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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Connecticut's defense holds off Hawai'i, 60-53

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i answered the question about the heart of its women's basketball team yesterday. The secret to beating a ranked team with better talent remains elusive.

Hawai'i's April Atuaia tries to get around Connecticut's Ann Strother for a shot. Atuaia finished with 17 points.

Jeff WIdener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The 'Bows (3-1) methodically chased down fourth-ranked Connecticut (4-0) in the second half only to get swatted away in the final minutes and fall, 60-53, to the defending NCAA champion.

"I told the players when you go into a game against the defending national champions and you're not intimidated, it's one of two things," UH coach Vince Goo said. "Either you're naive or you've got a lot of heart. I think they answered that."

Hawai'i gets another upset shot tonight when it plays No. 12 North Carolina (3-1) for third place in the 24th annual Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic. Connecticut, which has won its last 43, meets No. 22 Oklahoma (5-1) in the championship. The Sooners beat the Tar Heels, 66-63, in the other semifinal. The title game will be a rematch of last season's NCAA title game won by UConn.

UH has lost its last nine against ranked opponents. It led in the second half of five of those games and gave itself another opportunity yesterday before 1,759 at Stan Sheriff Center. UH outscored UConn 32-27 in the second half and cut what had been a 15-point deficit to four with 4:38 left.

The Huskies ended Hawai'i's run right there, as every ranked team has the last four seasons.

"It's a process," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "You keep getting teams over here and putting yourself in situations to win a game.

"It's talent too. Obviously the teams they've lost to have been really, really talented teams. They've been close, but in the last five minutes talented players make big plays. That seems to be what happens. They're in every game, they're well-coached, disciplined, run their stuff. The teams they've lost to have more talent."

Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic

• Where: At Stan Sheriff Center

• Today's Games


3:20 p.m. — Connecticut vs. Oklahoma

Third Place

5:30 p.m.— HAWAI'I vs. North Carolina

Fifth Place

1:10 p.m.—DePaul vs. Denver

Seventh Place

11 a.m. —Fordham vs. Gonzaga

• TV: Hawai'i game live, 5:30 p.m., K5. Radio: Live, 1420-AM.

• Tickets: $8 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $5 for UH students and children under 18. Tickets can be purchased at Stan Sheriff Center box office, or by calling TicketPlus at 526-4400.

Hawai'i hammered back yesterday with a defense that denied the bigger, quicker Huskies good shots and second shots, and an offense that controlled the tempo and never panicked when the 30-second clock ran down.

UH freshmen Penny Jones and Amy Sanders started the final surge. When UConn All-American Diana Taurasi took her only break, the Rainbows ran their streak to 8-0 and closed to 48-41.

Taurasi, the lone starter remaining from last season's 39-0 team, scored and Ashley Battle's basket returned the Huskies' advantage to double digits.

But the 'Bows weren't done. April Atuaia (17 points) and Christen Roper (12 points, 11 rebounds) combined for four free throws, and Michelle Gabriel and Atuaia sank Hawai'i's only 3-pointers as UH closed to 55-51.

On the next possession Maria Conlon, who missed her four previous shots, drained a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to halt Hawai'i's momentum. "That's way too deep for us to go cover," Goo said. "That took guts."

Then UConn put the ball in the gifted hands of Taurasi and concentrated on what it does best — defense. UH scored one meaningless basket in the final 4:38.

The Huskie faces have changed, but the remarkable game responsible for three national titles since 1995-96 remains.

The difference between the teams yesterday could be traced to a Hawai'i hiccup — induced by Connecticut's pesky perimeter defense — in the first half.

UConn missed its first seven shots to fall behind 6-2. Jessica Moore made the Huskies' first basket with 15:26 to go, then tied it with her second less than a minute later. Connecticut would never trail again.

The Rainbows caught up at 10, but committed four of their 10 turnovers in the next 3 1/2 minutes. The Huskies converted all of them in a 12-0 run. They took a 33-21 lead at halftime by knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers.

But UH wouldn't go away.

"We played with a lot of courage today," Gabriel said. "If we can stick with this team, we can stick with any team. That should give us a little more confidence. If we'd have lost by 20 we'd all have sour faces."

• No. 22 Oklahoma 66, No. 12 North Carolina 63: Dionnah Jackson scored 21 points, including a 3-pointer that put Oklahoma ahead to stay.

In consolation games, Denver defeated Gonzaga, 62-42, and DePaul stopped Fordham, 92-73.