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Huskies will play UC Santa Barbara

3/24/2004

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut gave Geno Auriemma a
defensive gem.

The second-seeded Huskies helped their coach celebrate his 50th
birthday Tuesday night with a 79-53 win over Auburn in the second
round of the East Regional.

UConn clamped down hard on the Tigers and went on a 30-4 run in
the second half to win going away. All of Auburn's points during
that stretch came from the foul line.

"In so far the biggest game of the season, I thought we did the
best job we've had all season," Auriemma said. "I'm really proud
of them. Tonight was one of those nights where everything we
planned came to fruition and the players made it happen."

Senior All-American Diana Taurasi made five 3-pointers to lead
UConn (27-4) with 17 points. The Huskies made a season-high 14
3-pointers, the most Auburn has given up all year.

UConn was just as potent defensively. When Auburn's open looks
disappeared, so did its offense. The seventh-seeded Tigers (22-9)
missed their first 17 shots in the second half. Le'Coe Willingham
scored Auburn's first basket with 3:49 left.

"They just went into another level of defense. They got into
our shots," Willingham said. "They rattled us and we didn't
recover."

The two-time defending champions advanced to the third round of
the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight year and will play UC
Santa Barbara on Saturday. The Gauchos advanced Monday with a 56-52
win over Houston.

UConn had the benefit of the crowd all night long. Most of the
9,900 that packed the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport were
Huskies fans. The game was played about an hour from Hartford,
UConn's second home court and the site of this weekend's East
Regional semifinals and final. During the first timeout, several
stood up with cards spelling out "Happy 50th Birthday Geno."

Taurasi, who won her second straight Naismith Award as the
country's top player Tuesday, shot 5-of-9 from 3-point range and
finished with seven assists. She's already the school's career
3-point leader and is two assists from breaking the assist mark of
637, held by Jennifer Rizzotti.

Taurasi said she and her teammates communicated a lot better in
the second half on their coverages.

"In the first half, we really were not talking that much and a
couple of times we got confused on what defense we were in,"
Taurasi said. "The key was keeping (Willingham) off the block."

Willingham led Auburn with 16 points, and Louise Emeagi added
12.

Ann Strother finished with 16 points for UConn. She and Maria
Conlon, who had 12 points, made four 3-pointers each.

The Huskies shot 64 percent in the first half, including eight
3-pointers, and led by as many as 12. Ashley Battle's breakaway
layup with 9:06 left gave UConn a 29-17 lead.

But the Huskies stumbled for the next three minutes, turning the
ball over four straight times. Auburn capitalized with a 7-0 run
that featured a 3-pointer from Mandisa Stevenson. The teams traded
baskets down the stretch and UConn held a 42-36 lead at the break.

Auburn was making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament
since 2000, but coach Joe Ciampi's squad did have postseason
experience. All nine players were members of last season's WNIT
championship team.

It wasn't enough against UConn, which is trying to become the
first team to reach the Final Four five straight years.

"We played a great team tonight, a team that showed why it was
the defending champion," Ciampi said. "If they play like this
throughout the tournament, great things will happen for them."