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Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Already an offensive force, Ann Strother has quietly developed into one of Connecticut's best defensive players.

The wiry 6-foot-2 sophomore guard has amassed a team-best 109 defensive rebounds this season, working around wider, stronger post players to come up with the ball and ignite the Huskies' fastbreak.

"Last year I wasn't very good at it and this year it was something I wanted to work on and get better at it,'' Strother said Saturday at the Final Four.

The two-time defending champion Huskies face Minnesota in the second national semifinal Sunday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). Tennessee faces LSU in the first semifinal (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Strother is averaging 10.9 points and is UConn's second-leading 3-point shooter, behind All-American senior Diana Taurasi.

Strother was the reigning national high school player of the year out of Castle Rock, Colo., when she arrived at UConn last season. She was counted on immediately to help fill the void left by a departing senior class of four All-Americans that completed a 39-0 season by winning the NCAA title.

Strother and the other freshmen helped Taurasi and the Huskies do the improbable: win back-to-back national championships. Strother scored 17 points in the title game.

"Not many people just had to come in and be starters right away,'' assistant coach Jamelle Elliot said. "The learning process started as soon as she stepped foot on campus.''

Strother, a dean's list student and nursing major, caught on quickly, realizing she could help the Huskies with more than just her 3-point shot. With her long arms, she's able to get into an opponents' passing lanes and create turnovers.

Coach Geno Auriemma said Strother is one of a number of role players who have taken turns stepping up for UConn this season.

"We're the kind of team that isn't really locked into like, 'these are our guys and you better stop these guys if you want to beat us,' '' he said. "We kind of come into a game and check it out and see where the matchups are, and see what we got going for us.''

Strother's rebounding ability will be put to the test against Minnesota's Janel McCarville, the Golden Gophers' dominant post player and former teammate of Strother's on the 2003 USA team in the Pan American Games.

"She's really tough,'' Strother said. "She can pass better than any big girl I've seen. But we've seen enough players that have a little bit of her in them that we've faced throughout the years.''

Having already helped UConn win a national title, Strother returns to this Final Four as a seasoned veteran.

"Last year, I felt in awe of everything,'' she said. "This year, I don't feel that way. I feel more confident and calm and I know what to expect.''



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