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Strother, Thomas help UConn avoid Texas upset bid

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- One rally-killing 3-pointer, followed by
another.

Two shots by Ann Strother and Mel Thomas in the final 2 minutes
Sunday snuffed out a furious Texas rally and sent No. 4 Connecticut
to a 71-58 victory that was much tougher than the Huskies probably
expected.

The Longhorns had cut an 18-point second-half deficit to 61-55
when Strother got open in the right corner and swished her third
3-pointer of the game.

After a Texas turnover, Thomas stepped to nearly the same spot
and hit another.

"Those were the back breakers," UConn forward Barbara Turner
said.

Strother finished with 15 points and Thomas and Turner each
scored 14 for the Huskies (22-3), who built several big leads but
struggled to survive 22 turnovers and a career-high 24 points from
Texas point guard Nina Norman.

When the schedule makers penciled in these teams, they likely
expected a blockbuster late-season Top 10 matchup. Instead they got
a UConn squad still among the best in the country and a Texas team
struggling with inexperience and injuries.

"They could have easily gotten blown out today, by a lot, but
they didn't," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "That says a lot
about their team and about their kids."

The Longhorns (12-10) played their second game without injured
center Tiffany Jackson and UConn exploited every weakness it could
find early on, hitting eight of its first 11 shots, including three
3s from Strother and Thomas.

When 5-foot-7 point guard Renee Montgomery outjumped three
flat-footed Longhorns for a rebound and putback, the Huskies led
22-8.

Texas missed 19 of its first 23 shots and UConn pushed the lead
as high as 32-13 before Texas rallied with a 12-3 run. Norman's
long 3 at the halftime buzzer cut it to 35-25.

Norman's speed with the ball and strong shooting hand created
all kinds of problems for the Huskies. She was the only Longhorn
with more than one basket in the first half.

"My shots kept falling. (Coach Jody Conradt) also told me to
take over the game," Norman said.

UConn kept rebuilding the lead in the second but couldn't find
the run to put the game out of reach.

The Huskies led 46-30 when Ketia Swanier stole the ball from
Norman and used a burst of speed to beat her to the other end for a
layup. A minute later, Auriemma was whistled for a technical foul
that charged up the crowd of 7,390.

But instead of a big momentum swing, Norman missed both attempts
from the line and UConn quickly seized control with a layup by
Kalana Greene and a 3-pointer from the right corner by Strother
that made it 51-35.

Texas' last best chance for an upset came when Norman scored
eight straight points and Erika Arriaran hit a 3-pointer to get
within 61-53, the first time since the opening minutes UConn's lead
was cut under 10.

Free throws got Texas within six before Auriemma drew up a play
for Strother, who nailed the shot.

"I think that was a crucial point in the game," Strother said.
"Either they were going to come back or we were going to put the
spread out even further."

When Thomas followed with hers, the Longhorns were finally done.

"I don't know if Mel would've made that 3 if Ann hadn't made
that one before it," Auriemma said. "That kind of took some of
the pressure off."

For Texas, it was the seventh loss against a ranked opponent in
a schedule rated the fourth-toughest in the country. Injuries have
wreaked havoc on the Texas lineup, especially among the seven
freshman who were rated the best incoming class in the country.

And with leading scorer Jackson out indefinitely with a sprained
ankle, the Longhorns must scrap for wins down the stretch if they
hope to make the NCAA tournament.

"I made a crucial error with overscheduling this team,"
Conradt said. "But this is not the team I thought I'd have."