Stokes, UConn women roll into undefeated championship showdown

Former Linn-Mar star scored key baskets in semifinals

Published: April 7 2014 | 9:49 pm - Updated: 8 April 2014 | 8:08 am in

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Connecticut took awhile to get going Sunday, but there was no stopping the Huskies once they did.

UConn, seizing some momentum from the way it finished the first half, broke open a tightly contested game early in the second half on to 75-56 win over Stanford in a national semifinal played before of a packed house at the Bridgestone Arena.

The Huskies (39-0) provided college basketball aficionados with the matchup they wanted to see, as Connecticut will meet Notre Dame (37-0) on Tuesday in the first title-game matchup of undefeated teams in Women's NCAA Tournament history.

Forward Breanna Stewart led Connecticut with 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (15 points), guard Bria Hartley (13 points), center Stefanie Dolson (10 points, seven rebounds) and guard Moriah Jefferson (10 points) also reached double digits for the Huskies.

Connecticut was clinging to a 30-27 lead before Mosqueda-Lewis hit a jumper with 18:41 left, starting a 14-0 run that put the game away. Mosqueda-Lewis scored eight points in the run, ending it with her 3-pointer with 14:12 to go.

"(The key was) just us finally finding a flow and being aggressive and attacking them," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We really didn't do that the first 15 minutes of the half. We were sitting back and letting Stanford run the tempo."

Stanford momentarily threatened a comeback. Guard Lili Thompson hit a jumper with 10:41 left, cutting the Cardinals' deficit to 11, but Connecticut struck back quickly.

Mosqueda-Lewis hit a field goal and Stanford forward Mikaela Ruef threw the ball out of bounds on the Cardinal's next trip. Huskies center Kiah Stokes hit a 13-footer with 9:23 left. One second later, Stanford All-America forward Chiney Ogwumike picked up her third foul, and Stewart sank two free throws, pushing the margin to 55-38.

Stanford never got closer than 11 again.

"We just really struggled," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We turned the ball over too much in the second half, and we did not do a good enough job defensively. But I credit Connecticut."

Stanford (33-4) won its four previous NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18 points.

The Huskies seemed determined that if they were going to fall, it wasn't going to be because of Ogwumike, who averaged 26.4 points and 12.1 rebounds coming in. She was held to 15 points and 10 rebounds Sunday, and he hit just five of 12 shots.

"I think it's always an honor for a team to focus so much on me on the inside," Ogwumike said. "My teammates, they were the reason we were competitive in the first half. They were competitive and they were knocking down shots.

"It's tough for a player to have one, two, three people (guarding them), and it's hard for me not to force things, but coach always reminds me to let the game come to me, and I think we did a great job in the first half."

The Huskies ran roughshod over their previous opponents this season, winning by an average margin of 35 before Sunday. Stanford, though, bottled Connecticut up early and held a 22-16 lead with 5:39 left in the first half, forcing misses on 15 of the Huskies' first 20 shots.

"Stanford was just getting us scattered," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "They knew that we really weren't certain of where we'd be able to get our shots."

That was a mild problem for Connecticut lately. In the past two games before Sunday, the Huskies hit 39.4 percent and 48.2 percent from the field. They rallied Sunday to connect on 50 percent (27 of 54).

"There's not a lot of adjustments you can make when you're not making shots," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think at one point, Stanford had all five of their players inside the lane, just daring us to make a shot. ... It's contagious.

"You're not going to believe this, but yesterday at practice and in shoot-around, we made every shot, to the point where, yeah, I like this. And then we couldn't make anything in the first half."

When the machine got rolling late in the opening half, Connecticut scored on six consecutive possessions.

Stokes started it with a foul shot. Hartley hit a 3-pointer. Out of the half-court set, Dolson got one-on-one with a defender and sank a layup. Stewart hit a long jumper, and then Stokes and Stewart hit layups.

Once the dust had settled, the Huskies led 28-22.

Stanford guard Amber Orrange hit a jumper to break the run, and the Cardinal had 25 seconds before the half to inch closer. However, Connecticut's defense clamped down, and Stanford couldn't even fire off a shot, and the Huskies went to the locker room ahead 28-24.

Following the game, talk quickly turned from what just happened to what was ahead.

Auriemma was asked if it was good for college basketball to have the two teams meeting in the final to be this dominant. He hesitated, and then offered this: "I think it's good once in a while. I think it's good. I don't know that I'd want a steady diet of that every year, but I think once in a while it's good. It draws a lot of attention to the game and an awful lot of people might tune in Tuesday that normally maybe wouldn't tune in."

Mosqueda-Lewis was already looking forward to Tuesday.

"It's going to be a dogfight out there," she said. "Both of us want to win this national championship so bad. Beating them last year, just our history that goes so far back against Notre Dame, it's going to be all brewing up in the game."

Connecticut holds a 30-11 edge in the series, and beat the Fighting Irish by an 83-65 score in last year's Final Four. The previous season, Notre Dame defeated the Huskies 83-75 in the Final Four.

NOTES: Sunday's game featured four of the 10 players on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-America squad, which was announced Saturday. Three (C Stefanie Dolson, G Bria Hartley and F Breanna Stewart) came from the Huskies and one (F Chiney Ogwumike) from Stanford. ... Connecticut's closest call this season came on Jan. 13, when Baylor lost to the Huskies 66-55. ... The teams previously met back on Nov. 11, with Connecticut winning 76-57 on its home court. ... Stanford F Erica Payne was honored in the first half of the Maryland-Notre Dame game with an Elite 89 Award in recognition of having the highest GPA among players at the event. Payne has a 3.515 GPA.

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