2:30 PM ET, March 27, 2004
Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT
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 Monday night."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 against Taylor."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 shooting."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 ovation.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 respected."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."
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