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Can Anyone Stop UConn? The Huskies hope to complete their second perfect season in seven years in San Antonio, but there are potential roadblocks along the way

March 18, 2002
March 18, 2002

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March 18, 2002

Si Adventure

Can Anyone Stop UConn? The Huskies hope to complete their second perfect season in seven years in San Antonio, but there are potential roadblocks along the way

Connecticut's foes in the NCAA tournament are banking on the
Huskies' lack of experience in close games to help produce an
upset. Of course, the fact that UConn (33-0) has ripped its
opponents by an average of 37.0 points a game--an NCAA
record--hardly qualifies as a weakness. "Connecticut is so good
and so versatile that it can play any way it wants," says
Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster. "The rest of us have to figure out
how to play UConn on a particular night."

This is an article from the March 18, 2002 issue Original Layout

The Huskies aren't merely talented--though all five starters are
likely first-round WNBA draft choices--they're also relentless on
both ends of the court. They average 10.5 steals and have
outrebounded opponents by almost 16 a game. The superb backcourt
of senior point guard Sue Bird and sophomore shooting guard Diana
Taurasi make a combined 46.5% from three-point range, while
senior forward Swin Cash, one of three nimble post players, leads
Connecticut in both scoring (15.2 points a game) and rebounding
(8.9).

However, UConn is a perennial favorite that has won just one
title in the last six years. "What makes the tournament great is
that a team gets only one chance to slip up," says coach Geno
Auriemma. "One bad night and you're out, and the Cinderella story
continues."

Who, aside from Oklahoma, is best equipped to give Connecticut a
bad night? Tennessee (25-4) is always a threat, but the Lady
Vols were dispatched with relative ease when the two teams met
in January. Vanderbilt (27-6) might be the SEC team to watch
this year. Vandy lost to Connecticut by 19 early in the season,
but since then it has greatly improved its defense and sharpened
its halfcourt offense. With seven players who are 6 feet tall or
more, including 6'6" junior center Chantelle Anderson, the SEC
Player of the Year, the Commodores won't be intimidated by the
Huskies. "What I like about this team is we're still getting
better, we're still passing tests, like the close games we had
in the SEC tournament," says Foster, whose Commodores beat
Arkansas 81-78 in the semifinals before rolling over LSU 63-48
in the final.

Another contender is Duke (27-3), which passed its biggest test
in December, when assistant coach Joanne Boyle underwent brain
surgery to remove a blood clot and two players, Rometra Craig
and Crystal White, transferred out. Boyle is back on the bench,
and the eight players who remain--all of whom play at least 16
minutes a game--have engineered an 18-game winning streak. Led
by 5'11" ACC Player of the Year Alana Beard, a sophomore who
averages 19.5 points while playing all five positions, and 6'4"
sophomore forward Iciss Tillis, the Blue Devils' best rebounder
and shot blocker, Duke has survived without a true center by
using a motion offense that allows every player to penetrate or
shoot the three. But will that attack continue to work in the
tournament?

Anything is possible in the NCAAs, says Auriemma. "Everyone has
something they think nobody else has, and we all have an
Achilles' heel we pray no one discovers."

--K.A.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Any volunteers?Tennessee had its chance to upset UConn in January but was outrebounded by eight and came up short.