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Jeff Eisenberg

The performance wasn't perfect, but the UConn women still are

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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In a season in which the UConn women's basketball team has earned every compliment and superlative thrown its direction, here's an adjective by which the Huskies have rarely been described: mortal.

Yes, for much of Tuesday night's ragged 53-47 victory over Stanford in the NCAA title game, the most invincible team in basketball looked downright human. Vulnerable, even.

They missed 16 consecutive first-half shots. They went more than 10 minutes without scoring. The carefree swagger that has typified their success was replaced by the rushed shots and nervous frowns of a team for the first time feeling the pressure of upholding a win streak that will stand at 78 when next season begins.

UConn never truly did recapture the dominance the team has displayed throughout much of the season, but the Huskies proved perfection doesn't always have to be beautiful. They completed their second straight undefeated season with a rare come-from-behind win, rallying from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat a Stanford team whose only two losses this season came at the hands of UConn.

"There was a point in time where it looked like we may never score again," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "To come out in the second half and make some of the plays that we made and have Maya (Moore) make some of the shots that she made, it was a real testament to these kids and how strong they are and how tough they are and how resilient they are."

If the NFL has the Giants toppling undefeated New England in 2008 and baseball has the Dodgers taking down the mighty A's in 1988, then a Stanford victory over UConn would have been women's basketball's equivalent. Not only had the Huskies won their previous 77 games by 10 or more points entering Tuesday's title game, their average margin of victory in the NCAA tournament had been more than 40 points per game.

What's most discouraging for the Cardinal is that an upset might have been an attainable goal had senior star Jayne Appel not been so hobbled by a badly sprained right ankle. With the two-time All-American going scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting in her final college game, UConn was able to focus its defensive attention on fellow interior star Nnemkadi Ogwumike and force Stanford's inconsistent shooters to try to win the game from the perimeter.

"It's very disappointing and it's very frustrating," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I think what's the hardest is Jayne having such a great career at Stanford, and I'm really sad for her to go out on this kind of game. She just was not able to push off her ankle, and her foot's bothering her."

Stanford's downfall was that its own offense couldn't take advantage of UConn's uncharacteristic struggles. A 20-12 Cardinal lead at halftime gradually turned into a 47-31 Huskies' second-half advantage, a brief confidence-inspiring scoring flurry from Maya Moore and more ironclad UConn defense fueling the rally.

Since UConn last lost a basketball game in the 2008 Final Four, Lane Kiffin has coached three teams, Lady Gaga has released eight singles and Jay Leno has handed the reins of the Tonight Show to Conan O'Brien only to take them back.

Some insist that level of dominance has driven fans away from the sport. The Huskies aren't apologizing for anything.

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