washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > College Basketball - Women > NCAA Women's Tournament

Huskies Ride Big Dogs To Another Final Four

Turner's 26, Taurasi's 27 Deflate Penn State : U-Conn. 66, Penn State 49

By Colin Fitzgibbons
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page D01

HARTFORD, Conn., March 29 -- Before the NCAA women's East Region final tonight, Penn State's fans were trying to heckle Connecticut sophomore forward Barbara Turner about the gap in her front teeth, but if she was self-conscious about anything, she never showed it during the game. Time after time, Turner flashed a wide-mouth grin en route to second-seeded Connecticut's 66-49 win over No. 1 seed Penn State, in front of 14,855 at the Hartford Civic Center.

And Turner, who had 26 points, had plenty to smile about. She made four three-pointers, despite never attempting more than four three-point shots in a game in her career. Her banked three-pointer keyed a 10-2 run to end the first half, and she had 11 points during a crucial 14-2 run in the second half that allowed Connecticut (28-4) to seize control of the game.

Diana Taurasi (27 points) shoots Huskies into fifth straight Final Four, keeps alive hopes for third straight national title. Two-time all-American was 8 of 15 with 5 rebounds. (Stephan Savoia -- AP)

With the win, the Huskies will advance to play either Duke or Minnesota in the Final Four in New Orleans on Sunday, April 4. This marks the fifth consecutive season they have advanced to the Final Four, an NCAA record.

Penn State, which last advanced to the Final Four in 2000, its first-ever trip, finished the season 28-6.

"I had a lot of fun out there," said Turner, who just missed eclipsing her previous career high of 27. "After I hit the second [three-pointer], I started attacking the basket in the second half, and that's when it felt like everything I shot was going to go in."

Nearly every shot did go in for Turner, who led the Big East in field goal percentage this season with 54 percent. She was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc.

Oh, by the way, senior guard Diana Taurasi led all scorers with 27 points, but if possible, her performance was overshadowed by Turner's. The two combined to score 53 of the Huskies' 66 points; no other U-Conn. player scored in double figures.

Taurasi, the two-time national player of the year, shot 8 for 15 from the field, including two three-pointers, to lead all players in scoring. Her defense was also critical in limiting Penn State's all-American guard, senior Kelly Mazzante, to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting.

Taurasi has now advanced to the Final Four in all four of her seasons, and will seek to win the third national championship of her career.

"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Taurasi said. "If you try to put it into words, it kind of takes away from it."

After Penn State scored just 13 points in the first half -- the lowest point total U-Conn. has ever allowed in a half of a NCAA tournament game -- the Lady Lions were able to cut the lead to nine points with 7 minutes 20 seconds remaining after Mazzante completed a three-point play. But the Huskies immediately embarked on a 9-0 run, sparked by three-pointers by Turner and Taurasi, and Penn State was never able to get to within single digits again.

U-Conn. held the Lady Lions to 20 percent shooting in the first half, and 28 percent for the game. Penn State's 49 points were its lowest output in 46 NCAA tournament games.

"I think Penn State is one of the most difficult teams in America to defend man to man because they run so much," Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think the game plan going in was executed brilliantly by the players. Every switch we had to make, every read they had to make, I think the entire first half, we made only one mistake."

Tanisha Wright led Penn State with 16 points. Mazzante, the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer, also had four rebounds, two assists.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company