UConn's Auriemma focused on LSU

Coach recalls nightmare of team's last regional final

East at Richmond, Va.

March 27, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- The last trip to a regional final for Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma ended in a way he still blames himself for, a way he's hoping won't happen in tonight's East Regional final against LSU at 7.

Ahead of a North Carolina State team by 10 points in 1998, the Huskies collapsed over the last 15 minutes, and N.C. State coach Kay Yow ended up with her first Final Four appearance.

The Huskies were without Shea Ralph, now an All-American, and also without another All-American, Nykesha Sales. Yet another current All-American, Svetlana Abrosimova, was injured in the first half.

But of the three losses Connecticut (33-1) has suffered in the round of eight -- the others coming to eventual national champions North Carolina and Tennessee in 1994 and '97 -- Auriemma identified the most recent setback as the toughest to take.

"You can rationalize some, and you can't rationalize others," he said. "The N.C. State game, we just looked past them. Once they beat Old Dominion, we looked at it as, `Oh, if we just beat N.C. State, we're going to the Final Four.' "

One of Connecticut's luxuries in having enough talent to plausibly field two Final Four contenders is that it needn't attach its confidence to the relative worth of the opponent.

"I'm sure that [LSU] is coming into the game thinking that they are going to win, and that is what we are going to prepare for," said Ralph. "We are going to go out and play our game and not worry about what they bring to the table or what they think about us."

Incidentally, just the win over Connecticut in 1998 pretty much completed the resume for Yow's long career.

Meanwhile, taking a team to the Final Four is one of the few things LSU coach Sue Gunter has not done in 36 years of college coaching while racking up 613 wins.

For the 26-5 Tigers to go further, they will have to find a way to beat the Huskies.

Running with the Huskies doesn't work, as Oklahoma proved Saturday. Right now, the team is averaging 100.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament. But Gunter wondered whether slowing the game's pace would do much good.

"For any game, you want to dictate the tempo, but I don't know how you do that with Connecticut," she said. "It is hard to take anything away from them that will make a significant difference in the course of the game."

LSU's defense is strong. The team allows its opponents to hit only 38 percent of its shots, and gives up 56.5 points per game. And if their semifinal win over Duke is any indication, the Tigers' passing skill might get them through the traps that Connecticut ran so successfully Saturday.

In the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers lost to No. 1 Mideast seed Tennessee twice, but beat No. 1 West seed Georgia in Athens during the regular season.

"Playing in the SEC, we play a lot of the top teams," LSU forward Katrina Hibbert said. "We are looking at it as another conference game. We'll have to come out and be ready to play."

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