NCAA Elite Eight: UConn Joins Final Foursome
ASU's Briann January was held to just 12 points
ASU's Briann January was held to just 12 points
Posted Apr 2, 2009

The ladder was set up beneath the backboard after Connecticut's 83-64 Elite-Eight win over Arizona State in the Trenton Regional. But unlike the other regional champions, UConn's players headed for the locker room without stopping to cut down the net. Coach Geno Auriemma wouldn't comment, but the message was clear: There's only one set of nets Connecticut cares about cutting down this year.

#1 Connecticut 83 – #6 Arizona State 64

The game was the “dog fight” Danielle Orsillo predicted it would be. Arizona State rolled in their platoons of players against Uconn’s seven, and never let up. The pressure forced 12 first-half turnovers, but only six in the second half. More important, those Arizona State was able to glean only eight points from those 18 turnovers.

Despite disrupting Connecticut, the Sun Devils just could not convert enough baskets to capitalize on their disruptive defense. UConn led at the half by nine, 37-28.

After a 62% shooting performance in the Regional Semi, the Sun Devils shot a good, but not great 41% against the UConn defense. Connecticut, on the other hand, shot 59%.

It might have been the first time out for the freshmen, but every upperclassman on the Connecticut team entered the game having been played in the Elite Eight each year of their collegiate careers. Connecticut advanced to the Final Four last year with a win over Rutgers (66-56), after Elite Eight losses to LSU in 2007 (73-50) and Duke in 2006 (overtime).

But Arizona State was not in uncharted territory. The Sun Devils played, and lost, to Rutgers in the 2007 Greensboro Regional (64-45).

The game began just ugly. Connecticut was harassed by the active Sun Devil defense, and rushed many of their plays, turning the ball over an uncharacteristic 12 times in the opening half. An even bigger credit to the Sun Devils: Connecticut was held to just two assists on their 14 buckets. One of the signatures of this undefeated team is usually a very high assist-to-basket ratio.

The Huskies made up for their many miscues by totally dominating the boards, 24-6! UConn took six fewer shots than Arizona State, but made one more bucket, hitting three treys to the Sun Devils' 0-for-7.

In just the first half, the Connecticut Big Three did what was expected this time out. Tina Charles scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds. Maya Moore had ten points and six boards, and Renee Montgomery scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting.

Renee Montgomery is the engine that makes the Connecticut machine run smoothly, while Briann January fills the same role for Arizona State. In the first post-season game in the Trenton Region directly affected by officiating, both had been called for three fouls and had to sit by the 5:30 mark of the half. January’s absence probably hurt Arizona State more than Mongomery’s did UConn.

Arizona State came into the second half with an urgency on the glass that yielded five rebounds, three offensive, in the first four-and-a-half minutes. Once again, however, they did not convert many of those second-chance opportunities.

The teams traded baskets for an extended period, with Arizona State hit hitting five threes in the first ten minutes of the half, and the Sun Devils actually had gained a point on UConn at 10:47 in the half.

From that point, however, Connecticut did what it does best, running the ball off misses and makes, and hitting 10 of their next 13 shots, mostly in transition. The run included three driving layups by Montgomery, but also back-to-back three-pointers, a drive to the hoop, and two free throws by Maya Moore, who seemed to be everywhere. It was what makes Moore a player like no other, and UConn’s offense like no other.

“Maya’s like a twelve year old,” Auriemma said, shaking his head. While they can make bad decisions at times, he continued, “[t]hey also don’t think twice about running down the floor, pulling up and hitting a three-pointer. And you know after that first one goes in, she’ll do it again, and the next one’s going in,” he added. “She just does it so quickly, so easily, and so effortlessly....”

Moore’s dominance of the next five minutes was familiar to Montgomery. “You’ ve got a post player guarding her, and she pulls up like that,” she said. “Who can guard that?”

Nobody can, and it’s a major reason why this UConn team has been unbeatable.

Maya Moore dons the Trenton Regional Championship hat.
Connecticut's Maya Moore flashes a 12-year-old's smile of pure joy as she puts on a champion's hat after Connecticut defeated Arizona State 83-64 in a women's NCAA college basketball tournament regional final Tuesday, March 31, 2009, in Trenton, N.J.

“There’s a collective mind set on this team,” Auriemma explained. “They know [the run’s] going to happen, and there is no doubt in their minds that it’s going to happen. The great teams, I think, are real finishers,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Arizona State Coach Charlie Turner-Thorne was almost awe-struck by the onslaught. “I told my team [when they pulled within eight points], ‘This is where we have to go on a run.’ But they did it instead."

"They were so quick in transition,” she marveled, “and I don’t know why we couldn’t find Moore.... We couldn’t even get our defense set up. They were scoring so quick,” she lamented. “I saw that in the Cal game, and I saw that in a lot of games. I thought we could do better....We did not find them, and I don’t know how many points they scored. Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

In the face of the run, Danielle Orsillo responded well for Arizona State, hitting shots from all over the court. Nobody helped her, however, and UConn dominated the last six minutes- – on the glass, in the lane and from the arc –-for an 83-64 victory.

Oddly, it was Arizona State who looked tired as the game ended, rather than the bench-less Huskies. Orsillo and January played 32 minutes, well beyond their average, and the constant harassment clearly affected January, who seemed to deflate as the margin increased. Orsillo finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. January was held to 12 points, just five in the second half.

Four UConn players finished in double figures: Moore had 25 points and ten rebounds; Tina Charles had 18 points and 13 rebounds; and Montgomery scored 22 points. Kalana Greene reached 10 points with Connecticut’s final bucket.

The Huskies absolutely killed the Sun Devils on the glass, with 45 rebounds to just 19, scoring 16 second-chance points to nine. Connecticut also limited their turnovers in the second half to just six, and almost none were “bad” turnovers.

After the victory, the UConn players smiled and danced with the pep band, as though they had never won an important game before, or been to the Final Four. But they did not cut down the nets.

Connecticut moves on to St. Louis to play a Stanford team that is “peaking at the right time,” according to Turner-Thorne.

Auriemma agreed, saying, “Everybody is saying, ‘They lost Candice Wiggins.’ Stanford is just as good as they were last year, if not better.”

Trenton Regional Notes

  • Maya Moore was named Most Outstanding Player of the Trenton Regional. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by:
    – Briann January, Arizona State
    – Renee Montgomery, Connecticut
    – Tina Charles, Connecticut
    – Danielle Orsillo, Arizona State
  • Moore also broke Kara Wolters’ single-season UConn scoring record (694 points) an her last shot (a three) of the first half. She now has 712 points on the year, and 1390 for her two-year career.
    Wolters, present as the UConn radio announcer, said, with typical humility, “It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Maya Moore.”
    Moore, when told of this, was momentarily taken aback, but replied, “Kara is one of those special people that you walk into practice every day and all you have to do is look up. You see her name in the rafters. She set history. She's a trailblazer. It's part of the reason I've been able to be in such a great program. It's an honor for me. It's all in the family.”
  • The Associated Press All-America Teams were announced on Tuesday afternoon, and six of the ten first and second-team players are in the Final Four, including four from the First Team.
    Connecticut was the only team with two first-teamers: Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore. Tina Charles was named to the second-team.
    It is the fourth time UConn has had two First Team All-Americans the same year: In 1996, Jen Rizzotti and Kara Wolters; in 1997, Wolters and Nykesha Sales; and in 2000, Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrisomova.
  • Security was confiscating all newspapers from people (including the press) entering the Soverign Bank Arena. It appears the NCAA is setting the precedent for banning the celebratory newspaper front pages announcing “Huskies/Sooners/Cardinal/Cardinals Win National Championship.” The NCAA apparently doesn’t want anybody but itself profiting from the coverage.
  • Here’s why you love, or hate him. Coach Geno Auriemma on the many upsets in this years tournament: “I would say that the one thing we want is the sport to be unpredictable in some way. We want our own teams to be predictable, but except for us, we want the tournament to be unpredictable. . . . We want there to be upsets in every other region and in our region, but we don’t want it to include us.”

Jim Clark is a career prosecutor in the New Haven Connecticut State’s Attorney’s Office, and an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. He has tried 35 murder cases, and dozens of other felonies. A life-long student of the game, and a regular correspondent for Full Court Press and Women's Basketball Magazine, Jim officiates high school volleyball and basketball, and will ride 100 miles around Lake Tahoe in the “World’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” in June to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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