Defending champion UConn headed to Final Four
Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2001 7:47 AM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Lose a star, plug in another. Win a championship, go after another. The years and players may change, yet it almost wouldn't be a women's Final Four without Connecticut.
Diana Taurasi, a freshman who didn't even start until UConn lost its two returning All-Americans, dominated with her scoring and court savvy as the Huskies rolled into the women's semifinals again with a 67-48 victory against Louisiana Tech on Monday night.
This will be the Huskies' fifth trip to the Final Four under head coach Geno Auriemma since 1991. They won national titles in 1995 and last season.
Taurasi, who combines the discipline that Auriemma demands with a sleek game polished on the Los Angeles playgrounds, had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four assists as the second game of the season between the long-time women's powers turned into a romp.
"I don't know, I've never gotten nervous," said Taurasi, the nation's top high school player a year ago. "I'm just out there playing with four other girls, playing carefree.
"When I was growing up, I never played with girls -- they use to whine all the time -- so I'd just go to the playground and play with the guys."
Taurasi, who had 24 points in Saturday's 72-58 victory against North Carolina State, took over the game late in the first half, keying a half-ending 8-0 run with two driving layups and an assist on Tamika Williams' layup.
Then, after the Lady Techsters made their last run by cutting the lead to nine, Taurasi hit consecutive long 3-pointers to help push the lead back to 17.
"She's really come out of her shell during this tournament, and I love her for it because she's gotten us back to the Final Four," teammate Swin Cash said of Taurasi, who has started only a third of UConn's games yet was chosen as the outstanding player in the Big East tournament and the regional.
Tamika Williams added 18 points and 10 rebounds as the defending national champion Huskies (32-2) opened a 23-10 lead and never were pressed in beating the Lady Techsters (31-5) for the second time this season.
At the end of the game, guard Sue Bird leaped excitedly in the air and the Huskies pulled on their regional championship caps to begin singing -- what else? -- "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
The Huskies, winners of 15 in a row even while losing stars Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph to season-ending injuries, will play Big East rival Notre Dame in the women's Final Four next weekend in St. Louis.
"We're going back to the Final Four and that's hard to do," said Bird, who had nine points and five rebounds. "I think a lot of people didn't believe we could do it when we lost our two All-Americans."
This Eastern Regional final was supposed to be closer -- much closer -- than UConn's 71-55 victory in Ruston, La., but it wasn't, not with Taurasi knocking down 3-pointers, making beautiful entry passes for layups and shutting down Tech off guard Brooke Lassiter.
Lassiter had 19 points in Saturday's 78-67 victory against Missouri but was limited to seven points on three shots and three rebounds, rarely getting an open look or an open lane to the basket.
"Connecticut just plays this game a little better than we do now," head coach Leon Barmore said. "The question all season was where the scoring would come from. Our strength is our inside game, and we went there and we went there, but defensively, they just pushed us off the ball."
Takeisha Lewis, who had 27 points and 17 rebounds Saturday, also was a non-factor against UConn's relentless man-to-man defense, finishing with seven points on 3-of-15 shooting and only four rebounds.
The Lady Techsters' inability to get its stars open shots led them to shoot only 28.6 percent, 16-of-56.
With Connecticut's defense forcing Louisiana Tech into a succession of hurried or off-balance shots, the Huskies went on a 12-0 run to open the 13-point with 7:03 left in the first half.
At that point, the Lady Techsters -- winners of 19 in a row since losing to UConn -- had made only of 4-of-20, and it didn't get much better.
"I thought if we could keep it close to the 10-minute mark we had a chance to pull an upset -- it would have been a great upset -- because they do have a short bench," Barmore said. "So what they did at the end of half was discouraging."
UConn and Louisiana Tech are two of the biggest names in women's
basketball, with a combined four NCAA titles, yet were meeting in
the NCAA tournament for the first time. Auriemma and Louisiana
Tech's Barmore are the only men to coach an NCAA women's