SAN ANTONIO (AP) — 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 stamp 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.
Whatever he said in the locker room must’ve worked, as Moore and the Huskies quickly seized control in a classic UConn surge, bolting to an 11-point lead.
Moore, the tournament’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.
“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.”
The Huskies (39-0) are 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 until Tuesday night by double figures, 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. The senior and Auriemma embraced in a long hug 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, who hugged the UConn players after the game, 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 (36-2) 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.
“I’ve never been prouder of a group of young people,” Auriemma said. “How they fought back today. 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 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 longer 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.
“We knew a run was coming,” Moore said. “And we settled down and hit some big shots. Tina hit some big shots. I tried to step up and hit big shots. We’re champions.”
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 for the game.
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.