Hard as it might be to believe if you've watched undefeated Connecticut play this year, Husky senior point guard Renee Montgomery loves tight games.
She gets a thrill when her teammates have their backs against the wall and they have to "we have to show how hard we work," she says. But when opponents don't cooperate, as overmatched Stanford didn't in Sunday's national semifinal nightcap, she'll settle for a blowout. Another one.
The undefeated Huskies' 84-63 dismantling of the Cardinal, the last team to beat Connecticut and the one that was projected to give the Huskies the biggest challenge of the tournament, was their 10th double-digit win over over a ranked team this season.
Stanford can take some consolation in two facts: 1) the 19-point margin of victory matched the Huskies' smallest in the tournament, and 2) the Huskies were exhausted afterward.
"I've played 40 minutes in a game before, but this game was so tiring," said Montgomery, who had a team-high 26 points and six assists. "I think because of all the game before ours and we were in here screaming, oh my goodness. It was a nailbiter. Watching all that and seeing the seniors losing and going home, all that emotion, that was exhausting."
Montgomery would personally make sure an early didn't happen to her or her two senior teammates, Cassie Kerns and Tahirah Williams. While Stanford's defense held Husky All-Americas Maya Moore and Tina Charles to just two field goals each in the first half, it was Montgomery who delivered, again and again stopping mid-lope to shoot the deadly pull-up jumper that reminds assistant Chris Dailey of 2002 National Player of the Year Sue Bird's.
"When Renee is on the break and takes a pullup jumpshot, I think it's in," says Dailey. "I think Renee thinks it is, too."
Not every shot Montgomery put up went it, it just seemed that way. At the half, the Huskies were up 37-24, and Montgomery had 15 points. Coach Geno Auriemma reminded his players that in the earlier game, Oklahoma went into the locker room at the half up by 12 and still lost to Louisville.
The Huskies responded, starting the half on a 16-2 run that put the game essentially out of reach for the Cardinal. The devastating second-half run has been a hallmark of this team, but even Auriemma can't explain how they do it every game.
"We did what we do," he said after the game. "With this particular group of players, it's hard to explain what leads to those runs. There's no timeout to formulate the run. I don't have an explanation for it. I said the players, 'Look, I grew up in Philadelphia. Y'all ever heard of Moses Malone? When (the 76ers) won their title, somebody asked Moses to describe Dr. J. And he said, 'Doc, he just do like he do.' Sometimes I can't explain what we do. But I know that if we keep doing what we've been doing, somehow or another it'll all come together."
Part of the trademark run comes from a defense that doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves. Stanford's Jayne Appel got 26 points, and her frontcourt makes Kayla Pederson and Nneka Ogwumike combined for 23 more, but they had to work for every one of them. Stanford's perimeter, however, got precious few open looks. The Cardinal only made four (of 11) three pointers, and didn't hit the first until there were fewer than 10 minutes to play.
"We weren't open that much," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
With the Huskies dominating as usual, the crowd roar in the Scotttrade Center went a little flat. Fans of Louisville, the team that earned the right to face Connecticut in Tuesday's final by beating Oklahoma 61-59 in the earlier game, left early, and who could blame them? They have seen their Cardinals suffer this kind of slaughter at the hands of the Huskies twice already this year: The Cards lost to the Huskies by 28 in the regular season and 39 in the Big East Championship.
What has kept the Huskies motivated as they blown out teams by more than 30 points a game?
"This group has never won a national championship, and that keeps you hungry," says Montgomery, who finished the game with a team-high 26 points and six assists. "No matter how many games you win by 30, that doesn't give you a right to the national championship."
As Huskies players sat on the floor calmly eating pizza and playing the card game Tonk after the game -- a stark contrast to the ear-splitting celebratory screaming that had filled Louisville's lockerroom a few hours earlier -- junior guard Kalana Greene reflected on what Montgomery does for her team, tonight and every night.
"She's our leader, she refuses to lose," she said. "She puts the team on her back, and it's a not a strain for her. She's done it for 38 games, and I'm pretty sure she can do it for 39."