Sunday, April 6, 2003

Auriemma, Taurasi pick up top honors

The Associated Press

ATLANTA - Geno Auriemma and Diana Taurasi earned AP coach and player of the year awards Saturday for leading Connecticut to a record winning streak and its fourth straight Final Four.

It's the fourth AP coaching award for Auriemma, who had only Taurasi back as a starter from last season's unbeaten national championship team.

But he blended in freshmen and role players from last season's club to fashion a 35-1 record. Connecticut plays Texas tonight in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

Along the way, UConn set an NCAA women's record by winning 70 straight games, a streak ended by Villanova in the Big East Tournament.

"If you ask me, 'How'd you do that?' I would tell you, 'I don't know,' " Auriemma said. "If you ask (the players), 'How did you do that?' they'd say, 'I don't know.' We just kind of go out and play."

Auriemma received 20 of the 44 votes from the national media panel that chooses the weekly AP Top 25.

Auriemma, 499-99 in 18 seasons at UConn, also won the AP award in 1995, 1997 and 2000. No other coach has won it more than once.

Taurasi received 23 votes to become the fifth Connecticut player to win the AP player award.

A 6-foot junior from Chino, Calif., Taurasi had to lead UConn after playing alongside four seniors last season. She responded by leading the team in scoring (16.3), rebounding (6.2) and assists (4.6) during the regular season.

"Being around her means a lot," Connecticut freshman Barbara Turner said. "You want to get to know that kind of person. You want to model yourself after her and be like her."

Taurasi has a flair for the spectacular that few, if any, players can match - from no-look passes to long 3-pointers to spin moves in the lane.

"She understands how to play with a flair that brings a little excitement to the game," Auriemma said. "She's from California. They do that for a living out there. She's a product of her environment. She grew up idolizing Magic Johnson and I think she tries to play like that."

Women's Final Four

• Tennessee (32-4) vs. Duke (35-1), 7 p.m. today (ESPN)

• Connecticut (35-1) vs. Texas (29-5), 9 p.m. today (ESPN)

Championship game: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)

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