March 11, 2003
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. - On the eve of the NCAA tournament, defending national champion Connecticut suddenly seems vulnerable.
It's the price of losing for the first time in two years.
The longest winning streak in women's Division I history ended at 70 games on Tuesday night as No. 18 Villanova used an 18-2 second-half spurt to beat No. 1 Connecticut 52-48 for the Big East Conference tournament title.
"We can go one of two ways," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said after his team lost for the first time since the semifinals of the 2001 NCAA tournament. "This loss just absolutely devastates them, and we lose in the first round of the NCAA or we go back and kind of look in the mirror and say: `You're not supposed to win every game.' "
Looking at the Huskies (31-1) after the game, it was impossible to figure out what might happen. After the final horn, the players stood for a second and waited to shake hands with Villanova (25-5), whose players were celebrating like they had just won the national championship.
It was only when the Connecticut players sat and waited for the trophy presentation that the loss started to sink in. Heads stared at feet, towels covered faces and tears flowed.
"This is just a game, it's not the end of the world," Auriemma said, getting a little agitated when asked about what the loss meant on the eve of the tournament.
Villanova coach Harry Perretta said don't count out Connecticut.
"If I was 70-1, I wouldn't think there was much of a problem," Perretta said. "You're right, sometimes people overreact. I heard people say, `What's wrong with them?'.
"There is nothing wrong with them. They lost one game in the last 71. I would like to win 70 in a row."
Connecticut lost because it never found it's offense and it made too many defensive mistakes in Villanova's late run to history.
"There was no rhythm," said Diana Taurasi, who finished with 13 points on a night the Huskies went 17-for-56 from the field.
The win for Villanova lifted a cloud off the university, which has been hit by a telephone scandal in the men's program that resulted in 12 players being suspended.
"I'm still in shock, it hasn't hit me yet that we won. We're really excited, but we can't believe it. It will hit us tomorrow.
Villanova senior Katie Davis
"I'm still in shock, it hasn't hit me yet that we won," said senior Katie Davis. "We're really excited, but we can't believe it. It will hit us tomorrow."
Down by nine points in the second half, Villanova stepped up against the defending national champions, and it was Druckenmiller who turned the tide. She came off the bench after a timeout and promptly hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut the deficit to 36-30.
"I think we all felt like we were back in it down six," said Druckenmiller, who was 4-for-5 from the field in the second half. "We're a 3-point shooting team and that's two possessions for us."
A baseline layup by Courtney Mix and another 3-pointer by Druckenmiller with 5:08 to play cut the lead to 36-35. Suddenly, there was a sense that UConn could be had.
After a turnover by Barbara Turner, Mix scored on a drive and converted the free throw for a 38-36 lead with 4:33 to go.
Taurasi, the Big East player of the year, had two chances to put the Huskies back in front on 3-point attempts, but the ball bounced off the rim both times.
Druckenmiller eventually was fouled and hit two free throws for a 40-36 lead. Juhline followed with an off-balance jumper.
Taurasi ended the drought with a basket inside, but Druckenmiller capped the run with her third 3-pointer for a 45-38 lead with 2:12 to go.
The Huskies never had a chance to tie the rest of the way as their run of nine conference tournament titles and 51 straight wins over conference opponents came to an end.
"We never said we were perfect," Auriemma said. "It's not after winning that you find out about yourself, it is after losing. We'll bounce back."
Connecticut struggled throughout the tournament at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
The Huskies posted a 70-47 win over Seton Hall in the quarterfinals, but they didn't get going until late in the first half.
In beating Virginia Tech in the semifinals on Monday night, Connecticut led by only two points at the half and needed a second-half surge for a 71-54 win.
"The last two weeks, it's caught up to us," Auriemma said.
Villanova went to the locker room in the championship game with a 20-17 lead, the first time in the streak that the Huskies trailed at the half.
Then Maria Conlon seemed to wake up the Huskies, hitting two 3-pointers in an 11-2 spurt that gave Connecticut a 36-27 lead with 9:35 to go.
But the Wildcats, who lost to Connecticut 58-38 on Jan. 29, relentlessly rallied and scored one of the biggest upsets in women's college basketball history.
Connecticut probably will get a No. 1 seed when the tournament pairings come out Sunday, but it will go into the tournament with a new sense of susceptibility.