HARTFORD, Conn. (March 11, 2008) – Junior Renee Montgomery (St. Albans, W. Va.) scored 20 points, including a perfect 11-for-11 free throws in the final 3:54 of the game as the No. 1/1 University of Connecticut women's basketball team downed No. 23/22 Louisville 65-59 to win the BIG EAST Championship on Tuesday night at the XL Center.
Charde Houston (San Diego, Calif.) picked up her first double-double of the season off of the bench with 13 points and 11 rebounds to help earn herself Tournament Most Outstanding Performer honors. Montgomery was named to the All-Tournament team along with Tina Charles (Jamaica, N.Y.). All-Tournament team pick Angel McCoughtry led the Cardinals with 22 points and 11 rebounds while Candyce Bingham poured in 11 points and grabbed 14 boards en route to an All-Tournament team spot as well.
The BIG EAST Championship is UConn's third in the past four years and its 14th in the past 20 years overall. The Huskies improved to 32-1 on the season with tonight's victory while the Cardinals dip to 24-9. The win tonight marks the first time that the Huskies have won both the regular season and tournament BIG EAST championships in the same season since 2001-02.
Louisville scored the first basket of the game when Brandie Radde hit a three-pointer at 18:42. It marked UConn's first deficit of the entire BIG EAST Tournament after two wire-to-wire wins. The lead was short lived though as Ketia Swanier (Columbus, Ga.) stole the ball on defense and drove the length of the court for an easy lay-up and a 7-5 Husky advantage at 16:01. Swanier then hit a floater on the following UConn possession and drove for a lay-up immediately after that. When Montgomery hit a three to make it 14-6 at 14:45, the Huskies had compiled a 9-1 run over just 1:16 of elapsed game time and an 11-1 run overall.
The UConn edge hit double digits for the first time at 12:41 when Montgomery followed her own miss and scored off of the rebound. Behind a stringent defense that would force 14 first half turnovers, the Huskies maintained their double-digit lead for the first half's final 10 minutes. The Cardinals hung in the game and cut the lead back to an even 10 points after a Bingham three with 2:47 to play before the break made it a 29-29 game but Maya Moore (Lawrenceville, Ga.) responded just 20 seconds later with a triple of her own back at the other end of the court and Houston added another hoop before halftime to send the teams back to their locker rooms with the Huskies holding onto a 15-point advantage at 34-19.
Swanier led the Huskies with nine points at intermission, followed by Moore with eight. McCoughtry scored nine of Louisville's 19 first half points as the Cardinals connected on just eight of their 33 shots (24-percent) prior to the half.
Louisville nibbled away at its deficit in the early going of the second half, forcing the Huskies to call a timeout after a McCoughtry deuce at 11:56 that made it a 42-30 game. While UConn connected on just three of its first 18 shots after the break, the Cardinals went on a 12-0 run starting at the 12:22 mark. Kiara Evans banked a shot in off of the glass in the shot clock's waning moments to cut U of L's deficit to single digits for the first time since the 10:23 mark of the first half.
The Cardinals would cut the lead to just four points at 42-38 after a pair of Bingham free throws at 8:51 but UConn snapped its skid moments later when Houston put back a missed Montgomery three for the Huskies' first field goal in nearly six minutes. U of L found a lucky spot in the XL Center's hardwood in the corner in front of its bench as the Cardinals sank three straight triples, two by Radde and one by Patrika Barlow, to close to within a single point at 48-47 with 5:20 left in the game.
Houston produced a slick post move and Montgomery, fouled shooting a three, converted on all of her chances to make it a six-point Connecticut cushion again at 53-47 with 3:54 remaining. Ultimately it would be the free throw shooting that would win the game for UConn. Montgomery was 11-for-11 down the stretch and UConn as a whole was 13-for-15. A high-low set play from Kaili McLaren (Washington, D.C.) to Moore was UConn's only basket in the game's final 4:32 yet UConn was able to win going away.
The Huskies earned an automatic berth to the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Seeds, sites and pairings will be announced on ESPN's NCAA Selection Show beginning at 7:00 p.m. (ET) on Monday, March 17.
SCOREBOARD 1st 2nd Final 23/22 Louisville 19 40 59 1/1 Connecticut 34 31 65
- UConn has now won 14 BIG EAST Tournament Championships in its history, including three of the last four seasons overall.
- The Huskies have captured 14 BIG EAST Tournament titles over the last 20 seasons following today’s win over Louisville.
- UConn’s 2008 BIG EAST Tournament title combined with the 2008 BIG EAST Regular Season title marks the the first time since 2002 the Huskies captured both conference championships in the same season and the 12th time in the program’s history.
- UConn improves to 53-12 all-time in BIG EAST Tournament action following today’s championship game win over Louisville.
- UConn extends its current winning streak to 11 consecutive games following today’s win over Louisville.
- UConn improves to 12-2 overall in BIG EAST Tournament games played at the XL Center in Hartford.
- UConn improves to 40-4 in BIG EAST Tournament games when it plays as the No. 1 seed.
- UConn leads the all-time series with Louisville 5-1, including a 2-0 mark in BIG EAST Tournament games. The Huskies have won their last five meetings with the Cardinals.
- UConn improves to 14-4 all-time in BIG EAST Tournament Championship games.
- UConn improves to 11-0 this season in games played at the XL Center in Hartford.
- UConn has won its last 21 consecutive games that were played in the state of Connecticut.
- UConn improves to 189-10 when playing as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25.
- UConn improves to 128-52 all-time against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, including a 9-1 mark this season following tonight’s win over No. 23 Louisville.
- UConn moves to 33-10 in games televised on ESPN2 since the 2001-02 season, including a perfect 5-0 mark in 2007-08.
- Charde Houston scored in double figure points for the first time of the season as she netted 13 points.
- Charde Houston’s 13 points and 11 rebounds marked her first double-double since last year’s BIG EAST Semifinal win over Louisville.
- Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles and Charde Houston were each selected to the 2008 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team.
- Charde Houston was named the 2008 BIG EAST Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player - becoming the 14th UConn player to be recognized with the honor.
- Renee Montgomery’s 20 points marked her 22nd game with double-figure points in her last 25 overall.
- Renee Montgomery’s 11-of-11 effort from the free throw line ties for the third-best single-game total from the charity stripe without a miss in UConn history.
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“It’s a good feeling to know that these particular players were able to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time and especially now given the makeup of the league. To win the regular season and then win the tournament and to do it in a game where we played really good, good, ok, lousy, a little bit of everything, but when it was time to win the game we made some plays to win the game. We proved over the five month period that we are the best team in the league and we did it home, away; we did it travel, no travel and then you have to do it again over the course of a weekend. I’m glad we did. I am happy for them and I think this group deserves to be the BIG EAST Champions, regular season and tournament. I am happy for them.”
Can you address the way you guys came together in the final minutes to pull out the win and your performance in particular in the final minutes?
“As far as our performance goes, I think that coach puts us in situations in practice to make sure we are prepared. I think when the score was closed, we weren’t rattled. We knew exactly what we had to do because that’s exactly what we practice. As far as my performance, it is what’s expected of me. I just want to make sure that I build off of every single game leading to the tournament.”
Talk about the emotions you felt being named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“I am overjoyed but if it weren’t for my teammates I wouldn’t have been able to get this far. After everything I’ve been through this season, everybody on the team just made sure that I was in good spirits no matter what."
Can you address the joy you felt for Charde winning the MVP?
“I feel the same way as Renee. I was very happy and excited for her, especially being her classmate and being here with Charde since day one and knowing the ups and downs she’s been through. For her to come out and have a strong tournament game against Louisville like that was amazing and for her to get the award put the icing on the cake.”
“First off, I want to start by saying it has been event and I could not be more proud of the group of ladies that I have in my locker room right now. For a group of kids to play as hard as they have and to unfortunately play on a home site for a championship game but I know we are trying to get that fixed. When you have 9, 982 and I think 53 were maybe from our place but it is just tough. It is a hard thing for the kids to get over because UConn’s fans are so good. They have a wonderful following and it is amazing but hen it gets down to crunch time you get extra adrenaline from nine thousand people cheering for you. I have a group of ladies that played their hearts out tonight. It was a 15 point game at half and I bet all of you had us written off and this game was off and there was no way for us to come back. I told them in the locker room that if they wanted to pack it in, we can get on the bus and have everyone wondering where we were in the second half. They wanted to come out, we gave them a game plan and they followed it; it was a one point game and we had the ball with about four and a half left. They just fought and fought and fought. Everyone wants to say that we are a one person team but they unfortunately do not know much about the game. Angel McCoughtry shot the ball ten times in the second half and goes six for ten but everybody on this team hit big shots for us tonight. It is tough to swallow and we are going to continue to work. We are going to have to find a way to go into games with nine thousand cheering against you and find a way to pull through. It is a great group of kids and I could not be prouder. I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of and we jus have to get ready for when our name is called for NCAA.”
What can you take from this game into the next?
“It sucks to lose. We have been playing well for the past 13 or 14 games so it was not an accident this weekend that we were playing well. I think we won ten of our last 12. It is just a great group of kids; I am telling you if you go player to player we do not have one high school all-American on our team. I will tell you one thing we have a group of ladies that will fight and that is exactly what we did tonight. I told them before the game it had to be a heavy weight boxing match; we had to go out and physically try to beat on them and I thought we did. At the same time, it is not like they are passive, they are going to play physically too and that makes them a great team. They go out and play hard and they intimidate a lot of their opponents. I think tonight we matched up with them and that’s why it came down to a game with four minutes left.”
Junior Forward Angel McCoughtry
What did you do different in the second half to come back into the game?
“It was defense, it was load out there and we had to talk extremely well on defense and we got some stops and some offensive rebounds. I think we out rebounded them but that is what kept us alive and got our offense going.”
What do you see was the biggest difference down the stretch tonight?
“It came down to runs; they would make a run and then we would make a run. It was all about who could withstand a run and UConn is a good team. They play these types of game many times and I am glad that we were able to play and gain experience which will help us in the long run.”