HARTFORD, Conn. — Diana Taurasi, in her last performance before her home fans, helped send Connecticut to the Women's Final Four for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time.
The 6-foot senior guard scored 27 points and 6-0 sophomore forward Barbara Turner added 26 points to help the Huskies blow out Penn State, 66-49, Monday in the NCAA East Regional basketball final at the Hartford Civic Center.
"It's just unbelievable, really," said Taurasi, voted the regional's most valuable player. "To try to put it into words kind of takes away from it."
The Huskies (29-4), who were able to play in their home state throughout the first four games of the tournament, advanced to the national semifinals in New Orleans with a chance for their third consecutive national title 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 Huskie double at the Final Four because the men's team qualified on Saturday, making Connecticut the fifth school to send both teams in the same year.
The Huskie women will play the winner of tonight's Duke-Minnesota game Sunday at New Orleans. Duke also will have its men's and women's teams in the Final Four if the Blue Devils win tonight's game.
Top-seeded Penn State (28-6), seeking its second Final Four trip, buckled under Connecticut's intense pressure in the first half. The Nittany Lions cut a 21-point deficit to nine before Turner and Taurasi combined for nine consecutive points.
"I just think we were tougher," Taurasi said. "We outrebounded them, we made more plays. When you get this far, it's just a matter who has the tougher team, and that was us tonight."
Taurasi got plenty of help from Turner, who made eight of 11 shots and added six rebounds and three assists. She was four for five on three-point shots, including one she banked in from the top of the key in the first half.
"That was the biggest problem we had. We had no answer for [Turner]," Penn State Coach Rene Portland said. "When she hit the two threes on Jess Brungo in the first half, there was an excitement for their team. She had a very special night on a night that her team needed her to have a special night."
Tanisha Wright led Penn State with 16 points and Kelly Mazzante, who made only five of 17 shots, finished with 14 after scoring two in the first half. Penn State shot 28% for the game.
"They had a lot of great athletes right 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 Nittany Lions out of their game.