Sunday, March 25, 2001

Connecticut 72, North Carolina State 58

AP Sports Writer

        PITTSBURGH — Connecticut wasn't about to let anyone steal its “C.”

        Diana Taurasi gave defending champion Connecticut a big lead with her 3-point shooting and the Huskies overcame a slapdash second half to beat North Carolina State 72-58 Saturday and reach the East Regional final.

        Not even the presence of Steelers coach Bill Cowher and his wife, Kaye, a former N.C. State player, could rally the Wolfpack, who tried motivating themselves by wearing practice jerseys bearing Connecticut's trademark “C” design.

        Taurasi, the nation's most heavily recruited high school player a year ago, had 24 points — 19 in a first half in which she was 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

        “I don't think I've seen a young kid play as well in a tournament game as she did,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.

        Sue Bird had 16 and seven assists as UConn won its ninth in a row in NCAA tournament play.

        The Huskies (31-2) can reach their fifth women's Final Four since 1991 on Monday by beating Louisiana Tech, a 78-67 winner over Missouri earlier Saturday. The two longtime powers have four NCAA titles between them, yet have never met in an NCAA tournament game. The Huskies did win at Tech 71-55 on Jan. 7 in a regular-season game.

        “It's going to be a tough, physical, rough game,” Taurasi said. “Their big players are very strong and we're going to have to be ready for that.”

        Connecticut and N.C. State have met before — as the Huskies were frequently reminded all week. N.C. State upset heavily favored UConn 60-52 in the 1998 East Regional championship, a loss Auriemma counts as one of the worst of his career.

        This time, the Wolfpack (22-11) weren't about to sneak up on the Huskies. Even though Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph — All-American selections last season — are injured and out for the season, and a nervous Swin Cash, playing in front of a hometown crowd, had a subpar game, UConn opened a 12-0 lead in the first 3 1/2 minutes and led by as many as 20 points before halftime.

        It's one thing to imitate the Huskies, but another to beat them.

        “It was a tough draw, having to play them,” Wolfpack coach Kay Yow said. “Getting down 12-0, I just didn't want to let that happen. Teams just don't shoot 58 percent in a half against us like they did. They caught us a little off guard, and we didn't play tough enough on those two (Taurasi and Bird).”

        The Huskies may be missing its two best returning players, but they have the deepest bench in the women's game — as evidenced by Taurasi. A reserve for most of the season as she adjusted from being a high school star in Chino, Calif., to college ball, Taurasi made six of seven shots in the first half.

        Taurasi finished 8-of-13, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, after going 2-for-14 and scoring 6 points Monday in a 89-44 victory over Colorado State.

        “Yeah, but she doesn't remember the ones she missed, only the two she made,” Auriemma said. “When she gets open and makes a couple ... she is a very confident player.”

        Bird effectively ran the Huskies' offense, driving to the basket when she saw an opening or spinning it off to Taurasi for her pullup jumpers.

        The Huskies, who won their first two tournament games by an average of 58 points, seemed a little too at ease in the second half, scoring only 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the half. The Huskies also had 18 turnovers and were only 10-of-22 from the foul line.

        Not that it mattered — except to Auriemma, the perfectionist.

        “I'm not very happy. We set high standards around here,” Auriemma said. “Let's just say we're not going to go to the best restaurant in town to celebrate.”

        Cash, playing before a sizable group of fans from her nearby hometown of McKeesport, Pa., seemed to be pressing at times and was only 1-for-8 at the line, although she had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

        “It kind of puts a damper on the victory, but we can't dwell on the second half. We just have to fix it before Monday,” Cash said.

        Tynesha Lewis, a senior who was the only N.C. State player who played a significant role in the 1998 upset, played a strong game with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Carisse Moody added 19 points. But only four State players scored more than two points.

        “Our effort was there,” Lewis said. “Our execution wasn't.”

        Connecticut's road to another national title might have gotten easier with Tennessee's upset loss Saturday to Xavier. UConn beat Tennessee 71-52 in the 2000 title game.

        “I don't give two rips about Tennessee,” Auriemma said. “I could care less.”

        NORTH CAROLINA STATE (22-11) — Bates 0-4 0-0 0, Scates 0-1 2-2 2, Moody 8-17 3-4 19, Lewis 8-20 2-2 20, Gardner 2-8 4-5 8, Olanrewaja 0-2 0-2 0, Simpson 3-7 1-2 9. Totals 21-59 12-17 58.

        CONNECTICUT (31-2) — Jones 1-6 5-8 7, Cash 5-10 1-8 11, Schumacher 2-4 0-0 5, Taurasi 8-13 2-2 24, Bird 8-16 0-1 16, Conlon 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 1-5 0-1 3, Williams 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 27-59 10-22 72.

        Halftime—Connecticut 45-26. 3-Point goals—N.C. State 4-11 (Simpson 2-5, Lewis 2-6), Connecticut 8-14 (Taurasi 6-8, Schumacher 1-1, Johnson 1-4, Bird 0-1). Fouled out—Scates. Rebounds—N.C. State 32 (Moody, Lewis 6), Connecticut 48 (Jones 13). Assists—N.C. State 15 (Lewis 5), Connecticut 15 (Bird 7). Total fouls—Connecticut 19, N.C. State 19. A—9,021.

NCAA Tournament coverage at

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