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Can UConn Close Out Another Perfect Season?

Can UConn Close Out Another Perfect Season?

Connecticut (38-0) is one win away from glory, one win away from solidifying their rightful place in the record books. A NCAA-record 77-game winning streak and the chance to make history as the first women’s team to win back-to-back undefeated national championships are both on the line for Connecticut.

Connecticut (38-0) is one win away from glory, one win away from solidifying their rightful place in the record books. A NCAA-record 77-game winning streak and the chance to make history as the first women’s team to win back-to-back undefeated national championships are both on the line for Connecticut.

However, one team stands in their way, Stanford (36-1). 

It’s fair to say that the Cardinals are the only team that UConn’s did not want to face, they are the Huskies Achilles’ heel.   

Tuesday will mark the fourth time in three seasons that these teams have met, the most notable game in 2008 when Stanford pulled off the upset against UConn in the national semifinals. The loss in 08 was devastating to the Huskies as they were vying for their third national championship in three seasons. 

The Alamodome will be rockin tonight as both teams are stacked with Grade A talent and both possess the desire to hoist the trophy. Connecticut is trying to make history and Stanford is trying to pull off the upset of the decade.   

The trifecta of Maya Moore-Kalana Greene-Tina Charles for the Huskies and Nnemkadi Ogwumike-Kayla Pedersen-Jayne Appel for the Cardinals will, without a doubt, make for an intense 40 minutes of basketball. This one will be one for the ages.

Everyone knows that Moore and Ogwumike are the two best players on their respective teams. No doubt that they will put up double digit numbers, both scoring and rebounding. In fact, Ogwumike set a national scoring record for an NCAA semifinal when she put up 38 points and 16 boards in her last game. And she’s just a sophomore. 

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Ogwumike recognizes that it’s going to be an uphill battle but she refuses to concede. Ogwumike told the Hartford Courant, "It's going to be a battle that's going to show who has the fight to the finish. UConn doesn't just have Maya. They have Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Caroline Doty, Tiffany Hayes. And we don't just have one player, either." 

A point that Geno Auriemma, UConn’s head coach, is painfully aware of.  In an interview with ESPN, Auriemma called Stanford the toughest team to play against because of all its scorers.

The key matchup tonight might be Greene vs. Pedersen. Greene and Pedersen are also double-digit scorers and both players have an edge because they aren’t as well known. They are the quiet leaders and they can tip the scale either way depending on how they play tonight. 

The two best front courts are represented but never underestimate the importance of confidence, experience and plain determination. UConn holds the edge in this department as they are 100% percent healthy going into tonight’s matchup. 

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Unfortunately, Stanford cannot say the same. Jayne Appel, a better post player than Tina Charles when healthy, is playing tonight with an ankle sprain. If healthy, she would have given Charles a run for her money but no one knows if Appel will be able to keep the pace. On Monday, Charles was named winner of the 2010 Naismith Trophy, having scored 21 points and 13 rebounds in just 39 minutes of play in the semis. 

Connecticut ranks first in the country in all major categories, including field goal percentage offense and defense, scoring margin (they won their first five tournament games by 208 points), assist-to-turnover ratio, assists per game and 3-point field goal percentage defense. Stanford is in the top 10 in these categories, but top 10 is not first.    

Most importantly, UConn has experience in the big game.  Tonight they fight for their seventh national championship.  And they don’t just win, they go undefeated--1995 (35-0), 2002 (39-0), and 2009 (39-0).  Connecticut not only defeats their opponents, they punish them, consistently competing with relentless effort and perfect execution.  

And Stanford, they would have a 56-game winning streak of their own if their losses to UConn were erased from memory. 

The Cardinals backcourt of Ros Gold-Onwude and Jeanette Pohlen will have to improve on their semifinal numbers (3-of-16 from the field) to compete with Connecticut’s Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes.  The guards should let the front court do all the heavy lifting, their sole job---to keep the turnovers low and set the tempo of the game.  Stanford had only one turnover in the semis compared to UConn’s three turnovers.  Fewer turnovers = more possessions, which means more opportunities to score.   

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The Cardinals head coach, Tara VanDerveer, thinks the biggest key to a Stanford win might lie in her team's aggressiveness, "We were not aggressive enough in that last game [against UConn]," she said. "We were not as energetic as we could have been.”

Stanford needs to contain UConn, and to do so, they will have to force Connecticut to conform to their style of play.  UConn has the best transition game in the league so if they are allowed to take control of the game, Stanford’s shot at winning decreases significantly. 

Connecticut’s Maya Moore had it right when she told the Boston Globe, “If you get too ahead of yourself or start taking your eyes off what’s right in front of [you], that’s when you get beat.’’  The “one game at a time” motto needs to be in play tonight if UConn wants to avoid an upset of epic proportions. 

The prediction, UConn wins but it will be a nail biter.  Tune in tonight to ESPN at 4PM PST/7:00PM EST.

Get more coverage of UConn's winning streak, along with other sports, entertainment and culture from Leslie here!

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Leslie Dobbins