UConn fends off Griner, Baylor
| April 5, 2010 9:00 PM
SAN ANTONIO - As soon as Connecticut was challenged, Maya Moore and the Huskies showed exactly why they've won 77 games in a row.
One more and they'll be the first women's team to go undefeated in consecutive seasons.
Behind 34 points and 12 rebounds from Moore, UConn beat Baylor and freshman phenom Brittney Griner 70-50 on Sunday night to advance to the national championship game.
"I'm so excited. It's what we work for all season," Moore said. "I'm almost speechless."
Tina Charles added 21 points and 13 boards for UConn (38-0), which plays Stanford on Tuesday night for the title. The Cardinal beat Oklahoma 73-66 in the first semifinal.
The Huskies defeated Stanford 80-68 when the teams met Dec. 23 in Hartford. That's the closest any team has come all season to Connecticut, which has won every game during its streak by double digits.
Stanford handed UConn its last loss back in the 2008 national semifinals.
Tuesday's championship game will be the sixth time that the top two teams in the final Top 25 poll will meet for the title, with the last coming in 2002 when UConn beat Oklahoma in San Antonio.
Most of the pregame attention focused on the enticing matchup at center between Griner and Charles, The Associated Press player of the year. The 6-foot-8 Griner finished with 13 points and five blocks.
"She just did what every other post does," Griner said. "She was just a lot better than most other posts. I won't say I got frustrated or upset. It was just a battle. She has more experience."
But the Lady Bears (27-10) had no answer for Moore.
Inside and out, the three-time All-American tormented Baylor.
The Lady Bears cut a 13-point halftime deficit to 41-38 nearly 5 minutes into the second half, drawing huge cheers from an Alamodome crowd that was a sea of yellow and green. Baylor's campus is only a 3-hour bus ride away in Waco, and the Lady Bears were the first team to reach the Final Four in their home state since Missouri State made it to St. Louis in 2001.
With the score 45-40, Moore quickly ended any chances of a monumental upset, scoring six of the next eight points to restore the Huskies' double-digit lead. Her jumper made it 53-40 with 10:26 left.
"Maya made, obviously, some huge shots," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Baylor never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Morghan Medlock scored 14 to lead the Lady Bears, who were able to stay with UConn as Moore and Charles didn't get much help from the rest of their team. The other Huskies combined for just 15 points.
"It was definitely there for us to take," Griner said. "It was mistakes and letting it slip through our fingers. It was right there."
From the outset the Huskies went right at Griner. Tiffany Hayes hit a layup and drew a foul on the freshman on two of the Huskies' first three possessions. When Connecticut wasn't going at Griner, Charles was drawing her out of the lane, freeing up the basket for easy layups.
Moore, who came into the game shooting 64 percent from the field in the NCAA tournament, including a mind-boggling 70 percent on 3-pointers, was unstoppable early on. She missed only one of her first six shots as UConn held a 13-5 lead in the first 7 minutes.
After Melissa Jones' three-point play cut the deficit to five, UConn scored 12 straight points with Charles and Moore combining for 10 of them. Moore was hitting shots from everywhere. She connected on 3-pointers, layups, and even a floating jumper down the lane.
Charles hit a jumper over Griner from the top of the key and took it right at her for a layin.
Griner finally ended the run with a layup to make it 25-10 midway through the half. It was her first basket of the game. The big freshman scored eight of Baylor's next 12 points, but the Lady Bears couldn't get within single digits.
"I think she's going to be a great player down the road. Maybe I'll get a chance to coach her someday," said Auriemma, also the U.S. women's basketball coach for the 2012 Olympics.
Baylor trailed 39-26 at halftime.
Connecticut has entered the NCAAs unbeaten on four prior occasions. It won the title in 1995, 2002 and last season, and lost to Tennessee in the regional final in '97.
The Huskies getting this far was no surprise. Baylor's presence was.
The Lady Bears had made it to the Final Four once before, in 2005, and won the national championship that season. Coach Kim Mulkey expected to challenge for more once Griner arrived, but she didn't expect it to happen so soon. With only Medlock graduating, the Lady Bears could be back a few more times before Griner's done.
Griner had been a huge part of Baylor's NCAA tournament run this season. She shattered both the single-game and tournament record for blocks.
While the freshman has been a one-woman defensive force, UConn has been putting up its own staggering numbers on defense. The Huskies had cruised through the first four rounds allowing opponents to score just an average of 40 points.