In her battle with Charles, Appel got 26 points (to Charles's eight) and her front-courtmates, Kayla Pederson and Nneka Ogwumike, combined for 23 more, but they had to work for every one of them. Stanford's perimeter, however, got precious few open looks. The Cardinal made only 4 of 11 three-pointers, and it didn't hit the first until there were fewer than 10 minutes to play.
With the Huskies dominating as usual, the crowd in the Scottrade Center fell silent. Louisville fans who had hung around to watch left early, and who could blame them? They had already seen their Cardinals suffer this kind of slaughter at the hands of the Huskies twice this year: The Cards lost to Connecticut by 28 in the regular season and by 39 in the Big East championship game.
Some people assumed that the NCAA final would be another blowout, but none of them were in the Huskies' locker room. Auriemma, a student of sports history, was particularly wary of the Cardinals, the Big East runners-up. Given a three seed and a lousy early-round draw—a trip to Baton Rouge, where they had to face No. 6 LSU on its home floor in the second round—they had toppled the Tigers and then upset No. 2 Baylor, No. 1 Maryland and No. 1 Oklahoma to reach the championship game. They were led by underrated, do everything senior forward Bingham and three-time All-America Angel McCoughtry, who had yet to have a spectacular showing in the tournament. Despite the thrashings the Huskies had delivered in their earlier games, Louisville was the last team Auriemma wanted to face in the final.
The coach would later admit that he was sick with anxiety over the thought of Montgomery leaving Storrs without a title. Yet he knew the key to a win in the final would not be Montgomery or Moore; it would be Charles, a player the Cards could not match up with.
The 2006 high school national player of the year out of New York, Charles had absorbed a lot of Auriemma's ire for her postseason play in the past. Her freshman year she had been outplayed by LSU's Sylvia Fowles in the Fresno Regional final; last year she didn't start a single game in the NCAA tournament. Even as she had blossomed this season, averaging 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds to earn State Farm WBCA All-America honors, he had been on her case, trying to push her into realizing her potential as the best post player in the country. This game with Louisville would have to be her moment or the Huskies would return home empty-handed again. Before the game Auriemma told Charles to go out and get a triple double. "One of the things we talked about was, You can't be a great player unless you play great in this game right here," says Auriemma. "And she did."
Louisville had no answer for Charles, who dominated on both ends of the court, scoring 25 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. Charles's 84.6% accuracy from the field (11 for 13) was the second-best ever in a women's final. "Before we went out there, Coach told us we needed to establish the post game," says Montgomery. "And I think she took it personal, and she really came out there and played aggressively on both ends of the floor. I think that might be the best game I've seen her play in a long time. Not only because of stats, just because of how she carried herself."
When the buzzer went off and the confetti starting falling, Montgomery said, "We can breathe." She and Moore, who each added 18 points in the win, gave Charles a hug, completing a Big Three clutch.
As players danced and took tips on net-cutting from Dailey—because Connecticut traditionally skips cutting the nets at regional finals, none of the current players had done it before—the discussion was already beginning: Where does this undefeated team fit in the pantheon of great teams in women's basketball history? Four other teams had run the table; two of them from Connecticut. "Three undefeated teams from the same program—it's unheard of!" says Kara Wolters, a member of the Huskies' 1995 undefeated squad who is now a radio analyst. "I don't think you'll ever see it again."
The similarities between the undefeated '02 team—a squad that featured All-Americas Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones—and the '09 team are numerous. Both teams won 39 games, both were motivated by national semifinal upsets the year before. Both were fueled by a tough, steady All-America point guard who could hit the three. Both had a do-everything offensive player on the wing. Both had a powerful post game, though the 2002 team had a lot more depth, with the trio of Cash, Jones and Tamika Williams.
"The '02 team was so pissed about what happened in St. Louis [in 2001], they actually thought the first day of practice, If we lose a game, it's a disgrace," said Auriemma. "This team is young, fun-loving and enjoys each other's company. It wasn't until late in the season that they really started bearing down on it. That's when I started to see a different side to them."