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Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. -- All season, Diana Taurasi has done her best to get everyone involved for Connecticut.

Now it's time for her to take over.

So even if two more assists will make Taurasi the career leader for UConn, the two-time Naismith Award winner as national player of the year probably won't be passing up too many open shots.

And that's just fine with Geno Auriemma, the coach of the NCAA champions the last two years.

"She understands that it's winning time now, and I think she understands it better than anybody,'' Auriemma said. "The kids recognize she has her game-face on. Hopefully, they can feed off that.''

The second-seeded Huskies are two victories away from becoming the first team to reach five straight women's Final Fours.

They play UC Santa Barbara -- at No. 11, the lowest-seeded team left in the field -- on Saturday in the East Regional in Hartford, Conn. The other regional semifinal is top-seeded Penn State against No. 5 Notre Dame.

"Right now, everyone is willing to give themselves up for the good of the team,'' Taurasi said. "Sometimes it takes five months to get people to do that, like it did last year. When March comes around, every game you put all your chips in.''

She certainly did that a year ago in the NCAAs. Taurasi averaged a tournament-high 26.2 points, along with 5.7 rebounds and three assists.

"Through the course of the year, it would be awfully hard to maintain the level she was at last March,'' Auriemma said. "She didn't pass up opportunities that she normally would pass up.''

This season, Taurasi leads Connecticut in scoring (her 15.6-point average is down two points from 2002-03) and assists (5.1).

With 158 assists, the 6-foot guard lifted her career total to 636. That's one fewer than Jennifer Rizzotti, who helped UConn win the first of its four national titles in 1995.

Taurasi's teammates know what to expect from her now: If Taurasi has the ball, be ready for it. A pass could whiz through waves of defenders and find a teammate on the wing, or a court-length heave could loft perfectly to a teammate streaking to the basket.

"Her passing ability and her court vision are unbelievable,'' guard Maria Conlon said. "It's almost like she knows where people are going to be before they do.''

Opponents know they've got to find Taurasi and slow her if they want to beat the Huskies. Auburn tried to focus on her in a second-round game Tuesday.

"Once we get Taurasi, we've got UConn,'' Auburn forward Louise Emeagi said before the game.

But the AP All-American proved too elusive, handing out seven assists and going 6-for-12 from the floor in UConn's 79-53 win. Five of those field goals were 3-pointers, while the other was a spinning left-handed scoop layup along the baseline.

Against UC Santa Barbara, Taurasi can provide her team with more than passes and points. As a Californian, she's familiar with the opponent.

"Every tournament they've made some noise,'' Taurasi said, "and they keep getting better.''

She's 18-1 over her career in the NCAA Tournament, the lone loss being in the 2001 national semifinals against eventual champion Notre Dame. As a freshman then, Taurasi didn't pass up many opportunities. That night practically nothing went in. She went 1-for-15 from the field, missing all 11 3-point attempts.

The floor used for that Final Four was used again for UConn's first two tournament games this year, at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

Taurasi certainly made amends, averaging 17.5 points and eight assists in the Huskies' victories over Pennsylvania and Auburn.

Four more outings like that might just give Connecticut -- and Taurasi -- another title.



EAST
1 Penn State
2 Connecticut
3 Houston
4 North Carolina
5 Notre Dame
6 Colorado
7 Auburn
8 Virginia Tech
9 Iowa
10 North Carolina State
11 UC Santa Barbara
12 Southwest Missouri State
13 Middle Tennessee
14 UW-Green Bay
15 Penn
16 Hampton
MIDEAST
1 Duke
2 Kansas State
3 Boston College
4 Texas Tech
5 Louisiana Tech
6 Ohio State
7 Minnesota
8 Old Dominion
9 Marquette
10 UCLA
11 West Virginia
12 Montana
13 Maine
14 Eastern Michigan
15 Valparaiso
16 Northwestern State
WEST
1 Texas
2 Purdue
3 Georgia
4 LSU
5 Miami
6 TCU
7 Villanova
8 Michigan State
9 Arizona
10 Mississippi
11 Temple
12 Maryland
13 Austin Peay
14 Liberty
15 St. Francis (Pa.)
16 Southern
MIDWEST
1 Tennessee
2 Vanderbilt
3 Oklahoma
4 Baylor
5 Florida
6 Stanford
7 Rutgers
8 George Washington
9 DePaul
10 Chattanooga
11 Missouri
12 New Mexico
13 Loyola Marymount
14 Marist
15 Lipscomb
16 Colgate