole season has been waiting in anticipation for the epic match up between UConn and Notre Dame and now it has arrived. Although the Huskies operate with no doubt and are ready to take home the title, they have never been challenged like they will be with the Fighting Irish. UConn recognizes the hype and pressure of this game, they also are able to step back and realize how incredible this game will be.
"It looked to me like as the season went on (the undefeated match up was almost inevitable), like it was supposed to happen," Auriemma said. "To have the spotlight on Tuesday with two teams that one of them is going to lose for the first time this year seems pretty remarkable to do for one team, much less two."
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