Huskies Come to Own Defense

Times Staff Writer

If last year’s Connecticut squad was a team of destiny after going 39-0 and winning the national championship, what does that make this Connecticut team that went 37-1 and repeated as national champion?

A dynasty?

That’s the only way to describe a precocious group of Huskies who bit off a little more of Tennessee’s heart and legacy Tuesday with a 73-68 victory over the Lady Vols before 28,210 in the Georgia Dome.

Connecticut won its fourth championship, third in the last four years, and became the third program to win back-to-back titles since the women’s NCAA tournament began in 1982.


It is a team that returns its entire roster next season, along with the usual bevy of high school All-Americans Coach Geno Auriemma attracts.

“I don’t know what the limit is any more,” Auriemma said. “I watched my good friend [Syracuse Coach] Jim Boeheim win a national championship. He’s been coaching 100 years and he finally got what every coach dreams of. Here I am sitting here, with us to have four of them, and thinking, ‘Now I got to do more than that.’

“It’s like you’ve already gotten more than you ever thought you would get, or some people will ever get. It’s hard to think of about more, wanting more, doing more. But next October we will give it a shot and see what happens.”

What Auriemma also has is Diana Taurasi. The 6-0 junior was scoreless the first nine minutes of the game, and still led all scorers with 28 points in being named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. Freshman guard Ann Strother added 15.

“It was unbelievable just to be in the championship game this year,” Taurasi said. “As a little kid growing up you watch it on TV. To be in it, play well and come out with a win just feels really good.”

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, who has won six championships (the last one in 1998), has different concerns.


She tried a variety of things this season. She changed her offense, borrowing concepts from Villanova Coach Harry Perretta, whose team was the only one to beat Connecticut.

On Tuesday she substituted more liberally than she did Sunday in beating Duke to keep her players fresher. She got the senior output she hoped for -- forward Gwen Jackson scored nine of her 15 points in the first half, and guard Kara Lawson had 15 of her team-high 18 points in the second half.

But she still hasn’t figured out how to beat the Huskies. The Lady Vols (33-5) are 1-6 in their last seven efforts against Connecticut and still haven’t beaten the Huskies with an NCAA title on the line (0-3).

Summitt was quietly defiant after the game.

“I don’t think there’s that much difference, quite honestly, in the two programs,” Summitt said. “Obviously they were the better team tonight for 40 minutes. [But] I’m not going to make a lot of changes.

“The only thing I can tell you is we are going to continue to compete for national championships if I have anything to do with it.... They won this game tonight and deserved it, but that doesn’t mean that Tennessee is not a premier basketball program or a team of the past.”

That may be of little solace to Lawson and Jackson, who went to three Final Fours but are part of the fifth Tennessee senior class to not win a title.


“It’s tough to come home without a championship,” Lawson said. “But you know, we came a long way this year. I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be in the national championship game after losing some of the games we did.”