Sooners Fall To Top-Ranked Connecticut, 86-72

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
DECEMBER 22, 2001

Dec 22, 2001

Video Courtesy of ESPN
Oklahoma's Stacey Dales goes to work in the paint.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Top-ranked Connecticut had no trouble putting up points against No. 3 Oklahoma. Keeping enough players on the court was a little more tricky for the Huskies.

Sue Bird scored 21 points and Asjha Jones had a career-high 18 rebounds as Connecticut won 86-72 Saturday.

It was a physical game that moved in choppy spurts because of 49 fouls.

Both teams had key players in foul trouble throughout the game. By the end of the game, two Oklahoma starters had fouled out and four of UConn's starting lineup had four fouls.

"It was very difficult to get into any kind of rhythm because there were just too many stops of play," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You have to be able to play through that."

The Huskies (11-0) were without sophomore sharpshooter Diana Taurasi for much of the first half because of three fouls.

Stacey Dales, the second-leading scorer for the Sooners (10-1), played just 10 minutes in the second after she picked up her fourth foul in the first 15 seconds of the period.

Taurasi made up for her first-half absence by scoring all of her 18 points in the second period.

"That was a big step up for D (Taurasi). When you are a young kid, you let a bad first half sometimes affect the entire game," Auriemma said. "She came out in the second half and was really smart."

UConn led by as many as 14 in the first half when Tamika Williams hit two free throws with 10:51 left.

The Sooners countered with an 11-0 run, getting 3-pointers from LaNeishea Caufield and Rosalind Ross to cut the lead to 21-18. Taurasi picked up her third foul in that surge and sat out for all but a few seconds of the remaining half.

Even without Taurasi, the Huskies quickly built the lead back to 10 with a 7-0 run on transition baskets from Ashley Battle and Williams and a 3-pointer by Bird.

"We learned how tough we are tonight. Everyone stepped up," said Jones, who also had 10 points for UConn.

Oklahoma took advantage of the closely called game and hit 4-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes to pull within 35-28 at halftime.

Sooner coach Sherri Coale sensed her team let an opportunity for an upset slip away.

"It boils down to not taking advantage in the first half when (Taurasi) was down," she said. "In the second half, Diana got on a roll and we didn't have an answer to stop her."

The Sooners made 8 of 9 foul shots to close to 55-50 with 9:22 left, but got no closer. Taurasi scored eight points over the next three minutes, including a 3-pointer.

UConn outscored the Sooners in the paint, 38-26. Auriemma had high praise for his trio of forwards - Jones, Swin Cash and Tamika Williams, who scored a combined 39 points.

"Once we started throwing the ball in the post, that's when we took control of the game," Auriemma said.

And with backcourt mate Taurasi out for long stretches, Bird made key shots to keep the Sooners at bay.

"The only way to control a game sometimes is you've got to be able to make shots," Auriemma said. "That's what Sue does best."

Bird, a preseason candidate for player of the year, hit 7 of 16 shots, including three 3-pointers. She also was 4-of-5 from the line.

"We have been here for such a long time. Seniors do what is expected of them," she said.

Caufield led Oklahoma with 19 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the foul line. Jamie Talbert led Oklahoma with 10 rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds. Dales scored 11, five below her average.

Oklahoma was 24-of-30 from the free throw line, but shot a season-low 36 percent from the floor. UConn finished with 46 percent shooting from the floor and hit 23 of 31 from the line.

The Sooners proved to be tough matchup for the Huskies. With no center and four perimeter players, the Sooners often forced the Huskies to leave their comfort zone in the paint.

"They're one of these teams that come March is going to be really hard for someone to play," Auriemma said.

UConn leads the series 3-0. The last meeting was a 102-80 UConn win the 2000 regional semifinals of NCAA tournament. The Huskies went on to win their second national title.

AP Sports Writer



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