Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer had promised the Cardinal wouldn't go down easy, and her team never stopped competing. It 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.
It was the third sluggish start in a row for the Huskies, who missed shot after shot and had a couple tough shooting stretches in the first half. The first drought lasted more than 5 minutes and the second nearly 7 minutes. Auriemma said the game played out in the first half like the struggle he expected.
"I thought once we settled in and got our rhythm and I thought we played one of the best games we played all year given the fact we beat a really, really, really good team," the Connecticut coach said.
Once the Huskies found their rhythm, they were able to finally get going offensively.
The Huskies scored 12 straight to finish the half on a 12-2 run. Kiah Stokes hit a free throw, then Hartley hit the Huskies' lone 3 of the half with 4:42 left.
Then Stewart got in the act, 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 the Huskies led 28-24 at the half.
Connecticut looked like the top-ranked team in the country in the second half, shutting down Stanford and moving on to yet another title game.