DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
UConn's Diana Taurasi drove past Hawaii's Christen Roper yesterday.
Diana Taurasi had just an "average" game for Connecticut -- and it was still better than most other players could hope for.
For UConns Taurasi,
average is effective
Wahine give champs a test, but lose 60-53
By Tim Crouse
The junior All-American guard did a little of everything to lead No. 5 UConn to its 43rd consecutive win, as the Huskies beat Hawaii 60-53 in the semifinals of the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Taurasi scored 18 points with seven assists, six rebounds and a blocked shot for the defending national champions.
"On a scale of one to 10 today was probably a five for her," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.
Yet every time Hawaii made a run to get close, Taurasi had an answer, despite making only 7 of 16 shots.
"She's got so much ability, she can do so many things. Even great players have bad shooting days once in a while, but she makes up for it with all the other things," Auriemma said.
"You'll notice that anytime there's a big play she makes it -- an assist, the offensive rebound she got at the end of the game. She's going to make plays that are going to help your team win, it's not just making shots."
Taurasi got off to a slow start yesterday, hitting just 2 of her first 7 shots. But Taurasi's fingerprints were all over the Huskies' 12-0 run that changed a 10-10 game to a 22-10 UConn advantage.
She hit a short jumper to start the run, added an assist to Willnett Crockett and closed the run by splitting the Hawaii defense on a drive then dishing to Jessica Moore for an easy basket.
"(I tried to) settle down and get back to basics," Taurasi said. "I think I was off balance on a lot of those (early) shots, forcing things because we weren't getting anything on offense."
As the first half wound down, the Wahine charged back to within 24-18.
Taurasi's response? A 3-pointer followed by a pair of rebounds that led to a pair of assists on treys by Ann Strother. The Huskies went into halftime leading 33-21.
"She's our leader," said sophomore Ashley Battle, who had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Taurasi is the veteran on a young Huskies squad. Four seniors graduated last year leaving Taurasi, two juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.
"She has the most experience out of all of us and she knows what she's doing out there so you've got to listen to her," Battle said.
UConn looked to her again in the second half when Michelle Gabriel buried a trey to cut the Huskies' lead to 53-48 with 5:34 left. Taurasi answered with a leaning shot in the lane.
She wasn't nearly done.
She assisted on the biggest basket of the game -- Maria Conlon's trey to put UConn up 58-51, pulled down an offensive rebound to help the Huskies kill some clock, and ripped down a defensive board with less than a minute remaining.
"You don't stop a player of that caliber, so you have to go ahead and compete against the best player in the country, and I think we did that," Hawaii coach Vince Goo said. "She's a very good court leader. She distributes the ball. She'll shoot it, she'll penetrate and dish it off and find the open people.
"She's the best player in the country this year," he said.
The 5-foot-5 Gabriel had the task of guarding the 6-foot Taurasi. "If you played her close, she'd drive. If you gave her space, she'd shoot," Gabriel said.
Hawaii got within four points with under five minutes left in the game, but in the end Taurasi and Co. came through.
"Hawaii played really well on their home court and they have a good team," Taurasi said. "They're disciplined and they kept with us the whole game. We knew it was going to be tough from the get-go."
But Auriemma knew he had an ace in his hand.
"I don't think there's anybody that can do as many things, as well as Diana can do them," he said. "She's got an awful lot of pressure on her to try to lead a young team that has expectations of going to the Final Four. It's tough on her, but she's a unique individual."
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