March 28, 2005

(2) Stanford 76, (3) Connecticut 59

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma felt his team had to be at the top of its game to beat Stanford. The Huskies weren't even close.

And so women's basketball will have a new champion this year -- finally. Connecticut's remarkable run is over.

Stanford made all the right plays down the stretch and got 21 points from freshman sensation Candice Wiggins to beat Connecticut 76-59 on Sunday night in the semifinals of the Kansas City Regional.

After winning the last three national championships and four of the last five, Connecticut (25-8) won't even make it back to the Final Four, its 20-game winning streak in NCAA tournament play is history.

``It was a tough way to go out, but we lost to a really good team,'' Auriemma said. ``I'm not sure we were good enough to beat them unless we played the perfect game.''

It was the Huskies' earliest exit since they lost to Iowa State in the regional finals in 1999. Since then they had gone 30-1 in the tournament until running into a Stanford team that showed the same grit that has carried UConn to so many victories through the years.

Stanford (32-2), ranked No. 1 but only the No. 2 seed in the regional, moves on with a 23-game winning streak and is just a victory from its first Final Four trip since 1997. The Cardinal will play top-seeded Michigan State, a 76-64 winner over Vanderbilt, in the regional final Tuesday night.

``We were asked by a lot of people before the game if we were scared,'' Stanford's Kelley Suminski said. ``We came in thinking we're every bit as good as they are and every year is a different year.''

As it turned out, the Cardinal had every right to think that way after rocking the game's most dominant program with a 49-points second half. It wasn't always pretty, what with all the jostling and shoving underneath the basket and, in the first half especially, some near woeful shooting.

But the Cardinal will take it. They erased a six-point halftime deficit by starting the second half with a 6-0 run, then went ahead to stay with a 16-5 burst midway through the half.

``This is exactly what we wanted,'' Wiggins said. ``We didn't want to say anything. We wanted to show the rest of the country what kind of team we are. We did that.''

Wiggins, Susan King Borchardt and Sebnem Kimyacioglu each made a 3-pointer during the critical second-half stretch, Wiggins added a 15-foot jumper and T'Nae Thiel converted a three-point play, making it 54-46 with 7:18 to play.

There was still enough time for Connecticut to make one more run, but it never happened. The Huskies got it down to 58-53 on Ashley Battle's 3 with 4:42 remaining, only to have Stanford deliver the fatal blows.

First it was a 3-pointer by Borchardt, then a 3 by Wiggins, who came on strong after a terrible first half. That made it 64-53 with 3 1/2 minutes to play and the end was near for the Huskies. They couldn't come up with any miracle plays on the floor and Auriemma couldn't conjure up any more sideline magic.

``This game was a reflection of our season,'' Auriemma said. ``When we were good, we were really, really good, like we were the first 20 minutes. When we were bad, we were really, really bad, like we were for the second 20 minutes.''

With 1:38 to play, the lead had grown to 15 and the Huskies knew it was over.

As the final seconds ticked away, the Connecticut players sat glumly on the bench and Auriemma stood with his hands on his hips, a look of resignation on his face. He started toward the Stanford bench to shake hands with coach Tara VanDerveer even before the final buzzer sounded.

Wiggins, a second-team All-American and the Pac-10 player of the year, hardly looked the part while scoring only six points and committing five turnovers in the first half. But she shook it off and proved her mettle in the final 20 minutes, hitting a couple of 3-pointers and finishing 11-for-12 at the free throw line.

Borchardt went 4-for-5 from 3-point range -- and 6-for-7 overall -- to finish with 16 points. Suminski added 12 for the Cardinal, who shot 57.7 percent in the second half.

Connecticut sputtered on offense from the beginning and really never got into any kind of flow at that end of the floor. The Huskies were just 9-for-33 in the second half, shot 32.4 percent for the game and committed 16 turnovers.

Barbara Turner, with 17 points, was the only Connecticut player in double figures. Battle and Jessica Moore each scored eight for the Huskies and the usually reliable Ann Strother had only four on 2-for-8 shooting.

``We've won three national titles,'' Moore said. ``We have nothing to be ashamed of. We can walk out of here with our heads high.''

The Connecticut mystique has hung over the women's game for years. Stanford simply ignored it.

``This is a different team,'' VanDerveer said of UConn. ``I thought we had a game plan. We had a sign on the door, `Mystique -- what number is she?' ``

Michigan St. 76, Vanderbilt 64

What a great day to be a Spartan. Shortly after Michigan State reached the men's Final Four with a double-overtime victory over Kentucky, Kristin Haynie led the women's team into the Kansas City Regional final with the second triple-double in team history.

Rutgers 64, Ohio State 58

All the bumping, pushing and shoving Rutgers did on defense didn't stop Ohio State All-American Jessica Davenport. It did, however, shut down the rest of the Buckeyes and put the Scarlet Knights a win away from a Final Four appearance.

Michigan State Beats Kentucky in Double OT

Michigan State recovered from Kentucky's 3-point prayer that sent the game into overtime, taking over in the second extra session and pulling away for a 94-88 victory Sunday to cap a weekend filled with heart-stopping finishes.

Carolina Tops Wisconsin to Make Final Four

Rashad McCants made the big plays down the stretch, Sean May dominated inside and North Carolina is back in the Final Four for the first time in five years.

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