Huskies' balance + chemistry = 35-0
Editor's note: While covering the UConn women's perfect run in 2001-02, ESPN.com revisited each of the previous undefeated seasons in women's college basketball history.
Geno Auriemma said on several occasions that he didn't want to stumble into history like Forrest Gump, but at the 1995 Final Four in Minneapolis his University of Connecticut women's basketball team felt for all the world to be accidental tourists.The Huskies had merely two Parade High School all-Americans on their squad, Rebecca Lobo and freshman Nykesha Sales. Stanford and Tennessee, the teams that would be their opponents, both had Parade players in the double digits.Jennifer Rizzotti made the key basket to lock up UConn's national title in '95.
After weathering a difficult regional final against Virginia -- UConn trailed by seven at the half before rallying to win 67-63 -- the Huskies were undefeated at 33-0. Still, in a weird way, the pressure was off.
"I just wanted this team to get (to the Final Four), because they deserved it," Auriemma said before the Stanford game. "From there on in, there's no pressure because we made it to Minneapolis."
In one of the most lopsided NCAA Final Four games ever, Connecticut blinded Stanford, 87-60. Sophomore 6-foot-6 center Kara Wolters, who made 11 of 17 shots and 9 of 13 free throws, dropped 31 points on the Cardinal. Jamelle Elliott had 21 points and the versatile Lobo, the consensus player of the year, had 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
How did this happen against a team like Stanford that, based on resumés, had the more talented squad by far?
"I would have to say chemistry had a lot to do with it," said Sales, who now plays for the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA. "It's the way the players gel. We didn't have a lot of big egos that year. We had a couple of players that everybody was scared of. Jamelle Elliott and Jen Rizzotti, they were really aggressive and they wouldn't take any crap. Basically, they said, 'We dare you to come in here and not work hard.' "
The opponent in the championship game couldn't have been any other team than Tennessee. Earlier in the season, the Huskies had beaten the Lady Vols in a nationally televised game that seemed to spark the sport. They had taken the No. 1 ranking and become media darlings in the intervening months. And now UConn, at 34-0, was looking at history; Texas had gone 34-0 in 1985-86 to become the first-ever undefeated women's NCAA team.
"Kind of scary, really," Elliott said before the game. "We've tried not to talk about it, tried not to think about it, but now it's right there staring us in the face."
With Lobo in foul trouble (she was called for three fouls in a span of 94 seconds), UConn trailed at the half, 38-32. It was 61-61 when Rizzotti crafted the most memorable moment of the game. She collected a long rebound, dashed the length of the court and spun her Tennessee counterpart, point guard Michelle Marciniak, with a crossover dribble and laid the ball in left-handed. Connecticut never lost its lead and wound up winning, 70-64.
How balanced were the Huskies? In six NCAA Tournament games, Wolters scored the most points (108), Elliott had the most rebounds (47), Lobo had the most blocks (22), Rizzotti had the most assists (27) and Sales had the most steals (17).
Balance. Chemistry. History.
"At UConn, going 35-0 is normal now," Wolters said, only slightly stretching the truth. "Every year that passes, and every team I've played on since then -- you appreciate it more what we did."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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