NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Connecticut Huskies are back in a very familiar position, undefeated and playing for a national championship.
They’ll be going for an unprecedented ninth national championship after Breanna Stewart scored 18 points and the Huskies advanced to another title game with a 75-56 win against Stanford on Sunday night.
It wasn’t easy early, though the Huskies (39-0) did part and set up the highly anticipated championship showdown of undefeated teams.
They will square off against Notre Dame, an 87-61 winner over Maryland, on Tuesday night in the title game. It will be the first women’s national title game between unbeaten teams.
“It wouldn’t be any fun if you didn’t beat teams that were any good,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the matchup with Notre Dame. “I think women’s basketball needs rivalries like this, teams that aspire to be great and want to win championships.”
The Huskies also won their 45th straight game after overcoming another sluggish start. Stewart, the Associated Press player of the year, missed her first four shots and UConn was up just 28-24 at halftime.
But Connecticut settled down and put the Cardinal away in the second half, outscoring them 47-32. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis found her shooting stroke, scoring all of her 15 points in the second half.
Bria Hartley added 13 points for UConn and Stefanie Dolson and Moriah Jefferson each finished with 10.
Stanford (33-4) lost its third national semifinal since reaching the 2010 championship against UConn, which the Huskies also won. All-American Chiney Ogwumike finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Amber Orrange scored 16 points, and Lili Thompson had 12.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer had promised the Cardinal wouldn’t go down easy, and her team never stopped competing.
Thompson, a freshman, hit four of her first five shots for 10 quick points, helping the Cardinal get off to a good start early. The Cardinal led by as much as six a couple times, the last at 22-16 with 12:32 left when Mikaela Ruef banked in a jumper just before the shot clock expired with 5:39 to go.
It was the third sluggish start for the Huskies, who missed shot after shot and had a couple tough shooting stretches in the first half. The first lasted more than 5 minutes and the second nearly 7 minutes.
Then they finally got going.
The Huskies scored 12 straight to finish the half on a 12-2 run. Kiah Stokes hit a free throw, then Hartley hit the Huskies’ lone 3 of the half with 4:42 left.
Then Stewart got it going, hitting a jumper with 3:03 left after missing her first four shots. She finished the spurt stealing the ball from Thompson and finishing the fast break with a layup, drawing the foul for a three-point play and a 28-22 lead.
Stanford at least got a jumper from Orrange with 1:38 left, but the Cardinal had the ball with the chance at the last shot and couldn’t connect when Taylor Greenfield’s 3-point attempt hit harmlessly off the rim.
In the second half, it was all UConn.
The Huskies hit four of their first five shots in starting the half with an 8-3 run. Ogwumike’s 3-pointer with 19:01 left making it 30-27 was as close as the Cardinal would get down the stretch as UConn pushed the lead to as much as 21 within the final minute to set up the Huskies’ next game.