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Tuesday, March 11
Updated: March 13, 12:32 AM ET
 
'Nova's slowdown game derails UConn's record streak

Associated Press

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Connecticut has lost, finally.

Tue., March 11
Throughout the season, Connecticut has played a fast-paced game, looking to rebound-and-run and push tempo. As a result, the Huskies -- especially the freshmen -- got comfortable with that style.

But then along came Villanova, a team that slows down the game, letting nearly all the time tick off the shot clock before it puts up the ball, which limits the opponents' possessions and also forces the foe to play a half-court game.

That's what happened to UConn on Tuesday night as Villanova snapped the Huskies' NCAA Division I women's record 70-game winning streak with a 52-48 victory in the Big East tournament final.

UConn hadn't lost since March 30, 2001. The Huskies went 39-0 in a national championship run last season and won their first 31 games of 2002-03.

To beat a team such as UConn, which relies on playing a transition game, you have to use every bit of the shot clock. Many teams usually look to shoot with 17 or 18 seconds on the clock. But Tuesday, Villanova often waited until just a couple seconds remained before shooting, and even was whistled for a couple shot-clock violations. Even when they're shooting poorly, the Huskies usually can find a way to beat you simply because they're getting the ball up and down the floor so quickly. So taking that much time off the clock -- which severely limited UConn's number of possessions -- was a crucial part of Villanova's game plan. The Wildcats, in fact, have been playing this way for years, and after holding 12 opponents to 50 or fewer points this season, was the perfect type of team to pull off this historic upset.

When it comes down to it, this game probably means more to Villanova than to UConn. The Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament riding an enormous wave of confidence, and should enjoy the SportsCenter highlights and front-page stories.

So where does UConn go from here? Not much changes, really. The Huskies must simply put this game behind them and refocus on what they have to do better. The loss shouldn't take anything away from what already has been a marvelous season considering the Huskies' youth and inexperience. And the bottom line is that they will be a No. 1 seed when the 64-team NCAA Tournament bracket is unveiled Sunday.

The big question, however, is whether UConn will still be considered the strongest No. 1 seed overall? Duke, despite losing to UConn in Durham, N.C., in February, certainly made a case for itself as the strongest No. 1 on Monday. The Blue Devils won the ACC tournament title to cap a second straight unbeaten ACC season. Now it's all up to the selection committee.

The longest winning streak in women's Division I history ended at 70 games Tuesday night. Villanova (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today; No. 18 Associated Press) handed No. 1 Connecticut its first loss since the end of the 2001 season, 52-48 for the championship of the Big East Conference tournament.

Trish Juhline scored 18 points and Nicole Druckenmiller scored 11 in a remarkable 17-2 spurt that knocked Connecticut (31-1) from the unbeaten ranks on the eve of the NCAA tournament.

The defeat also ended Connecticut's bid to tie UCLA's record 88-game winning streak set from 1971-74.

As the game ended, the Connecticut players calmly filed toward their wildly celebrating opponents to shake hands. It took a few moments before the Huskies fully realized what had happened, and then several of them burst out in tears.

''When they get the lead, they are just about impossible to play against at times,'' Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. ''They play a different style of play than most people are used to, and we missed a lot of shots. All credit to Villanova.''

Villanova rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit in stunning 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.

A baseline lineup 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.

Diana 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, who had 13 points, ended the drought with a basket inside, but the Huskies never had a chance to tie the rest of the way. Their run of nine conference tournament titles and 51 consecutive victories 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 victory 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 Monday night, Connecticut led by only two points at the half and needed a second-half explosion for a 71-54 victory.

''The last two weeks, it's caught up to us,'' Auriemma said. ''Maybe this is the best thing that could happen to us.''

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.

However, 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.

''We never said we were the best team in America,'' Auriemma said. ''We'll find out a lot about Connecticut.''

Connecticut probably will still get a No. 1 seed when the tournament pairings come out Sunday, but it will go into the tournament with a new sense of vulnerability.




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Villanova stuns No.1 UConn to win the Big East Tournament.
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Geno Auriemma grows agitated with questions about the loss.
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The day after his team ended UConn's streak, Villanova coach Harry Parretta reflects on the win.
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