March 31, 2002
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Connecticut refused to let an imperfect game stand in the way of a perfect season.
All that's left now is deciding whether it's the best women's team ever.
Connecticut beat Oklahoma 82-70 Sunday night to conclude its second unbeaten season with a third national championship - and prove that yes, it could win a close game, too.
But the best ever? Not even the Huskies themselves were ready to go that far, even though their average victory margin this season, 35.4 points, was an NCAA record.
"We'll be up there. We'll be up there," Tamika Williams said. "But we'll never be the greatest."
Connecticut won because it offset an uncharacteristic rash of turnovers and poor outside shooting with strong inside play.
The frontcourt trio of Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Williams led the Huskies to an overwhelming rebounding advantage - and on this night, they sure needed it.
Oklahoma (32-4) simply would not go away. After one lopsided victory after another, the Huskies had to work to get their last one.
"This was without question the most difficult game we have had to play," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Oklahoma was unbelievably good. They were unbelievably good."
Trailing by 16 early in the second half, Oklahoma got within six with a little more than two minutes left. Things like that did not happen to the Huskies this season, but they responded as if it were an everyday occurrence.
Diana Taurasi converted a key three-point play and player of the year Sue Bird wrapped it up with six straight free throws. With 18 seconds left, Bird was able to dribble out the clock and the Huskies had their title.
"My team did a great job tonight," Bird said. "That's why we're the greatest - well, not the greatest, but one of the greatest."
Connecticut committed 21 turnovers, two short of its season high, and was 0-for-9 on 3-point shots. All that did was force the Huskies to find another way to win it, and they did by overpowering the Sooners inside as 29,619 watched in the Alamodome - a championship game record.
Cash was the strongest presence with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Jones had 19 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Williams finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Cash was selected the outstanding player in the Final Four.
"They were doing a good job trying to block us out, but we were spinning out," Cash said. "Sometimes you can get those easy rebounds, but we were working hard on the offensive end and focused on that."
Oh, and don't forget the guards. Bird had 14 points and four assists and made all eight of her free throws. Taurasi added 13 points and got the honor of heaving the ball into the stands when it was over.
"I could be a whole lot happier now, but I couldn't be more proud of this basketball team and this season that we've had the journey we've been on," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "I'm sad not because we lost, but because it's over."
Coale and Auriemma are good friends and delighted reporters by trading barbs during Saturday's pregame news conference. Auriemma has been a mentor of sorts to Coale and helped her get the Oklahoma job in 1996.