Texas Two-step: Moore (34), Charles (21) lift Huskies into the final
San Antonio - As of this weekend, UConn had not just one national player of the year, but two as Maya Moore won the Wade Trophy and Tina Charles was awarded the honor handed out by The Associated Press.
The two of them proved Sunday why the voters did what they did, too.
Assuring it was unbeaten UConn which had a date with the history books, not 6-foot-8 freshman center Brittney Griner and the Baylor University women's basketball team - although Baylor certainly did enough to heighten the game's intensity - Moore and Charles combined for 55 points and 25 rebounds in dispatching their opponents in the national semifinals.
Moore had 34 points and 12 rebounds and Charles 21 points and 13 rebounds for UConn, which lengthened its NCAA record winning streak to 77 games with a 70-50 victory over Baylor before 25,817 fans on Easter at the Alamodome.
"Going into the game you always try to conjure up all these different scenarios," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, on the postgame dais with Moore and Charles. "The one scenario I didn't conjure up was our two starting guards (Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty) going 1-for-14. These two players up here were completely amazing. They had to do it all by themselves pretty much."
UConn (38-0), playing in its 11th Final Four and for what would be its seventh national championship, advanced to meet Stanford Tuesday night for the national title (8:30 p.m., ESPN). Stanford beat Oklahoma in the first national semifinal Sunday night, 73-66.
It's the third straight season the Huskies and Cardinal will meet in the Final Four, splitting a pair of national semifinals the last two years. The teams have never played for the national championship.
Prior to her game with UConn, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey tried to make the historical significance about her team - Griner blocked an NCAA record 218 shots this season heading to the Final Four.
Mulkey, with a reporter present at a private practice earlier in the weekend, tried to fire up her team to face unbeaten UConn, telling Griner: "They might stop the game if you dunk it on Tina Charles. Geno would have a conniption right there on the sideline."
The quote appeared Sunday morning in the Kansas City Star.
By later that day in the Lone Star State, however, UConn was the team with the trump card. Or two of them, putting a halt to Griner's block party.
"Their two All-Americans scored all but 15 of their points," said Mulkey. "Therein pretty much lies the difference in the game."
Charles, giving up four inches to Griner, won the opening tip for UConn and the Huskies led 39-26 at halftime. Moore, whose 34 points was her personal best in an NCAA tournament game, scored in every way imaginable, including an off-balance shot with one foot off the ground and three 3-pointers, as she finished the half with 21 points.
"Well, she's the national player of the year, isn't she?" Mulkey said of Moore. "That's what they do. She's special."
The Huskies led by as many as 17 with 10 minutes, 8 seconds left in the half following a 12-0 run fueled by Charles, the best center in women's basketball, who hit three straight shots against Griner, the next great center. That made the score 25-8.
Griner, however, who took a little while to match the speed of the game, had something to say about the Huskies' hopes for a runaway.
While Griner had just one point and one rebound at the second television timeout, she finished the half with nine points, four rebounds and three blocks, scoring six straight Baylor points as the Lady Bears chipped away at the UConn lead, getting it to 32-22 with 2:55 in the half.
When the second half started, it was more of Baylor.
UConn began the second half shooting 1-for-8, including an air ball by Moore and a shot by Kalana Greene which hit the side of the basket, and Baylor reeled off 12 straight points to pull within 41-38.
It was Charles and Moore who put the game back in the hands of the Huskies, though. Charles scored twice in a row, once picking up a loose ball that was a result of a Griner block, and Moore scored on an inbounds play from Kelly Faris, banking in a shot from the left corner to make it 47-40.
Morghan Medlock had 14 points and Griner finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks for Baylor.
UConn won the national championship last season in St. Louis, beating Louisville, and is bidding to become the first team in NCAA history to finish unbeaten in back-to-back seasons.
"They've taken everyone's best shots, 77 games in a row, and they don't get rattled," Mulkey said.
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