DAYTON, Ohio -- Connecticut's Diana Taurasi is so gifted, so talented, so charismatic that even opponents enjoy watching her.
Count Purdue coach Kristy Curry in that group. Curry has to figure out a way to stop Taurasi -- well, slow her down, anyway -- when her team meets Connecticut in the NCAA East Regional final on Tuesday night, with a berth in the Final Four in Atlanta at stake.
|Connecticut's Diana Taurasi is averaging 27.3 points in the NCAA Tournament.|
But there was Curry on Monday, sounding as though she was jockeying to become Taurasi's agent once the UConn star goes pro.
"The more I think about her, she may be on the best I've ever seen,'' Curry said. "The thing about Diana that I love is her
emotion, her intensity, her fire. You see a lot of great players that show no emotion, but she has a special, special sense to enjoy the game.
"It's a fun thing and I like to see her have fun -- just not against us tomorrow.''
Taurasi certainly is having fun in the NCAA Tournament. That was never more evident than when the defending national champs beat Boston College 70-49 in the regional semifinals on Sunday.
The 6-foot junior scored 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting and let her emotions show. She laughed while running down the floor after scoring. She gave a high-five to a ball girl before an inbounds pass. At a particularly intense moment, she let out one of those screams that result in the contorted faces captured in so many tournament photographs.
Cocky? Sure. Arrogant? You bet. Can she back it up with her play? Most definitely.
"I don't know any great player who isn't cocky and arrogant and thinks they're the best,'' Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's just unusual for a woman to walk around and act like that. But she's not normal. What can I tell you?''
Taurasi led Connecticut in scoring, rebounding and assists during the regular season, when she carried an inexperienced team all the way to the Big East tournament championship game before it finally lost, snapping the Huskies' two-year string of 70 straight wins.
She has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 27.3 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 55 percent from 3-point range (11-for-20) and 60 percent overall.
So what's the first thing she wants to do against Purdue? Pass the ball to someone else, specifically Jessica Moore and Barbara Turner in the post.
"I really like to pass. I like to get my teammates involved,'' Taurasi said. "I love to see them come down the court and get
Whatever Taurasi does, she'll do it in pain. She has been playing hurt for several weeks now, nagged by a sore back and right ankle.
"When you see her make the shots she makes, you're saying, how does she do that? What gives her the guts to actually think she can make those plays?'' Auriemma said.
"It's the same thing with her injuries. She just thinks this is not a problem. Any other player would have been out three or four weeks with what she's dealing with.''
Taurasi has missed only one game this season and she certainly won't be sitting Tuesday night, when the top-seeded Huskies (34-1) will try to earn their fourth straight trip to the Final Four. They'll be challenged by a second-seeded Purdue team that has a pretty good tradition of its own.
The Boilermakers (29-5) won the 1999 national championship and lost to Notre Dame in the 2001 title game. And they won their conference tournament, something Connecticut can't say. Purdue beat Ohio State in the Big Ten finals and comes with an eight-game winning streak.
"We won't change what got us to this point,'' Curry said. "There's no David and Goliath. There's no 'Hoosiers.' We're a
second seed. We know what's gotten us here. Hopefully, things will fall into place for us.''
Purdue could give UConn problems with 6-foot-5 Mary Jo Noon inside. The Boilermakers also have good perimeter shooting with Erika Valek and Beth Jones, and athleticism with Shereka Wright and Lindsey Hicks.
But even if they all play well, they still have to get a handle on you-know-who. The Boilermakers can't allow Taurasi to dominate the game.
"I think it's going to take a combination of everybody,'' said Valek, who's averaging 22 points and shooting 55 percent in the tournament.