Tuesday April 6th, 2010

SAN ANTONIO -- You won't find the names of Kevin DeMille or Marc Gauthier on any page in the NCAA record book. Nor will you see highlights of DeMille's mid-range jumper or Gauthier's interior defense on any sports network. But DeMille and Gauthier are part of a group that has done something no other team can claim in two years:

They've beaten the UConn women's basketball team.

"The days are few, but the days when we do beat them, we get pretty excited," said DeMille, one of 12 male practice players who train daily with the Huskies during the regular season. "When we look up at the scoreboard and see the White Team, which is us, has more points than the Blue Team, it's really pretty great. We know in the back of our heads we might not win again for the next few weeks or even months. But coach [Geno] Auriemma likes to call us the second best team in America"

Gauthier has been a practice player for the past two years, and has battled Maya Moore, Tina Charles and the rest of UConn's roster on thousands of possessions. "There is one thing that separates Maya and Tina from the other great players in the country, and it's that they sweat the small stuff," said Gauthier, a senior English and journalism double major at Connecticut. "They are the hardest workers I've ever had the pleasure of being around, and that attitude goes from Maya and Tina, the faces of the program, all the way down to Jacquie Fernandes, the walk-on scholarship player. All 11 players have an uncanny knack for perfection."

Perfection is calling UConn yet again. The Huskies have won 77 consecutive games, including all 38 this season. No team has ever completed back-to-back undefeated seasons, and only five women's teams have ended a season undefeated, including three Husky squads. This will be the seventh national championship game in UConn history; they have won all six previous title games.

"Geno has done it the way you should, keeping the kids focused, working hard on every possession, and not playing the score but playing the game," Baylor assistant coach Leon Barmore said. "He's pushed all the right buttons. It's quite a streak."

Stanford stands between UConn and history, and for 22 minutes on Dec. 23 in Hartford, the Cardinal played point for point with the Huskies. Stanford led 40-38 at the break and 44-42 early in the second half before UConn exploded for a 30-6 run. The 80-68 win was UConn's closest game this season. Since then Stanford has won 27 straight and developed a go-to force in sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The 6-foot-2 forward scored 38 points against Oklahoma in the semifinals, the second-best total in a Final Four game, behind the 43 points Sheryl Swoopes scored against Ohio State in the 1993 title game.

"Stanford is one of the few teams in the country that we play where they are bigger than us at every single position," Auriemma said. "We have tough, tough matchups with them. Maya defensively does not match up with [Ogwumike] and Kalana [Greene] does not match up with [Stanford junior forward] Kayla Pedersen. It's a very difficult situation for us because it is hard for us to guard them. We just have to hope that at the other end, we make it difficult for them to guard us."

That will be up to Moore and Charles, who have each scored at least 20 points in the same game three times during the NCAA tournament, and accomplished that feat in the Stanford game when Moore finished with 23 points and Charles had 20. On Monday morning, the Stanford team watched video of that game, a film session senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude called "an exposure session of things we did wrong." But the Cardinal coaches ended the session by letting the players know how excited they should be at how much they have improved since then.

Stanford has been a loose and confident bunch in San Antonio, even joking about how many have dubbed this Final Four the UConn Invitational. Said Gold-Onwude: "I was on ESPN.com one day and the poll question was "Will UConn win a national championship? "One option was 'Yes, they'll dominate.' The other option was 'Yes, but they will be tested.' What can you do, I guess?"

Though they were tested Sunday night against Baylor, UConn's dominance over the past three weeks has been remarkable: The Huskies have defeated each of their five NCAA tournament opponents by at least 20 points: Baylor (by 20), Florida State (40), Iowa State (38), Temple (54) and Southern (56).

UConn will look to exploit Stanford in the post. Stanford All-America center Jayne Appel has labored during the tournament because of a bad ankle, and Charles, who won the Naismith Award on Monday, has played like the nation's best center every game. Appel is going to have trouble running with her from post to post. Then there is Moore, who is averaging 24.2 points in the NCAAs and shooting an absurd 60.7 percent (17-of-28) from three-point range. "She's doing things that a lot of females are not capable of doing," Gold-Onwude said. "Little things like she can step away from the basket when she takes a jump shot. Most women need to step forward for the power. She can also collect herself in the air, and she's very strong."

If you believe in symmetry or the mystical value of dates, the title game will be exactly two years to the day (April 6, 2008) the Cardinal defeated the Huskies in the national semifinals in Tampa. That was the last time UConn lost to anyone other than its male practice players, who only keep score in short segments.

"Somebody's gotta beat Connecticut," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said, no doubt speaking for the rest of college basketball. "Somebody has to stop the madness at some point."

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