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Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

Irish once again making waves

March 27, 2003

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Oh, those plucky Irish. Notre Dame is at it again in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

And so is Connecticut, which seems to have erased any doubt about its emotional state -- and Diana Taurasi's health -- after the streak-snapping loss to Villanova. And there's Villanova in the round of 16, too, along with Duke, Texas, Texas Tech, Louisiana Tech and Penn State.

After the second round began with a slew of surprises Monday, things went more to form Tuesday night -- except for Notre Dame, that is. At No. 11 in the East, the Irish are the lowest-seeded team still standing as the tournament moves to the regional semifinals this weekend.

Using a matchup zone that coach Muffet McGraw calls "The Storm," Notre Dame frustrated third-seeded Kansas State and won, 59-53, in front of a hostile crowd on the Wildcats' floor. That followed a victory over sixth-seeded Arizona in the first round.

Kansas State had been the last No. 3 seed left.

"Somebody had mentioned that the No. 3 seeds had gone down," McGraw said. "We wanted to make it a clean sweep."

It was nothing new for the Irish (21-10), the 2001 national champions. In the 1997 and '98 tournaments, Notre Dame won second-round games on the home courts of higher seeded opponents, including an upset of No. 1 Texas Tech in 1998.

Notre Dame pulled this one off by holding Kansas State to 33 percent shooting. So flustered were the Wildcats that went nearly 13 minutes in one stretch without making a basket.

"To hold them like that was a great stride for our team on the defensive end," said guard Le'Tania Severe, who led Notre Dame with 17 points. "It also gave us confidence on the offensive end to do what we had to do to win the game."

Connecticut, the defending champion and No. 1 seed in the East, had what it needed, too. Her name is Taurasi, who looked as healthy as ever while scoring a career-high 35 points in an 81-66 victory over TCU.

Taurasi has been bothered by back and ankle pain, but those ailments weren't evident as she showed off her entire repertoire, from a reverse scoop to backbreaking 3-pointers.

"You don't get this far without having players like that," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's just another one in a long line of really unique players that I've had the opportunity to coach."

Her play prompted someone to ask TCU coach Jeff Mittie if he had any advice for future UConn opponents.

"Stop Taurasi," Mittie said. "I don't have any answers, so don't call me."

Connecticut (33-1) will join conference rivals Notre Dame and Boston College for a Big East block party in the regional semifinals at Dayton, Ohio, next Sunday. Fifth-seeded Boston College (22-8) advanced with an overtime victory against Vanderbilt on Monday night and will play UConn.

BC gave Connecticut one of its toughest games this season, an 83-75 UConn win on Feb. 8.

Notre Dame plays Purdue of the Big Ten in the other game at Dayton. That also is a rematch, Purdue having won 71-54 on Jan. 4.

Duke, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, moved on with a 65-54 victory over stubborn Utah in Raleigh, N.C. Texas Tech, seeded second in the Midwest, needed five points from Plenette Pierson in the final 27.7 seconds to get past seventh-seeded UC Santa Barbara 72-68.

In the Mideast, fourth-seeded Penn State beat fifth-seeded South Carolina 77-67 behind Kelly Mazzante's 27 points and second-seeded Villanova made 11 3-pointers in beating No. 7 seed George Washington 70-57. In the West, fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech, playing at home, defeated fourth-seeded Ohio State 74-61 and second-seeded Texas downed seventh-seed Arkansas 67-50.

The Mideast Regional semifinals will be played in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, with Penn State (26-8) facing top-seeded Tennessee (30-4) and Villanova (27-5) taking on sixth-seeded Colorado (24-7).

Sixth-seeded New Mexico will host the Midwest Regional in Albuquerque. The Lobos (24-8) play Texas Tech (28-5) on Saturday and Duke (33-1) meets fifth-seeded Georgia (21-9). In the West at Stanford, it will be Louisiana Tech (31-2) playing No. 1-seeded LSU (29-3) and Texas (27-5) going against sixth-seeded Minnesota (25-5).

Duke, ranked No. 1 for much of the season, will try to gets it offense back in synch as it moves on. Alana Beard scored 27 points on 10-for-12 shooting Tuesday night, but the rest of the team shot only 35 percent.

"We learned from this game we can rely upon our defense, especially when our offense wasn't clicking the way we wanted," Beard said. "We relied on our defense to get us through."

The Big East leads all conferences with four teams still playing, Villanova being the fourth to advance. The Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Big Ten each has three teams.

East

At Manhattan, Kan.

Notre Dame 59, Kansas State 53

Notre Dame ended Kansas State's 22-game home winning streak by holding the Wildcats (29-5) well below their 75-point scoring average. Freshman Megan Duffy made two key 3-pointers in the second half and four free throws in the final 1:01. Laurie Koehn led Kansas State with 23 points.

At Storrs, Conn.

Connecticut 81, TCU 66

Connecticut trailed much of the first half and was down by two at halftime. But Taurasi scored 10 points as UConn opened the second half with an 18-2 run and TCU never recovered. Sandora Irvin led TCU (20-14) with 19 points.

Mideast

At State College, Pa.

Penn State 77, South Carolina 67

The duel between Mazzante and South Carolina's big scorer, Jocelyn Penn, never developed. Penn finished with 21 points, but most came when the game was out of reach. Cristina Ciocan had 14 points for South Carolina (23-8). Tanisha Wright scored 16 for Penn State.

At Norman, Okla.

Villanova 70, George Washington 57

Katie Davis scored 24 points and Trish Juhline had 14 of her 16 in the second half as Villanova reached the round of 16 for the first time in seven NCAA tournament appearances. The Wildcats hit six 3s in a span of 4 1/2 minutes in the second half to take control against the Colonials (25-7), who got 21 points from Ugo Oha.

Midwest

At Raleigh, N.C.

Duke 65, Utah 54

Duke reached the round of 16 for the sixth straight year by beating Utah, one of the nation's top defensive teams, at its own game. The Blue Devils converted 13 turnovers into 22 points and held the Utes (24-7) without a field goal for 7 1/2 minutes in the second half. Kim Smith led Utah with 20 points.

At Lubbock, Texas

Texas Tech 72, UC Santa Barbara 68

The Lady Raiders had trouble putting the Gauchos (27-5) away after building a 15-point lead. UC Santa Barbara rallied to a tie at 50 and it was back and forth the rest of the way. Lindsay Taylor led the Gauchos with 26 points, and Jia Perkins led Tech with 23.

West

At Cincinnati, Ohio

Texas 67, Arkansas 50

Heather Schreiber scored 20 points and Stacy Stephens added 16 points and 14 rebounds as Texas won its 15th straight. Shameka Christon scored 16 for Arkansas (22-11) in the matchup of rivals from the old Southwest Conference.

At Ruston, La.

Louisiana Tech 74, Ohio State 61

Cheryl Ford's 25 points and 15 rebounds helped Louisiana Tech extend the nation's longest winning streak to 29. The Lady Techsters had only seven players after coach Kurt Budke dismissed junior center Sultra Harding for conduct detrimental to the team. DiDi Reynolds led Ohio State (22-10) with 16 points.

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