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Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Updated: April 7, 11:10 AM ET
UConn suffered 'low moments' this season

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- No. 5 might have been the hardest for Connecticut.

The Huskies and their coaching staff celebrated with a collective sigh Tuesday night after beating archrival Tennessee 70-61 for the program's fifth title and third straight.

Getting there this season was anything but easy.

"This one was hard," associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "I remember last year. I hugged Barbara Turner and the first thing I said to her was, 'I hope you realize we just made the bull's-eye on our back 100 times bigger.' "

The pressure of that burden sometimes got the best of the Huskies, who finished 31-4, losing more games this season than they had the previous three years. Some of those losses were because of complete meltdowns by a team that looked at times disjointed and unfocused.

"We went through so many low moments," said Ann Strother, who finished with 14 points Tuesday night. "There were times when basketball was just hard for us."

The low point came Jan. 3 when UConn blew a 20-point lead to Duke, losing for the first time on its home court in 70 straight games. Other losses were to Notre Dame and Villanova on the road.

Then Boston College kept the Huskies out of the Big East tournament title game for the first time in nine years, beating them by three points in the tournament semifinal.

"Everything was a struggle," said Dailey, who has been on the bench for all five titles.

This one also gave the school an unprecedented sweep of the NCAA basketball championships. The men wrapped up their title 24 hours earlier by beating Georgia Tech in San Antonio.

Assistant coach Jamelle Elliot was a player on UConn's first title team in 1995, which finished 35-0.

"It never ever ever EVER gets old. Ever," Elliot said. "They've had so much pressure on them this year. Just to see their reaction and see how happy they are makes me happy because I know how much hard work they put in."

Turner finished with 12 points and nine boards. With 45 seconds left and two free throws to shoot, she broke into an wide grin.

"I just kind of had the feeling that we just achieved something great," Turner said. "I probably was wrong for smiling that early. It was probably kind of a slap in the face to Tennessee and I apologize about that. It was just the feeling I had and all I could do was smile."

In the end, even keeping a straight face was hard to do.