The old adage is that defense wins championships. Well this has certainly been true for the UConn women's basketball team during the past three games of the NCAA Tournament.
The top-ranked Huskies struggled during the first half of the national semifinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Sunday night. Shots weren't falling, they looked impatient on offense, and every shot Stanford took went in. Still, UConn only trailed by no more than six points during the first half.
The Huskies were trailing for almost 12 minutes in the first half before the offense could catch up and eventually took a 28-24 lead at the half. The Cardinal would get no closer and the Connecticut women's basketball team advanced to national championship game for the second consecutive year.
What was a close game turned into a rout as the Huskies beat the Stanford Cardinal 75-56. Undefeated UConn (39-0) will take on undefeated Notre Dame (37-0) on Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. in the title game.
This will be UConn's ninth national championship game appearance. The Huskies are a perfect 8-0 in title games and have completed four perfect seasons. This is the fourth time that the same school will have representation in both men's and women's finals. UConn won both titles in 2004, while Duke lost both in 1999. Louisville only won the men's title last year.
Notre Dame defeated Maryland 87-61 in the first semifinal. This will be the Fighting Irish's fourth title game and first since 2012. They won the championship in 2001.
All five UConn All-American starters scored in double figures. Breanna Stewart, winner of multiple national player of the year awards, led the Huskies with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 15 points - all in the second half. Bria Hartley (13 points), Stefanie Dolson (10 points and 7 rebounds), and Moriah Jefferson (10 points and 5 steals) paced the UConn offense.
The decisive factor of the game was the play by Kiah Stokes. She came off the bench and scored 9 points and pulled down 4 rebounds. Stokes had a season-high 10 points in an earlier match-up with Stanford. UConn ended up shooting 50 percent for the game.
Amber Orrange led Stanford with 16 points, followed by Chiney Ogwumike with 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Huskies defense held the All-American Ogwumike to 5 of 12 shooting and forced many difficult Stanford shots. Most of scoring came when the game was out of reach. The UConn defense held the Cardinal to 38.2 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from three-point range.
UConn and Notre Dame did not play during the regular season due to conference realignment. Longtime Big East foes, Notre Dame went on to win the ACC while UConn went on to win the American. The Irish have won seven of the past nine meetings with the Huskies, including three of four last year. However, UConn did win the national semifinals last year en route to winning the national championship.