Ann Killion
Tuesday April 6th, 2010

SAN ANTONIO -- When she was packing for the trip to her final Final Four, Stanford senior center Jayne Appel grabbed an old scouting report and stuck it in the bottom of her suitcase. She thought it might come in handy.

Her instinct was correct. The scouting report from the Dec. 23 loss to UConn is a useful thing. That is, if executed properly.

"It was a good report," Appel said Monday. "But we just did so many things wrong. We didn't play very smart. When we watched the film this morning we were saying, 'God, how stupid.'"

This title game has a feeling of inevitability. And not just because UConn, winner of 77 straight games, is playing for the national championship. The Huskies opponent is Stanford, the nation's second-ranked team with its own impressive 36-1 record.

"I definitely had a sense we would see them again," UConn sophomore guard Tiffany Hayes said.

Stanford is digging into the emotional well for the game. Cardinal guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who gives the speech in the team huddle before every game, has been thinking about what she'll say. She might bring up the New York Giants -- who interrupted the Patriots' coronation. She might reference the Miracle on Ice (fitting since this weekend Geno Auriemma called his team the one "everybody loves to hate ... the Russian hockey team before 1980").

But the best motivation might be sitting right in Stanford's own film file.

UConn and Stanford have produced an interesting rivalry, mostly consisting of NCAA tournament games. Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer are 5-5 against each other. Stanford is the last team to beat UConn, on April 6, 2008. The Huskies knocked Stanford out in the semifinal game last year.

In December, the teams commenced a home-and-home series, with the first game held at XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Two days before Christmas, just days after Stanford had beaten both Duke and Tennessee, the Cardinal went on the road to face the best team in women's basketball.

At halftime, Stanford had a 40-38 lead -- the only team to lead the Huskies at the half all season.

"We were mad at halftime," Stanford assistant coach Amy Tucker said. "We thought we could have been up by more."

But then the wheels came off. UConn went on a 30-6 run (en route to an 80-68 win) that left Stanford hoping for a rematch. And with something valuable to study.

"It's Stanford -- they probably study all the time," Auriemma said. "They're great at reading books and figuring things out. That's one of Tara's great strengths. They are meticulous. They execute. They're precise in what they do."

It's one of the reasons Auriemma doesn't like playing teams more than once a season.

"We know we played great in the second half and hopefully we can do that again," he said. "But we also know that we couldn't stop them in the first half.

"We learned some things about each other than can help us and also worry us tremendously. That's why I kind of like playing a team for the very first time."

To pull off the enormous upset a few things have to go Stanford's way:

• Appel has to be effective down low. In December, Appel was still coming back from offseason surgery. She was tentative and finished with just 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Her opponent -- and close friend -- Tina Charles was 8-of-11 with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

"I need to do a better job of boxing out," said Appel, who is now struggling with a severe ankle sprain and hasn't been able to practice for three weeks.

• Stanford has to get production from its backcourt. In December, Stanford's guards were 5 for 18.

"Guard play is going to be the X-factor," Gold-Onwude said. "We really have to bring it. We have to play well to win."

Neither team's guard play has been particularly effective in the Alamodome.

"Our kids are young," Auriemma said. "And the other big difference is their guards don't fall down."

Nnemkadi Ogwumike has to neutralize Maya Moore.

Ogwumike (38 points) and Moore (34) were the best players on the floor in the semifinal games. Ogwumike's development is a big reason that Stanford feels that it is a superior team to the one that lost in December.

But Moore has a much longer history of taking over games. When Stanford made its first-half run in December, Moore was on the bench with two fouls. Starting fresh in the second half, she dominated and finished with 23 points.

In looking at the December film, VanDerveer pays more attention to the second half.

"We've focused more on how it got away from us," VanDerveer said. "Look at the things we could have done. Look at the things we need to do. Look at the things we're capable of doing.

"We didn't do those in December. We have to do those in April."

After 15 weeks of waiting, the anticipated rematch is here.

"We kept it in the back of our minds," Appel said. "We refused to talk about it all season. But now we finally have another shot."

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