Tina Charles at Saturday's practice (AP)
April 3, 2010
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Maya Moore and Connecticut have had one goal in mind since winning the national championship last season: Do it again.
The Huskies have met every challenge during their remarkable two-year unbeaten run, but they've never faced one as unique as 6-foot-8 phenom Brittney Griner.
UConn, which stands two games away from becoming the first women's team with consecutive undefeated seasons, will play Griner and Baylor in the second game of the national semifinals on Sunday night.
"Ever since we got back to school last year that's all we've been focused on," coach Geno Auriemma said.
If UConn wins, the Huskies will take on Stanford or Oklahoma in the championship game Tuesday night. Either way, their final opponent would be a team they've already beaten this season.
Over the last two seasons, UConn has won an NCAA-record 76 straight games, all by double figures. It has looked even more dominant in this tournament, cruising through the first four rounds with a 47-point average margin of victory.
There's a slew of staggering numbers connected to UConn's streak but just check out its defense during the 2010 tourney. Already the top defensive team in the country, it has allowed just 40 points a game and held teams to nearly 26 percent shooting from the field.
The Huskies, seeking their seventh national championship, are on pace to shatter NCAA tournament defensive records.
"At this point, it's not a whole lot of physical changes, it's all in your mind," Moore said. "It's all focus and knowing your scouting report. Studying your opponent and knowing what you needed to do. We pick it up in March and April."
Baylor also has been shutting down teams with Griner in the middle. She's already set the NCAA tournament record for blocks with 35 through the first four games. She broke the single-game mark with 14 against Georgetown in the second round.
No wonder the Lady Bears have held their opponents to just under 35 percent shooting.
"If she's not blocking a shot, she's altering it, or she's altering a play that's set for an opposing team just because of her big presence in the middle," guard Melissa Jones said.
While most of the attention is on the imposing center matchup of Griner and The Associated Press player of the year Tina Charles, Baylor will need to find a way to stop Moore. The sensational junior is averaging 21.8 points while playing just half the game. She's shooting 64 percent from the field, including a mind-boggling 70 percent on 3-pointers.
"Something about the tournament gets me excited," Moore said. "I'm playing free right now and not trying to do a whole of thinking. I'm really comfortable right now."
The last time the Final Four was in San Antonio, UConn won the first of three straight titles in 2002. The Huskies beat Oklahoma in the championship game that year.
Connecticut (37-0) 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 is.
The Lady Bears have made it this far 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.
"I said all year long this team is going to be special, but I didn't know when it would happen," Mulkey said. "To have the expectation of being in a Final Four, I don't think would've have been fair to them."
Only a three-hour bus ride away in Waco, the Lady Bears are the first team to reach the Final Four in its home state since Missouri State made it to St. Louis in 2001.