March 25, 2000

By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The national championship or bust tour rolls on.

Top-ranked Connecticut got halfway to its goal of six women's NCAA tournament victories and its second national championship in six years Saturday with a 102-80 triumph against Oklahoma in the third round of the East Regional.

It was a victory that featured 33 turnovers by the Sooners, 21 steals and 57 percent shooting by the Huskies, and it earned Shea Ralph and Connecticut a date with LSU on Monday in the regional final with a trip to the Final Four as the prize.

The third-seeded Lady Tigers beat Duke 79-66 in the first semifinal.

In the season after the Huskies' hopes of challenging for a championship ended in the third round against Iowa State, nothing is taken for granted.

"Everything is one step at a time," Ralph said. "If we don't win this game, then we go home and we don't have three more to go. We're going to enjoy this tonight and then we're going to get back down to business tomorrow."

High expectations, often a problem for some teams, are the rule at Connecticut, and coach Geno Auriemma said this team has handled it well.

"All they've done is won a bunch of regular season games," he said. "You keep pointing it out to them and they may get a little bit angry, but I don't care.

"If you're a competitor, you want to win the national championship."

The Huskies (33-1) wasted no time taking control against the Sooners.

Trailing 9-6, Connecticut scored 18 straight points to lead 24-9 and used relentless pressure to force 20 turnovers by halftime. They also hit 18 of their first 25 shots on the way to a 40-for-70 day, and got help from everyone.

Eleven Huskies scored, five in double figures.

"There's so many waves of people and they can play with such abandon," Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. "They never have to worry about fouling because if somebody gets in foul trouble, they have someone else just as good coming in."

Oklahoma (25-8), which lost 84-68 to the Huskies on Dec. 29 in Norman, Okla., and played them even in the second half, had similar results this time. It trailed 57-42 at the break and merely kept it from getting really lopsided thereafter.

Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams led Connecticut with 16 points apiece, Svetlana Abrosimova had 15, Sue Bird 14 and Ralph 10. The Huskies scored 100 points for the ninth time this season and second time in the tournament.

"They have a great team and they play so well together," said Phylesha Whaley, who led the Sooners with 24 points in her final game. "You just have to guard them all the same. It's just hard to guard a team like that that is that good."

Laneishea Caufield added 22 points and Stacey Dales 11 for Oklahoma.

The Huskies' early blitz gave them a 24-9 lead after 6 1/2 minutes, about typical for a top-ranked team that outscored its opponents by an average of 31.9 points this season and features two first-team All-Americans in Ralph and Abrosimova.

The Sooners got no closer than 17 points the final 15 minutes, but still finished with a school-record victory total only four years after Coale's first squad went 5-22. It was Oklahoma's second berth in the final 16.

The highlight for Oklahoma, other than being here, came in the last seven minutes before halftime. Trailing 46-24 after two baskets by Williams, the Sooners outscored the Huskies 18-11 the rest of the way with Caufield getting 10 points.