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Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Connecticut's feisty leader had one last bit of adrenaline to purge before she walked off a college basketball court for the last time.

Diana Taurasi
Along with a token cut of the net, Taurasi will take home her second MOP trophy.
Arms raised in triumph as the clock wound down, teeth clenched in an intense smile, Diana Taurasi grabbed a pass as the buzzer sounded and drop-kicked the basketball deep into the stands -- nearly into the upper deck.

The woman who had one of her worst games in her Final Four debut had just cemented a different legacy with Connecticut's record-tying third-straight NCAA title on Tuesday night.

"UConn domination -- bottom line," Taurasi said.

Her 17 points in the final led UConn in its 70-61 victory over Tennessee -- and for that she was named outstanding player of the Final Four for a second year in a row.

It wasn't always this way for Taurasi.

She went 1-for-15 in a national semifinal loss to Notre Dame in 2001. That performance turned out to be an anomaly -- the only NCAA tournament loss she would ever experience.

"Everything comes full circle -- freshman year was a disaster, being in the biggest game of my career and playing horrible," Taurasi said. "And I didn't feel bad for myself, but more for my teammates, for the seniors that went out that year."

After that game, Taurasi and her teammates lay on the floor of the locker room and cried, saying they never wanted to feel that way again, senior guard Maria Conlon recalled.

THE BEST OF THE BUNCH
A rundown of the women's Final Four Most Outstanding Player award winners:

2004 --Diana Taurasi, Connecticut
2003 -- Diana Taurasi, Connecticut
2002 -- Swin Cash, Connecticut
2001 -- Ruth Riley, Notre Dame
2000 -- Shea Ralph, Connecticut
1999 -- Ukari Figgs, Purdue
1998 -- Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee
1997 -- Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee
1996 -- Michelle Marciniak, Tennessee
1995 -- Rebecca Lobo, Connecticut
1994 -- Charlotte Smith, North Carolina
1993 -- Sheryl Swoopes, Texas Tech
1992 -- Molly Goodenbour, Stanford
1991 -- Dawn Staley, Virginia
1990 -- Jennifer Azzi, Stanford
1989 -- Bridgette Gordon, Tennessee
1988 -- Erica Westbrooks, Louisiana Tech
1987 -- Tonya Edwards, Tennessee
1986 -- Clarissa Davis, Texas
1985 -- Tracy Claxton, Old Dominion
1984 -- Cheryl Miller, Southern Cal
1983 -- Cheryl Miller, Southern Cal
1982 -- Janice Lawrence, Louisiana Tech

They never did.

Taurasi ended up proving herself as a big-game performer ever since, and the crowd could only laugh when UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the only thing he'd remember about Taurasi's career was two missed free throws -- meaningless ones -- in the last 1:30 of the final.

The coach then got serious.

"If it wasn't for the way she is, the way she plays, the way she comes to practice and the kind of teammate she is, there's no way the rest of her teammates would have been able to do what they did tonight," he said.

Connecticut ended up going 22-1 in tournament games during Taurasi's career.

She didn't score at will Tuesday night, but the shots she made were timely.

After Tennessee had whittled a 17-point deficit down to three, UConn responded with a 7-0 run capped by the last of Taurasi's three 3-pointers with 13:08 left in the game.

When the Lady Vols got back within six with just under five minutes left, Taurasi drove along the baseline and tossed in a double-pump shot off the glass. She closed out her scoring by hitting both ends of 1-and-1 free throws to give UConn a 64-57 lead with 2:22 to go.

"They were able to make their runs, but we showed a lot of composure," Taurasi said. "It is just the absolute best feeling in the world."

Taurasi averaged 19.8 points in the NCAA tournament. She averaged 15 points a game over her career, during which UConn went 139-8.

"It's been an unbelievable ride, the last four years -- you just don't expect that when you come into a program," Taurasi said. "You want to be successful and expect do well, but to win 3 national championships ... it means a lot."



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