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Divine finish after dismal start

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Every basket built their streak. Every romp enriched their legacy.

From the first shot of the season, it seemed inevitable that Maya Moore, Tina Charles and the rest of the Connecticut Huskies would win the NCAA women's basketball championship.

And so they did Tuesday night, rallying from a horrible first half to beat Stanford 53-47 for their 78th straight victory and stamping themselves as one of the most dominant teams ever in any sport.

Held to five points through the first 12 minutes and trailing 20-12 at the break, coach Geno Auriemma's team bounced back and played like champs.

"We knew a run was coming," said Moore, the tournament's outstanding player. "We settled down and hit some big shots."

UConn surged to start the second half, building an 11-point lead.

Moore scored 23 points overall and had 11 rebounds to help Auriemma win his seventh national title, moving him within one of Pat Summitt and Tennessee. He has never lost in the title game.

"This one was by the far the hardest and most difficult," Auriemma said. "Not because of what we went through, but we played a great team, and they had a great game plan. It took everything we had to beat that team."

This was the sixth time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final Associated Press poll met for the title. The Huskies (39-0) are the first team to have consecutive unbeaten seasons, but that doesn't cover it.

They've been unstoppable during the past two years, winning every game but this one by double figures and passing their women's Division I record of 70 straight wins. The championship victory put them within 10 of the 88-game winning streak set by the UCLA men in the early 1970s.

Charles added nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. The senior and Auriemma embraced after the final buzzer.

The lowest-scoring game in NCAA championship game history was played in front of a crowd of 22,936 that included Vice President Joe Biden.

Stanford (36-2) played a nearly flawless defensive first half, holding UConn to 12 points, the lowest in a championship game and the lowest in school history. But then the Huskies took over.

"I've never been prouder of a group of young people," Auriemma said. "How they fought back (Tuesday night). It was easy for them to pack it in. People wondered, 'What are you going to do the first time we're in a close game?' We reacted how champions react."

UConn opened the second half by scoring 17 of the first 19 to take its first lead since early in the game. Moore had 11 points in the spurt. Her 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 23-22, giving UConn its first lead since it was 5-0. That ended a 19-minute stretch in which UConn was behind, the longest the Huskies had trailed this season. Then UConn pulled away. Stanford got not closer than five.

Kayla Pedersen led the Cardinal with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who had 38 points in the semifinals, added 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Senior Jayne Appel, who went into the game with an injured ankle, missed all 12 of her shots and went scoreless.

"Twelve points in the first half was extremely helpful for us, but we weren't able to capitalize," Pedersen said. "We kept fighting, kept fighting, and things weren't falling for us. We needed to make our own run, and we didn't really do that."

UConn 53

Stanford 47

. Fast facts

By the numbers

78 Consecutive wins for UConn, which extended its women's Division I basketball mark

39-0 Record for UConn this season, making the Huskies the first team with consecutive unbeaten seasons.

23 Points scored by junior forward Maya Moore, the tournament's outstanding player.

12 Points for the Huskies in the first half, the lowest in a championship game and the lowest in school history.

7 National titles for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, moving him within one of Tennessee's Pat Summitt.

Divine finish after dismal start 04/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 1:33am]
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