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Archive for Saturday, April 3, 2004

NCAA women’s Final Four

April 3, 2004

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Tennessee vs. LSU

Tennessee (30-3)

Road to the Final Four: beat Colgate, 77-54; beat DePaul, 79-59; beat Baylor, 71-69; beat Stanford, 62-60.

Leaders: This is a team without a marquee player, though Tasha Butts certainly has made a name for herself in the NCAA Tournament with last-second heroics. She hit two free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining to beat Baylor and scored the game-winning basket against Stanford with 1.7 seconds left. Shyra Ely (11.8) has been the top scorer in the tournament and LaToya Davis has picked up her game. She's averaging 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in the tournament and is shooting 54 percent.

Injuries: Point guard Loree Moore suffered a torn knee ligament in a Jan. 24 victory at Duke, forcing the Vols to play the position by committee. They've gone 14-2 since.

Coach: Pat Summitt is in her 15th Final Four seeking her seventh national championship, both tops among Division One coaches. She also has 851 career victories, including 84 in NCAA play. Summitt is known as a stern, no-nonsense coach, but she loosened her team up at the Midwest Regional by making a video of herself spoofing the movie "Mission: Impossible."

Key point: The Vols are survivors. They had 21 regular-season games against teams that reached the tournament and made the plays they needed to escape with the two narrow regional victories. With a third straight Final Four appearance, Butts, Ely, Davis and senior Ashley Robinson have plenty of experience in the spotlight.

LSU (27-7)

Road to the Final Four: beat Austin Peay, 83-66; beat Maryland, 76-61; beat Texas, 71-55; beat Georgia, 62-60.

Leaders: Sophomore Seimone Augustus is the leading scorer in the tournament with a 26.3 average and is coming off two straight 29-point games in the West Regional. Temeka Johnson, a 5-foot-3 guard who darts around the court, has 42 assists in the four games -- five short of the record for the tournament. Wendlyn Jones and Tillie Willis have been strong rebounders in the run to the Final Four, but the Tigers' strength is on the perimeter.

Injuries: Jones (torn ACL in right knee) and center Crystal White (stress fracture) are going full-bore now after missing time earlier in the season.

Coach: Hall of Fame member Sue Gunter has 708 wins, but is in her first Final Four. She has missed much of the ride, however, while battling acute bronchitis. Assistant Pokey Chatman has been coaching the team in games with help from Gunter in some practices and film sessions. Gunter is expected to be at the New Orleans Arena to watch Sunday night's game.

Key point: It could be difficult for Augustus to maintain her torrid pace against a team as sound defensively as Tennessee, but the Tigers need a big game from her. She scored only 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting in an 85-62 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 29. Johnson will challenge the Vols with her quickness, passing and quick hands on defense.

Minnesota vs. UConn

Minnesota (25-8)

Road to the Final Four: beat UCLA, 92-81; beat Kansas State, 80-61; beat Boston College, 76-63; beat Duke, 82-75

Leaders: Lindsay Whalen has demonstrated her value since returning from a broken right hand that sidelined her for the last seven regular-season games. The Gophers went 3-4 in those games. With Whalen back, they knocked off the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Mideast en route to their first Final Four appearance. Center Janel McCarville has been a dominant player on the low block, recording a double-double for points and rebounds in all four tournament games. She had 45 points and 33 rebounds in the two East Regional games alone.

Injuries: Whalen has shown no sign of being hampered by her hand.

Coach: Pam Borton needed just two years to get Minnesota to a place it had never been in women's basketball. She was an assistant at Boston College when she was hired in 2002 to replace Brenda Frese, who was named the national coach of the year and then bolted for Maryland after just one season with the Gophers. Inheriting a solid team, Borton got Minnesota to the Round of 16 for the first time last year and now has gone two steps farther.

Key point: Though beating top-seeded Duke was a huge moment for the program, the Gophers aren't used to being in a game of this magnitude. But they've gained confidence with each tournament victory, and their 13-point win over Boston College was especially significant. If the Minnesota players stay calm against the Huskies early, they could make things interesting.

Connecticut (29-4)

Road to the Final Four: beat Pennsylvania, 91-55; beat Auburn, 79-53; beat UC Santa Barbara, 63-55; beat Penn State, 66-49.

Leaders: There are none bigger than Diana Taurasi, a two-time All-American and the national player of the year last season. Taurasi's scoring slipped during the last half of the regular season, but she has been her usual dynamic self in the tournament. She's averaging 20.8 points in the four games and scored 27 against Penn State. Barbara Turner has become a solid complement to Taurasi and hit Penn State for 26 points.

Injuries: Taurasi has been bumped, elbowed and generally knocked around in the tournament, but she can play through just about anything.

Coach: Geno Auriemma can be brash, cocky, sarcastic and caustic, but his success this decade has been unprecedented. This is his fifth straight Final Four trip with the Huskies, a record for women's basketball, and he's seeking his fourth national title in five years. He's 51-11 in NCAA Tournament games.

Key point: The Huskies have not been a sleek offensive machine, but it usually hasn't mattered because the defense has been so stingy. UConn is holding its tournament opponents to 32.3 percent shooting. Penn State, led by high-scoring Kelly Mazzante, managed only 16 field goals against the Huskies.

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