NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Stanford Cardinal came in confident they could challenge Connecticut this time.
Chiney Ogwumike was playing good basketball coming into the Final Four and her teammates — who had been tested during the season — and were ready to help their All-American leader.
Nonetheless, Stanford had an early exit at the national semifinals yet again.
Ogwumike finished with a double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. But it wasn't enough as Stanford couldn't slow down Connecticut once the Huskies got rolling Sunday night and the Cardinal lost 75-56.
“I think it's been an amazing run, not that emotional about it,” Ogwumike said. “I was trying to have fun today, enjoy the moment and play. … It's been an amazing remarkable experience to have Stanford on my jersey one last time.”
Stanford hasn't won a national title since 1992. Now the Cardinal (33-4) lost their third national semifinal since reaching the 2010 championship against UConn, which the Huskies also won. Amber Orrange scored 16 points, and Lili Thompson had 12.
The Huskies (39-0) will be going for an unprecedented ninth national championship Tuesday night in the highly anticipated championship showdown of undefeated teams. UConn will play 37-0 Notre Dame, an 87-61 winner over Maryland, on Tuesday night.
Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer had promised Stanford wouldn't go down easy, and her team never stopped competing. But they struggled to get the ball inside. It also didn't help that the Cardinal didn't take a free throw in the first half. The Huskies had a big edge there too (17 of 24) while Stanford was 8 of 10.
“We knew that biggest challenge for us was to score,” VanDerveer said. “We worked hard defensively, had a lot of good stops. Their size, when they went big, their size is really disruptive. Probably more than anything, they have very skilled players, play very well together.”
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.
“Stanford did a great job the first 15 minutes,” Huskies junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It took a while to figure it out.”
Breanna Stewart, the Associated Press player of the year, missed her first four shots before finishing with 18 points. Bria Hartley added 13 points for UConn and Stefanie Dolson and Moriah Jefferson each finished with 10.
The Huskies settled down late as they scored 12 straight to finish the first half on a 12-2 run, though they were only up 28-24 at halftime. 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.
The Huskies put Stanford away in the second half, outscoring the Cardinal 47-32. Mosqueda-Lewis found her shooting stroke, scoring all of her 15 points in the second half.
“They are hard to stop when they get on a roll,” Orrange said. “I think their defense is what won them the game. We struggled to score.”
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.
“I think they tried to go with a bigger lineup, and that threw us off,” Ruef said with tears rolling down her cheeks. “It was mismatches. They got the ball inside really well and were able to take advantage of their size. They also started to get a lot of offensive rebounds. We weren't boxing out as well in the second half. We were trying our hardest. It is no one's fault.”