Minnesota 58

(25-9, 9-7 Big Ten)

Connecticut 67

(26-4, 14-2 Big East)

    9:30 PM ET, April 4, 2004

    Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

    1 2 T
    MINN 29 2958
    CONN 37 3067

    Top Performers

    Minnesota: J. McCarville 18 Pts, 7 Reb

    Connecticut: D. Taurasi 18 Pts, 7 Reb

    Taurasi scores 18, displays all-around game

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The buzzer sounded and Diana Taurasi smiled, then slapped hands with teammate Ann Strother.

    They could breathe a little easier, having just helped Connecticut fight off a gutsy Minnesota team to keep the Huskies on track for a third straight NCAA title.

    And their opponent? None other than Tennessee -- again.

    UConn Gets Defensive
    Ann MeyersFrom the start, UConn's defense was the difference. The Huskies got Janel McCarville off the boards, and early on the Minnesota post was playing at the top of the key a lot on offense. McCarville entered the game averaging a tournament-best 17 rebounds, but only grabbed three in the first half and finished with seven, 10 below that average. Obviously, UConn's ability to keep her off the boards was huge.

    The Huskies overall defense really set the tone. They played man, then switched to a 2-3 matchup, and at one time even appeared to be playing a box-and-one. As a result, Minnesota got really disoriented in its halfcourt game. Lindsay Whalen struggled to make things happen. She passed the ball well (seven assists), but also had five turnovers.

    Diana Taurasi had a great game and set up her teammates. But the Huskies had a lot of players step up. Maria Conlon (10 points, 4-for-7 from the field) and Ann Strother (nine points, 4-for-7) stepped up and hit shots. Ashley Battle (eight points) and Willnett Crockett (nine points), especially, were big off the bench.
    -- ESPN analyst Ann Meyers

    With aggressive rebounding and tenacious defense against Minnesota stars Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville, Connecticut beat the Gophers 67-58 in the semifinals Sunday night.

    "They weren't going to give up," Taurasi said. "They made it this far and they were going to fight and claw until the last seconds. And they kept making big plays, big shots and fortunately, we had the response every single time."

    The victory keeps alive the possibility of the first championship double for a school. UConn will play Georgia Tech for the men's title Monday night.

    And the women? Yet another showdown Tuesday night with the six-time champion Lady Vols, their second straight meeting in the finals and fourth since 1995. Connecticut won the three previous times, including a 73-68 victory last year Atlanta.

    Tennessee is the only school with three straight national championships, winning from 1996-98.

    "It never gets old," Connecticut's Jessica Moore said. "UConn. Tennessee. It is women's basketball in a nutshell. We are the most popular teams in the country, and I'm sure it will give ESPN some good ratings."

    Sunday night's game was worth watching, too -- two teams throwing their best at each other for 40 minutes.

    Taurasi led UConn (30-4) with 18 points despite making just six of 17 shots. She also made the pass that led to one of the game's biggest baskets, then punctuated the victory by swatting away Shannon Schonrock's 3-point shot in the final seconds.

    The Huskies recovered the ball and Taurasi dribbled out the clock while the Minnesota players stood helpless and dejected as the seconds ticked away.

    UConn or Tennessee?
    Huskies or Lady Vols? Pat or Geno? Who will cut down the nets? Cast your vote now!

    "We didn't want our season to be over," McCarville said. "We were going to go down fighting to the end."

    Minnesota (25-9) made a remarkable tournament run after Whalen returned from a broken right hand that sidelined her for the final seven regular-season games.

    The Gophers earned their first Final Four trip as the No. 7 seed in the Mideast, knocking off the teams seeded first, second and third to get to New Orleans and giving hundreds of crimson and gold-clad fans an excuse to party on Bourbon Street.

    But Connecticut plays at a different level in the NCAA tournament, and the Gophers fell short of what would have been their biggest upset. But they sure made it interesting.

    Whalen, who plays like a windup toy that never runs down, and McCarville kept the Gophers threatening. They'd cut the lead to two or three, only to see UConn pull away. Then they'd creep close again and Connecticut would open it back up.

    "Lindsay Whalen is as good a player as I've had the pleasure of playing against," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And Janel McCarville is one of the toughest kids in America. To beat them today is as gratifying as anything that we have ever done."

    Minnesota never did get the lead in the second half, but the Gophers had their chances after Kelly Roysland scored on a baseline drive to cut their deficit to 58-55 with 5:50 left.

    However, they missed shots on three straight possessions and Strother nailed a 3 from the left corner. Taurasi then came through with her third and final assist.

    She faked a shot at the top of the key and whipped the ball to Willnett Crockett, who banked in a layup to make it 63-55 with 2:36 to play.

    It was all but over after Taurasi and Ashley Battle each made two free throws in the final minute. Taurasi finished it off with her block.

    "I think we showed we belong here as a team and made a name for ourselves," Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. "It just wasn't our night on rebounds and getting some loose balls and hitting that key shot we needed."

    Maria Conlon added 10 points for Connecticut and helped frustrate Minnesota by tipping away passes and making herself a general pest on defense.

    Five other UConn players scored from six to nine points and the Huskies came up with 12 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 points.

    "This team has been like this the whole year -- people step up when they need to make plays," Taurasi said. "That's the confidence we have in each other. We don't have to have someone get 40 every night to win."

    McCarville wasn't able to dominate the game the way she did in the Gophers' run to the Final Four, but she was still tough to handle, finishing with 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting. She also had seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.

    Connecticut was able to limit Whalen's shots -- she was 3-for-11 in scoring 11 points -- but she had seven assists and forced defenders to chase her all over the floor. Jamie Broback scored 10 for the Gophers, who led only once.

    That was when Whalen fed McCarville for a layup that made it 9-8, but the lead lasted just 29 seconds. Jessica Moore got a bucket on a pass from Barbara Turner and the Huskies were off on a 10-0 run that put them ahead to stay.

    But, as it turned out, not out of danger.

    "We just battled back the whole game pretty much and you have to give UConn credit," Whalen said. "When they came down and they were up two and they got an offensive rebound and they got a score, that's what championship teams do."

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 58 67
    FG Made-Attempted 22-50 (.440) 26-55 (.473)
    3P Made-Attempted 6-17 (.353) 5-15 (.333)
    FT Made-Attempted 8-12 (.667) 10-12 (.833)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 13 (0/0) 12 (0/0)

    Game Leaders

    PointsJ. McCarville 18D. Taurasi 18
    ReboundsJ. McCarville 7D. Taurasi 7


    » Apr 4, 2004 @CONN 67, MINN 58Recap | Box Score