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Business as usual

No. 1 UConn tops No. 8 Rutgers for 7th straight title

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Posted: Wednesday March 08, 2000 12:09 AM

  Connecticut's Stacy Hansmyer (left), Shea Ralph (center) and Paige Sauer hold up the Big East championship trophy. AP

STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Rutgers' defense is the best in the Big East, but the Scarlet Knights had no answers for top-ranked Connecticut in the final 20 minutes of the tournament championship.

The Huskies (30-1) overcame spotty shooting in the first half with 85 percent accuracy in the second to beat Rutgers 79-59 for their seventh straight tournament title.

"I don't even think we shoot 85 percent in warmups," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.

The Scarlet Knights (22-7) have held opponents to just under 54 points and appeared to have the Huskies in check in the first half. Connecticut had a 28-22 lead at the break, shooting 29 percent. In their last meeting on Feb. 12, Connecticut escaped with a 49-45 victory, a season low for the Huskies.

"Rutgers is such a tough team to play. They make you want to hurry up and take the first open shot," Auriemma said. At halftime, "we talked about making a couple of passes just to move the defense."

With room to operate, Connecticut got its uptempo game untracked and cured its shooting woes with an opening 12-2 burst, hitting 5-of-6 in the first five minutes. Rutgers was 1-of-5 in the same span and had four turnovers.

Sophomore Sue Bird had five of her 18 points in the run. Svetlana Abrosimova, scoreless in the first half, had eight of her 12 in the first six minutes and by then the Huskies had opened up a 19-point lead at 45-26.

Connecticut also had more success inside, outscoring Rutgers 22-10 in the post in the second half.

"It's hard to shoot 85 percent even if you weren't guarding them," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "It looks like we didn't do anything. They treated us like every other common team they've played."

It was only the second appearance in the title game for the Scarlet Knights, who lost the 1998 final to Connecticut 67-58. This victory gave Connecticut a three-game sweep over Rutgers this season.

Bird hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds gone in the first half to kick off a 7-2 run, but neither team settled into an offensive flow in the half.

Rutgers shot 28 percent, hitting 9-of-32. Connecticut didn't fare much better, hitting 8-of-27, but held onto the lead with 10-of-14 foul shooting.

The physical play resulted in a combined 18 fouls in the half. Tamika Williams, the tournament MVP, made 8-of-12 free throws. And for nearly 10 minutes, that was all of Connecticut's offense. Swin Cash's layup at 15:12 was the last field goal until Williams' layup with 5:20 left. In between, the Huskies were 7-of-8 from the line.

Connecticut has won 10 regular-season titles and nine tournament championships since the 1988-89 season. The Huskies' 19 titles are the most in the country by any women's or men's program. Georgetown's men are second with 13.

Rutgers reached the final with wins over Villanova and Notre Dame. Connecticut advanced by beating St. John's and Boston College.

Connecticut shut down Shawnetta Stewart by rotating six defenders on the Knights' scoring leader. Stewart was held to nine points, six below her average.

"She's really tough to guard. It seems like everybody took turns," Auriemma said. "We were hoping to get her out of her rhythm."

Swin Cash had 13 points and nine rebounds for Connecticut, which dominated the boards 41-27.

The Connecticut bench accounted for 20 points and 21 rebounds.

Williams, a reserve forward, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. She had 40 points in the tournament.

"The big thing was for me to rebound," Williams said. "I just try to come off the bench and do something quick."

Tasha Pointer and Usha Gilmore had 13 points apiece for Rutgers.

"We prepared for Connecticut," Pointer said. "Not any one player; it's the team that kills you."

 
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