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Posted: Wednesday April 7, 2010 1:34AM; Updated: Wednesday April 7, 2010 12:37PM
Ann Killion
Ann Killion>INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

UConn's Moore shows what makes her great with huge second half

Story Highlights

UConn didn't do anything right in the first half, but its star came to the rescue

Maya Moore jumpstarted her team with a big scoring burst early in the second half

Coach Auriemma was right when he said the game is won by the best players

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Connecticut Stanford

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Maya Moore's (left) strong second-half performance left no doubt as to which team was No. 1
Bill Frakes/SI

SAN ANTONIO -- It is what great players do. So Maya Moore did it.

In the biggest game of the season, her team was suffocating. The UConn Huskies couldn't score. Worse, they had no swagger. They looked tight, tentative, worried.

For the first time all season, Geno Auriemma sensed his team was feeling the pressure. The weight of those 77 straight wins was suddenly crushing the attempt at the 78th.

"I was worried all year long that exactly what happened in the first half was going to happen," Auriemma said. "We finally felt the pressure that comes from doing what we've been doing and being where we are."

In the first half of Tuesday's title game, UConn shot a miserable 17.2 percent from the floor. Moore had just five points; Tina Charles had just two.

The Huskies trailed at the half, 20-12, and it could've been 18 if Stanford had made some of its own shots. UConn's output was the lowest scoring half in championship history.

The "greatest team ever" was going the way of the New England Patriots, of the Soviet hockey team. On the second anniversary of their last loss, to Stanford, UConn was finally threatened.

"Our offense was completely out of whack," Moore said.

So she decided to take over.

"It's what great players do and they do it at the most pressure-packed times," Auriemma said. "And that's what makes them great."

The player of the year rescued her team and pushed it into the history books. Moore scored 11 of her team's 16 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, giving the Huskies a lead they would never relinquish in their 53-47 win. She finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

"You can't really have any fear or any doubts," Moore said. "You just have to come out and be in attack mode. I'm absolutely always trying to be on the attack."

In the first half, Stanford had done everything it wanted to defensively. The Cardinal players switched on Moore and got the Huskies out of their offensive rhythm.

"We were very effective," assistant coach Amy Tucker said. "In the second half, we were a little late on Maya on some of our switches. But great players make plays. That's what she did."

When Moore came off a screen to hit a three-point shot with 14:27 to play, giving UConn its first lead since 5-4, the Huskies could suddenly breathe freely.

"That was a big momentum pusher," Moore said. "There was a defender right in my face. And I just didn't think about it. I just rose up and shot it and everybody had a little bounce to them."

Moore has a reputation for thinking too much at times, for lacking confidence. And, in the first half, when Connecticut looked like a very ordinary team, Auriemma wondered if she was having a confidence crisis.

"Maya operates on two levels -- one where she's in a complete zone and everything she touches goes in and you can't keep her from scoring," he said. "Then Maya gets in another zone where she wants to win so bad that she's almost her own worst enemy.

"That's, I think, what was happening in the first half. And I didn't know if we could get her out of it. We need some other people to make plays, to let Maya know, 'Hey, I'm not out here by myself.' "

She wasn't out there by herself. Charles was setting screens and frustrating Stanford's post players. Caroline Doty made a couple of huge three-pointers that busted the game open.

But there was no doubt who led UConn to the title.

"Maya Moore was the difference," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "If she's on our team, we win."

In contrast, Stanford didn't have a player to carry them in the second half. Sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike played more like a sophomore than she had previously in the tournament. Jayne Appel ended her stellar career with the only 0-for of her four Stanford years. She missed all 12 shots she took. Appel, who severely sprained her ankle in early March, was clearly limited. She reinjured her ankle in the second half and had a painkilling shot on the bench.

"I did my best to play through it," Appel said. "I was not very effective."

Stanford watched opportunity slip through its hands with one errant shot after another. But still UConn appeared somewhat vulnerable, even to the end.

"We got it to 16 and I thought OK, now we're comfortable," Auriemma said. "Then I look up and it's six. It's not supposed to be easy, right?"

That was the margin of victory. The lowest combined score in championship history. While UConn hasn't lost in two years, Stanford dropped just two games this season -- both to UConn.

The Huskies' streak was built on the strength of Moore and she'll be back to try to continue UConn's incredible run. But she won't be playing with Charles or Kalana Greene. Auriemma believes Moore's biggest challenge will be to take assume a senior leadership role.

The expectations for UConn won't go away.

"Because we've got Maya Moore," he said.

This was Auriemma's seventh national title. He's never been to a championship game and lost, though he seemed less impressed with that fact over the weekend than some of his questioners did.

"I would love to say it's because of me," he said. "But I've always brought with me the best player, the best team.

"There's no trickery going on. The game is going to be won by the best players."

He was right. The best player in the country is Maya Moore. And Tuesday she did what the great ones do.

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