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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Louisville-Connecticut instant analysis

By Charlie Creme
ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- Connecticut defeated Louisville 76-54 on Tuesday night in the 2009 national championship game at Scottrade Center. The 22-point victory was one point off the NCAA title game record. The biggest margin of victory is 23 points in 1987, when Tennessee beat Louisiana Tech 67-44.

HOW THE GAME WAS WON: UConn never stopped exacting its will. Louisville, already reeling from a 14-point halftime deficit, missed its first eight shots after the break and didn't score in the first 4 minutes, 46 seconds of the second half. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' defense remained on its heels right out of the locker room. The Huskies came from all angles -- Tiffany Hayes hit a 3-pointer, Tina Charles completed a three-point play and Renee Montgomery made two free throws -- to rattle off seven answered points.

WHAT IT MEANS: UConn wrapped up a perfect 39-0 record, the fifth unbeaten season in Division I women's college basketball history and the third in program history (1994-95 and 2001-02). The Huskies won every game by at least 10 points.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: UConn's Charles, who was voted Final Four Most Outstanding Player. The All-American center already had her 38th career double-double by halftime, but scored off an offensive rebound and then a three-point play on another right-handed post move within the first 5:14 of the second half to establish that she was still the force Louisville needed to stop. The Cardinals couldn't. Charles shot 11-for-13 from the field and completed her brilliant night with 25 points and 19 rebounds, just missing becoming the first player to post 20-20 in the title game since North Carolina's Charlotte Smith had 20 points and 23 rebounds in 1994.

PLAYER OF THE GAME II: UConn's Maya Moore. The consistent shooting touch was never quite there (7-for-18 from the field), but the Wade Trophy winner still managed 18 points and nine rebounds.

PLAYER OF THE GAME III: UConn's Montgomery. Of course, each member of the Big Three had a huge hand in the Huskies' sixth title. It wasn't the senior's best statistical night -- 18 points on 5-for-14 shooting -- but she established UConn's constant attack mode with her on-the-ball defense and fearlessness on offense.

STAT OF THE GAME: Led by Charles' outstanding play, the Huskies dominated inside, outscoring Louisville 40-22 in the paint. Ironically, Louisville had a big upper hand in second-chance points, 17-8.

STAT OF THE GAME II: Louisville never recovered from its poor shooting first half (27 percent), shooting 35.5 percent after the break. The Cardinals ended up 30.9 percent from the field for the game, with Angel McCoughtry hitting just 9-of-24 from the floor and Candyce Bingham going 4-of-14.

TURNING POINT: On Louisville's first possession of the second half, Gwen Rucker got free underneath after a nice feed from Deseree' Byrd -- but missed the layup. UConn ran the ball up the floor and, after one pass, Hayes drilled a 3-pointer to push the lead to 17. Candyce Bingham then missed two more layups in the next two minutes as the Cardinals' drought extended for nearly five minutes. They never recovered.

AMUSING MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: The Huskies are so used to keeping the pressure on that after a free throw with just more than two minutes left and UConn up 74-50, they went right into their 2-2-1 full-court press. Coach Geno Auriemma had to adamantly wave to his players to back off.

NOTABLE: UConn's Moore and Montgomery, as well as Louisville's McCoughtry and Stanford's Jayne Appel, joined Charles on the Final Four All-Tournament Team.

FIRST-HALF ANALYSIS: UConn led Louisville 39-25 at halftime.

HOW THE HALF WAS WON: With so many weapons for the Huskies, sometimes it is just a matter of finding what works. It took about six or seven minutes, but when Tina Charles started getting touches, UConn started to open up a workable margin. Charles' domination carried UConn's attack.

PLAYER OF THE HALF: Connecticut's Charles. The junior center established herself early and often and finished the half with a double-double (15 points and 12 rebounds). Her two offensive rebounds in the first two minutes established UConn's energy, and she never let up. Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore didn't shoot particularly well but did do a good job of getting the ball to Charles on the low block, where Louisville had no answer. For good measure, Charles blocked consecutive attempts by Monique Reid from point-blank range with a minute and a half left before the break. Charles averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in UConn's two previous wins over Louisville this season.

TURNING POINT: With 7:36 left in the half, Charles made a great catch off a lob from Tiffany Hayes. The pass was a little high, but Charles managed to tap it to herself, gather her feet and score. It gave the Huskies a 23-17 lead, which was their biggest at the time, and was the best play in a collection of many by Charles. Louisville coach Jeff Walz responded by calling timeout.

STAT OF THE HALF: UConn leads by 14 despite the fact that Moore and Montgomery combined to shoot just 7-of-20 in the half. Moore hasn't scored outside of 10 feet, and the two also have made only 1 of 7 3-point shots.

STAT OF THE HALF II: Angel McCoughtry made her first two shots, a great sign for Louisville, after missing her first seven from the field against Oklahoma on Sunday night. She finished just 4-for-12 from the floor for the half, but clearly established herself and had 12 points.

STAT OF THE HALF III: Clearly one of Walz's strategies was to attempt to take advantage of Deseree' Byrd's size advantage over Montgomery. If the Cardinals weren't running McCoughtry off screens, Byrd was muscling her way through Montgomery via dribbling into the lane. One problem: Byrd couldn't finish. The strategy might have worked, but Byrd was a miserable 1-for-8 from the floor, with most of the shots coming inside eight feet.

THREE THINGS LOUISVILLE HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Ignite Candyce Bingham. The Cardinals senior is just 2-for-8 from the field for four points. McCoughtry will need some help in the second half.
2. Shoot better -- 27 percent (10-for-37) from the field is not going to do the trick against UConn or anybody.
3. Take away Charles. It might be a pick-your-poison scenario, but Moore and Montgomery have a better chance of missing from the perimeter than Charles does of missing layups.

THREE THINGS CONNECTICUT HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep going to Charles. If it's not broke, don't fix it. She has dominated Louisville before and is doing it again.
2. Get Moore going. If she heats up, in addition to what Charles is doing, the Huskies will have a sixth national title.
3. Pressure shots. UConn has done a good job of contesting Louisville's shots. The only success the Cardinals have had is when they get a clean look.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.