ST. LOUIS -- Connecticut beat Stanford 83-63 in Sunday night's second semifinal at the 2009 Final Four at Scottrade Center. The Huskies advance to Tuesday's national championship game against Louisville.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Defense. The Cardinal have one of the most efficiently run offenses in the country -- second in field goal percentage and second in assists (UConn, of course, is first in both categories) -- and the Huskies choked it into submission. Stanford did not make a 3-pointer in the first half and merely attempted three shots from beyond the arc. The Cardinal then went the first 5:30 of the second half without a point.
Connecticut just had too many weapons. Stanford is talented, but against UConn, only junior center Jayne Appel was remotely effective -- and most of that came in the early portions of the first half. Meanwhile, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore could take turns dominating while Tiffany Hayes sprinkled in big 3-pointers (she finished with three) or Kalana Greene slashed to the hoop.
TURNING POINT: If UConn hadn't already won the game in the first half (the Huskies led 37-24 at the break), then the first two and a half minutes of the second did it. Montgomery started with a pull-up jumper, Moore followed with a 3-pointer and two free throws, and Montgomery scored on a layup following a Tiffany Hayes steal. UConn rattled off nine unanswered points before Stanford called timeout. The Cardinal drought continued and UConn's run grew to 13-0, effectively ending any chance for the Cardinal.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: UConn's Montgomery. UConn's senior leader set the tone in the first half with a confident look in her eye that translated directly into her play. She scored 15 points in the first 20 minutes and then hit the first bucket of the second to ignite the decisive run. Montgomery never looked anxious. She was equally effective shooting from deep, pulling up in the lane or getting all the way to the hoop, looking every bit a player committed to winning a national championship. Her 26 points and six assists led the Huskies. Montgomery also only committed one turnover.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: UConn's Moore. In typical Moore fashion, the Wade Trophy winner played a dominant role without looking like she was. At no point was Moore electrifying, but she was smooth and steady as always to the tune of 24 points and eight rebounds. Even without shooting a high percentage, Moore made the shots that most deflated Stanford -- a 3-pointer with about six minutes left in the first half near the end of UConn's big run and another 1:10 into the second.
PLAYER OF THE GAME III: Stanford's Appel. It becomes almost painful to think about what this game could have been without Appel's play in the middle. She was an effective weapon most of the evening for Stanford, finishing with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, but she could only do so much.
STAT OF THE GAME: Stanford actually outrebounded the Huskies by one and had only four more turnovers -- and still lost by 19. The Cardinal made just 8 of 18 free throws.
STAT OF THE GAME II: UConn's 49 percent shooting for the game was actually below its remarkable season average of 51 percent.
STAT OF THE GAME III: Stanford's starting backcourt of Jeanette Pohlen and Jillian Harmon combined to shoot 3-for-15 from the field and scored just six points. Meanwhile, their UConn counterparts -- Renee Montgomery and Kalana Greene -- shot 16-of-31 and scored 36 points.
HALFTIME ANALYSIS: Connecticut led Stanford 37-24 at halftime.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Renee Montgomery. The UConn senior played with a swagger that displaced any thoughts that she was fearful of losing and having her career come to an end. Montgomery scored 15 of UConn's first 24 points and wasn't afraid to fire away. Montgomery ended the half with 15 field goal attempts (UConn took 34 in the first half).
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Stanford's Jayne Appel. While not as dominant in the post as she was against Iowa State, the junior center called for and received the ball without too much resistance in the first 10 minutes. She made five of her first six shots and scored 10 of Stanford's first 13 points. Appel also repeatedly beat Tina Charles down the floor, allowing Stanford to get its offense set quickly, even if it didn't immediately result in an Appel bucket. She finished the half with 12 points.
TURNING POINT: Montgomery hit a 3-pointer with 10:04 remaining to put UConn back up 16-14, erasing its only deficit of the half. While the game got a little sloppy for the next few possessions, that shot was the beginning of an 18-4 Huskies run that concluded with a Kaili McLaren putback and a 31-18 UConn lead. The Huskies carried that 13-point margin into the locker room.
STAT OF THE HALF: Stanford attempted just three 3-pointers and missed them all. Meanwhile, UConn fired 14 times from deep.
STAT OF THE HALF II: While Montgomery ended up clearly UConn's dominant player in the first half, the Huskies established a team concept early. Four different players contributed to Connecticut's first nine points.
THREE THINGS STANFORD HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Perhaps it sounds strange, but the Cardinal need to keep getting up the floor quickly. It isn't necessarily about fast-break buckets, but the Huskies are too physical and long for Stanford to do much against when they are able to establish their defensive sets. Plus, Appel was most effective when she received a quick post feed right after the Cardinal passed half court.
2. Keep feeding Appel. In the first half, she was clearly Stanford's best player and weapon. Late in the half, the guards missed her on some opportunities in the post and she appeared frustrated.
3. Contain all three of the big three. It sounds impossible, but Stanford actually did a decent job on Maya Moore and Charles, but Montgomery got what she wanted, especially in the first 12 minutes of the half.
THREE THINGS CONNECTICUT HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep the pressure on. No one attacks offensively as relentlessly as UConn. Montgomery embodied that in the first half. Some bad shots for the Huskies did result, but Stanford was left on its heels more often than not.
2. Pack it in. Stanford hasn't shown it can make the deep shot (0-for-3 from 3-point range) and Appel is the only thing hurting the Huskies.
3. Keep the turnovers down. UConn did a good job taking care of the ball in the first half with just six turnovers. The only way the Cardinal get all the way back into the game is if the Huskies let them.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.