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College basketball

Women: UConn makes Final Four for fifth straight season

By Wire services
Published March 30, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. - Diana Taurasi turned in one last stellar performance in front of the home fans and helped Connecticut add one more sterling accomplishment to its already glittering legacy.

Taurasi scored 27, and Connecticut blew open the game in the second half to beat Penn State 66-49 Monday night and earn an unprecedented fifth straight trip to the women's Final Four.

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

Barbara Turner matched Taurasi almost shot for shot in the East Region final and added 26 points as the Huskies (29-4) stayed 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 play the winner of tonight's Duke-Minnesota game in the national semifinals in New Orleans on Sunday night. Duke would have teams in both Final Fours if the Blue Devils win that game.

When it was over, Taurasi didn't even bother donning her Final Four cap, instead flinging it into the stands.

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 Lions got the lead down to nine before Turner and Taurasi combined for nine straight points to return control 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.

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.

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.

"This was not a fun way to end the season," Penn State coach Rene Portland said.

[Last modified March 30, 2004, 01:35:43]


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