March 28, 2005

UConn's reign is over in women's hoops

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nobody can win championships indefinitely. Not even Connecticut.

If that wasn't clear to the Huskies before, it certainly is now. Their title run is over, ended by a tough, talented Stanford team that exposed the offensive weaknesses that haunted UConn during this up-and-down season and capitalized on them.

With freshman sensation Candice Wiggins leading the way, Stanford beat Connecticut 76-59 in the semifinals of the Kansas City Regional on Sunday night, sending the Huskies to their earliest NCAA tournament exit in six years.

``It's not a bad thing to be reminded that the NCAA championship trophy doesn't have Connecticut engraved on it at the beginning of the season,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``It's not a bad thing to be reminded of that.''

Connecticut played in an unprecedented five straight Final Fours, winning the last three national championships and four of the last five. No player on the Connecticut roster had ever lost an NCAA tournament game before Sunday. It seemed that all a player had to do was sign with Connecticut and she was guaranteed a trip to the Final Four every year.

But Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer kept reminding her players that they weren't facing any of UConn's championship teams. They were playing this season's team, one that seven times during the regular season had proven to be beatable.

``They've struggled this year,'' VanDerveer said. ``It's hard to ask a team to be national champions. What they did was awesome. Three national championships is incredible. But I didn't feel like we were playing against a ghost team.

``We had a sign on the door, `Mystique, what number is she?' It was like, this is not a real thing. I think our team just bought in 100 percent to doing the things we had to do.''

So, give it up for the Cardinal (32-2), ranked No. 1 nationally but only a No. 2 seed in this regional. They'll play top-seeded Michigan State (31-3) in the regional final Tuesday night, with the winner booking a trip to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

Michigan State, which before this year had never been past the second round of the NCAAs, beat fifth-seeded Vanderbilt 76-64 on Sunday night. Stanford is seeking its seventh Final Four trip, but first since 1997.

``For our whole team, this has been a really special year for us,'' Stanford's Susan King Borchardt said. ``We wanted to come out and say, `Hey, we can play.'''

You know what? They can.

The Cardinal put up 49 points in the second half against a team that had been giving up only 50.6 a game. Wiggins, a second-team All-American and the Pac-10 player of the year, finished with 21 points to lead all scorers after a miserable first half -- six points, five turnovers, two rebounds.

Borchardt went 4-for-5 from 3-point range in scoring 16 points. Kelley Suminski had 12 points, six assists and three steals.

``The first half was not really like us,'' Wiggins said. ``In the second half, we had fun and played together. It was great. We just said, `Let's have fun.'''

Connecticut (25-8) built a 33-27 halftime lead by frustrating Stanford with some sticky, physical defense. But the Huskies missed their first seven shots of the second half, Stanford scored six quick points and it was a game again.

``I think the game turned right then and there,'' Auriemma said. ``To their credit, they did what they do well and did it very, very well. The things we struggled with most of the season came back to haunt us.''

Shooting is one of those things that Stanford does well. Borchardt, Wiggins and Sebnem Kimyacioglu each made a 3-pointer in a 16-5 run that gave Stanford a 54-46 lead.

Ashley Battle's 3-pointer drew UConn to 58-53, but Borchardt and Wiggins answered with back-to-back 3s to make it 64-53 with 3 1/2 minutes left. The Huskies' fate was becoming apparent: They would fall short of the Final Four for the first time since losing to Iowa State in the 1999 regional semifinals.

``Just when we started to make a run or just when we started to hit a basket and need a big stop, they'd come down and hit a 3,'' Battle said.

Barbara Turner led Connecticut with 17 points, but no one else reached double figures for the Huskies, who shot 27 percent in the second half and 32.4 percent for the game.

Michigan State 76, Vanderbilt 64

Michigan State advanced with its best performance of the tournament. Kelli Roehrig led the Spartans with 18 points and Kristin Haynie had the second triple-double in the program's 32-year history -- 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

``I didn't realize it until after I looked back to see how I did,'' Haynie said. ``It all comes from the rest of the team. We all got a triple-double tonight.''

Haynie and her teammates finished off their victory about an hour after the Michigan State men beat Kentucky in two overtimes to reach the Final Four. The women still have to beat Stanford to complete their end of the deal, but thanks to a strong second half, they're a lot closer than any previous Michigan State team.

The Spartans erased Vanderbilt's 37-30 halftime lead with an 18-3 run at the start of the second half and were in control the rest of the way. They shot 62 percent in the second half and finished with a 37-22 rebounding advantage.

The turnaround came after the players got on each other at halftime.

``At this time of year, it's all about the players,'' Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ``Coaching is definitely overrated.''

Carla Thomas led Vanderbilt (24-8) with 22 points, but had only six in the second half. Lindsay Bowen scored 14 for Michigan State and Rene Haynes had 12.

Seniors go out with first loss of their career

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Connecticut senior center Jessica Moore took a seat on the bench with 20 seconds left, and then it hit her.

``I thought, this isn't only the last game, this is my last game as a player,'' Moore said Sunday night.

Stanford put an end to UConn's remarkable three-year title reign with a 76-59 win in the Kansas City Regional semifinal and all Moore and her fellow seniors could do was watch. They were going home early for the first time in their careers.

``We felt horrible about this, but Coach (Geno Auriemma) reminded us that we've won three national championships and gone to so many Final Fours, that so many other teams don't get a chance to do this,'' Moore said.

But it still hurt.

The players sat around the quiet UConn locker room, their eyes red from crying.

``They're pretty broken up,'' Auriemma said. ``Some of them have never been in this situation before.''

Senior Ashley Battle and Moore were red-shirted their freshman year and as fifth-year seniors had been to the last five Final Fours. Battle hit a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left into the first half to give UConn a 33-27 lead and momentum at the break. But it all unraveled quickly in the second half.

Battle's season ended while playing in her school-record 149th game.

``It was pretty amazing. One-hundred-forty-nine games, five Final Fours, three national championships,'' Battle said. ``It was pretty amazing.''

Duke ignores early LSU tourney wins to study top seed

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Duke is ignoring the results of LSU's first three NCAA tournament games.

Instead, Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors and her staff have watched tapes from The Lady Tigers' Southeastern Conference contests to get a more realistic scouting report.

There's not much to learn from LSU's tourney wins over Stetson, Arizona and Liberty. After all, the Lady Tigers (32-2) took advantage of being the overall No. 1 seed, easily routing each overmatched team by 30 points or more.

But the games are bound to get tougher, starting Monday night against second-seeded Duke (31-4) in the Chattanooga Regional final with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

``We watched the NCAA games, but I haven't paid as much attention to those games as I have to the SEC games because the competition was a little bit better,'' Goestenkors said Sunday. ``We've gotten much more out of the SEC games than the NCAA games.''

By crushing opponents early on, LSU has been able to give plenty of rest to All-American Seimone Augustus, senior point guard Temeka Johnson and the other starters.

Duke should provide a bigger challenge for LSU with its intense defense and rebounding, height inside and outside and its own All-American, Monique Currie.

``They have their strengths. If there are weaknesses we have not witnessed it in person or on film,'' LSU coach Pokey Chatman said. ``They do a good job of playing to their strengths and to me that's always a sign of a great basketball team.''

The Lady Tigers aren't concerned with the large winning margins and believe games against ranked opponents earlier in the season have helped prepare them for Duke.

LSU beat Baylor, Maryland, Minnesota, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee while losing its only regular-season game at Rutgers.

``We were able to go up against teams that simulate Duke in terms of how they attack with their size, with quickness, with shooters, with drivers, standout players, from top to bottom. That was the biggest preparation for us,'' Chatman said.

But the Lady Tigers haven't been tested in a close game since losing to Tennessee 67-65 in the championship of the SEC tournament.

Meanwhile, Duke followed an easy win over Canisius in the first round with two tough games against Boston College and Georgia.

``They've had the big leads so they have a lot of confidence right now,'' Goestenkors said. ``The positive for us is that we have had to fight our way through.''

The teams have faced each other only twice before. LSU beat Duke in a regional semifinal in 2000, and the Blue Devils then beat LSU the following November.

The Lady Tigers are trying to follow up their first appearance in the Final Four a year ago with another.

Duke went to the Final Four in 1999, 2002 and 2003. The Blue Devils lost to Minnesota in last year's regional final as a No. 1 seed.

Many believe this is LSU's best chance at winning a national championship with Augustus and Johnson leading the way. But the Lady Tigers dismiss suggestions there is pressure for the top seed to win.

``There is pressure on every team,'' Chatman said.

The Blue Devils thought they had the right formula last year with senior Alana Beard, and Goestenkors enjoys not having to deal with that pressure this season.

``I understand that LSU is probably feeling some of that pressure whether they say it or not,'' she said. ``It's there. You can't help it.''

(2) Duke (31-4) vs. (1) LSU (32-2)
Game Info: 9:00 pm EST Mon Mar 28, 2005
Chattanooga Region - McKenzie Arena (Chattanooga, TN)

LSU has been simply dominant in the NCAA tournament to this point.
The top-seeded Lady Tigers should face their biggest test of the Chattanooga Regional when they take on No. 2 Duke for a spot in the Final Four.

LSU has won its first three games by an average of 36.3 points, showcasing its superior depth and talent. The latest rout for the Lady Tigers, seeking a second straight trip to the Final Four, was a 90-42 win over Liberty on Saturday.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman believes her team is peaking at the right time.

``This was our most complete game because of what we brought from the previous games,'' Chatman said.

The Lady Tigers were thrilled that All-American guard Seimone Augustus bounced back with a strong effort Saturday. She scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting after going 10-of-29 combined in the first two rounds.

LSU has played some outstanding defense, holding its first three opponents to just under 28 percent from the field. The Lady Tigers have forced an average of 20.3 turnovers.

``We're competing,'' LSU point guard Temeka Johnson said. ``That's not to take away from our opponents. We're doing everything well, and it shows the caliber of our team.''

Johnson is averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 assists in the last three games.

In addition to Augustus and Johnson, the Lady Tigers also boast freshman reserve Sylvia Fowles, the SEC sixth woman of the year. The 6-foot-5 Fowles is the team's second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game.

``LSU is a phenomenal team,'' Duke forward Mistie Williams said. ``We will have to take it in stride. We are not going to be tired until all is said and done. We will give 110 percent and leave it all out on the floor. If our legs fall off, we will play until we are done.''

Duke is hoping to present more of a challenge. The Blue Devils have reached the regional final for the sixth time in eight years and are led by Monique Currie.

The All-American powered Duke to a 63-57 win over Georgia on Saturday. The junior, who will graduate in the spring and is considering a jump to the WNBA, had 16 points and 12 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season.

``Our goal was to want it more than them,'' Currie said. ``We play better when we play with emotion.''

The Blue Devils held a 45-32 edge on the glass, including 14 offensive rebounds that led to 16 second-chance points. Williams grabbed 13 boards, matching the second-highest total in the NCAA tournament in school history.

Duke coach Gail Goestenkors feels that her team can't expect to dominate the glass the same way against LSU.

``We will have to make all of the shots inside that we missed today,'' Goestenkors said. ``I thought we missed some bunnies today. We cannot do that against LSU. They have so many weapons.''

LSU and Duke have met twice, splitting the matchups in 2000 and 2001.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Duke - F Williams (11.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Wynter Whitley (5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg), C Alison Bales (7.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.8 bpg), G Wanisha Smith (11.2 ppg, 4.4 apg), G Currie (17.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg). LSU - F Wendlyn Jones (4.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F Tillie Willis (3.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Johnson (10.3 ppg, 7.8 apg), G Scholanda Hoston (9.1 ppg, 2.2 spg), G Augustus (19.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Duke - At-large berth, ACC; beat No. 15 Canisius 80-48, first round; beat No. 7 Boston College 70-65, second round; beat No. 6 Georgia 63-57. regional semifinals. LSU - At-large berth, SEC; beat No. 16 Stetson 70-36, first round; beat No. 9 Arizona 76-43, second round; beat No. 13 Liberty 90-48, regional semifinals.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Duke - 30-11, 12 years. LSU - 23-14, 15 years.

Lady Bears in uncharted territory against UNC

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Now it's the North Carolina women's turn.

Just like Connecticut a year ago, the Tar Heels could win both of college basketball's biggest prizes. The men made it to the Final Four by beating Wisconsin on Sunday. The North Carolina women can do the same with a victory over Baylor in the Tempe Regional final Monday night.

The matchup of the No. 1-seeded Tar Heals and No. 2-seeded Lady Bears should be a showcase of how athletically gifted and skilled the young women who play basketball have become.

``You're going to see tremendous athletes. You're going to see unbelievable speed and quickness,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. ``You're going to see unbelievable leaping ability. You're going to see girls that grew up playing the game with guys.''

Both teams are 30-3 and riding long winning streaks -- North Carolina 16 games and Baylor a school-record 17. Both teams love to run, both play tough defense, both are strong inside.

``I think it shows where the game is now, the skill level, the abilities of the players, the style of play, the coaching, the ability of players to shoot the basketball,'' North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. ``The game's come a long way.''

Hatchell is 684-265 in 19 seasons at North Carolina, but is in a regional final for only the third time. Her 1998 team lost to eventual national champion Tennessee, her 1994 team, with Marion Jones at point guard, won the national title.

Baylor has never made it this far in the tournament, but in just five years, Mulkey-Robertson has built a strong program that reflects her own intensely competitive personality.

As a player, she helped Louisiana Tech win two national titles, and was part of the U.S. Olympic gold medal team in 1984.

She was an assistant at Louisiana Tech for 15 years, helping the school win three more national championships and assuming she would take over when longtime coach Leon Barmore retired. She was offered the job, but the money was far less than she could have gotten had she accepted several big-time coaching positions she turned down over the years. Louisiana Tech also didn't give her the five-year deal she wanted.

So she left on sour terms to take over the downtrodden Baylor program.

``I keep in contact with a lot of friends at Louisiana Tech,'' Mulkey-Robertson said. ``I've not talked to Coach Barmore since I left there. He's left two messages on my cell phone after a basketball game.''

Baylor has little athletic heritage. The track program of coach Clyde Hart has produced Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. But the school probably is best remembered for a men's basketball player accused of murdering a teammate in 2003.

So an NCAA women's basketball championship would be a very big deal.

``As a university and a community in Waco, we've got so many people behind us,'' guard Chameka Scott said. ``They just love to see us bring some goodness to Baylor. To become a powerhouse, and just what we've come from and what we've become, is a lot of fun to watch.''

Mulkey-Robertson's job got a lot easier when she found Sophia Young, who came to the United States from the West Indies as an exchange student age 15. Through some connections, she heard about Young, went to see her play a high school game at Shreveport and could see a raw talent with tremendous potential.

Young, a 6-foot-1 junior, scored 26 points in Baylor's rugged 64-57 victory over Minnesota on Saturday night.

``She's a great player and a great athlete,'' Hatchell said. ``When I saw her jump last night, I was wondering if she was ever going to come back down. She can just jump over the rest of the defense and shoot her shot. There is no way to stop that. She jumps higher than anyone I've seen this year.''

Young's mother came from the West Indies and watched her play for the first time on Saturday night.

``She thought I was pretty good,'' Young said.

The Tar Heels had to overcome a hostile crowd to beat Arizona State on its home floor 79-72 on Saturday night. On Sunday, the North Carolina women watched in their locker room and rooted the men's team on to victory. Three of the women date players on the men's team.

The men and women play the same North Carolina, up-tempo style.

``We're just a run-and-gun team,'' said the Tar Heels' 5-foot-6, ever-energized playmaker Ivory Latta, who scored 20 on Saturday. ``Everybody can run.''

West Indies supplies Lady Bears with scoring star

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Baylor's Sophia Young played basketball in front of her mother for the first time over the weekend.

``She thought I was pretty good,'' Young said.

So has anyone else who has seen the 6-foot-1 junior's speed, agility and incredible leaping ability.

Young will lead the second-seeded Lady Bears into the biggest game in their program's history on Monday night, an NCAA tournament showdown with No. 1 seed North Carolina in the semifinals of the Tempe Regional.

Both teams are 30-3 and on long winning streaks -- North Carolina has won 16 straight, while Baylor has a school-record 17 consecutive victories. Both teams love to run, play tough defense and are strong inside.

Young averaged 18 points per game this season, and has averaged 24 in her three NCAA tournament games. She scored 26, four shy of her career high when Baylor beat Minnesota 64-57 on Monday night to advance to the regional final for the first time in school history.

``She's a great player and a great athlete,'' Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said. ``When I saw her jump last night, I was wondering if she was ever going to come back down. She can just jump over the rest of the defense and shoot her shot. There is no way to stop that. She jumps higher than anyone I've seen this year.''

Young came to Shreveport, La., from the West Indies at age 15 as an exchange student. Through connections, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson heard about this teen talent who had barely played the game but showed so much raw talent. Just before Young's senior high school season, Mulkey-Robertson watched her work out and after five minutes, knew this was a special player.

``I said `We need to get her on campus immediately and we need to sign her before anybody else finds out about her,''' Mulkey-Robertson said.

Since then, Young has added basketball skills to her natural abilities. Holding her in check will be a major chore for the Tar Heels.

``I'm just going to play regular,'' Young said. ``I don't think I'm going to change anything. I'm just going to be playing Baylor basketball.''

North Carolina will counter with an imposing front line and a tough inside presence in 6-foot-2 freshman Erlana Larkins, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, in the Tar Heels' 79-72 regional semifinal victory over Arizona State on ASU's home court.

Mulkey-Robertson compared Larkins' play to that of former NBA rebounding star Dennis Rodman.

``Larkins doesn't shoot much from outside the paint, but she doesn't have to,'' the Baylor coach said. ``She positions herself very well and knows where shots are going to come off that rim. That's the first thing I noticed. It wasn't that she just went and bullied her way and got a rebound. She knows where to be.''

Five days shy of her 19th birthday, Larkins seems unaffected by NCAA tournament pressure.

``This is my first time here. I am shocked,'' she confessed. ``But I am excited, although I might not show it. My teammates have been helping me along the way since the day I stepped on UNC's campus.''

Hatchell is 684-265 in 19 seasons at North Carolina, but is in a regional final for only the third time. Her 1998 team lost to eventual national champion Tennessee; her 1994 team, with Marion Jones at point guard, won the national title.

Baylor has never made it this far in the tournament, but in just five years, Mulkey-Robertson has built a strong program that reflects her own intensely competitive personality.

As a player, she helped Louisiana Tech win two national titles, and was part of the U.S. Olympic gold medal team in 1984. She also helped Tech win three more NCAA championships in 15 years as an assistant.

The North Carolina women will be trying to join the Tar Heels men's team, which advanced to the Final Four with a victory over Wisconsin on Sunday.

The men and women play the same North Carolina, up-tempo style.

``We're just a run-and-gun team,'' said the Tar Heels' 5-foot-6, ever-energized playmaker Ivory Latta, who scored 20 on Saturday. ``Everybody can run.''

(2) Baylor (30-3) vs. (1) North Carolina (30-3)
Game Info: 7:00 pm EST Mon Mar 28, 2005
Tempe Region - Wells-Fargo Arena (Tempe, AZ)

North Carolina is hoping for a return trip to the Final Four after a lengthy absence. Baylor is seeking its first berth in women's basketball showcase event.
The top-seeded Tar Heels can return to the Final Four for the first time since 1994 when they meet the No. 2 seed Lady Bears in the Tempe Regional final.

North Carolina has been plagued by early exits from the NCAA tournament in recent years, failing to reach the regional semifinals in each of the last three seasons. After getting past that hurdle this year, the Tar Heels moved into their first regional final since 1998 with a 79-72 win over Arizona State on Saturday

Led by star point guard Ivory Latta, North Carolina shook off the pro-Sun Devils crowd and survived a series of rallies. Latta scored 20 points and freshman Erlana Larkins added 18 and 14 rebounds as the Tar Heels won their 16th straight.

``I think it was tougher than we thought it would be,'' said Larkins. ``They had a great environment. They were the home team. They came out and played really hard.''

Latta battled through a wrist injury to make 6-of-14 shots. She is averaging 23.5 points in the last six games for the Tar Heels.

``I just tried not to think about it because my teammates were telling me, 'Ivory, we need you, suck it up, you'll be all right,''' she said. ``That's the only thing I need to hear.''

Larkins, who notched her seventh double-double, matched a season high in rebounds. She will need to come through Monday against a Baylor frontcourt that features center Steffanie Blackmon and forward Sophia Young, who averages a team-high 18 points per game.

``I think it's going to be a great game,'' Larkins said. ``They're great with the fast breaks and they have two really great post players in Blackmon and Young, so I think it should be a great matchup.''

Baylor has advanced farther than any team in school history after a 64-57 win over Minnesota on Saturday. The Lady Bears won their 17th straight game thanks to a brilliant performance by Young.

Playing in front of her mother for the first time, Young had 26 points and seven rebounds to lead the way. The junior made 12 of her final 18 shots.

``My emotions are just running wild,'' Young said. ``I'm happy my mom could come and see me play. It was such a great atmosphere. And it's a tremendous opportunity to take my team to the Elite Eight.''

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson used the defense of Abiola Wabara to help counter Minnesota star forward Janel McCarville, who made just 6-of-16 shots. Wabara and McCarville were whistled for a double-technical in the final minute and had to be separated.

``When it's physical and they let you play like that, things like that happen at the end of a game that are unfortunate,'' Mulkey-Robertson said.

The physical play will be a challenge for Larkins, who has three double-doubles in her last six games.

``When we get the ball inside to Erlana, she usually produces well,'' North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

Baylor is hoping that reserve forward Emily Niemann comes out of her shooting slump. Niemann, who is shooting nearly 47 percent on 3-pointers this season, is 4-of-20 from the arc over the last six games.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Baylor - F Young (18.0 ppg and 9.2 rpg), F Wabara (5.4 ppg and 3.5 rpg), C Blackmon (15.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg), G Chelsea Whitaker (4.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 5.3 apg), G Chameka Scott (7.5 ppg and 4.1 rpg). North Carolina - F Camille Little (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg), F Nikita Bell (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), C Larkins (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Latta (17.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), G La'Tangela Atkinson (8.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Baylor - Automatic bid, Big 12 tournament champion; beat No. 15 Illinois State 91-70, first round; beat No. 10 Oregon 69-46, second round; beat No. 3 Minnesota 64-57, regional semifinals. North Carolina - Automatic bid, Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion; beat No. 16 Coppin State 97-62, first round; beat No. 9 George Washington 71-47, second round; beat No. 5 Arizona State 79-72, regional semifinals.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Baylor - 6-3, 4 years. North Carolina - 27-15, 17 years.

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