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No. 9/7 Women's Basketball Captures BIG EAST Tournament Crown Over West Virginia 50-44

HARTFORD, Conn. (March 7, 2006) – Senior Ann Strother (Castle Rock, Colo.) scored a game-high 20 points, including 12 in the last eight minutes of the game, to propel the No. 2 seeded University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to a 50-44 win over No. 12 seed West Virginia in the 2006 BIG EAST Tournament Championship game on Tuesday evening in the Hartford Civic Center.  

The Huskies have now captured the BIG EAST Championship for the second consecutive year, and 13th time overall. It is Connecticut’s second-consecutive BIG EAST Championship without being the No. 1 seed in the tournament.  

UConn, who improves to 29-4 overall with the win, receives the BIG EAST’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. West Virginia closed out the season with a 15-16 record. 

Strother, who was named the Most Outstanding Performer for the Tournament at the conclusion of the game, also pulled down seven rebounds while dishing out two assists and blocking two shots in the game. Her 20 points marked the 24rd time this season and 87th time in her career that she has scored in double-figures in a game. That total also tied her highest single-game scoring effort in a BIG EAST Tournament game.  

Freshman Renee Montgomery (St. Albans, W. Va.) was the second Husky to score in double figures, tallying 11 points in the win. She earned a spot on the All-Tournament team and was joined by senior Barbara Turner (Cleveland, Ohio) on the squad. Turner had six points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds in the UConn victory. She also blocked a game-high three shots. Rounding out the All-Tournament team were Britney Davis-White and Chakhia Cole of West Virginia and Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers.  

The Huskies opened the game on a roll, scoring 10 unanswered points in the opening four minutes to get things started. UConn held a 13-point advantage midway through the half, but the Mountaineers battled back and trailed just 23-16 at the half.  

The second half opened the opposite way, with West Virginia scoring the first six points to cut the UConn lead to just one at 23-22. The two teams traded points back and forth for the next five minutes, with the Mountaineers cutting the advantage to just one twice more. However, with 6:27 left to play, Strother sparked a struggling UConn team by scoring 11 consecutive points to give the Huskies the 43-35 lead.

West Virginia tried to battle back, but Strother again proved that she earned her Most Outstanding Performer status by feeding the ball underneath the basket under pressure to senior Willnett Crockett (Harbor City, Calif.), who converted the layup to give UConn a four-point lead with 37 seconds to play. Free throws by Strother and sophomore Mel Thomas (Cincinnati, Ohio) wrapped up the win for the Huskies.

For the game, UConn shot just 34.7 percent from the floor on 17-for-49 shooting. The Huskies were just 3-for-17 from behind the arc but went 7-for-9 from the charity stripe in the second half for the win. The two teams each pulled down 42 rebounds in the game. 

West Virginia, the first No. 12 seed to ever advance to a BIG EAST Tournament Final, was led by Davis-White with 12 points. Olayinka Sanni was the only player to tally a double-double in the contest, scoring 10 points and pulling down 11 rebounds in the game for the Mountaineers. Yelena Leuchanka also scored 10 for West Virginia. 

The Huskies will be in action next in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Tournament seedings and brackets will be announced on Monday, March 13 beginning at 7:00 p.m. (ET) and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

2006 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team

Most Outstanding Performer:

Ann Strother, UConn

All-Tournament Team:
Britney Davis-White, West Virginia
Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers
Chakhia Cole, West Virginia
Renee Montgomery, UConn
Barbara Turner, UConn

Game Notes 

ü      The Huskies have captured the BIG EAST Championship for the second consecutive year, and 13th time overall.

ü      UConn is now 13-3 all-time in BIG EAST Championship games.

ü      Connecticut has won 11 of the last 12 appearances it has made in the BIG EAST Championship game.

ü      The Huskies have won their second straight BIG EAST Championship without being the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

ü      UConn is 2-0 this season versus West Virginia, and lead the all-time series 17-1.

ü      The Huskies have won each of their last 17 meetings with West Virginia.

ü      UConn’s 50-44 win tonight marked the fewest points that the Huskies have scored in a win since it defeated Virginia Tech 48-34 on March 7 2004, in the 2004 BIG EAST quarterfinals.

ü      UConn’s six point margin of victory was the smallest margin of victory in the BIG EAST Tournament final since Villanova defeated UConn on March 11, 2003.

ü      Tonight was the 75th game the Huskies have played in the Hartford Civic Center since 1980.

ü      UConn’s record in the Hartford Civic Center improves to 65-9 following tonight’s win.

ü      Connecticut is 48-11 all-time in BIG EAST Tournament games.

ü      UConn is now 8-1 all-time as the No. 2 seed in the BIG EAST Tournament.

ü      UConn is 26-3 when the BIG EAST Tournament is held in the state of Connecticut.

ü      Connecticut is 172-3 in its last 175 games (since Jan. 31,1999) against unranked opponents.

ü      The Huskies are 4-2 when appearing on ESPN2 this year and 21-6 in the past four years on the network.

ü      The 2006 senior class (Crockett, Strother, Turner, Wolff) is 122-17 overall at UConn.

ü      The 2006 seniors are 7-1 in the BIG EAST Tournament

ü      The 2006 class is also 39-5 when playing in the Hartford Civic Center.

ü      The first 10 points of tonight’s game were scored by UConn seniors Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Willnett Crockett.

ü      Connecticut started tonight’s game with a 16-3 run over the first 8:01.

ü      Ann Strother’s 20 points marked the 24rd time this season and 87th time in her career that she has scored in double figures.

ü      Ann Strother’s one 3-pointer moves her into second place on UConn’s all-time 3-point list passing Wendy Davis with 280 in her career.

ü      Renee Montgomery’s 11 points mark the sixth time in seven games she has scored in double figure points, and the 13th time for her this season.

ü      Ann Strother’s seven rebounds were the most she has grabbed in any BIG EAST Tournament game.West Virginia’s first half field goal percentage of 16.7%(5-of-30) was the lowest field goal percentage of any UConn opponent in any half this season.

ü      Ann Strother was named the BIG EAST Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

ü      Renee Montgomery and Barbara Turner were named to the BIG EAST All-Tournament Team.

ü      This is the first time UConn had three or more players named to the All-Tournament team since 2002 when the Huskies had four.

Post Game Quotes

University of Connecticut

Head Coach Geno Auriemma

On the game:

“I think the game was pretty much indicative of what a lot of this season has been all about. Nothing has come easy. You can’t count on anything any more; everything is a struggle. Maybe that’s the way its’ supposed to be. For fifteen years or so I’ve been living the life of ‘all things look great’ and now everything is a struggle. I’m glad that we can still win during those struggles. I can’t believe there are sixty-four teams better than that team in the NCAA tournament. I guess our league is really good if the last team in the league playing without their best player can do that. As I said last night, this time of the year it’s individual players that make the difference. The things you do as a program get you to this point. Then individual players decide the outcome of the games. I think in this case that’s what happened. Ann stepped up and made some huge plays.”

Players: Ann Strother, Renee Montgomery, and Barbara Turner 

Barbara Turner’s thoughts on winning the BIG EAST Championship this year:

“It was very gratifying. It was hard; we knew it would be tough. West Virginia played really tough.  There’s no better feeling in the world than to be able to win a championship.” 

Can you think of a better memory to leave the fans of Connecticut with if this is your last game here? (Ann Strother)

“It’s hard to think about right now. It’s definitely the best way to go out playing at home. It’s a good way to finish.” 

What was your mindset at the time when you stepped up big to make some shots in the first half? (Renee Montgomery)

“Actually I think it was my teammates getting me open. I remember two of my shots were wide open and luckily I made them. I don’t think it was anything conscious, my teammates just got me open.”

West Virginia

Head Coach Mike Carey 

On the game:

“First, I’d like to say that I’m very proud of these young ladies, and congratulations to Connecticut. They’re a great team, they do a great job, and it’s a great atmosphere here. We did what we wanted to, we wanted to hold them in the fifties. But we wanted to score a little bit more than what did. We held them to 50, we stayed on the boards with them, we got some offensive rebounds which we felt we had to do. We just didn’t hit our shots. We missed a bunch of foul shots and a bunch of threes. I thought Ann Strother took over the game, which a senior should. She’s a great player for Connecticut.” 

On the two charges at the end of the game:

“We didn’t do a good job executing at the end of the game. We did penetrate, and Connecticut did a good job of getting in their, especially on Chakhia Cole. They cut her off on taking it to the hole. On the last charge, we tried to get a quick score. Ashley Powell thought she could take it all the way, and she got a charge. Then we put the other freshman point guard in, and she throws it away. It wasn’t from lack of effort, it was just inexperience.” 

What does this tournament mean to your team?

“It’s meant a lot to our program, and mainly our returning players. We are a young team, we have 2 seniors and neither of them starts. This is something to build on. We feel now that we can play with some of the top teams. For us to improve as a team and a program, it has to start during the summer. This tournament gave us a little pride to see that maybe we can get to the next level.” 

On the team’s poor shooting:

“You have to live and die with your two shooters. I felt at times we were too impatient at times offensively. We refused to reverse the ball and work for easy shots. They packed it in, they made us shoot from the perimeter and we just didn’t hit them.” 

Olayinka Sanni 

On playing 4 games in 4 days:

“It was pretty tough. We needed to save our energy every chance we got. We tried to keep fluids in our bodies, eat proteins, and just try to focus on the game. We had to not think about playing four straight games and just play.” 

On recognizing the team’s accomplishment:

“It’s going to carry over. The summer is key for us, for the returning players. We see what we can do, and who we can play with. We just need to work hard this summer and concentrate on every game next season.” 

What did you change after your slow start?

“I think we called a timeout, to try to refocus and key on their shooters. We tried to go up strong and just run our offense.” 

Yelena Leuchenka 

On playing 4 games in 4 days:

“As long as you keep winning, you don’t think about if your legs hurt, if your back hurts. You just think about winning. It all comes down to mental toughness, and I think we did a really good job with that.” 

How disappointing is it to come this far and come up short?

“During the regular season, we didn’t do a really good job, but I’m so proud of how well we did, my team, and my coaches. But I’m disappointed. I’m really disappointed.”