Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma understands the challenge at the women's Final Four this weekend in Nashville, Tenn., after watching Stanford's Elite Eight victory.

"It wasn't just stand around and let's watch Chiney" Ogwumike, Auriemma said Wednesday in a teleconference. "Their team has grown. It's not like they are playing four freshmen and Chiney. They've got people."

The Cardinal (33-3) had five players score in double figures Tuesday night to defeat North Carolina 74-65 to advance to its sixth Final Four in seven years.

Stanford plays top-ranked and undefeated UConn (38-0) at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, following the Maryland-Notre Dame game at Bridgestone Arena.

The national rivals meet annually in the fall and played in three consecutive Final Fours from 2008-2010.

UConn defeated Stanford by 19 points Nov. 11, although Huskies All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis didn't play most of the second half after injuring her elbow.

Four days later, Connecticut routed Maryland on the road 72-55 in front of 15,327 fans. UConn played without Morgan Tuck and Mosqueda-Lewis.

Auriemma called the two victories over national powers the biggest moments in the Huskies' season.

"Those two games maybe let everybody on our team know, hey, it doesn't matter if we have everybody or most everybody, we have it in us to persevere," he said.


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Connecticut's average margin of victory this season is an almost embarrassing 35 points a game. Baylor came closest in a 66-55 defeat at Waco, Texas.

All five Huskies starters average in double figures led by Brianna Stewart at 19.4 points a game.

But UConn and Stanford have a special history in their recent rivalry. Last season, the Huskies ended Stanford's 82-game unbeaten streak at Maples Pavilion with a 61-35 victory.

In December 2010, the Cardinal snapped UConn's' NCAA record 90-game winning streak. Stanford also stunned its rival in the national semifinals in 2008. But Connecticut won the next two Final Four encounters, including a national championship game in 2010.

The Huskies are appearing in a record seventh consecutive Final Four, and are trying to win a record ninth title.

Most analysts expect this year's finale to feature UConn and unbeaten Notre Dame, the country's best two teams this season. But Auriemma rejected the notion the two schools are preordained to meet in the final Tuesday night.

"I know everyone has wanted to make it about this inevitable march toward two undefeated teams playing for the national championships," the coach said.

"I don't like when you're disrespecting people. I'm glad there are two teams that are undefeated." But "I cautioned everybody there are two other teams out there good enough to win a national championship."

Stanford might be the country's most improved elite team. Although the Cardinal lost only one starter from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last year, it has a different makeup from the 2012-13 season.

Although senior Sara James starts, like last season, she effectively has been replaced by junior sharpshooter Bonnie Samuelson. James played only three minutes Tuesday against North Carolina. Samuelson scored 13 points while making three 3-pointers in 34 minutes.

The Cardinal also is stronger, quicker and more effective at the guard position with the addition of freshman Lili Thompson, who defended Penn State's and North Carolina's stars in the past two games.

Fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef has evolved as an outstanding rebounder, defender, passer and, at least for one night Tuesday, shooter.

Those players give Auriemma pause despite the fact UConn is loaded with All-Americans.

"If Stanford wants to just rely on Chiney, they're a really good team just by doing what she does," Auriemma said. "But I don't think it is enough to win a national championship."

The additions, however, change the equation.

"They look confident," Auriemma said. "They look like they know they are good and can provide other things you need to win a championship.

"If anybody thinks we're going to play the same Stanford team as in November, they're kidding."

  • Ogwumike was named to the John R. Wooden All-American team Wednesday for the second consecutive year. It was the senior forward's fourth All-American honor this season.

    Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.