STANFORD, CALIF. (AP) - Top-ranked Connecticut owns the 90-game winning streak that started after a loss to Stanford in the 2008 NCAA semifinals. The Cardinal have their own impressive streak: 51 consecutive victories on their home floor in Maples Pavilion.
On Thursday night, one of these long runs will go down. The nationally televised game that has been circled on so many calendars for months is finally here _ a rematch of last season’s NCAA championship game between the top programs from each coast.
Can Stanford (8-2) stop do-everything UConn star Maya Moore and Co. after coming so close in a 53-47 title game loss last April?
The Huskies (12-0) are short-handed after key reserve guard Lorin Dixon sprained the top of her left foot coming down on a teammate’s foot in practice Monday. Coach Geno Auriemma doesn’t sound too confident that UConn will be able to match up so well this time with Stanford’s athletic inside trio of Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Kayla Pedersen and Ogwumike’s talented freshman sister, Chiney.
“The question for us probably will continue to be what can we get out of our post players?” Auriemma said after an 85-42 warmup rout of Pacific on Tuesday night in nearby Stockton.
That was the Huskies’ first game since they topped the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-74 by beating No. 22 Florida State 93-62 on Dec. 21.
“(Without Dixon) it’s going to be a huge problem because we can’t get bigger,” Auriemma said. “It’s going to be very difficult for us to match up with them. We’ll go in and we’ll play and we’ll see what happens.”
Stanford already has played a brutal nonconference schedule this month, traveling to DePaul and Tennessee _ the Cardinal’s two losses _ and beating No. 4 Xavier in a surprising 89-52 blowout Tuesday.
“Games like the one coming up are pretty easy to get up for,” Moore said. “What better situation could a team want? A hostile environment, Stanford plays really well at home. They’re ready to go. We’re ready to go. It’s going to be a battle. But that’s exactly the kind of game what we want.”
So do the Cardinal, whose lone blemishes in a 36-2 run last season came at the hands of Connecticut.
“I felt like we really missed an opportunity,” coach Tara VanDerveer said earlier this season of the championship loss.
She said it fueled her to be a better coach and work harder, and did the same for her players. Most everybody, even the incoming freshmen, spent the summer together on campus training and playing pickup games.
“Our team will be focused. They will be ready. I know they will have a great effort and we will learn more about our team,” VanDerveer said. “This is why we play these games, to really let us know where we’re at. I tell our team, ‘This is like the NCAA tournament.’”
Moore, averaging 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.83 assists, can only imagine what this game means to her opponent _ not to mention the Huskies.