|Stanford’s Jeanette Pohlen (left), who scored 31 points, was a handful against UConn. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)|
UConn is moving on; Stanford is beaming
STANFORD, Calif. — Maya Moore and everybody around UConn realized how much this meant to Stanford after several close calls against the mighty Huskies — one in the Final Four, another that cost the Cardinal the 2010 NCAA title.
No. 1 Connecticut’s remarkable run is over, a 90-game winning streak stopped by an inspired Stanford squad determined to protect its own impressive mark: 52 straight home wins at Maples Pavilion.
This time, the ninth-ranked Cardinal took the lead from the opening tip and kept firm hold of it until the final buzzer of a 71-59 victory Thursday night.
“They forced us into some mistakes we haven’t made all year,’’ coach Geno Auriemma said. “Finally a team took advantage of the mistakes we made.’’
Stanford had been so close to UConn in the previous two meetings, blowing halftime leads and pondering what could have been for months — especially last April’s NCAA final that sent the Huskies to their second straight championship.
The Cardinal took an early 13-point lead Thursday and never trailed.
UConn fans hadn’t seen a loss since the 2008 NCAA semifinals, when Stanford beat the Huskies, 82-73, in the Final Four at Tampa.
“At some point reality had to set in,’’ Auriemma said. “I’m not destroyed about it. Winning that many games in a row, it’s unheard of.’’
These teams have a bit of a history. In last season’s title game, Stanford almost beat Moore and Co. but lost, 53-47. It still bugs the Cardinal.
That they won in the rematch shouldn’t have been a total surprise. Even Auriemma acknowledged he wasn’t sure how the Huskies would match up.
Stanford was unbeatable at home, had given the Huskies fits in past meetings, and UConn came close to losing to then-No. 2 Baylor last month.
Jeanette Pohlen hit five 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 31 points for the Cardinal (9-2). Moore couldn’t find a rhythm until it was too late, held to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting and 4 for 11 from 3-point range.
“I thought we let it get away from us,’’ Auriemma said. “I think the atmosphere and what was going on, and when Maya couldn’t get going early, I think it affected the rest of our guys. We just didn’t play like ourselves. Give credit to Stanford. I think they played an unbelievably good game.’’
Last week, the Huskies (12-1) topped the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-74 by beating No. 22 Florida State, 93-62, then won their 90th in a row at Pacific.
Pohlen sealed it with six free throws in the final 42.5 seconds. She shot 8 for 15 overall and had nine rebounds and six assists. Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 12 points and six rebounds, and Kayla Pedersen 11 rebounds to help Stanford to a 43-36 advantage on the boards.
“I thought we showed moments of fight where we came together and were playing together at times,’’ Moore said. “Then we would hurt ourselves, and momentum would shift right back to them.’’
Moore’s 3-pointer with 10:50 left cut Stanford’s lead to 48-44, then Pedersen answered on the other end. Moore tried to will her team back late, scoring 8 straight points during one stretch. But she missed the front end of a one-and-one off the rim with 1:42 left that could have made it a 4-point game.
“I think we worked very hard defensively,’’ Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She’s a great player. She’s human.’’
Kelly Faris scored 19 points and Bria Hartley 14 for the Huskies, who never found their usual dominant form while playing in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 7,329.
“I think that’s an incredible, incredible accomplishment,’’ VanDerveer said of UConn’s run. “Since we last played them and beat them, we’ve lost [nine] games — and two of them were to them. I’m really proud of our team for really stepping up and not being intimidated by the streak. [It] was our night.’’
Stanford hasn’t won it all since 1992, despite making the last three Final Fours.
“It’s not a national championship but it’s a very big game for us and we’re very excited,’’ VanDerveer said.
“I’m just happy for our team,’’ said VanDerveer, who joined the elite 800-win club last week. “The streak is something that they did. We’re about Stanford and what we want to do.’’
Stanford hasn’t lost at home since a 68-61 upset by Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March 2007.
“It’s a huge win but it is December,’’ Pedersen said. “This instills confidence that we can beat any team. We haven’t won anything yet.’’
Auriemma always preached that championships are what his Huskies chase, not streaks.
“How we play going forward will be this team’s defining moment,’’ Auriemma said. “The 90 wins just belonged to a few of these guys. What happens for the rest of the season will belong to them.’’
Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press contributed to this report.