Foul trouble fails to stop undefeated Connecticut from taking title

The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS With its final victory in a magical season, Connecticut achieved something rare in NCAA women's basketball perfection.

Top-ranked Connecticut capped an unbeaten season by defeating No. 3 Tennessee 70-64 yesterday to win the national championship. The Huskies (35-0) pulled it off despite the foul problems of their top three players and despite trailing by nine points early in the second half.

Only one other team has gotten through a season without losing in the 14 years of NCAA women's basketball. Texas won the 1986 title with a 34-0 record.

Defense also was critical to the Huskies, who held Tennessee (34-3) without a field goal after Tiffani Johnson's three-point play put the Lady Vols ahead 61-59 with 4:09 left.

Jamelle Elliott hit a double-pump layup to tie the score at 61 with 2:20 to play and Jennifer Rizzotti's layup with 1:53 to play put Connecticut ahead 63-61. The Huskies then wrapped up their first national title at the free throw line, with player of the year Rebecca Lobo making four and Rizzotti and Carla Berube sinking two apiece.

For the longest time, it appeared that Tennessee would fulfill the promise of a season that began with the Lady Vols ranked No. 1, a position they held until losing to UConn 77-66 in mid-January.

Lobo, 6-foot-7 Kara Wolters and Rizzotti all got into foul trouble in the first half and spent long stretches on the bench. But Connecticut played through its problems and sent Tennessee, a three-time national champion, back home as a frustrated loser.

After Berube made the first of her two free throws with 9.9 seconds left, Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt slammed her hand down on the scorer's table and groaned, ''I really hate this.''

Moments later, the Connecticut players were hugging each other and crying at midcourt and Tennessee was walking dejectedly to its dressing room.

Lobo led all scorers with 17 points after playing only eight minutes in the first half and was named the Final Four's outstanding player. Rizzotti scored 15 points, Elliott 13 and Wolters 10.

Latina Davis was Tennessee's only double-figure scorer with 11 points. Dana Johnson had nine and All-American Nikki McCray scored only seven.

Tennessee led 38-32 at halftime and quickly went up 41-32 on Michelle Marciniak's three-pointer 13 seconds into the second half. But Connecticut would see to it that Tennessee never got comfortable.

An 8-0 run capped by Elliott's two baskets inside drew the Huskies to 43-42 with 15:36 left. Tennessee got the lead back up to six points, but Connecticut came back again, this time behind Lobo.

Lobo, who went almost 25 minutes during the middle part of the game without scoring, got four baskets during a four-minute stretch to help Connecticut pull ahead.

Rizzotti's layup after she stole the ball from McCray

cut the lead to 58-57 and Elliott's two free throws put Connecticut up 59-58 with 5:44 left the Huskies' first lead since midway through the first half.

Johnson then converted her three-point play to give Tennessee its last lead.

One of the keys was Tennessee being unable to take control in the first half when Connecticut got into foul problems.

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