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
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
"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
"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
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
"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.