With leading scorer Svetlana Abrosimova ailing from a bad back, top-ranked Connecticut leaned on a reliable veteran and a rookie to hold off No. 2 Tennessee, 81-76, Saturday in a rematch of last season’s NCAA title game at Hartford, Conn.
Shea Ralph, the Final Four most valuable player, had 15 points and two key steals in a 19-2 first-half run that gave the Huskies (9-0) the cushion they would ultimately need. Ralph also had five rebounds.
Diana Taurasi, last year’s high school player of the year at Chino Don Lugo, contributed 12 points that included a key three-pointer with five minutes left to hold Tennessee at bay.
The tussle of the two top teams in women’s basketball lived up to its billing, as the Volunteers (11-1) rallied from a 17-point deficit in the first half and were a three-pointer away from drawing even in the last minute.
“It was one of those games where I never felt we were in the clear,” Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. “I thought they would come down and make a couple shots to get it right back.”
Tennessee battled back with strong inside play and timely shooting from Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall. Catchings’ three-pointer with 5:27 remaining cut the lead to 69-67, the closest the Volunteers would get.
Even timelier were four free throws by Connecticut guard Sue Bird in the final 35 seconds to ice the game.
No. 6 Duke 81, No. 5 Iowa State 63--Alana Beard scored 27 points, including eight in the final six minutes, as the Blue Devils pulled away in the final minutes to beat the Cyclones at Durham, N.C.
Georgia Schweitzer scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half and Iciss Tillis added 14 points as Duke (12-1) won its third straight game since a 93-75 loss at Clemson on Dec. 9.
No. 8 Purdue 65, Michigan 54--Katie Douglas scored 13 points and Camille Cooper added 12 at Ann Arbor, Mich., to lead the Boilermakers (12-3, 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference) for its fourth win in a row. Michigan is 8-4 and 1-1.
Santa Clara 61, No. 10 Texas Tech 56--Becki Ashbaugh hit a three-pointer with 58 seconds left as the Broncos got their first win over a top 10 team in six years at Santa Clara. The last time Santa Clara (8-3) beat a top 10 team was Dec. 19, 1994, against No. 10 Washington.
Florida State 74, No. 12 North Carolina State 70--April Traylor scored 22 points and sparked a second-half rally for the Seminoles (9-2), who upset the Wolfpack (9-2) in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Tallahassee, Fla.
No. 13 Louisiana State 82, North Texas 57--Marie Ferdinand scored 19 points and Roneeka Hodges added 12 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Tigers (9-3) to an easy victory over North Texas (9-3) at Baton Rouge, La.
Illinois 73, No. 14 Auburn 56--Freshman Iveta Marcauskaite had a career-high 24 points and nine rebounds and the Fighting Illini (5-7) snapped the Tigers’ 55-game home winning streak over non-conference opponents at Auburn, Ala. The Tigers fell to 12-2.
No. 16 Southwest Missouri State 84, Creighton 59--Jackie Stiles scored 20 points as Southwest Missouri State (7-2) beat the Bluejays (6-4) in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both teams at Omaha.
No. 17 Stanford 72, No. 23 Utah 58--Freshman Nicole Powell had nine assists and nine rebounds to go with 11 points in her first game at point guard as she led the Cardinal (6-4) to a win at Palo Alto. Powell became Stanford’s third starting point guard of the season after a right knee injury sidelined freshman Susan King for the rest of the season.
No. 20 Clemson 79, Winthrop 46--Chrissy Floyd scored a career-high 24 points and combined with Krystal Scott in the first half to dispatch Winthrop at Rock Hill, S.C. Floyd and Scott scored 26 of Clemson’s 37 first-half points.
No. 25 Oregon 92, San Francisco 65--Angelina Wolvert scored 21 points in the Ducks’ win at Eugene, Ore. Kourtney Shreve added 15 points for the Ducks (4-4).