A fitting finale for Taurasi

Updated: April 5, 2006, 9:51 PM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 5, UConn's 2004 title, which marked a Husky threepeat and the first time in history two teams from the same school won the college basketball championships.

Diana Taurasi
APAlong with a token cut of the net, Diana Taurasi also took home her second Final Four most oustanding player honor.

Connecticut's victory against arch rival Tennessee in the 2004 NCAA title game might not be the No. 1 moment in ESPN's Silver Anniversary celebration of NCAA women's basketball, but it's the moment you're most likely to remember watching.

When it was all over at the Final Four in New Orleans, more people had watched Diana Taurasi and the Huskies win a third consecutive national championship than any previous college game, men's or women's, in ESPN history. It was a fitting farewell audience for Taurasi, a player who did as much on the court as anyone before her to bring the women's game into the forefront of the nation's sporting consciousness.

A renewal of the sport's most famous rivalry, and a rematch of the 2003 final, it was a game where historical significance was just as big a draw as the action on the floor, even as Tennessee repeatedly rallied before finally falling 70-61. Not only did Connecticut join the vanquished Lady Vols as the only program in the women's game to win three consecutive national titles, but coach Geno Auriemma became one of three basketball coaches, men's or women's, to win at least five Division I titles.

Also, UConn became the first school ever to win both Division I basketball championships in the same year (the Husky men beat Georgia Tech the night before in San Antonio).

But even as two legendary programs clashed with history on the line, the game ultimately was a celebration of Taurasi's individual brilliance during her four years in college. The most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament, Taurasi led the Huskies in the final with 17 points in what actually turned out to be a moderately quiet final performance. Then again, a scarcity of the assists, rebounds, steals and even blocks that usually marked her performances only served to reinforce just how much her intangibles also influenced the outcome of big games.

Simply put, Taurasi could usually will her teams to victory. Or as Auriemma famously put it that season in explaining his team's success, "We have Diana and they don't."

At times during the 2003-04 season it seemed the Huskies might have leaned a little too much on their star, at least in comparison to the preceding title-winning teams. After losing one game during her sophomore and junior seasons, the Huskies endured four losses during Taurasi's senior year. Two of those losses came during the conference regular season, matching the team's total for the previous five seasons. And after failing to win the Big East tournament, the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as something other than a No. 1 seed for the first time in Taurasi's tenure.

Luckily, the Huskies caught some breaks in the bracket, playing first- and second-round games in nearby Bridgeport, Conn., before moving to their second home at the Hartford Civic Center for the regional semifinals and final. But the helping hand of fate extended only so far, and after dispatching Cinderella Minnesota in the Final Four, Taurasi and the Huskies faced their old nemesis in the final.

Perhaps it was fitting that even as Taurasi paced the Huskies in points, she got a helping hand from her teammates in the championship, including 14 points each from Ann Strother and Jessica Moore and 12 points from Barbara Turner. With that kind of balance and a defensive effort that limited the Lady Vols to 36 percent shooting, the Huskies were able to close the books on one of the greatest college careers in entirely appropriate fashion.

Click here to see when the next memorable moment will air in our countdown.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

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