Huskies return to Final Four

Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. Diana Taurasi has been through this so often she didn't even bother with the cap, instead just flinging it into the stands.

Let some happy Connecticut fan wear it. Taurasi had just helped Connecticut earn an unprecedented fifth straight trip to the Final Four and she didn't need any souvenirs.

The feeling alone was enough.

Taurasi scored 27 points in her last game in front of the home fans and Connecticut blew the game open in the second half to beat Penn State 66-49 Monday night in the East Regional final.

''It's just unbelievable, really,'' said Taurasi, the regional MVP. ''To try to put it into words kind of takes away from it.''

Taurasi did enough talking with her play, as did teammate Barbara Turner, who scored 26 points. Together, they kept the Huskies (29-4) in the running for a third straight national championship 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 Connecticut double at the Final Four because the men's team qualified on Saturday, making UConn the fifth school to send both teams in the same year.

The women will play the winner of Tuesday night's Duke-Minnesota game in the national semifinals in New Orleans next Sunday night. Duke would have teams in both Final Fours if the Blue Devils win that game.

''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.''

Top-seeded Penn State (28-6), seeking its second Final Four trip, buckled under Connecticut's intense defensive pressure in the first half, but recovered to make a run at the second-seeded Huskies after they opened a 21-point lead midway through the second half.

The Lady Lions got the lead down to nine before Turner and Taurasi combined for nine straight points to return the momentum to UConn, which had the backing of a boisterous crowd at its second home, the Hartford Civic Center.

While Taurasi is a two-time All-American, Turner looked the part in this one, shooting 8-for-11 and adding six rebounds and three assists. She was 4-for-5 from 3-point range, including one she banked in from the top of the key in the first half.

Tanisha Wright led Penn State with 16 points and All-American Kelly Mazzante finished with 14 after scoring only two in the first half. Mazzante, the Big Ten's career scoring leader, missed eight of her first nine shots and finished 5-for-17.

LSU 62, Georgia 60

SEATTLE Back in Baton Rouge, Sue Gunter must have been leaping off her couch.

Seimone Augustus scored 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting and gritty point guard Temeka Johnson added 16, leading LSU to its first Final Four with a 62-60 win over SEC rival Georgia on Monday night.

The Lady Tigers (27-7), seeded fourth in the West Regional, will make about an hour drive from their campus to play in New Orleans. They'll meet the winner of Tuesday's Midwest regional final between Stanford and Tennessee.

It was a close contest, but Gunter's team will finally go to the Final Four in her 40th season of coaching. She hasn't been with the team for the past two months, staying home with acute bronchitis.

Gunter was expected to make the trip to New Orleans, but she'll probably sit in the stands or remain at the team hotel.

Christi Thomas had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Georgia, but she missed four of five free throws in the final five minutes. Coming into this one, she was 19-for-19 from the line in the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Janese Hardrick added 18 points.

The third-seeded Lady Bulldogs (25-10) had a chance to win it in the closing seconds.

Hardrick brought the ball downcourt, but there was contact with Johnson. No foul was called, and Hardrick skidded to her knees and lost control of the ball.

The horn went off as players scrambled, and LSU had the win safely in hand. The Lady Tigers rushed off the bench in a wild celebration, and Johnson raced to the sideline to find acting coach Pokey Chatman for a long hug.

Augustus, named Most Outstanding Player in the regional, also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots. In the regional semifinal win over Texas, she scored 29 on 14-of-19 shooting.

Georgia had its biggest lead at 54-47 with 6:53 remaining after Sherill Baker, who was 0-for-7 at that point, swished a 3-pointer.

The Lady Bulldogs couldn't extend the lead, though,

LSU charged back, getting a 3-pointer from Augustus, an inside basket from Treynell Clavelle and a jumper by Augustus to trim the margin to 56-54 with 4:37 to play, but Hardrick hit another 3-pointer to extend Georgia's lead.

Doneeka Hodges completed a three-point play, putting the ball back and getting fouled after she missed an open layup on the break. That pulled LSU to 59-57. The play started when Johnson made a steal.

Johnson tied it moments later, hitting a 16-footer from the left wing with 1:54 to play. She finished 8-for-15.

Georgia led 32-28 at halftime.

The Lady Bulldogs got a basket by Thomas and two free throws by Hardrick to go up 32-26 a sizeable lead at that point. Augustus, though, answered for LSU with a jumper in the lane with 3.5 seconds on the clock.

Though Gunter hasn't been with the team for games, she still attended practices and film sessions, and she often called Chatman to talk strategy.

She went to Nashville for the SEC tourney, but watched on TV from the hotel.

Chatman looked comfortable as acting coach, chatting up the referees and directing her team from the bench.

Gunter was expected to make the one-hour trip to New Orleans, but she'll probably sit in the stands or remain at the team hotel.

Georgia, which beat LSU 80-74 on Jan. 25 at Athens, Ga., was seeking its sixth Final Four but first in five years.

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