Tuesday April 7th, 2009

1. Talent. The Huskies boast three All-Americas -- including junior post player Tina Charles, sophomore National Player of the Year Maya Moore and the player who deserved that award just as much, senior point guard Renee Montgomery -- and at least five future pros. Each plays like she is fighting for her scholarship. "That's the thing that separates Connecticut," said Louisville's one All-America, Angel McCoughtry. "Every one of them, down to the 12th player on the bench, plays her butt off."

2. Defense. The Huskies have traditionally been good on defense, but ever since this group experienced an uncharacteristic lapse in a 76-63 win over LSU in early January, they have been downright oppressive. Following the LSU game, the group suffered through a brutal practice "that will stick in my mind forever," said junior guard Kalana Greene. Coach Geno Auriemma put the balls in the rack and made his team do defensive slides and drills for two and a half hours. Since then, the Huskies haven't taken off a defensive possession. In the Big East championship game, they held Louisville to 21 percent shooting.

3. Offensive balance. The big three of Moore, Montgomery and Charles each average between 16.2 and 19.2 points per game. Let's say Louisville is the rare team that's able to contain two of them, even temporarily. As Cal learned in the Sweet 16, you leave freshman Tiffany Hayes open at your peril (she scorched the Bears for 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting.) The final starter, Greene, has added more than 10 points per game during the tournament, often in clutch situations. "Everyone on that team can score," said Louisville assistant Michelle Clark-Heard. "You have to pick your poison."

4. Renee Montgomery. Moore may be the team's leader in most statistical categories -- including points, rebounds, steals and three-point percentage -- but Montgomery makes the Huskies go. The captain and emotional pulse of the team, Montgomery has a knack for hitting the game-changing three or making the critical defensive stop. Simply put, Montgomery refuses to lose. After she scored a team-high 26 points, including three threes and dished out six assists, in an 83-64 semifinal win over Stanford on Sunday night, Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer told Auriemma, "That's the Player of the Year right there."

5. This team doesn't believe the hype. There may be people out there who believe the Huskies can't lose to Louisville, a team they already crushed twice this year, but you won't find any of them in the Connecticut locker room. The players may not know about the disasters that have befallen other heavily favored, can't-miss teams -- think the undefeated UNLV men losing to Duke in the 1991 Final Four, or the Giants beating the undefeated Patriots in last year's Super Bowl -- but their coach does. "You can't ignore the fact that there's another team out there that has the ability to put the ball in the basket, to play defense, to rebound and that is playing with an unbelievable amount of emotion," Auriemma said. "You can't discount that. I don't care what the difference in talent level is. Crazy stuff happens in the NCAA tournament." Though Auriemma says he hasn't discussed UNLV or the Patriots with his players, they are plenty wary of their final, underdog opponent. "We know what teams are capable are doing," said Greene. "You catch yourself, thinking, oh, we won by this amount and we played them twice already. That's how teams come back and beat you."

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