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West boast time

TAMPA

It's worth noting that Tuesday's national championship game will tip off at 5:30 p.m. in the Pacific time zone.

No team west of Texas has played in a women's basketball final since Stanford won it all in 1992, but the upset-minded Cardinal is back again after defeating top-seeded Connecticut 82-73 in the semifinals Sunday before a sellout crowd of 21,655 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"Them giving us a No. 2 seed was the best thing they could have done for us," said freshman forward Kayla Pedersen, who finished with 17 points, including a crucial 3-pointer late in the game.

"It just motivated us, gave us that extra push to show the East Coast what we're all about."

Connecticut (36-2) certainly knows after Sunday night.

The Huskies led just once, at 3-2, and spent the rest of the game chasing Stanford (35-3), which got game highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds from All-America senior guard Candice Wiggins as it won its 23rd game in a row.

"The thing that's driving this team is the fact that we don't want to stop playing with each other," Wiggins said.

"We got killed by Connecticut back in November, and (that) changed the whole dynamic of our team. We got together before (this) game and said, 'Let's see how much better we've gotten.' We're not the same team we were in November, and we wanted to prove that to ourselves, and to the country, too."

Connecticut was the second top seed the Cardinal knocked off in the tournament. It beat No. 1 Maryland to get to Tampa.

"We knew we would have to play our absolute A-game," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team committed just one turnover in the opening half.

"This is thrilling for me, personally and for our team."

Wiggins led the way, but Stanford got 15 points and 10 rebounds from 6-foot-4 center Jayne Appel, who helped the Cardinal outrebound the Huskies 43-37.

Connecticut made a run early in the second half with six straight points to pull within 47-46. Wiggins, who hadn't scored in 14 minutes, answered with a 3-pointer on the wing, then another on the next possession, and Pedersen's basket capped an 8-0 run to put Stanford up 55-46.

Connecticut wouldn't get closer than five the rest of the way.

Connecticut freshman phenom Maya Moore finished with 20 points but was held scoreless in the opening 12 minutes as Stanford built a 27-20 lead. The Huskies, who have played without two starting guards for much of the season because of injuries, struggled from the perimeter. Guard Renee Montgomery went 4-for-18 from the field with one assist in 40 minutes.

"We missed (the starters) all year, but it definitely showed up tonight," Montgomery said.

Stanford, in its first Final Four since 1997, plays No. 1 seed Tennessee Tuesday night. Since the women's tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1994, only Baylor has beaten three No. 1 seeds on the way to the title. The Cardinal bids to become the second.

Connecticut goes home empty after reaching the Final Four for the first time in four years.

"The fairy tale didn't have a happy ending, but that's life," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

"The incredible effort it takes to get here, and in the span of 40 minutes, it's gone."

Stanford 82

UConn 73

West boast time 04/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 10:13am]
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