UConn women make it 5 in row

Huskies oust Penn State in East title game, 66-49

Final Four streak unprecedented

Taurasi, Turner carry 2-time defending champs

March 30, 2004|By Jeff Goldberg | Jeff Goldberg,THE HARTFORD COURANT

HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut now stands alone in women's college basketball history.

The Huskies reached an unprecedented fifth consecutive Final Four last night with a 66-49 victory over Penn State in the NCAA tournament East Regional final at the Civic Center.

The streak started in Philadelphia with the 2000 championship.

It was a crowning moment for senior Diana Taurasi, one of the best to ever play the women's game. The East Regional's Most Outstanding Player scored 27 points, including six in a 9-0 run that helped the second-seeded Huskies (29-4) put away the top-seeded Lady Lions (28-6).

"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Taurasi said. "If you try to put it into words, it kind of takes away from it. It couldn't have played out any better. This has been a hard year, but this is great."

But Taurasi was not a one-woman show on this night. Sophomore Barbara Turner, one of the players who will lead the Huskies into the post-Taurasi era, scored 26 points, hitting a career-high four three-pointers. They combined for 53 of UConn's 66 points.

Turner scored eight straight points early in the second half and 11 of 14 as the Huskies built a 47-26 lead with 11:56 left.

And when the Lady Lions cut the lead to nine with 7:20 left, Taurasi and Turner turned them back. Taurasi, who moved into second place on the all-time NCAA women's tournament scoring list (393 points), hit a three-pointer from the corner to push UConn's lead back to 54-42.

Then, after Taurasi made two free throws for a 14-point lead, Turner hit her fourth three-pointer for a 59-42 lead with 5:20 left.

Taurasi made a free throw, and the Huskies bled the clock, leading by at least 14 for the final four minutes.

"I just think we were tougher," Taurasi said. "In the second half, when they made their run, we could have easily folded. But we came back and made some plays. When you get this far, it's just how tough you are and how much you don't want to go home, and this team does not want to go home."

And as the final two minutes ticked down on the final game in Connecticut this season, the crowd of 14,855 showered seniors Taurasi, Maria Conlon and Morgan Valley and the rest of the Huskies with a thunderous ovation, loud enough to launch them to New Orleans.

The trio of seniors joins four other players in NCAA women's history - all from Tennessee - as the only ones to reach the Final Four in all four years.

"You always hope that for some of your seniors, fairy tales end with a happy ending," coach Geno Auriemma said. "I was hoping and praying that today wouldn't be their last game, that they would have the opportunity to go back to the Final Four, because as a senior that's the culmination of your career."

UConn will play in the national semifinals Sunday against the winner of tonight's Mideast Regional final between Duke and Minnesota.

Penn State's Kelly Mazzante, the ninth-leading scorer in NCAA history, had 14 on 5-for-17 shooting. Tanisha Wright led the Lady Lions with 16.

UConn held top-seeded Penn State to a season-low 13 points in the first half, limiting Mazzante to two points on 1-for-7 shooting. But the Lady Lions did not go quietly.

They held two UConn starters, Conlon and Ann Strother, scoreless. And after UConn took a 47-26 lead with 11:56 left and appeared to have the game wrapped up, Mazzante led a 16-3 run to close to 51-42 with 7:20 left.

Then Taurasi and Turner ended it.

"This is not a fun way to end a season," Penn State coach Rene Portland said. "[UConn] came out with a great effort. We obviously didn't have an answer for Barbara Turner, and we'll go home wondering."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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