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Oklahoma, Duke, Tennessee to join Huskies at Final Four

UConn routs Old Dominion

Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

MILWAUKEE -- Sue Bird and the unbeaten Connecticut Huskies bounced the party crashers right out of the NCAA tournament.

Bird scored a career-high 26 points and dished out 11 assists as UConn, seeking its third national title in the last eight years, advanced to the Final Four by beating Old Dominion 85-64 Monday night with a dazzling first-half display.

The Lady Monarchs (28-6), miffed at their No. 7 seeding, used the perceived slight to fuel upsets of second-seeded Purdue and third-seeded Kansas State. But they could only watch helplessly as the top-ranked and top-seeded Huskies (37-0) made their first 13 shots and sank their first five free throws in racing to a 34-14 lead less than 10 minutes into the Mideast Regional final.

''Everything went our way, everything was just clicking,'' Bird said. ''We were running our break, running our offense and getting a lot of layups. And considering it was the biggest game of the year, that's the best we've played.''

And the best team in the country playing its best basketball of the year was the last thing the Monarchs needed.

Over the weekend, Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, whose team lost to the Huskies by 14 in December, but had won 21 in row, said: ''We're in a position now to ruin parties.''

To which UConn coach Geno Auriemma jokingly retorted: ''Party crashers usually get beat up or arrested, don't they?''

They were turned away at the door Monday night.

With a dominating display of crisp passing and accurate shooting, the Huskies jumped to a 20-4 lead in less than five minutes. They sank 19 of their first 21 shots from the field before ''settling'' for a 75 percent mark (21-of-28) at halftime, when they were up 55-33.

''We dug ourselves a huge hole,'' Larry said. ''The University of Connecticut's first 20 minutes is some of the finest basketball I think I've ever witnessed.''

So fine that the Huskies were in cruise control after halftime, their lead never dipping below 14 as they finished with a 63.8 shooting percentage.

''The first 20 minutes was about as good as you can hope to play,'' Auriemma said. ''We can't play much better than we played. It's as proud of my team as I've ever been in all my years of coaching.''

The Huskies will play Tennessee (29-4) in San Antonio next weekend in search of their third NCAA title and second unbeaten season under Auriemma, who won championships in 1995 and 2000. The Vols beat Vanderbilt 68-63 in the Midwest Regional final.

Duke 77, South Carolina 68

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Alana Beard scored 24 points and Monique Currie added 15 as Duke beat South Carolina 77-68 Monday in the East Regional championship to earn its second trip to the Final Four.

The top-seeded Blue Devils (31-3), who have won a school-record 22 straight games, advance to San Antonio to face the winner of Monday's West Regional final between Oklahoma and Colorado. The Blue Devils are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1999, when they lost to Purdue in the championship game.

South Carolina (25-7) beat Duke during the regular season, winning 87-81 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 25.

On Monday, the Blue Devils had an answer for nearly run by the third seeded Gamecocks, rallying from a one-point deficit midway through the second half with several clutch shots and tough defense.

Tennessee 68, Vanderbilt 63

AMES, Iowa -- Tennessee beat a familiar opponent to put itself back in a familiar setting.

Gwen Jackson had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Michelle Snow hit three key shots down the stretch as second-seeded Tennessee beat top-seeded Vanderbilt 68-63 in the Midwest Regional final Monday night, sending the Lady Vols to the Final Four for the 13th time.

Tennessee (29-4) built a 15-point lead early in the second half against its Southeastern Conference rival, then survived a rally that got the Commodores (30-7) within two points.

Chantelle Anderson's 35 points and 12 rebounds weren't enough to get Vanderbilt to the Final Four for the second time. Vanderbilt lost to eventual champion Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final last year.

Oklahoma 94, Colorado 60

BOISE, Idaho -- Chalk up another major accomplishment for Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale: a trip to the Final Four.

LaNeishea Caufield scored 25 points and Stacey Dales had 20 as top-seeded Oklahoma rolled past No. 3 Colorado 94-60 on Monday night in the West Regional final, sending the Sooners to San Antonio.

Caufield shot 5-for-5 in the second half and scored 14 points during a 32-6 second-half run that guaranteed Oklahoma (31-3) of becoming the first Big 12 team ever to reach the Final Four.

Jamie Talbert and Rosalind Ross each scored 12 for Oklahoma, which lost in the NCAA tournament's third round the past two years. Coale, in her sixth season, has a Final Four to go with three straight Big 12 titles.

As the clock went under 1 minute, Oklahoma fans chanted, ''Final Four, Final Four.'' The players put on their championship T-shirts as Colorado's Virginie Delepine shot free throws at the other end of the floor.

Oklahoma will play Duke in Friday's national semifinals. The Blue Devils advanced by winning the East Regional, 77-68 over South Carolina.

Eisha Bohman led Colorado (24-10) with 18 points but the Buffaloes committed 29 turnovers, 15 above their season average.

The Buffaloes used their superior size to hang with Oklahoma through the first six minutes of the second half. Colorado pulled within 46-42 when Tera Bjorkland completed a three-point play with 15:35 to go.

But that's when Caufield took aim and the Sooners simply flattened the Buffaloes, who couldn't hold back the flood gates despite a series of timeouts by coach Ceal Barry.

The Sooners will join the men's team in the Final Four.

It was another big night for Oklahoma's small but spunky coach. Coale, who stands 5-foot-5, won two state titles in seven years at Norman High School before taking over the Sooners.

In six seasons, she's built Oklahoma into a national title contender. Even more remarkable, the program was dropped in 1990 until national coaches led a protest that led to its reinstatement eight days later.

Oklahoma beat Colorado for the fifth straight time, overwhelming the Buffs with a fastbreak offense that never stopped, not even when Coale cleared the bench with 4:09 to play.

The starters left to a standing ovation from the Oklahoma fans.

The Buffaloes wore the letters ''SNR'' on their left hands, short for ''Still No Respect.'' They've complained of being overlooked by the news media and had ''NR'' for ''No Respect'' written on their hands when they beat Stanford on Saturday.

That approach worked for a while.

With Bohman hitting midrange jumpers, the pesky Buffaloes, in the regional finals for the third time in nine seasons, trailed 37-33 at halftime and hung with the Sooners early in the second half.

That's when Caufield got hot, connecting from long range on the right side. Caton Hill added a bucket during the spurt, and Dionnah Jackson converted a steal into a layup.

The Oklahoma bench got louder with every basket, and it was pandemonium for the Sooners and their fans when Rosalind Ross hit a 3-pointer for a 66-45 lead with 8:34 remaining.

The advantage continue to swell, reaching 82-51 with 4:51 to play when Caufield made a steal, tossed the ball to regional Most Valuable Player Dales, who finished the break with a dish to Jackson for a layup.



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