Sunday, April 6
UConn's Di-nasty strikes again
By Eric Adelson
ESPN The Magazine
ATLANTA -- Call it a Di-nasty.
With a cold-blooded 3-pointer and a hot-handed swipe, Diana Taurasi gave UConn a thrilling 71-69 national semifinal win Sunday and brought the Huskies to within one win of their third championship in four years.
"We have Diana and they don't," Auriemma said in the aftermath of his 500th win against only 99 losses. "That's the biggest reason why we're here."
Amen. UConn was down nine -- the team's biggest deficit all season -- with a little more than 12 minutes to play, and that's when Taurasi re-entered the game. She scored 11 points from that point on, capped by a lead-changing, top-of-the-key trey that will go down as one of the most unforgettable shots in Final Four history. Then, on the game's final play, she tipped the ball away from Texas guard Alisha Sare and prevented a possible game-tying jumper.
Before the season began, few picked UConn to make it to Atlanta. But those who underestimated UConn also underestimated Taurasi's ability to draw upon a composure never before seen in the women's game. Her confidence sets her apart from even Alana Beard, who did everything in Sunday night's other semi except make the winning shot. It's now just about impossible to argue: Taurasi is the best women's player the college game has ever seen.
Oh, but she didn't look that way all night. Texas punished Taurasi and UConn throughout, suffocating the power guard underneath and forcing her to beat the Longhorns from long range. For two-thirds of the game, Texas' gameplan worked perfectly. "I just couldn't get anything going," Taurasi said.
Then Taurasi started hitting shots, and the transformation of the entire UConn team was as stunning as it was quick. Taurasi's teammates went from worn down to fired up -- from bending over and gasping for air to hopping around on defense. At the end of what had to be its most physical game ever, UConn somehow had all the juice.
"When she hit her comfort zone," Auriemma said, "everybody else got more comfortable. We were a little fresher in the last 3 minutes."
And Taurasi looked after the fourth-closest Final Four game ever like she just got back from a light jog. She smiled and laughed and poked fun at herself for not remembering how much her team led by as the seconds ticked down to single digits.
"I didn't know if we were up two or three!" Taurasi said with a shrug. "I forgot! I'm sorry!"
Forgiven. Taurasi's 26-point showstopper sets up a much-anticipated rematch with Tennessee. And if it wasn't for injuries to Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph in 2001, UConn might be on the verge of four straight titles -- with everyone returning next year.
Something else to consider: Auriemma has never lost a national title game. But this semifinal will always stand out in the coach's mind.
"That's as good of a game as I've seen played," Auriemma said. "I'll always remember this one."
And Tuesday night's final -- the third time in four years UConn and Tennessee have met in the Final Four -- should be just as memorable. The Lady Vols will have to somehow stop a player that has always saved her best for them.
"I'm looking forward to it," Taurasi said.
At this point, who isn't?
Eric Adelson is a staff writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|UConn's Diana Taurasi battles for the ball with Kala Bowers on Sunday.|