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Vols leave Duke in tears after Final Four loss

ATLANTA -- With 12:25 left to play, the mighty Connecticut women's basketball team found itself trailing 50-41 to underdog Texas. At no time this year had the Huskies faced a larger deficit.

It took 10 minutes and 19 seconds, but UConn pulled itself into a lead that it would never relinquish, as the Huskies emerged victorious out of its physical slugfest with the Longhorns 71-69.

Ecstatic to see his team survive Sunday nights' tough challenge, charismatic Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma found himself uncharacteristically lost for words, before praising Texas as the most physical squad his team faced all year.

"I really don't know what I can add to that game," he said, also taking time to reflect on his 500th career victory. "We have not played anybody defensively as good as Texas, as physical and as hard to get things done against as Texas."

Diana Taurasi led the Huskies with 26 points, including 11 in the UConn's stretch run. The Naismith National Player of the Year, Taurasi drew praise from her grateful coach.

"The biggest thing you can say about her is that she's not afraid," Auriemma said. "She wants the ball in the crucial situations."

Texas could only shake its head at the lost opportunity to take out the defending national champions.

"It's disappointing," Longhorn head coach Jody Conradt said. "It's hurtful, it's all the things that you can imagine when a team plays as hard as they can play against another really good team and then it comes down to plays at the end."

After Texas reached its peak advantage, the two teams clawed and battled in an impressive display of hard-nosed basketball. For a stretch that lasted the better part of eight minutes, the two teams traded baskets with neither team being able to establish a clear edge in momentum. Despite several tries UConn never closed its deficit to fewer than four points. Likewise, Texas never pushed its lead past seven.

Then the excitement began.

With 2:56 remaining Taurasi converted an off-balance jumper and an ensuing free throw, and the Huskies finally pulled within three. Connecticut's Ashley Battle than drew a huge offensive foul on Stacey Stevens, giving the ball back to UConn. Stevens finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs, but was unable to do anything in the last three minutes.

"It was a very physical game," she said. "It was a Final Four game. The referees are going to let us play because everyone here wants to see us play."

Although non pleased at the call that earned her a crucial fourth personal foul, Stevens declined to place any blame on the officials.

Momentum shifted, and UConn reacted like a championship team that smelled blood in the water. The Huskies scored the game's next eight points, propelling themselves in front 71-66.

Down five and reeling, Texas refused to go quietly. Jaime Carey swished a trey with 28.2 seconds remaining, and the Longhorns were back to within a single possession.

UConn missed free throws and also turned the ball over in the final seconds, giving Texas one finally opportunity to send the game into overtime or win outright. Late substitute Alisha Sare pulled up at the top of the key with two seconds left, but lost the handle on her way up.

The Huskies jumped with joy at the final buzzer, eager to face perennial rival Tennessee in Tuesday night's National Championship Game.


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