The UConn women have focused intently, dominated historically and won just about every minute of their 38 games. And here they are again.
"What's gone into coming back [to tonight's national championship game] has been so incredible and so amazing," coach Geno Auriemma said.
The Huskies have created their own system of measure by which all teams that follow will now be compared.
"We force ourselves every day to do things that are against human nature," Maya Moore said.
But it is not yet a championship season. There is one more necessary step before the Huskies can allow themselves to exhale and exult.
"We asked for this. We want to be great. We want to be the best team that we can be," Kalana Greene said. "We never said we wanted it to be easy. We know if we lose one game and don't win the national championship, we didn't reach our goal."
Enter Stanford, the perennial national powerhouse stocked with All-Americans and Olympic prospects. It's the other No. 1 seed in tonight's national championship game at the Alamodome.
Nearly two years ago in Tampa, Fla., the Cardinal defeated the Huskies in the national semifinals. That was 77 consecutive victories ago for the Huskies; enough for one undefeated national championship season, but not quite enough for two.
Stanford (36-1) would like to provide the other bookend.
"I was talking to family and friends and someone actually said to me they hoped UConn would beat Baylor [in Sunday's semifinal]," Stanford's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said. "They said they wanted us to face UConn and have the chance to beat what people are calling maybe one of the most dominating UConn teams ever."
The Huskies are 6-0 in national championship games, including the 76-54 victory over Louisville last year in St. Louis, where they beat Stanford in the semifinals.
This season, the Cardinal led the Huskies 40-38 at halftime of their Dec. 23 game in Hartford before the Huskies pulled away for an 80-68 win. Since then, Stanford has won 27 straight and spent much of the time between games watching film of that loss.
"I think at this point of the season we are better equipped to deal with UConn's pressure," Gold-Onwude said. "Our coaches are more prepared, as well. There had been so few games played up to that point in the season that UConn hadn't sculpted itself. They had question marks, too. I think now we can figure out what will make us successful."
Each team is coming off a solid semifinal win, but UConn has won its first five tournament games by 208 points.
Stanford, playing in its third straight Final Four, beat Oklahoma 73-66 behind 38 points and 16 rebounds from sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who set a national scoring record for an NCAA semifinal.
UConn defeated Baylor 70-50 behind 34 points from Moore and 21 from Tina Charles, named the Naismith Award winner Monday.
"It's going to be a battle that's going to show who has the fight to the finish," said Ogwumike, the Pac-10 player of the year." UConn doesn't just have Maya. They have Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Caroline Doty, Tiffany Hayes. And we don't just have one player, either."
Unfortunately for Stanford, one of those players, senior center Jayne Appel, has been battling an ankle injury that has followed some knee problems.
But coach Tara VanDerveer says the biggest key might lie in her team's aggressiveness.
"We were not aggressive enough in that last game [against UConn]," she said. "We were not as energetic as we could have been.
"I like to think everyone had perhaps crowned the Patriots as NFL champions [before Super Bowl XLII]. Well, the Giants won. So we just need to come out and play, and we have to play a lot better than we have been playing. And we might need UConn to have a bad night."
Of course, the thought of having a bad night hardly occurs to UConn because it hasn't had one in two years.
"That's the beauty of every game," Auriemma said. "You go out there and you do what you're going to do. And if they pick it apart, you say, 'OK, it's time to change things up.'
"That's why I get the big bucks."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun