March 7, 2005
By DONNA TOMMELLEO
HARTFORD, Conn. - Barbara Turner has won two national championships with Connecticut, and now has a chance to win the one title that has eluded her.
The Huskies are back in the finals of the Big East tournament after their string of nine straight tournament titles was snapped two years ago. The 13th-ranked Huskies play No. 9 Rutgers on Tuesday night for the championship, and Turner was a big reason why they'll be there.
She had 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists to lead Connecticut to a 67-54 win over No. 10 Notre Dame in the semifinals Monday night.
"We're one more step toward where we want to be," Turner said. "It's all in the approach. You can feel, you can feel the energy in warmups. We approached this game like it was a live or die situation."
The title game between the Huskies (22-7) and regular-season champion Rutgers is a matchup of the two best defensive teams in the league. The Scarlet Knights ended UConn's reign of 11 straight regular-season titles.
UConn dominated the Fighting Irish (26-5) in the paint, finishing with a 45-33 rebounding edge and had 27 second-chance points. That helped on the outside for wing Ann Strother, who finished with 17 points and made 3-of-6 3-pointers.
"Anytime you can establish yourself on the inside, that opens up things a lot for your perimeter players," Turner said. "It's kind of hard for teams to balance guarding both of us."
The third-seeded Huskies built on an eight-point halftime lead with a 24-2 run. Strother had 12, including two 3-pointers.
Freshman Charde Houston was a spark off the bench for UConn, finishing with 12 points and three steals as the Huskies reserves outscored Notre Dame's backups 27-6.
"They outworked us," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "We're a post-oriented team and we couldn't get anything going today."
Megan Duffy had 21 points for second-seeded Notre Dame, getting 13 after UConn built a 24-point lead with under 5 minutes to play.
The Huskies held the Irish to 33-percent shooting and all but shut down Big East player of the year Jacqueline Batteast. She had just two points in the first half and finished with 10 on 4-of-18 shooting.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the Huskies played with the kind of determination he hoped they - especially Turner - would. In her first two years, she played behind All-American Diana Taurasi, who led the Huskies with a brash, bold style. Now it's time for Turner to take that role, Auriemma said, and he saw signs of it Monday.
"Today was what I wanted to see from her, just to play with the kind of emotion I thought Barbara would bring to us when we recruited her," Auriemma said. "I think she's starting to sense that it's got to come from (her). If you want to be a great player, you've got to be great. No two ways about it."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame loses for just the second time in its last 15 games ... four of the five Irish losses this season have come at the hands of ranked opponents (twice vs. Connecticut, once vs. Big Ten champion Michigan State and once vs. BIG EAST champion Rutgers) ... Notre Dame gave up its largest point total since Jan. 16, when the Irish downed No. 20 Purdue, 86-69 ... the Irish also allowed 60+ points for the first time in 11 games (a 72-65 win over St. John's on Jan. 26) ... Connecticut's 67 points are the most Notre Dame has allowed in a road game this season (previous: 61 by Syracuse on Jan. 19) ... the Huskies also join Syracuse as the only teams to score 60 points against Notre Dame in 15 Irish road games this season (12-3 record) ... Monday's game marked only the second time this year the Irish lost when having three players scoring in double digits (14-2 record) ... junior guard and first-team all-BIG EAST selection Megan Duffy registered season highs with 21 points and 4-of-6 three-point field goals; it is Duffy's fourth career 20-point game and second this season (20 at Valparaiso on Nov. 30) ... Duffy also moved into fifth place on the Irish single-season steals list with 84 thefts, passing Krissi Davis (81 in 1988-89) and current Notre Dame assistant coach Coquese Washington (83 in 1990-91) ... senior All-America forward Jacqueline Batteast tied a school record with her 95th consecutive start, matching Katryna Gaither's record set from 1994-97 ... Batteast also had a season-high four steals and posted her 100th career double-figure game (28th this year) ... Batteast moved into ninth place on the Notre Dame single-season scoring list with 531 points, passing Shari Matvey (529 points in 1979-80) ... the Irish now will await the announcement of the 64-team field for the 2005 NCAA Tournament -- the NCAA Selection Special will take place Sunday, March 13 at 5 p.m. (ET) live on ESPN; should Notre Dame receive an at-large bid, it would represent the 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth and the 12th in school history for the Irish, who have reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen (regional semifinals) the past two seasons and are one of only five schools in the nation to get that far six times in the past eight years.