NASHVILLE — While Notre Dame and UConn rolled to the Final Four, Stanford's perspective shifted.
Stanford kids are smart. They knew a national championship game between the Huskies and Irish was highly anticipated, perhaps even prayed for. It would not only be a rematch of former Big East rivals but the first title game between unbeatens in the history of the sport.
The Cardinal slowly went from simple consumer of news to a team that didn't want to be consumed to make it happen.
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"If we're going to be someone's hors d'oeuvres, we're not going to get swallowed easily," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said Saturday.
But what are you going to do in a world where the food chain is so clearly defined? As badly as the Cardinal tried to avoid it, as hard they worked to steer clear of it, UConn gobbled them up 75-56 Sunday in a national semifinal game at Bridgestone Arena.
And now, here we go: UConn (39-0) and Notre Dame (37-0), the closest thing this sport has to cold war, make appointment television when they play for the national championship Tuesday on ESPN.
"As the season went on, it looked like it was almost inevitable," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of what's coming. "Notre Dame is far and away the best team I have seen this year. No one else is even close."
Breanna Stewart led the Huskies with 18 points and seven rebounds and Bria Hartley added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists in a game the Huskies trailed for more than 13 minutes in the first half.
But it was the red-hot second half of junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 15 after not scoring in the first, that truly put the Huskies into their ninth national title game since 1995.
The collegiate career of Stanford's All-American, Chiney Ogwumike, ended with a line of frustration. She shot 5-for-12 in 38 minutes with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
In less than a week, it's expected she will be summoned to help rebuild the Connecticut Sun as the league's first overall pick.
Amber Orrange scored 16 for the Cardinal (33-4). Freshman Lili Thompson added 12, 10 in the game's first 7:28.
For UConn, taking out Notre Dame will be highly personal, especially if the men beat Kentucky to win the national title.
Should the men win the women will have the chance to create just the second dual championship in Division I college basketball history, matching the feat of UConn's 2004 champions.
If it all happens, sometime in the spring, White House butlers will be setting extra place settings for an extra-large Connecticut contingent.
UConn has never lost a national championship game. And if they win this one, Geno Auriemma will break Pat Summitt's record for the most in women's basketball history, and he'll break it in her home state.
Auriemma was aware of how Stanford felt coming into the game and wanted no part of being portrayed as an overconfident favorite. He did his best all week to divert the chatter.
But unlike Notre Dame's overpowering win over Maryland in Sunday's first semifinal, this didn't play out as if only one team had hope.
After the Huskies took leads of 4-0 and 6-2, the Cardinal blew out of the blocks with a flurry of energy to take their first lead, 9-8, on the three-pointer by Thompson with 16:07 to go. The lead would grow to 16-10 just under four minutes later on another three from Thompson.
At this point nothing was according to form for UConn. It was just 3 of 11 from the field, and aside from keeping Ogwumike (2-for-5 in the first half) in check, things were sputtering.
"Our shots just were not falling," Stefanie Dolson said.
A desperation bank shot by Mikaela Ruef with 5:39 to play in the half gave the Cardinal a 22-16 lead. Auriemma was shaking his head, wondering if it might be a sign of things to come.
But then calm arrived. As they have so many times this season, went on a roll, scoring 12 straight points and clamping down hard defensively. They benefited from nine strong minutes in the first half from Kiah Stokes, their only bench player at this point with any postseason staying power.
"I don't know if I did anything special, but Coach always says you need to make an impact when you come off the bench," said Stokes, who had nine points and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
Stewart's first field goal, with 3:03 left, gave UConn the lead again, 24-22, ending a deficit lasting more than 13 minutes. The Huskies rebuilt the lead to 28-22 and went to the locker room ahead, 28-24, after making five of their final seven shots of the half.
"It was a struggle, but once we saw the ball go through the net and got into transition, it was fine," Dolson said.
Mosqueda-Lewis, the most outstanding player of the Lincoln regional, didn't score until making a field goal with 18:41 to play to give UConn a 32-27 lead. She was 0-for-4 in the first half.
But when she scored again with 16:42 to play, the Huskies had their first double-digit lead, 38-27. She scored nine points in the first 12 minutes of the half.
"We just knew we had to play through it," Mosqueda-Lewis said.