Huskies standing tall for a reason

Connecticut's frontcourt, led by Schumacher's blocks, swats away Tenn.'s chances

April 03, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Over the last six days, the Tennessee women's basketball team endured ankle injuries to its best player, Tamika Catchings, and another of its starters, Kristen Clement.

But just when the Vols thought they were through with calamities, Connecticut center Kelly Schumacher stepped in.

Disruption is too mild a word for what the 6-foot-5 junior from Quyon, Ontario, caused during her team's national title game victory last night, with a Final Four record nine blocked shots.

"Defensively, it was probably the best game I've ever played," Schumacher said.

What Schumacher did went a long way in changing the thought process of an opponent such as Tennessee's Semeka Randall, who said in her typical bluntness, "Most of the time I drove to the key, I got rejected."

"I think she played terrific," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "She played big inside, had some great blocks, and I think a few times just broke our spirit when we went in."

This wasn't a typical performance for Schumacher, part of a unit that doesn't get a lot of attention because of the exploits of backcourt standouts Sue Bird, Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova.

But last night, Schumacher, with six points and six rebounds along her record block total, was part of a group -- joined by Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams -- that may have won the game for the Huskies.

"We did a really good job in the post tonight," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, his team also setting a record with 11 blocks overall. "Sometimes, we look at them as one person and today, they were all terrific."

Indeed, not only did the group play a large role in holding Tennessee to 31.4 percent shooting, but they also supported the team offensively before the two guards and small forward began to burn the Lady Vols with backdoor passes for layups.

Half of the team's 32 points at halftime came inside, including three-quarters of its rebounds. With 40 seconds left before the half, it was Swin Cash, a versatile jumping jack, who provided Connecticut with its first points out of its offense set in about four minutes. The points came at a crucial time, as with earlier turnaround by Schumacher, as Abrosimova and Bird had just gone to the bench 50 seconds earlier.

But what the inside players did defensively was probably more important. The main reason Tennesseee shot 18 percent from the field in the first half was that whenever its players ventured into the paint with a shot in mind, a Connecticut player was there to alter or just plain reject it.

"It's the timing," Schumacher said. "If you're on that day, then it's going to work for you it's one of the things that I do best. If I block a few shots, that gives me confidence."

The Vols' sophomore center, Michelle Snow, had success against Connecticut in the earlier meeting between the two teams, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds. This time however, she found the hands of Cash and Schumacher in her face every time she turned toward the basket, and shot 2-for-7 in the first half.

Connecticut's depth inside was considered a strong point. With four players over 6-2, all were able to get up and down the court with speed that guards at a lot of programs could only dream about.

Still, there wasn't much of an intimidation factor attached to the Huskies inside players. The thought was that while Connecticut was invincible on the perimeter, it could be attacked in the middle.

But Tennessee's only refuge -- with Ralph and Bird applying vice-like pressure on the perimeter -- was a false one.

"We wanted to go inside but I missed five in a row in the first five minutes alone," Snow said.

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