Huskies complete title rerun

Connecticut captures 2nd championship in row by beating Tennessee

Taurasi leads 73-68 victory

Junior scores 28 points, including 4 three-pointers

Ncaa Championship Game

April 09, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Connecticut Women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has succinctly described the difference between his team and the rest of the field as the Huskies have Diana Taurasi and no one else does.

It seems simplistic, but it was so accurate in last night's national championship game, as the Huskies won their second straight title on the back of Taurasi, with a 73-68 win over Tennessee.

Taurasi, who didn't score for the first 8:45, made up for lost time with 28 points on a variety of shots, inside and out, in a magnificent performance.

Taurasi, a 6-foot junior from Chino, Calif., is the only starter to return from last year's unbeaten Huskies team, and shot 8-for-15 from the field, including 4-for-9 from three-point range to power Connecticut to its fourth title, all in the last eight years.

There are those in the women's basketball game who believe that the Tennessee-Connecticut series, and all the attention it gathers, is bad for the sport, that it blocks out any other programs from gathering any interest, and keeps the sport from growing.

That may be true, but until the rest of the game can produce the kind of consistent drama that the Huskies and Lady Vols manufacture, then the focus is rightly placed.

At some point, however, Tennessee, which has lost three straight times to Connecticut in the Final Four, will have to win to make the rivalry an actual rivalry again.

The Lady Vols (33-5), who lost a one-point overtime decision in Hartford in January, launched a stirring comeback down the stretch. Trailing by 13, Tennessee went on a run to trim Connecticut's lead to three in the final minute. Taurasi missed a shot in the lane with 40 seconds to go, but gathered in her own rebound and fed junior guard Maria Conlon, who was fouled and hit one of two free throws.

Tennessee senior Kara Lawson had 18 points, including 15 in the second half to lead the Lady Vols comeback, but Taurasi fired the ball defiantly into the crowd as the horn sounded and held out her jersey and the UConn emblazoned on it.

The Huskies had bounded out of the locker room to start the second half on fire. Taurasi took the inbound pass to start the half, then calmly drove to the right wing, where she buried a three-pointer 15 seconds in. Tennessee's Loree Moore scored on a short jumper in the lane 17 seconds later. However, Barbara Turner scored inside and coach Pat Summitt burned a timeout to slow Connecticut's roll.

Off the timeout, however, Maria Conlon hit a three-pointer, and the Huskies had their biggest lead of the night, 11 points at 43-32.

The Lady Vols used a Brittany Jackson three-pointer and a layup from Kara Lawson to slice the lead to six at 50-44, but Taurasi scored on a one-handed running banker on the baseline and was fouled, converting the free throw, to take the lead back to nine.

Taurasi missed her first two shots, while the rest of the Huskies lineup had all scored within the first four minutes, taking a 12-5 lead.

After Shyra Ely scored from the baseline just after the 16-minute timeout, Connecticut's Jessica Moore converted a lay-in to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead. Tennessee would then go on a 7-2 spurt, as Lawson hit a three-pointer from the right wing, then Tasha Butts scored from the baseline and Brittany Jackson sank two free throws to cut the Connecticut lead to 16-14.

On the last play of the run, the Lady Vols, who pride themselves on their board work, got their first offensive rebound of the half, nearly eight minutes into the contest.

But that was about the time that Taurasi woke from her slumber. She scored on a drive with 11:16 remaining for her first points of the half, then hit a three-pointer on the right wing to take the Connecticut lead back to six, at 22-16 with just under 10 minutes left in the half.

The Tennessee offense began to take form, as Gwen Jackson scored inside and, on the next possession, sank one of two free throws. Brittany Jackson connected from three-point range, then reserve center Courtney McDaniel scored on a layup off a long looping pass from Lawson to tie the score at 24 with 6:20 remaining.

Connecticut point guard Maria Conlon hit a three-pointer, her second of the half, with 6:07 to go. After Ely scored inside, Taurasi hit another three- pointer, this time from the left wing with 4:59 left. Gwen Jackson scored down low, and Tye'sha Fluker hit a turnaround for Tennessee to tie the score at 30.

But the Huskies would finish the half on a 5-0 spurt. Taurasi hit the third of her first-half three-pointers with 32 seconds left, then after she got a steal off Lawson on the final Tennessee possession, she took it the other way. She missed the layup but Crockett scored on a putback to give Connecticut a 35-30 lead at the break.

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