UConn women march onward

Huskies in Final Four at 37-0 after dismissing hopeful ODU, 85-64

Ncaa Tournament

March 26, 2002|By ASSOCATED PRESS

MILWAUKEE - Sue Bird and the unbeaten Connecticut Huskies bounced the party crashers right out of the NCAA tournament.

Bird scored a career-high 26 points and dished out 11 assists as UConn advanced to its third consecutive Final Four by defeating Old Dominion, 85-64, last night.

The Lady Monarchs (28-6), miffed at their No. 7 seeding, had used the perceived slight to fuel upsets of second-seeded Purdue and third-seeded Kansas State.

But they could only watch helplessly as the top-ranked and top-seeded Huskies (37-0) made their first 13 shots and hit their first five free throws in racing to a 34-14 lead less than 10 minutes into the Mideast Regional final.

"Everything went our way, everything was just clicking," Bird said. "We were running our break, running our offense and getting a lot of layups. And considering it was the biggest game of the year, that's the best we've played."

Over the weekend, Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, whose team lost to the Huskies by 14 in December and had won 21 in a row, said: "We're in a position now to ruin parties."

To which UConn coach Geno Auriemma jokingly retorted: "Party crashers usually get beat up or arrested, don't they? At least they did where I come from."

They were turned away at the door last night.

With a dominating display of crisp passing and accurate shooting, the Huskies jumped out to a 20-4 lead in less than five minutes and sank 19 of their first 21 shots from the field before "settling" for a 75 percent mark (21 of 28) at halftime, when they were up 55-33.

"We dug ourselves a huge hole," Larry said. "The University of Connecticut's first 20 minutes is some of the finest basketball I think I've ever witnessed."

UConn's lead never dipped below 14 in the second half.

The Huskies will play Tennessee, the Midwest Regional champion, in San Antonio next weekend in search of their third national title and second unbeaten season under Auriemma, who won championships in 1995 and 2000. UConn has made six Final Four trips overall.

It's the third Final Four appearance for seniors Bird, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash and Tamika Williams - considered the top recruiting class in the game's history.

Old Dominion was seeking its first Final Four trip since losing to Tennessee in the 1997 championship.

But Lucienne Berthieu, the Monarchs' leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, got into early foul trouble and finished with just six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. She had no points and one rebound after halftime.

She didn't check into the game in the second half until 11:33 remained with the Monarchs trailing 68-50.

"She got frustrated and kind of got out of whack," Larry said. "It wasn't about her foul trouble. It was just to get her to calm down a little bit."

Old Dominion cut it to 72-58 with 6:12 left when Okeisha Howard, who led the Monarchs with 20 points, made two free throws.

UConn responded with four free throws, two by sophomore Diana Taurasi, who scored 22, and two by Bird, and the Monarchs were done.

Bird broke her previous career high of 25 points with an 8-foot jumper with 1:09 remaining. Her first assist also was historic, breaking the Huskies' NCAA record of 786 assists in a season, a mark that now stands at 811.

"The first 20 minutes was about as good as you can hope to play," Auriemma said. "We can't play much better than we played. It's as proud of my team as I've ever been in all my years of coaching."

OLD DOMINION-Berthieu 3-6 0-2 6, Thompson 1-3 0-0 3, Maiga 7-15 0-3 14, Francis 1-5 1-1 3, Coker 4-7 0-0 8, Spence 0-1 0-0 0, Howard 5-13 6-6 20, Grant 2-7 0-0 4, Giddens 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 26-63 7-12 64. CONNECTICUT-Jones 8-9 2-3 18, Cash 3-4 1-1 7, Williams 3-4 3-3 9, Taurasi 7-12 4-4 22, Bird 8-12 8-8 26, Valley 0-0 0-0 0, Conlon 0-2 0-0 0, Marron 0-0 0-0 0, Battle 0-1 0-4 0, Moore 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 30-47 19-25 85. Halftime-Connecticut, 55-33. 3-point goals-Old Dominion 5-10 (Howard 4-6, Thompson 1-2, Francis 0-1, Spence 0-1), Connecticut 6-14 (Taurasi 4-8, Bird 2-4, Conlon 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Old Dominion 25 (Maiga 5), Connecticut 31 (Jones 7). Assists-Old Dominion 14 (Francis 8), Connecticut 25 (Bird 11). Total fouls-Old Dominion 22, Connecticut 13. A-6,997.

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