PHILADELPHIA – In the NCAA Philadelphia Regional final Tuesday night, it took Duke only 21 seconds to score as many points as they had in the first 10 minutes of their previous game against Connecticut.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, after Chelsea Gray’s jumper gave her team a quick 2-0 lead, Duke (32-4) didn’t score for the next four minutes and by then, UConn had built an eight-point lead.
Would this be a repeat of Duke’s debacle in January, when the Huskies led 23-2 midway through the first half en route to a convincing 87-51 win? The answer is no, if by no, you mean that this time instead of losing by 36, Duke only lost by 35.
With the 75-40 victory at Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus (March 29), the UConn women’s basketball team is headed to the Final Four, as are Jim Calhoun and his boys.
As a matter of fact, according to UConn spokesman Mike Enright, Connecticut is the first Division I school to play in both final fours and a BCS Bowl game in the same academic year. Not bad for a small agricultural college tucked away in the rural confines of the nation’s third smallest state!
Duke, to their credit, didn’t fall apart after falling behind early, and climbed to within two points during the first half.
When Tiffany Hayes picked up her second foul midway through the first quarter, semi-final heroine Lorin Dixon came in and once again got her teammates out of their malaise.
Dixon quickly contributed on offense by twice hitting Moore in stride for easy lay-ups, while harassing the Duke offense into a couple of quick turnovers.
Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love and one would assume that love extends to the ladies as well. But there was anything but sisterly love being felt in this contest, as elbows were flying and bodies were being tossed to the floor like rag dolls.
Before long, UConn had pushed the lead back up to eight with less than a minute left in the first half.
And the lead would have remained at eight heading into halftime except for a trademark Maya Moore missile from the corner which just began its descent into the basket as the backboard lit up with red.
Moore poured in 28 points and snagged 10 rebounds, both game highs, and added an exclamation point on that final basket which marked her 3,000th point scored during her career at Storrs.
“I think all of us were really on the same page tonight,” Moore said. “In the first half, we played a little too fast,” she said, causing her coach to say later that the team had acted like little kids on the way to a day on the shore, getting all excited in the backseat of the car before they even got to the beach.
Moore said the team settled down in the second half, relying more on their set offense, passing the ball around.
“When that happens, I’m going to get a lot of points because my teammates look for me,” Maya said.
“When it comes to tournament time, I’m of the mindset that if I’m open, I’ll take the shot,” she said, causing Auriemma once again to counter with his observation that Maya takes shots “no matter what game we’re playing in, whether she’s open or not.”
Good news keeps coming
Moore has been honored as the Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year while junior guard Tiffany Hayes earned a spot on the Second Team, as announced by the ECAC prior to Tuesday’s game.
So the good news just keeps coming for UConn fans. Coach Geno Auriemma’s team is in the Final Four for the fourth straight year, poised to take home the team’s third straight title.
The Huskies will not have the opportunity to beat Tennessee. Connecticut upheld its end of the bracket-funneling process, coming out of the Philadelphia Regional but Tennessee, the number-one seed in the Dayton Regional, couldn’t get past Notre Dame, and lost 73-59 Monday night (March 28).
“It would have been nice to have played Tennessee at least once during our four years,” Dixon said. “But at least playing against Notre Dame, we know each other so well, there won’t be any surprises.”
Moore’s take on not playing a Pat Summitt team during her college career was that she never did, so she can’t say that she misses it. “And we’ve developed some good rivalries, some good games against Rutgers, and Stanford,” Moore said.
UConn vs Notre Dame
So instead of Geno versus Pat for the first time in four years, we have UConn (36-1) vs Notre Dame (30-7) for the fourth time in one year.
Needless to say, Connecticut has won all three meetings: 79-76 in South Bend, 78-67 at Gampel Pavilion and 73-64 in the title game of the Big East Championship Tournament.
The game will be played April 3 with Stanford (33-2), the only team to beat UConn in the past 114 games, and two-seed Texas A&M (31-5), which knocked off top-seeded Baylor Tuesday night, squaring off in the other semi-final.
While Tennessee might have served as a detour on the Huskies’ road to a third title, Duke provided nothing more than a pothole Tuesday night.
With Connecticut leading 30-20 at intermission, the second half began just as the first one had: Duke could only muster two points in the first five minutes of the half while UConn was scoring 11.
But now, instead of falling behind by eight as they had done to start the game, the Blue Devils found themselves in the untenable position of being down 19 to the two-time defending national champions.
Before reserve center Allison Vernerey could score Duke’s third point of the second half – a foul shot at 13:45 to make the score 45-23 – travel agencies throughout the Nutmeg State were elbowing each other in cyberspace to book the most attractive packages for a four-day stay in Indianapolis.
Duke ended its scoring drought with a little less than 10 minutes left in the half when Richa Jackson layed one in, but by that time a 20-1 Connecticut run had put the Huskies up by 29 points.
Once again, the young man on press row announcing the game for WHUS summed it up remarkably well: “A magnificent performance tonight by the UConn Huskies,” said Chris Jones, a sophomore from Simsbury.
Couldn’ta said it any better myself.
Posted March 29, 2011
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