NEW ORLEANS - A triple for the women, a double for the school. Connecticut's championship sweep is complete.
Led by the incomparable Diana Taurasi, the UConn women delivered an encore to the title won by the men's team, beating Tennessee 70-61 Tuesday night for their third straight championship.
So now there's a new Titletown: tiny Storrs, Conn., the Huskies' home.
The victory by the women - their fourth title in five years - came after UConn beat Georgia Tech in the men's championship game Monday night, making Connecticut the first NCAA Division I school to sweep both titles.
"Unbelievable," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's so mind-boggling. An unbelievable accomplishment for a school."
It was the fifth title overall for the women and came at the expense of the only other school that has won three straight championships. Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt still lead all teams with six NCAA titles, but Auriemma and the Huskies are closing fast.
UConn started fast in this one, racing to a 17-point lead in the first half, then had to fend off Tennessee time and time again in the second half. The Huskies did it with contributions from everyone.
Taurasi scored 17 points and three teammates weren't far behind. Jessica Moore, a former Colony High School star from Palmer, and Ann Strother each had 14 points, and Moore grabbed nine rebounds despite injuring her left knee and going to the bench. Barbara Turner had nine rebounds, 12 points, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
This was a team championship.
"Every time we needed a big play from someone, we got it," said Taurasi, voted the Final Four's outstanding player for the second straight year.
Tennessee cut the lead to six at halftime, closed to three early in the second half and trailed by just two after Brittany Jackson hit a 3-pointer from 3 feet behind the arc with 9:50 to play.
Connecticut (31-4) pushed the lead back to eight, but the Lady Vols kept coming. Ashley Robinson blocked Turner's turnaround shot, raced to the other end, caught a no-look pass from Shanna Zolman and made a layup, drawing the Lady Vols to 59-55.
It would get no closer. Willnett Crockett's three-point play, her only points of the night, stopped Tennessee's momentum and the Huskies finished it off with free throws.
"This season was incredibly difficult in so many ways," said Auriemma, who returned everyone from last season's national championship team. "They had to be everything everybody expected them to be."
In the end, they were.
As the clock wound down, Taurasi gritted her teeth and raised her clenched fists. Then she grabbed the bouncing ball after the buzzer sounded and punted it into the stands with a boot that would have done Ray Guy justice.
"UConn domination - bottom line," Taurasi exclaimed. "Tennessee is a great team. They were able to make their runs, but we showed a lot of composure. It is the absolute best feeling in the world."
Moore scored 12 of her points in the second half to help keep UConn ahead and her biggest rebound came at her most painful moment of the game. She twisted her left knee after grabbing an offensive rebound and crashed to the floor after getting rid of the ball.
With Moore still down, Strother was fouled on a 3-point shot and hit all three free throws, giving UConn a 57-49 lead. Moore was helped to the bench, examined by a trainer and returned to an ovation 3 1/2 minutes later.
Zolman led Tennessee with 19 points, Robinson had 13 and Shyra Ely 10 points.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.