VICTORY HAS ALWAYS SEEMED to come more naturally to Connecticut than the urge to revel in it. But after laying waste to sixth-seeded Arizona State 83-64 in the Trenton Regional final, the Huskies simply couldn't help themselves—and no player was yielding more to impulse than sophomore Maya Moore. As soon as she and her teammates were dismissed from the requisite photo-op with the championship trophy at center court, Moore, the region's Most Outstanding Player, led Connecticut on a 14-on-none fast break for the school pep band, which was stationed behind Sovereign Bank Arena's southwest baseline. There, the Huskies gathered in a semicircle as she, Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery showed off a bevy of dance moves until a tournament official shooed them and their gang of backup dancers off the floor and on to the next commitment.
Connecticut couldn't have been happier to be moving on. After turning back two Pac-10 foes in fourth-seeded Cal (77-53) and the Sun Devils, UConn earned a return trip to the Final Four, where they would face Berkeley Regional champ Stanford, the team that had beaten them 82-73 in the '08 national semis.
The opportunity to avenge that loss and bring a sixth national title to Storrs wouldn't have been possible without a great performance from Tiffany Hayes. She surprised everyone but fellow freshman guard Caroline Doty with her career-high 28 points against the Bears on March 29.
The Huskies had prepared for Cal to open with the same triangle-and-two defensive alignment that Stanford had used to great effect the year before. Doty, who lost the starting two-guard job after tearing her left ACL against Syracuse on Jan. 17, told her understudy to expect the Bears to play off of her and to "hit every open three."
Cal came out as anticipated and gave Hayes plenty of daylight. She missed her first look from outside but nailed the next five and 9 of 10 shots for the game. Her defense helped Connecticut rebound from an early 31-23 deficit (its largest all season) to take a 35-33 halftime lead, and her judicious ball handling helped Moore and Montgomery rally from first-half shooting slumps to score a combined 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the second.
Against Arizona State two days later, Hayes had just six points, but the Big Three were in top form, leaving the Sun Devils little chance to steal the win. Charles hit three straight layups to push the Huskies out to an eight-point lead 4:37 into the game. Midway through the second half, Moore hit a pair of transition threes that gave Connecticut a permanent double-digit edge, and Montgomery kept the Sun Devils off-balance the rest of the way with her deadeye midrange shooting and deft dribble penetration. When the horn finally sounded, the Huskies passed up the ceremonial net cutting and instead let loose with their raucous celebration.
Sitting just outside his team's locker room in a cushioned folding chair was coach Geno Auriemma. His collar unbuttoned and hands clasped behind his head, he basked in victory's afterglow like a beach bum in the sun. "I said last year we would be back," he beamed, "and we are going back. It's good. It's all good."