April 4, 2009
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Connecticut women's basketball express is just two victories from completing its perfect run.
To do it, the Huskies will have to defeat Stanford - the team that knocked them out of the Final Four last season. Oklahoma and Louisville will play in the other semifinal Sunday night with the title game Tuesday.
The Huskies have already handily beaten both those teams, routing Louisville in the Big East tournament championship game. That leads some to believe that the winner of Sunday's matchup with Stanford will end up as the national champion.
"I've heard people say that," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "But it's not the case. The championship game is Tuesday night. I don't want to make tomorrow the championship game.
"There's no comparison between the Louisville team we played in the Big East tournament and the one here today. And there's certainly no comparison between the Oklahoma team and the team that's here today."
UConn (37-0) has been dominant all season, winning by 31 points a game and not allowing a team to come within 10 points all season. The Huskies are seeking the school's third undefeated season and the fifth in women's basketball history.
Three times before they have entered the NCAAs unbeaten. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In '97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.
"My hats off to Geno and his staff and the great year Connecticut is having," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who has never coached an unbeaten college team but led the U.S. national team to a 60-0 record before winning Olympic gold in 1996. "In some ways, with us, we've learned a lot from losing."
The Huskies, who have won five national championships in the last 14 seasons, wrapped up a spot in the Final Four that's seemed all but inevitable with a 83-64 victory against Arizona State on Tuesday night in the Trenton Regional final.
If UConn defeats Stanford, the Huskies will have beaten the top three teams in the Pac-10 to reach the NCAA title game. They topped California in the regional semifinals.
The Cardinal (33-4) have made their own impressive run to the Final Four, winning all four games in routs. Stanford, which has won 20 straight, blew out Iowa State by 21 points in the Berkeley Regional final Monday night.
This Stanford team is different from the one that topped UConn last year. Gone to the WNBA is All-American guard Candice Wiggins, who had one of the best tournaments in NCAA history last season.
The Cardinal were routed by UConn at the Paradise Jam in November 2007. VanDerveer said that helped get them focused for last season's Final Four win over the Huskies.
"I don't know if I could've gotten our team's attention without it last year," VanDerveer said. "Our team learned a lot from the Virgin Islands' loss. I think a lot of players remember that. Knowing if we don't do the right thing, that can happen again."
In the first meeting of the teams this season, the Cardinal will rely on star center Jayne Appel. The 6-foot-4 junior dropped 46 points against Iowa State to help get Stanford to its second straight Final Four.
In high school, Appel considered playing for Connecticut. She went on a recruiting trip to Storrs, but it was a tough sell - especially when her father broke his ankle slipping on ice.
"They put a lot of energy in recruiting me, but it came down to me wanting to play in front of my friends and family, and I couldn't be happier than where I am."
Appel has brought her game to another level during the NCAA tournament, averaging 35.5 points in the regional. She will be a key factor in Stanford's chance to derail the UConn express.