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Connecticut Women Rule

College basketball: A 71-52 rout of Tennessee in NCAA final leaves no doubt.

April 03, 2000|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Kelly Schumacher, a player no one figured to make the difference in the NCAA women's basketball championship game, was all of that in Connecticut's 71-52 demolition of Tennessee on Sunday night.

The 6-foot-5 junior from Canada set the tone Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma wanted, swallowing up Tennessee's Michelle Snow and Semeka Randall, registering an NCAA title-game record of nine blocked shots and enabling her team to build a big lead early. Then she helped them keep it in the second half.

"Tennessee is the kind of team that relies a lot on offensive rebounding, and she disrupted that to a large extent," Auriemma said. So Connecticut (36-1) earned a bookend NCAA trophy to go with its 35-0 title team of 1995.

And no, there will be no comparisons.

"I don't like to compare teams," Auriemma said.

"The '95 club was a great team, so is this one. The '95 team was primarily a seven-player team, this one has a lot more. But this team goes down as a great team."

Tennessee imploded in a 26-turnover night, the most in championship-game history. But there were indications early Sunday this wasn't going to be Tennessee's day.

At a morning walk-through practice, Kristen "Ace" Clement, who had begun the season as Tennessee's starting point guard before shifting at midseason to starting off guard, sprained an ankle and didn't play.

But in the aftermath, not even Summitt would say Clement could have made a difference.

From the opening minutes, when the Huskies ran off to a 9-2 lead before a capacity crowd of 20,060 at First Union Center, it was a mismatch.

The Goliath-versus-Goliath matchup so many had anticipated between the two reigning powers in the women's game didn't play out. Connecticut was infinitely better.

Connecticut's Shea Ralph, voted the game's most outstanding player, scored 15 points and had seven assists but she was only one of many to contribute for the Huskies.

Tennessee freshman point guard Kara Lawson, who was brilliant (19 points) in the semifinals Friday against Rutgers, was ordinary Sunday night, when Ralph and Sue Bird limited her to six points (on three-for-13 shooting) in 35 minutes.

"They played great defense on all of us, not just me," Lawson said. "That, plus I lost my composure out there a couple times."

Connecticut played eight players with 11 or more minutes. "It seemed like they were putting in a fresh body ever minute-and-a-half," said Tennessee All-American Tamika Catchings, who had a game-high 16 points but added a team-high seven turnovers.

It ended Tennessee's 20-game win streak and denied Summitt a seventh national championship. And there was a certain indignity to it too. With 9:30 left, Catchings, chasing a loose ball, ran into Summitt, who was kneeling on the sideline and knocked her sprawling.

"We got ourselves into a situation tonight where UConn was playing us very aggressively and we needed great guard play and we didn't get it," Summitt said.

"We quick-shot too much early in the game and UConn really hurt us on some basic stuff, like give-and-gos, backdoor traps--it was an extremely disappointing performance on our part. And most disappointing to me was that half those 26 turnovers came from our juniors and seniors."

Connecticut finished the season with a 16-game win streak.

For once, Auriemma was at a loss for words. For a moment.

"This really is an indescribable feeling," he said.

"Every day, at every practice, you tell your kids to pretend every pass, every rebound is to win the national championship--and then that's just how they played the game.

"And to win the championship against a team with the tradition Tennessee has, it makes it all the more worthwhile."

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