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UConn Aims for Perfection in Tourney

March 7, 2002

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ They’ve won all 33 of their games. They average 87 points a game and hold their opponents to 50. Every starter averages in double figures.

The Connecticut Huskies, heading to their 14th NCAA tournament and a shot at a third national title, have thoroughly dominated women’s basketball this season.

Boston College coach Cathy Inglese summed up the frustration of UConn’s opponents after her team fell 96-54 in the Big East tournament championship:

``That’s the thing that keeps me from crying right now. They’re doing it to everybody else.″

Six more wins and Connecticut’s mission is accomplished.

``We know we want to go out on top,″ senior forward Swin Cash said. ``That means winning every game this year.″

The vanquished so far include Tennessee and seven other ranked opponents. The closest call was a nine-point road win over then-No. 23 Virginia Tech. Their next meeting in Storrs was a 35-point UConn blowout.

The Huskies wrapped up their ninth straight Big East tournament title on Tuesday in record fashion. The 42-point margin of victory topped their own tournament mark of 36, set in an 85-49 win over Seton Hall in 1995.

Connecticut’s starting five is loaded with talent and experience.

Seniors Sue Bird, a speedy, unselfish point guard, and power forwards Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams were a recruiting coup for coach Geno Auriemma four years ago. As sophomores, they were the supporting cast for Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph as UConn won its second national title in 2000.

With the seniors is sophomore Diana Taurasi, a former high school player of the year, a 3-point specialist and deft passer.

UConn’s last loss was in the 2001 NCAA Final Four semifinals to eventual national champ Notre Dame. The same five were on the floor during a second-half swoon against the Irish, while Ralph and Abrosimova sat sidelined with injuries.

That loss served as a stinging springboard for this season.

``Last year, I think they heard all that `best team ever, most depth, can’t be beaten.′ And I think we let some things slide as players,″ Auriemma said. ``After those two kids got hurt, then everybody went, `Uh oh, we better get to work.′ This year, it’s been like that since Day 1.″

Cash leads the team with 15 points and almost nine rebounds a game.

``I think the one thing we know right now is when you have somebody down you have to keep them down,″ Cash said. ``When you see somebody struggling, you have to go for the jugular vein and keep pouring it on. When our bench comes in they know they have to give us something to keep us rolling.″

Taurasi delivered the knockout punch at Tennessee with a career-high 32 points. Animated and emotional, she punctuated a driving layup with a right jab into the orange-padded basket stanchion, explaining she just ``wanted to hit something orange.″

Take that Tennessee. And Vanderbilt and Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion. The powerhouses of women’s basketball fell one by one to UConn’s dominating defense and versatile offense.

The Huskies shook off any notion of a letdown after the Tennessee game. Before that win, UConn won by an average of 40 points. After Tennessee, the Huskies recorded wins by an average of 35.

``Since Tennessee, everybody automatically assumed that that’s as good as we could play. How can you improve?″ Auriemma said. ``What do you think we’re going to do? Play Parcheesi in practice? We’re going to go to work every day, we’re going to work our butt off and we’re going to try to win the national championship.

Auriemma’s 1995 squad delivered UConn’s first national title with a 35-0 season behind standouts Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters and Jennifer Rizzotti. This team’s run for a perfect record begs comparisons.

``That team was a lot bigger but not as athletically gifted,″ Auriemma said. ``The difference in this team is the difference in college basketball over the last seven years. Those players were perfect that time and these players are today’s players.″

Through it all, they’ve managed to stay focused and avoid stumbling.

``I think human nature is to get bored and get very blase, but we have been here for so long, we know how to handle that,″ Bird said. ``We’ve been in blowouts throughout our four years. We understand that if you don’t come prepared that one time, it could be that one time you get beat. So we really have to go out there and play every game like it’s our last because we want to be cutting down the nets.″

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