Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Guru's NCAA Report: UConn Gives Auriemma A Sweet Home Win

(Guru’s note: A notebook focusing on Maya Moore’s milestone 3,000th point and other news items are posted below this as well as an updated NCAA schedule. In melgreenberg.com click mel’s blog to get to everything else besides the top story.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA –
Once again a hometown setting Tuesday night was kind to coach Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament – this time at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

Whether a third tournament success near where Auriemma grew up in Norristown will ultimately prove as noteworthy for UConn as the previous two trips – the 1991 East Regional at The Palestra and the 2000 Women’s Final Four at the then-named First Union Center -- will have to be determined by the Huskies (36-1) themselves when they arrive in Indianapolis this weekend for the national semifinals and championship at Conseco Fieldhouse.

For the moment, though, Connecticut’s dominating 75-40 victory over second-seeded Duke (32-4) was enough to celebrate the Huskies’ advance to their 12th Women’s Final Four and fourth straight dating to 2008.

The Philadelphia Regional title by the overall No. 1 seed in the 64-team NCAA field also meant the opportunity for a short-term extension to enjoy the exploits of UConn senior Maya Moore, who became the seventh NCAA player to reach 3,000 career points. She did that exactly by scoring 28 points before leaving the game in which she also grabbed 10 rebounds and seven steals besides blocking two shots.

“I think we were all on the same page today,” Moore said of the way the Huskies quickly closed their deal after building a 10-point at 30-20 at the half on her jump shot just before time expired. “The first half, we were a little too fast. We all were kind of struggling a little bit to get it done offensively but I think in the second half when we settled down we were all moving the ball really well.

“We had 24 assists as a team. When we’re passing the ball like that, I’m probably going to have a lot of points because my teammates do a good job of finding me. When the tournament comes around I get the mindset that if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it,” she continued.

“Sometimes it’s a little rushed, but in the second half I started to settle down a little bit and they were falling. It was just an all around good win for our team. If you look at the stats, every single player, especially the starters, have something that jumps out.”

Moore, who became the second four-time Associated Press first team all-American earlier in the day, was named the most valuable player and was joined on the all-tournament team by sister Huskies Lorin Dixon, a senior; freshman Bria Hartley (14 points), and Duke seniors Karima Christmas and Jasmine Dixon (17 points).

“There is something special about this group and what we had to deal with all season long and what they were able to persevere through,” Auriemma saluted his team after beating Duke for the second time this season.

Back on January 31st on UConn’s campus in Storrs, the Huskies blitzed to a 23-2 lead and won 87-51, one of the worst drubbings in the history of the Duke women, who were this season’s last unbeaten Division I women’s team entering that contest.

In Tuesday’s game Connecticut jumped to a 10-2 lead but the Blue Devils were able several times to get within three. However, trailing by 23-20 with 3:37 left in the half, the Huskies took off on a layup by Tiffany Hayes, who had 11 points in the game, and then got a three-pointer and the buzzer-beater from Moore at the break.

Center Stefanie Dolson, who struggled in Sunday’s win over Georgetown, had 12 points for UConn, which had a lopsided 40-8 scoring advantage for the game inside the paint, including 22-4 in the second half.

Connecticut, which shot 72 percent from the field in the second half, opened the period on a 15-3 run and it got worse the rest of the way.

“I think the difference was obviously their speed and we didn’t come out like we needed to come out,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of the final stanza in remarks similar to those uttered back in January after the first loss.

“Frankly, offensively, we were just horrible. To get eight points in the paint (for the game)? C’mon you can’t beat anybody with eight points in the paint.

“You have to credit their defense but I was just a little dismayed on hustle plays to be honest with you. I felt they beat us to the ball, they out-hustled us a bit on loose balls, certain plays in transition, not getting the two guards back to defend.”

The Huskies outscored the Blue Devils 20-11 on points from transition turnovers.

Asked if he sensed Moore's big night beforehand, Auriemma noted, ""You could sense it. There was just too many games leading up to this where things just didn't click for whatever reason.

"But, she doesn't let a lot of big games go by without going off. There wasn't too many of them that went by. I didn't think she was going to let this one go by."

The Huskies have made it to the Final Four the same time their male counterparts have advanced in their tournament. The dual
advance also occurred in 2009, while, additionally, in 2004 the two programs became the first to win national titles in the same season.

Furthermore, the two programs help make UConn the first school to have dual advancements to the Final Four and a football appearance in a BCS Bowl in the same academic year.

On Sunday night in the second national semifinal game, Connecticut will meet Big East-rival Notre Dame, (30-7) which felled Tennessee 73-59 to upset the Dayton Regional top seed on Monday night.

"You would love to be playing somebody that's not in your conference, but, at the same time, there's going to be a Big East team playing for the national championship next Tuesday night and that's pretty cool," Auriemma said.

Indianapolis is an easy drive from South Bend in the state for fans of the Irish, causing Auriemma to quip: We already played Notre Dame on the road once, so playing them on the road twice is really no big deal. Let’s get that started right away,”

The Huskies have already beaten the Irish three times this season, including the Big East title game. Notre Dame hasn’t been to a Final Four since the two met in the 2001 national semifinals and the Irish won to advance to the championship round where they beat Purdue in St. Louis.

“There’s only a couple of kids in America that are playing next weekend and know how to win a national championship and I’m fortunate to have them on my team,” Auriemma said. “So, when things have to get done, we know how to get them done. That doesn’t mean they’re going to get done, but they know how to handle these situations.”

The Fourth time was the charm in the Dallas Regional Tuesday night for second-seeded Texas A&M (31-5) against top-seeded Baylor (34-3), the Aggies’ Big 12 rival. Coach Gary Blair’s squad broke through the first time this season with a 58-46 victory.

Texas A&M will open play Sunday night against Spokane Regional winner Stanford (33-2), a top seed which is in its fourth-straight Final Four, similar to the Huskies whom the Cardinal beat in December at home out west in Maples Pavilion.

That win over the Huskies gained revenge for last season’s rally that brought UConn its second straight unbeaten national title in San Antonio and seventh overall.

Only Tennessee at eight has won more NCAA women’s crowns.

The Stanford triumph also stopped the Huskies’ NCAA-record win streak run at 90 games and since then they have won 24 straight.

-- Mel

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