As the No.1 Stanford women’s basketball team stepped onto the court Saturday afternoon, it had a few very important records to defend against No. 2 Connecticut: an 82-game win streak at home, the second-best start in program history and the chance to surpass its six-week tenure as the top team. UConn came out with a vengeance, though, to end Stanford’s successful run. Just as the Card snapped the Huskies’ 90 game win streak two years ago — the last time the two teams met at Maples Pavilion — it seemed appropriate that the Huskies (11-0) would be the team to end Stanford’s (11-1) streak.
The Card finished out 2012 and non-conference play in front of a sold-out crowd, but was unable to deliver a win, falling to UConn 61-35.
Both teams entered the contest as huge offensive forces, so in the end the winner had to be the team that went on the longest scoring drives and capitalized on turnovers. UConn was that team.
Stanford started strong by winning the opening tip and scoring on its first possession with a layup from senior Joslyn Tinkle (two points, six rebounds).
UConn turned the ball over on its first possession, but would quickly pick up momentum and maintain the lead for the duration of the game after a 3-point shot by sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (19 points, six rebounds).
Junior Chiney Ogwumike had her ninth straight double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but her job was made difficult by the physical Husky defense. Junior Stefanie Dolson pestered Ogwumike all afternoon inside the paint, with the referees giving the pair free reign to knock each other around. Ogwumike was able to grab offensive boards but had difficulty going back up against Dolson. The Husky center also posted a double-double, posting 10 points and 14 rebounds.
UConn did a good job of disrupting the offensive rhythm between Ogwumike, Tinkle and sophomore point guard Amber Orrange. Orrange was held scoreless after scoring 14 points last week against Tennessee.
“I just can only hope that the motivation from this kind of game will be contagious,” Ogwumike said. “My little partner in crime is Amber and I know after practices, before practices, maybe even tonight, we’ll be in the gym. We know we have a lot to work on.
“It’s up to us, the ball’s in our hands. I just hope that our intensity and hunger is contagious, and just to spread that ethic of work. We have to work, because [Connecticut’s] the standard and we want to try to catch up.”
UConn was able to extend its pressure by defending full court, forcing turnovers, capitalizing on the offensive end and forcing Stanford to take unwelcomed shots as the shot clock wound down.
“We really struggled running any offense, and that’s a credit to their defense, but also some of that is really on us,” said Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We did not get the shots that we needed or wanted.”
Ogwumike made a huge three-point play with under three minutes to play in the first half to end the Card’s five-minute scoring dry spell, finally putting the team in double digits and providing a much-needed spark.
But the Cardinal still trailed 31-13 at halftime and struggled from the field, shooting just 15.2 percent before the break and scoring only six points in the last 13 minutes of the first half.
“We need to run an offense,” VanDerveer told ESPN at halftime. “Chiney is a great player but she’s doing a little too much. She needs to trust her teammates. We need to knock down some shots and play with a little more confidence and move the ball. Obviously not the start we want.”
Ogwumike was not able to get any easy, open shots for the entire game. Stanford needed to create quality shots for itself since the Husky defense was making it hard for the Cardinal inside the paint.
“I think we did a great job mixing it up full court and half court,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma told ESPN at halftime. “We made Chiney work really hard and we have to keep doing that and keep rebounding. I know that they aren’t going to shoot 15 percent in the second half. But as long as we keep getting good shots on the other end we’re going to be okay.”
The second half was much the same story as the first. Both teams came out with fierce physicality and tenacious defense. Both Hall-of-Fame Coaches, however, lost their composure and were aggravated by the referees’ no-calls. With 13:22 to play in the game Auriemma was charged with a technical and sophomore Bonnie Samuelson was sent to line, where she made her free throws.
Samuelson did her job in the second half by hitting two consecutive threes (the first for Stanford of the game) and putting the Card within 15 points with 11:33 left in the game. Samuelson was the team’s second-leading scorer with eight points.
UConn was then forced to call a timeout and it appeared that life was returning to the Cardinal offense. However, it wasn’t Stanford’s day for shooting (11-57, 19.3 percent) and the Card was unable to fight back late in the game.
Freshman Breanna Stewart led the Huskies off the bench with nine points and six rebounds, as Stanford also saw contributions from junior Toni Kokenis (six points, four rebounds).
“For 40 minutes there was no let up on our defensive intensity,” Auriemma said. “Stefanie [Dolson] did a tremendous individual job on Chiney. They’re not an easy team to guard…and this isn’t an easy place to play. I think Stanford is going to be a different team come March and we’re going to be a different team.”
Stanford was not able to lead since scoring off of the opening tip, a surprising story considering the strong schedule that the Card has had great success against leading up to this highly touted matchup.
“We have a really young team, I think we’ll really learn a lot from it,” VanDerveer said. “I’m really proud of how Chiney [Ogwumike] competed and stayed out there for us, but we have a lot of work to do and thankfully this is a December game, call it a measuring stick. We were exposed in a lot of different ways and I’m really excited to see our team respond to the challenge ahead.”
Stanford has great defenders, 3-point shooters and great inside-out play between Orrange and Ogwumike — all the necessary tools to come back from this loss and dominate the Pac 12 for another season. There will be better games to come for Ogwumike and Tinkle, as they no doubt will help their team regroup and come out strong in the New Year.
Stanford will have to start a new home winning streak and look for redemption against UConn in the Final Four, where the two squads could meet again in just three months.
The Cardinal plays next on Jan. 4 at Colorado, where they will begin conference play.