Huskies hold off Vols for hoops title sweep
New Orleans ? As far as Connecticut fans are concerned, as well as millions of other basketball followers, “dynasty” is spelled “T-A-U-R-A-S-I.”
Diana Taurasi, the Huskies’ peerless scorer, playmaker and leader, was tough when necessary Tuesday night, leading UConn to its third straight NCAA women’s championship with a 70-61 victory over Tennessee.
The hard-fought victory made Connecticut the first school to win both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments in the same season. The Husky men beat Georgia Tech for their championship Monday.
Taurasi led the Huskies with 17 points. She hit six of 11 shots, including three of seven from three-point range. Several of her baskets came when the Vols were cutting into UConn’s lead.
But this was neither a one-woman show nor an easy victory. Ann Strother and Jessica Moore each scored 14 for UConn. Barbara Turner and Moore had nine rebounds apiece. And Tennessee, down 30-13 after 14 minutes fought back with an 11-0 run to close to 30-24 at the half and battled to the end.
“These guys are amazing,” Taurasi said of her teammates. “Anything you ask them to do, they’ll do it. When people think of Connecticut basketball, they think domination.”
Taurasi, named MVP of the Final Four, then celebrated by booting a basketball soccer-style into the capacity crowd of 18,211.
“If Diana did not play the game the way she does, there is no way her teammates would have been able to do what they did tonight,” UConn coach Gino Auriemma said.
Coach Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols didn’t give up, using their rebounding edge to keep the game close. Shanna Zolman, who led all scorers with 19 points, led a rally that cut the lead to 50-48 after Brittany Jackson hit a three-pointer with 10 minutes left.
Moore, Strother and Taurasi then slowly built back the lead.
The victory produced staggering statistics that back up Taurasi’s contention about Husky domination.
- UConn improved to 5-0 in NCAA championship games, 4-0 against Tennessee. Only Tennessee has more titles with six, and it also is the only other school with three straight–1996, ’97 and ’98.
- UConn won its 18th straight NCAA playoff game and improved to 13-6 all-time vs. Tennessee.
- UConn has a 98-5 record in its last 103 games and a 176-9 record since the start of the 1999-2000 season.
“It wasn’t easy, but it showed we have character,” Taurasi said. “It’s amazing. This isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone associated with our program and our families and fans.”
Auriemma and Summitt, rumored to be feuding, smiled and talked briefly before the game. They embraced immediately after the game.
“They’re tough kids, too,” Auriemma said of the Vols. “I have so much respect for Pat’s program. What I said to her is personal, but believe me it is all good. To win four of our five national titles against Tennessee … let’s just say we have an awful lot of mutual respect.”
Though disappointed, Summitt wasn’t down on her team.
“I’m proud of this team,” she said. “I told them I hope they will remember the great season and the great run they made.
“We got down 17 and we cut it to two. I thought there was a series in the second half when they went inside to their post game and scored eight in a row. I thought that was the turning points.”
Turner came out on fire to start the game. She made six of UConn’s first 10 points, including a three-point shot that put the Huskies ahead 10-6.
Connecticut then opened an accurate barrage from three-point range. Ashley Battle, Marie Conlon, Taurasi and Strother each connected from behind the arc, and UConn expanded its lead to 30-13 after 14 minutes.
The Vols clearly were on the ropes. But they fought their way back by going on an 11-0 run that pulled them to within six points, 30-24 at the half. Shyra Ely and Ashley Robinson dominated rebounding, helping the Vols to a 22-13 halftime rebounding edge, and Zolman knocked down a three in the drive.
The Huskies led at the half on the strength of their outside shooting. They made five three-pointers. Tennessee sank only one three, but outscored UConn 16-6 in the paint.