BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (March 28, 2006) -- Sophomore Mel Thomas (Cincinnati, Ohio) hit a jump shot with 20.7 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to extra minutes, but the No. 2 seed University of Connecticut women's basketball team fell just short when sophomore Charde Houston's (San Diego, Calif.) shot rimmed out with time expiring, giving No. 1 seed Duke the 63-61 victory in the final of the Bridgeport Regional at the Arena at Harbor Yard on Tuesday evening.
The Huskies closed out the 2005-06 season with a record of 32-5 overall and the Blue Devils are now 30-3 on the season. With the win, Duke advances to the 2006 NCAA Women's Final Four in Boston, Mass. Tuesday's contest marked only the sixth time that the two teams had met and the first time in NCAA Tournament play. The two teams are now deadlocked at three wins apiece in the all-time series.
Leading the way offensively for the Huskies was senior Barbara Turner (Cleveland, Ohio) who wrapped up her final game in a UConn uniform with 19 points and 12 rebounds in the contest. The senior had nine points and nine boards at the halftime break and 11 of her 12 rebounds in the game came at the defensive end. The double-double marked her eighth of the season. Freshman Renee Montgomery (St. Albans, W.Va.) and senior Willnett Crockett (Harbor City, Calif.) each had 15 points in the game to be the other Huskies in double-figures. Crockett also pulled down eight boards in the loss for UConn.
Crockett opened the game on fire, scoring UConn's first seven points of the contest to give UConn the early 7-2 advantage. The Huskies opened up a six-point lead on a jumper by Turner shortly thereafter, but the Blue Devils came back to take the lead at 17-13 with just over nine minutes remaining in the half. The Duke lead came after a 14-4 run that was keyed by five points by Abby Waner in that span. The Blue Devils led at the break, 31-26.
The second half opened as the Turner Show for the second-consecutive game, with the senior scoring five of UConn's six points to open the stanza. Thomas also got into the action, scoring her first four points of the contest in the first five minutes of the half, as did Montgomery, who connected on two quick layups to keep UConn ahead.
After Montgomery took the ball all the way up the court herself and laid it in to give the Huskies a six point advantage at 41-35 with 12:28 left, Duke went on a 9-0 run to take a 44-41 lead at the 8:57 point. UConn battled back on a jumper by Thomas and a three-point play from Crockett off of a miss by senior Ann Strother (Castle Rock, Colo.) to take the lead again, this time at 48-44.
The two teams traded baskets back and forth for the next four minutes before a free throw by Alison Bales knotted the score at 53 all with 1:35 remaining in regulation. Bales gave the Blue Devils a two point lead on a layup shortly thereafter, but Thomas's jumper with 20 seconds left sent the game to extra time.
In overtime, Duke took the quick lead, but a jump shot by Montgomery tied the game at 57-57 with 4:19 left. However, the Blue Devils opened up a three-point lead on free throws by Monique Currie and held that advantage until Crockett hit a free throw to bring the Huskies to within two with 45 seconds on the clock. Houston's jump shot with time expiring closed out the game for UConn.
The Huskies were 26-of-65 from the floor for a 40% shooting percentage while the Blue Devils shot just 29% from the floor. Duke out-rebounded UConn, 57-35, with the Blue Devils taking the 26-11 advantage on the offensive glass. The Huskies were just 5-for-9 from the free throw line, a direct contrast to Duke's 20-for-28 performance.
Leading the way for Duke was Bales with 15 points and 13 rebounds. She also had eight blocks in the game. Currie added 14 points in the game while Waner was the third Blue Devil to score in double-figures with 10.
2006 Bridgeport Regional All-Tournament Team
Tasha Humphrey, Georgia
Barbara Turner, Connecticut
Renee Montgomery, Connecticut
Abby Waner, Duke
Most Outstanding Player
Alison Bales, Duke
*The overtime game was the first of the season for UConn and just the second in 71 NCAA tournament games all-time. The other OT contest was an 88-83 loss to Tennessee in a 1996 Final Four contest.
*Connecticut held to Duke to its lowest point output of the season with 63. The Blue Devils old low was 65 in a loss to North Carolina on Feb. 25.
*Senior forward Barbara Turner posted her 14th career double-double and eighth this season.
*Turner averaged 22.7 points and 10.5 rebounds in four NCAA tournament games in 2006.
*Tonight's game marked just the fifth time this year that the Huskies were trailing at halftime (2-3 record)
*In NCAA action, UConn is now 33-3 in their last 36 NCAA tournament games going back to the 2000 season.
*UConn is now 8-4 in 12 post-season games with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
* Both the UConn men's and women's basketball teams lost an overtime contest in the Elite Eight round in 2006.
*UConn is 3-1 all-time at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
Post Game Quotes
University of Connecticut
Head Coach Geno Auriemma
"They say that you really don't understand what winning is and really don't appreciate what winning is until you've had your share of losing. I think just the opposite is true. I don't think you quite fathom how much losing hurts when you've had as much opportunities for winning as we've had over the years and today, we played almost well enough to win the game and we did almost enough things to win the game and we had almost enough guys play heroically and it wasn't enough. If we had played a lesser team, it would've been enough, but the team we played was too good for us to play almost."
Senior Barbara Turner
On her health down the stretch:
"It didn't. I was out on the floor. If I was hurt, I shouldn't have been out there. I was out there just competing as hard as I could, working without my legs. I tried to go until I couldn't go anymore."
Head Coach Gail Goestenkors
I think that was probably the most beautiful, ugly win we've ever had in the history of our program. It was not pretty by any means. We shot so poorly in the first half and (Monique Currie) had been on the bench, and I thought we can't possibly shoot this poorly for two halves. Connecticut did a fantastic job; they came ready to play. It was a war out there, a battle for every rebound, every loose ball -- They made us work. Things did not go well for us, and I give Connecticut credit for that. At the same time, we did what was necessary to win. We showed great character and finished strong.
On Alison Bale's play
She changes the game on both ends of the floor but specifically on defense. It allows our guards to really pressure the ball and get up in the passing lanes. They know that if they get beat they've got (Bales) back there to he them out. She blocked eight shots, but she probably changed 10 more shots, because she had people thinking that she might block their shot. Once she gets into your head, she changes the things you want to do. She changed the game for us; she was the difference.
On three ACC teams in the Final Four
We've felt like we've had a great conference for the last two years. It may be the best conference in the country from top to bottom, but until you can back it up and get teams to the Final Four and win National Championships it's all talk. People were still skeptical, but now we've shown people we have a pretty good conference.
On how a tough game like this can help win a National Championship
I told our players that it is not a bad thing that we played this kind of game. It's been almost too easy up to this point. Everything was in sync; we were clicking, we were playing really excellent basketball. I thought this would be the toughest game for us, because there was so much at stake.
On the crowd
I'm not quite sure if it affected the team. I love a great crowd, and so does our team. I thought they were pretty intimidating. I think they really helped Connecticut more than they hurt us. I'm not sureif it hurt us or not.
On winning the regional after losing at this point the last couple of years
It feels amazing to win a regional final and to win with the teammates I have. Connecticut is a great team and they gave us quite a game.
On her rough start and regaining composure
I was a little frustrated, but coach did a good job telling me not to worry about it. She told me to just focus, and I'd have a good game. That really helped. The rest of the game I did exactly what she told me, and it worked.
On her defense
It's always about defense. I got frustrated early because I got scored on the first two plays of the game. I love defense, I guess. My teammates are thankful, because a lot of times they can pressure more because they know I'll be on help side. It's a momentum stopper for the other team, and it helps our momentum.
On the sense of relief after not scoring in final minutes of overtime
We fought and took their best shot. We weren't really able to get ours, so we're just happy to get this win. We really fought hard for it.
On UConn frustrating her on defense
I don't know if it was necessarily what they did. I just couldn't get into a rhythm the entire game. They switched up defenses, and when I drove there were a lot of players waiting there for me. I was just hoping my teammates would pull us through, and they did. They did an excellent job -- They won the game for us.
On Alison Bales
Coming into the game, I knew (Alison Bales) would make a difference in deciding whether we would win or lose this game. I am so proud of her. She's been showing what she can do throughout the entire tournament. We've known she could do that all year. She's just a tough match-up for a lot of players. If she continues to play like that, we can continue to be dominant on the inside.
On getting back to the Final Four
It means everything right now. Our ultimate goal is to win a National Championship. We took a huge step making it to Boston. We've tried to keep that in the back of our minds all season, so it's finally here, and we can get closer to what we want to do. We worked really hard, and I'm glad to be going to Boston.
On the final play
I was hoping it wouldn't go down. It rolled in and went out, thankfully. (Charde Houston) had a good look; I was on the ground, and (Bales came over). I think she hesitated, and that threw off her shot.