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Huskies Beat Feisty Gauchos

Connecticut wins a defensive battle with 11th-seeded UC Santa Barbara, 63-55. Taurasi contributes clutch shooting.

March 28, 2004|From Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — Having Diana Taurasi isn't the only thing that separates Connecticut from just about every other team.

The Huskies' defense is downright nasty, and that's what saved them from a stunning upset Saturday.

Connecticut needed every stop it could muster, plus some clutch shooting from Taurasi, to beat feisty UC Santa Barbara, 63-55, and advance to the East Regional final against top-seeded Penn State on Monday night.

"I thought both teams were tremendous on defense," Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. "That was as hard as anybody has played against us and as well. And I thought we were just as good. That's probably why we're both here. Teams that don't play good defense are not playing at this point."

Second-seeded Connecticut (28-4), seeking its fourth national championship in five years, held UC Santa Barbara to 32% shooting and frustrated Lindsay Taylor, the Gauchos' 6-foot-8 center.

That enabled the Huskies to survive 17 turnovers and their 39.6% shooting.

Taurasi led Connecticut with 21 points and became the school's all-time leader in assists. Barbara Turner added 13 points, while Jessica Moore had 10 points and 10 rebounds and led the defensive effort against Taylor.

"That was the key to the game, the fact that we were able to contain her on the inside," Turner said. "Because that forced them to make a lot of plays on the outside."

Connecticut kept defenders on Taylor and forced her into tough shots. She managed five points on two-for-11 shooting.

"They defended me the same way all the other teams have. I'm used to that," Taylor said. "I got the ball in the post where I wanted it. I just didn't make the most of my shots. I don't think they did anything special to defend me. It was all my fault."

April McDivitt, who played her first three seasons at Tennessee, led UC Santa Barbara with 20 points and kept the 11th-seeded Gauchos (27-7) threatening until the final minute.

Kristen Mann scored 12 for UC Santa Barbara, which made 11 steals but couldn't make the shots it needed to pull ahead in the second half.

Taurasi, on the other hand, did make those shots, coming through to keep the Gauchos at bay down the stretch. She also had five rebounds and her four assists gave her 640, breaking Jennifer Rizzotti's record of 637.

"It's been a long season and we've been in that situation a couple of times," Taurasi said.

Connecticut did not lead by double digits until Ashley Battle's two free throws made it 45-34 with 9:16 left. Even then, the Gauchos never let Connecticut or their boisterous fans at the Hartford Civic Center relax.

UC Santa Barbara reached the round of 16 for the first time but did not seem intimidated by the setting, the heavily partisan Connecticut crowd of 14,253 or the "UConn" across the white jerseys of the opponent.

"I know a lot of people were expecting UConn to blow us out," Mann said. "Hopefully, we showed everybody we needed to be respected."

The Gauchos certainly had it from Auriemma. "We had to bring out some old stuff and even invent some things, because it was so hard to get the shots we wanted to get," he said.

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