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Tuesday, January 28
Updated: February 10, 3:20 PM ET
 
Taurasi, Beard both come up big in showdown

By Melanie Jackson
Special to ESPN.com

Diana Taurasi and Connecticut got off to a fast start Saturday, and early on, the Husky junior seemed to have the edge in her showdown with Duke's Alana Beard.

STAT CHECK
A look at how Alana Beard and Diana Taurasi did Saturday:
TAURASI'S LINE
FG 3FG FT REB AST PTS
6-14 3-8 2-2 5 5 17
BEARD'S LINE
FG 3FG FT REB AST PTS
8-19 0-0 10-13 8 0 26

Taurasi nailed a pair of 3-pointers to help give UConn a 10-point lead just 5½ minutes into the game. She then hit another trey to ignite a late first-half run that translated into a 21-point halftime advantage.

But midway through the second half, Beard breathed life into the Blue Devils, who trailed by as many as 28 points shortly after the break. Although she had scored just nine points over the first 30 minutes, Beard finished with a game-high 26 points, almost single-handedly pulling off the comeback. No other Blue Devil scored more than nine points.

But in the end, Taurasi got the last laugh. After Duke cut UConn's lead to seven points, Taurasi nailed a pair of jumpers to stall the rally.

As Duke coach Gail Goestenkors put it, "Alana did a great job bringing us back and Diana hit some big shots in the midst of our comeback."

Still, both juniors -- who were picked to last season's Kodak All-American team and are considered among the leading candidates for the Wade Trophy -- put on a show Saturday in UConn's 77-65 win that will surely lift the Huskies to the No. 1 spot in next's week top-25 polls.

A head-to-head look at their careers:

DIANA TAURASI VS. ALANA BEARD
 
Diana Taurasi, Connecticut, 6-0, jr., G/F   Alana Beard, Duke, 5-11, jr., G/F
Awards/honors: Kodak and AP second-team All-American; only freshman in Big East history to earn Most Outstanding Player honors at conference tournament; ranks third in UConn history in career 3-point field-goal and career free-throw percentage; East Region's Most Outstanding Player in 2001.   Awards/honors: Kodak and AP first-team All-American; became first player in ACC men's and women's history last season to post more than 600 points, 200 rebounds, 150 assists, 100 steals and 20 blocks; has scored double-figures in 79 of 84 career games; ranks third in ACC career charts in steals.
Best known for: Her confidence. While Taurasi's passing skills and clutch shooting are definite strengths, her presence on the court sets her apart. She is ultimately confident at the most crucial times. Even if she has missed her last five attempts, she has the guts to take that last-second shot.   Best known for: Her defense. Beard has said that even if she scores 50 points, she'll feel she played a bad game if she didn't bring it defensively. She prides herself on her defensive performances. When she's guarding you, those long, lanky arms harass your dribble and challenge every pass.
Season averages: 17.8 ppg (321 points), 6.9 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg, 2.8 tpg, 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, 46.3 FG percentage, 34.9 3-point FG percentage, 80.3 FT percentage (18 games).   Season averages: 23.5 ppg (469 points), 7.4 rpg, 3.8 apg, 3.2 spg, 1.1 bpg, 2.3 tpg, 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio, 56.3 FG percentage, 29.8 3-point FG percentage, 77.4 FT percentage (20 games).
Coach Geno Auriemma says: "If anybody else in the country gets a vote for player of the year, I think it's a travesty, because without her, I don't think we'd have a .500 record.''   Coach Gail Goestenkors says: "Alana is a complete player. She does everything on both ends of the floor. Alana is one of the hardest working student-athletes I have ever been around."
In the clutch: Against UConn's archrival Tennessee on Jan. 4, Taurasi's 3-pointer with 7.5 seconds left tied the score at 56 and forced overtime. In the extra period, Taurasi also hit the eventual game-winner with 31 seconds to play. She finished with 25 points, including a 60-footer as time expired in the first half, in the 63-62 victory.   In the clutch: Beard hit two free throws with eight-tenths of a second left to lift Duke to a 60-59 win over Virginia on Jan. 9. Beard's 41 points (two-thirds of Duke's total for the game) were a school record, and her 16 field goals made also tied another school mark. The scoring performance was the highest output in the ACC in five years.
Best moment: With UConn clinging to a six-point lead in last season's NCAA title game, the Huskies drew up an isolation play for Taurasi, rather than give the ball to one of UConn's four seniors. The sophomore backed down Stacey Dales, drawing Dales' fifth foul and converting a key three-point play to seal the win.   Best moment: In leading Duke to its second Final Four appearance, Beard scored 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting, and tallied seven rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks, in a 77-68 win over South Carolina in the Elite Eight last season. Beard was named the East Region's Most Outstanding Player.
Worst moment: In the biggest game of Taurasi's career at the time, the freshman was plagued by foul trouble and went 1-for-15 to score just four points in the 2001 national semifinals against Notre Dame, which went on to win the NCAA title.   Worst moment: Some argue it was that 15-point, 6-for-15 performance in the '02 Final Four. But a loss to Southwest Missouri State in the Sweet 16 during her freshman season probably stung more. Beard and the Blue Devils couldn't stop Jackie Stiles, who scored 41.
Nancy Lieberman says: "Experienced and savvy. Can deliver the ball anywhere, any time, any angle. And who did Geno give the ball to when the NCAA title was on the line?"   Nancy Lieberman says: "Beard can score, rebound, pass, post you, take you off the bounce, you name it. She also has a great work ethic and is the complete package."
Mechelle Voepel says: "Taurasi and her enormous talent are now the show in Storrs."   Mechelle Voepel says: "She scores, steals, scores, steals, scores ... you get the idea."

Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's college basketball coverage. Click here to e-mail the Dish with any story ideas, suggestions or feedback.






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