HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Having Diana Taurasi isn't the only thing
that separates Connecticut from just about every other team.
The Huskies' defense is downright nasty and that's what saved
them from a stunning upset on Saturday.
Connecticut needed every stop it could muster, plus some clutch
shooting from Taurasi, to beat feisty UC Santa Barbara 63-55 and
advance to the East Regional final against top-seeded Penn State on
"I thought both teams were tremendous on defense," UConn coach
Geno Auriemma said. "That was as hard as anybody has played
against us and as well. And I thought we were just as good. That's
probably why we're both here. Teams that don't play good defense
are not playing at this point."
Second-seeded Connecticut (28-4), seeking its fourth national
championship in five years, held UCSB to 32 percent shooting and
frustrated Lindsay Taylor, the Gauchos' 6-foot-8 center.
That enabled the Huskies to survive 17 turnovers and their own
39.6 percent shooting.
Taurasi led UConn with 21 points and became the school's career
leader in assists. Barbara Turner added 13 points, while Jessica
Moore had 10 points and 10 rebounds and led the defensive effort
"That was the key to the game, the fact that we were able to
contain her on the inside," Turner said. "Because that forced
them to make a lot of plays on the outside."
UConn kept bodies on Taylor throughout the game and forced her
into tough shots. She managed just five points on 2-for-11
"They defended me the same way all the other teams have. I'm
used to that," Taylor said. "I got the ball in the post where I
wanted it. I just didn't make the most of my shots. I don't think
they did anything special to defend me. It was all my fault."
April McDivitt, who played her first three seasons at Tennessee,
led Santa Barbara with 20 points and kept the 11th-seeded Gauchos
(27-7) threatening until the final minute.
Kristen Mann scored 12 for UCSB, which made 11 steals but simply
couldn't hit the shots it needed to pull ahead in the second half.
Taurasi, on the other hand, did make those shots, coming through
to keep the Gauchos at bay down the stretch. She also had five
rebounds and her four assists gave her 640, breaking Jennifer
Rizzotti's record of 637.
"It's been a long season and we've been in that situation a
couple of times," Taurasi said. "After you're in it, you don't
start to panic. We had to get a couple of inbounds passes in, knock
down (shots) and the rest will take care of itself."
Connecticut did not lead by double digits until Ashley Battle's
two free throws made it 45-34 with 9:16 left. Even then, the
Gauchos never let UConn or their boisterous fans at the Hartford
Civic Center relax.
McDivitt's line-drive 3-pointer from the top of the key pulled
UCSB to 45-39 with 7:28 to play, plenty of time to keep hacking
away at the lead. But Taurasi hit a baseline jumper, then nailed a
turnaround shot to put the Huskies back up by 10.
Taylor's basket inside cut the lead to 51-44, and the Gauchos
had a chance to draw even closer after Moore missed the front end
of a one-and-one. But Taurasi stole the ball from McDivitt to end
that threat, then came around a screen and hit a fadeaway from 17
feet to make it 53-44 with 1:18 remaining.
"We defended that just textbook and she faded and just drained
it," UCSB coach Mark French said. "That's what good players do."
McDivitt made one last 3, her fifth of the game, to get the
Gauchos within six, but Connecticut finished it off with free
throws and the Husky faithful finally could relax and celebrate.
McDivitt fouled out with three seconds left and received a warm
UCSB reached the round of 16 for the first time, but did not
seem the least bit intimidated by the setting, the heavily partisan
Connecticut crowd of 14,253 or the "UConn" across the white
jerseys of the opponent.
The Gauchos held a one- or two-point lead five times in the
first half and it was tied at 22 after McDivitt made a free throw
with 5:35 left. But UConn scored the final six points of the half
for a 28-22 lead and UCSB was never ahead again.
"I know a lot of people were expecting UConn to blow us out,"
Mann said. "Hopefully, we showed everybody we needed to be
They certainly had it from Auriemma.
"We had to bring out some old stuff and even invent some
things, because it was so hard to get the shots we wanted to get,"
he said. "All the credit goes to them."