Tuesday March 27th, 2007

In an interview with SI a few weeks ago, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma sang the praises of his well-balanced, no-star team. "I like the fact that they don't look at anyone other than themselves to try to do it for them," he said. "For the whole season, I think that is a great way to go. But come tournament time, I still like the idea of having one person in the huddle that you know on any given night, on any given possession, can get you whatever you need. That would be my only concern going forward."

On Monday, his top-seeded Huskies needed that star in the worst way. With LSU's 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles shutting down Connecticut's inside game (Tina Charles and Charde Houston combined for five points) on one end and scoring at will at the other -- and three other Lady Tigers scoring in double figures -- Connecticut needed a hero and none appeared.

"The biggest strength we brought to the tournament is that we spread it around and get everybody involved," said Auriemma after the game. "That ended up becoming our biggest weakness because we didn't have that one individual that you could go to, that was going to be able to counter what Sylvia Fowles was doing. That's what gets you to next level."

PLAYER WHO IMPRESSED ME

You look at Fowles' stat line -- 23 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks and three steals -- and you think, is that all? She was so utterly dominant on both ends of the floor that it seemed she had accumulated all that just in the first half. She closed down Connecticut's inside game, and on the other end, she grabbed as many bad passes as good ones and turned them into points with nice little jump hooks. "Offensively she's gotten better and better," said Auriemma. "Defensively, she makes you take shots you're not used to taking. She covers so much ground that she is able to defend not just her man but others, too. I don't know anyone we've played in a long time who poses those kinds of problems." He added, "The only thing left for her is to win a few championships and get the hell out of college so we can move on."

Perhaps the most impressive stat of the night for Fowles, who used to be plagued by foul trouble, was two personal fouls. "Every time she touched the ball, there were about three people fouling her; but she didn't get rattled, and that's what made her performance so dominant," said point guard Erica White. "She kept playing, no matter what."

COURTSIDE CONFIDENTIAL

As the Lady Tigers all retired to their rooms Sunday night, they were asked by the coaching staff to think and dream about past games where they played their best basketball and to visualize themselves playing like that again. Forward Ashley Thomas, who had 12 points and four rebounds and was the game's X factor, according to acting coach Bob Starkey, visualized herself playing in the Georgia 5A state championship her senior year. Fowles said she thought about three games, which she wouldn't name because she didn't want her opponents in those games "to feel bad."

THE BIG PICTURE

The win over Connecticut sends LSU to its fourth straight Final Four. The Lady Tigers have never advanced beyond the semifinal, even with all-everything Seimone Augustus, the greatest player in school history, playing on the wing. Might they be a better team without her? Let's quote Auriemma one more time before he rides off to his earlier-than-expected offseason: "You always hate to say a team is better minus a kid that that's good," he said. "When you guarded them (with Seimone), you knew where all the shots were coming from. And now you don't know. We said today, 'Let's guard (Quianna) Chaney (who had 22 points against Florida State on Saturday) and let's do a good job on Sylvia,' and all the other guys stepped up and made shots. In that sense, they are harder to defend this year than they were last year. Whether they are better, I don't know. But they are certainly harder to play against. Now if those other kids don't make any of those outside shots, then it's going to be a long day for them. They are playing with a lot of confidence right now, and they are shooting with a lot of confidence. There were a lot of good players hanging around, and now they've stepped up."

Their semifinal opponent, Rutgers, another great defensive team, is playing well, too. It will be a low-scoring, physical battle, but if LSU plays as well as it did tonight, the Tigers will finally make it to the championship game.

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