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UConn, Tennessee do it again

Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

NEW ORLEANS With one final swat, Diana Taurasi secured Connecticut's place in another national championship game.

Connecticut fought off repeated comebacks by a gutsy Minnesota team and stayed on track to win a third straight NCAA title with a 67-58 victory in the semifinals Sunday night.

Taurasi scored 18 points, made the pass that led to one of the game's biggest baskets and then crushed Minnesota's final hopes by flicking away Shannon Schonrock's 3-point shot near the end.

The Huskies (30-4) recovered the ball and Taurasi dribbled out the final seconds, smiling when the buzzer sounded and slapping hands with teammate Ann Strother.

That smile might have been one of relief.

"They weren't going to give up," Taurasi said. "They made it this far and they were going to fight and claw until the last seconds. And they kept making big plays, big shots and fortunately, we had the response every single time."

The Connecticut victory keeps alive the possibility of the first championship double for a school.

UConn will play Georgia Tech for the men's title Monday night. And look who's waiting for the women in Tuesday night's championship game _ none other than Tennessee, winner of six national titles and UConn's main rival for supremacy in women's basketball.

Tennessee advanced to its 11th NCAA championship game with a 52-50 victory over LSU in the other semifinal. It will be the second straight year and fourth time since 1995 the two powers have played for the title.

Connecticut won the three previous times, including a 73-68 victory last year in Atlanta.

Tennessee is the only school with three straight national championships, winning from 1996-98.

Minnesota (25-9) made a remarkable tournament run after guard Lindsay Whalen returned from a broken right hand that sidelined her for the final seven regular-season games.

The Gophers earned their first Final Four trip as the No. 7 seed in the Mideast, knocking off the teams seeded first, second and third to get to New Orleans and giving hundreds of crimson and gold-clad fans an excuse to party on Bourbon Street.

Tennessee 52, LSU 50

NEW ORLEANS A disputed foul call with time running out, a spinning last-second shot and now a backcourt steal in the waning moments.

Tennessee may not dominate women's basketball like it used to, but the Lady Vols somehow found their way to an 11th NCAA championship game.

LaToya Davis scored with 1.6 seconds left after LSU's Temeka Johnson lost the ball in the backcourt, giving the Lady Vols a 52-50 victory over the Lady Tigers in their national semifinal game Sunday night.

"They have low blood pressure," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said of her players. "My blood pressure right now is not even worth checking. ... I told them I was really proud of them but I don't know how much more of this I could take."

Little has come easy for the Lady Vols this postseason, but balance and remarkable resiliency have put them back in the title game. They now seek an unprecedented seventh overall championship on the heels of three straight two-point, last-second victories.

With the score tied 50-50 and the clock running down, once again Tennessee put the ball in the hands of Tasha Butts, who scored the winning points in the Lady Vols' last two narrow wins.

She missed this time, giving LSU the ball with 6 seconds left. But Tennessee trapped Johnson in the backcourt, forcing the turnover when Johnson tripped as she tried to advance past Ashley Robinson. The ball squirted out and Shyra Ely came up with it and quickly fed Davis underneath for an uncontested layup.

"I was just in the right place at the right time," said Ely, Tennessee's leading scorer who was held to four points on 1-of-11 shooting. "I just grabbed the loose ball and saw LaToya."

Tennessee, the lone No. 1 seed in the Final Four, will play Connecticut, a 67-58 winner over Minnesota. It will be the second straight title game between the two, and the fourth time in the last 10 years. Connecticut has won all three meetings.

"I guess the way we feel is we're supposed to be here because we keep on finding ways to win," Ely added.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman tried to deflect criticism from Johnson's late turnover, noting that LSU made only 12 of 20 free throws, had nine turnovers and allowed Tennessee to score 18 second-chance points.

"It's probably going to be unfortunate that we're probably going to talk about the last six seconds of this game and in my opinion that's not where this game was lost," Chatman said.

Seimone Augustus led LSU with 16 points and nine rebounds, but her shooting percentage plummeted from the previous games in the tournament. She carried the Lady Tigers to their first Final Four by making 67 percent of her shots.

Guarded mostly by Robinson, Augustus finished 7-for-21 against Tennessee.



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