UConn women make it a national title sweepn

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

NEW ORLEANS - Basketball net dangling around her neck, Diana Taurasi walked into the locker room and started writing on a board meant for diagraming plays.

"3-peat," she wrote, then jammed her marker into the board as she inscribed a check mark next to it.

Through high school and her freshman year at Connecticut, Taurasi was all about scoring until playing one of her worst games in her Final Four debut. Ever since, she's been all about championships.

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Her 17 points only marginally led four UConn players in double figures in the Huskies' 70-61 title victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night. But no one questioned her being named the Final Four's most outstanding player for a second straight year.

Not even opposing coach Pat Summitt.

"She's one of the best, one of the most skilled offensive players that we have faced - skilled in terms of making everybody else better with her passing … the versatility in her game is just tremendous whether she's posting up, taking you off the dribble or coming off screens and knocking down NBA 3s," Summitt said. "Obviously, she's a tough competitor and steps up and makes big plays under pressure - one of the best that we have gone against in my career."

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma knew Diana Taurasi could score when he recruited her, but had little idea of her leadership skills.

"She didn't play on championship teams," Auriemma recalled of Taurasi's high school days. "You saw the competitiveness and you saw the drive she had, but it was a little misguided."

Now, Auriemma said, "she just turns it on like no one I've ever seen. She's just different."

The low moment of Taurasi's career came early.

She went 1-for-15 in a national semifinal loss to Notre Dame in 2001. That performance turned out to be an anomaly - the only NCAA tournament loss she would ever experience.

"Everything comes full circle - freshman year was a disaster, being in the biggest game of my career and playing horrible," Taurasi said. "And I didn't feel bad for myself, but more for my teammates, for the seniors that went out that year."

Taurasi and her teammates were lying on the floor of the locker room crying after that game, saying they never wanted to feel that way again, senior guard Maria Conlon recalled.

They never did.

Taurasi ended up proving herself as a big-game performer many times over, and the crowd could only laugh when Auriemma said the only thing he'd remember about her career was two missed free throws - meaningless ones - in the last 1:30 of the final.

The coach then got serious.

"If it wasn't for the way she is, the way she plays, the way she comes to practice and the kind of teammate she is, there's no way the rest of her teammates would have been able to do what they did tonight," he said.

Connecticut ended up going 22-1 in tournament games during Taurasi's career.

She didn't score at will Tuesday night, but the shots she made were timely.

After Tennessee whittled a 17-point deficit down to three, UConn responded with a 7-0 run capped by the last of Taurasi's three 3-pointers with 13:08 left.

When the Lady Vols got back within six with just under five minutes left, Taurasi drove along the baseline and tossed in a double-pump shot off the glass. She closed out her scoring by hitting both ends of 1-and-1 free throws to give UConn a 64-57 lead with 2:22 to go.

Taurasi averaged 19.8 points in the NCAA tournament. She averaged 15 points a game over her career, during which UConn went 139-8 with a record 70 straight victories after the lone Final Four loss.

"It's been an unbelievable ride, the last four years - you just don't expect that when you come into a program," Taurasi said. "You want to be successful and expect do well, but to win three national championships … it means a lot."