Thursday, April 10, 2003
UConn poised to repeat as champs
The Associated Press
ATLANTA - Connecticut was expected to retool its lineup after losing four starters from last year's national championship team. The belief was, if ever there was a year the Huskies could be had, this was it.
But just as Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara helped Syracuse win the men's NCAA title, UConn's freshmen came through for their team - in a big way.
Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Willnett Crockett helped the Huskies (37-1) win their third national title in four years and fourth overall.
And even more important, every UConn player is back next season. All of them - Strother, Turner, Crockett, Diana Taurasi, Jessica Moore, the whole bunch.
There are no guarantees, of course. Injuries or complacency could spoil everything.
But after beating Tennessee 73-68 in Tuesday's championship game, the Huskies will begin the 2003-04 season as the overwhelming favorites to make it three straight and win a fifth title overall.
"It feels good that we'll begin the year with the same nucleus," Taurasi said. "We can build on what we did this year. Hopefully, we will continue to get better."
UConn has the talent to make it happen, starting with Taurasi, voted the most outstanding player in the Final Four. She scored 28 points against Tennessee, matching the second-highest total in a championship game, and averaged 26.2 for the NCAA Tournament.
The freshmen played key roles all season and Strother scored 17 in the title game. A fourth freshman, Nicole Wolff, will be back after missing all but 10 games because of a foot injury. And Geno Auriemma's recruiting class will bring two key elements - size and quickness.
Heading that class is 6-foot-5 Liz Sherwood, who was a high school teammate of Strother's in Castle Rock, Colo.
"In Connecticut, they're going to expect us to be good," Auriemma said.
Tennessee, still the leader with six national titles, might have a harder time getting back to the Final Four.
The Lady Vols' two best players, Kara Lawson and Gwen Jackson, were seniors.
Coach Pat Summitt still has plenty of talent, but someone has to lead.
"I think (losing) will definitely motivate us for next year," sophomore Shyra Ely said. "I'm positive we'll be back."
This was the third time a season ended with Connecticut and Tennessee meeting in the title game, and UConn has won all three.
"Everybody hates us," UConn's Ashley Battle said. "Nobody likes us, and nobody thought we could win. So we went out there and proved everyone wrong."
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