(2) Connecticut 66

(29-4, 14-2 Big East)

(7) Penn State 49

(28-6, 15-1 Big Ten)

    7:00 PM ET, March 29, 2004

    XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut

    1 2 T
    #2CONN 24 4266
    #7PSU 13 3649

    Top Performers

    Connecticut: D. Taurasi 27 Pts, 5 Reb

    Penn State: T. Wright 16 Pts, 1 Reb

    UConn earns fifth straight trip to Final Four

    HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Diana Taurasi has been through this so often she didn't even bother with the cap, instead just flinging it into the stands.

    Let some happy Connecticut fan wear it. Taurasi had just helped Connecticut earn an unprecedented fifth straight trip to the Final Four and she didn't need any souvenirs.

    Mon., March 29
    From the start of the game, all the energy was with UConn. Against Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, Penn State's offense showed signs of fatigue, and the Lady Lions, who have travelled from Indianapolis to Blacksburg, Va., to Hartford, Conn., for its tournament games, appeared sluggish again early on Monday.

    It wasn't that Penn State didn't get some of the looks it wanted.But the Lady Lions continuously dawdled in setting up their offense, and often didn't start running the offense until 10 or so seconds were left on the shot clock. Also, they weren't getting second chances.

    A lot of the credit goes to Connecticut, which had clearly scouted Penn State well. The Huskies knew each Lions' individual strengths and how to neutralize a good offensive team. Barbara Turner stepped up to give scoring help to Diana Taurasi, and that was a lethal combination for Penn State.

    The feeling alone was enough.

    Taurasi scored 27 points in her last game in front of the home fans and Connecticut blew the game open in the second half to beat Penn State 66-49 Monday night in the East Regional final.

    "It's just unbelievable, really," said Taurasi, the regional MVP. "To try to put it into words kind of takes away from it."

    Taurasi did enough talking with her play, as did teammate Barbara Turner, who scored 26 points. Together, they kept the Huskies (29-4) in the running for a third straight national championship and fourth in five years.

    Only Tennessee has won three in a row, from 1996 through 1998.

    "This is the way it should be," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "To me, D needs to be in the Final Four her senior year. Her senior year should not end in any other way, shape or form without her being in the Final Four."

    It will be a Connecticut double at the Final Four because the men's team qualified on Saturday, making UConn the fifth school to send both teams in the same year.

    The women will play the winner of Tuesday night's Duke-Minnesota game in the national semifinals in New Orleans next Sunday night. Duke would have teams in both Final Fours if the Blue Devils win that game.

    "I just think we were tougher," Taurasi said. "We outrebounded them, we made more plays. When you get this far, it's just a matter who has the tougher team and that was us tonight."

    Top-seeded Penn State (28-6), seeking its second Final Four trip, buckled under Connecticut's intense defensive pressure in the first half, but recovered to make a run at the second-seeded Huskies after they opened a 21-point lead midway through the second half.

    The Lady Lions got the lead down to nine before Turner and Taurasi combined for nine straight points to return the momentum to UConn, which had the backing of a boisterous crowd at its second home, the Hartford Civic Center.

    While Taurasi is a two-time All-American, Turner looked the part in this one, shooting 8-for-11 and adding six rebounds and three assists. She was 4-for-5 from 3-point range, including one she banked in from the top of the key in the first half.

    "That was the biggest problem we had. We had no answer for (Turner)," Penn State coach Rene Portland said. "When she hit the two 3s on Jess Brungo in the first half, there was an excitement for their team. She had a very special night on a night that her team needed her to have a special night."

    Tanisha Wright led Penn State with 16 points and All-American Kelly Mazzante finished with 14 after scoring only two in the first half. Mazzante, the Big Ten's career scoring leader, missed eight of her first nine shots and finished 5-for-17.

    Penn State was 6-for-30 in the first half and shot 28 percent for the game.

    "They had a lot of great athletes right on me. They really were tight on me," Mazzante said. "It was their game plan to hit all of us coming across the lane. It was just something I knew was going to happen. I was ready for it."

    Still, it took the Lady Lions out of their game and once UConn got untracked offensively, it was over.

    "This was not a fun way to end the season," Portland said.

    Connecticut led 21-13 after the choppy opening half, then got it going in the first few minutes of the second half. Turner had a 3-pointer, two three-point plays and two free throws in a 16-6 run that made it 37-19.

    Taurasi hit a fadeaway for a 43-22 lead and Ashley Battle's layup made it 47-26 with 11:57 remaining. Penn State then managed its only threat, drawing to 51-42 when Mazzante converted a three-point play off a leaning shot.

    But Taurasi hit a wide-open 3 from the left corner after a UConn timeout and the Huskies soon were back in control

    "That's a deadly answer they have to your momentum," Portland said.

    Connecticut had plenty of rough moments offensively in the first half, but its defense never wavered. The highlight for the Huskies was Turner throwing up a shot from the top of the key to beat the shot clock and watching the ball bank in.

    That came during a 10-0 run that broke an 11-all tie and put Connecticut ahead to stay.

    "It was just one of the those plays," Turner said. "It was kind of a desperation shot. It was lucky."

    Lucky or not, the Huskies are moving on. Next stop: the Big Easy.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 66 49
    FG Made-Attempted 21-42 (.500) 16-57 (.281)
    3P Made-Attempted 6-18 (.333) 5-20 (.250)
    FT Made-Attempted 18-26 (.692) 12-15 (.800)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 13 (0/0) 19 (0/0)

    Game Leaders

    PointsD. Taurasi 27T. Wright 16
    ReboundsB. Turner 8J. Brungo 5


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