It wasn't merely the result of a good team having a really bad night on the road. When the Stanford women's basketball team defeated Connecticut 71--59 in Palo Alto last Thursday to halt the Huskies' record win streak at 90, the Cardinal knew exactly what it had to do—and did it.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer had been thinking about this game since the Cardinal lost to Connecticut 53--47 in the NCAA final last year after leading at halftime. VanDerveer, whose team had been the last to beat the Huskies, on April 6, 2008, spent much of the summer studying film, from Connecticut to Tennessee to the Lakers' triangle offense. After a loss at Tennessee on Dec. 19 VanDerveer tweaked her own triangle to run higher. She also loosened her reins, allowing for a more free-flowing offense than Stanford has run in years. Moreover, she and her staff broke down the Huskies' tendencies to a nearly cellular level. "Everyone who knows me knows I'm a little over the top," said VanDerveer of her game preparation.
Before they left for Christmas break on Dec. 22, every Stanford player got a DVD with clips of then No. 4 Xavier—which Stanford would crush 89--52 on Dec. 28—and Connecticut. Distilled, the scouting message was simple: Don't let these teams do what they like to do. Thus, Connecticut star Maya Moore, who gets a lot of baskets off screens, was smothered by switching defenders. Moore finished with 14 points, well below her 24-point average. Junior guard Tiffany Hayes, who thrives on fast-break layups, got just three points and no layups. "Stanford took us out of our character," said coach Geno Auriemma.
The Huskies are still the favorite to win a third straight NCAA title, followed by Baylor, which lost to UConn by one point in November, and Stanford. Cardinal forward Kayla Pedersen didn't forget the big picture in the postgame euphoria. "It's a huge win, but it is December," said the senior, who has come away from three Final Fours empty-handed. "We're going to take it as a learning opportunity because we haven't won anything yet."