At 35 wins, UConn team ranks among best

Thursday, March 21, 2002

STORRS, Conn. -- Geno Auriemma has been peppered with questions.

At 35-0, is this Connecticut team his best yet, or was it the 1995 unbeaten NCAA champs? How does this edition compare to Tennessee's 39-0 squad in 1998?

"Everybody wants to be remembered as something," the coach said Wednesday. "We just want to go out and win games."

UConn has dominated the competition throughout the season, beating opponents by an average of 37 points. The starting squad boasts five All-Americans, including Naismith Player of the Year Sue Bird.

Auriemma balks at calling it the best team ever, but will compare it to his other squads.

"This team is balanced as physically as any team we've ever had," Auriemma said. "Our guard play is as good as its ever been, but for me to tell you Sue and Diana Taurasi are a better backcourt than Nykesha Sales and Rita Williams, that's pretty tough. Those two are WNBA All-Stars. This team is really, really good for this season, for what it has to do, for what it wants to prove."

Another chance

The Huskies will try to prove their next point on Saturday against Penn State in the Mideast Regional in Milwaukee. The vastly improved Lady Lions (23-11) are led by Kelly Mazzante, the nation's leading scorer. The sophomore is averaging 25.2 points a game and has been a key factor in Penn State's turnaround since its 9-7 start.

UConn has its own sophomore sensation in Taurasi, a long-range specialist with a deft passing touch.

"There are so many thing that you would wish you can do against them and so we have a wish list this week that we are going to work on," Penn State coach Rene Portland said.

She said some of the keys are to outwork UConn in the post and slow down the Huskies' running game.

The Huskies' inside trio of Asjha Jones, Swin Cash and Tamika Williams have made short work of most teams' post games. They combine for an average of 44 points and 22 rebounds.

"You almost feel like you're wasting your time watching film because they get out by 20 and the other team is just trying to go two at a time to cut down a 20-point lead and it's in the first half," Portland said.

Iowa's Lisa Bluder had that sinking feeling early in the second half Monday. The Huskies outscored the Hawkeyes 34-4 in the first 15 minutes of the second half in their second-round game.

Any challenges left?

So, is there a team out there than can beat the Huskies?

"I haven't seen them yet. Certainly none that we've played that can compete with them," Bluder said.

UConn's closest game of the season was a nine-point win at Virginia Tech on Jan. 29. The rematch two weeks later was a 35-point UConn blowout.

After Auriemma's 2000 team dominated Tennessee in the NCAA title game, there was talk that was the best team ever. His unbeaten 1995 squad beat Tennessee behind the post play of Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters and guard Jennifer Rizzotti.

"We've had some pretty good teams in the past. The big factor in getting to the final four and winning a national championship is staying injury free. So far, so good," Auriemma said. "To win a national championship, you have to be really, really good and have a little bit of luck."

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