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UConn earns fifth straight trip to Final Four

3/30/2004

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.