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 Connecticut Huskies would win the NCAA 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 their sport or any other, men or women.
Held to only 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.
Moore, the game’s outstanding player, scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help Auriemma win his seventh national championship, moving within one title of Pat Summitt and Tennessee. He’s never lost in the title game.
The Huskies became the first team ever to have consecutive unbeaten seasons, but that doesn’t cover it.
They’ve been unstoppable over the past two years, winning every game by double figures until Tuesday night, and passing their own NCAA women’s record of 70 straight wins set from 2001-03 in early March. The championship victory put them within 10 of the vaunted 88-game winning streak set by the UCLA men in the early 1970s.
Charles added nine points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks for UConn (39-0) in front of a crowd of 22,936 that included Vice President Joe Biden as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While Biden showed impartiality in his cheering, Rice was rooting on Stanford — the school at which she served as provost for six years.
She visited with the team at a morning shootaround offering words of encouragement. Rice had hoped to see the Cardinal win their third championship and first since 1992.
Stanford played a nearly flawless defensive first half, holding UConn to 12 points — the lowest ever in a championship game and the lowest in school history.
But then Moore and the Huskies took over.
UConn opened the second half by scoring 17 of the first 19 points to take its first lead since early in the game. Moore had 11 points during the spurt, scoring from all over the court.
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 UConn had trailed this season. The only time that the Huskies were behind more than 10 minutes during this season also had been against Stanford.
Moore followed up her 3 with a sweet jumper and a layup on the break after Charles had blocked Nnemkadi Ogwumike on the other end.
JJ Hones’ 3-pointer with 11:46 left in the game cut the deficit to 29-25, but then Charles made her presence felt, scoring seven of the Huskies next nine points to make it 38-27 with 7:42 left.
Stanford would only get as close as five the rest of the way. UConn let the Cardinal close the gap late making just 9 of 22 free throws.
This was the sixth time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final AP Top 25 poll met for the title. The last came in 2002 when UConn beat Oklahoma in San Antonio.