LSU, UConn Divided by Less Than a Toe

Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense

March 25, 2007

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - The difference between LSU and Connecticut the first time they met this season, was smaller than Porsha Phillips' toe.

Her buzzer-beating basket from the top of the key left LSU one point short when replays confirmed her left toe was on the 3-point line, giving her only two points on the final play of Connecticut's 72-71 victory.

"Hopefully we won't have to go through that again," Phillips said Sunday. "Hopefully we'll be up like 20 at the end."

Huskies coach Geno Auriemma at the time called the game a "dress rehearsal" for the NCAA tournament, and he has proven to be prophetic. Top-seeded UConn (32-3) and third-seeded LSU (29-7) will meet again in Monday night's Fresno Regional final in an intriguing matchup between two of the elite teams in the country.

There's LSU's dominating post player Sylvia Fowles against UConn's talented duo of freshman Tina Charles and junior Charde Houston. Each team has strong defenses, 3-point shooters and talented rosters that feature no seniors.

"I see no weaknesses when I look at Connecticut," acting LSU coach Bob Starkey said. "They have great point guard play, good post play in the middle, they have some outstanding 3-point shooters, they have some athletes who can drive and a deep bench. They have everything you could possibly want to make a deep run."

Starkey is making his own run after taking over the team when Pokey Chatman abruptly resigned March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player. A longtime assistant for the men's and women's teams at LSU, Starkey has just three games of experience as a head coach.

And now he's matching wits with Geno Auriemma, who has won five national titles at Connecticut.

"I'm going to lose that tale of the tape there," Starkey said. "Geno's a better coach, he's a better looking guy, he's a better dresser and he's funnier than I am."

Auriemma's response: "True. But he has Sylvia Fowles."



Fowles is one of the most dominating post players in the country, controlling the game on both ends of the floor. She had 22 points and 17 rebounds in the first meeting and has had some of her best games against the toughest opponents.

"She's definitely the best post player I've played against in my career," UConn guard Renee Montgomery said. "She's just so hard to guard and can do so many different things. You usually don't see a 6-7 girl that can run and jump and doesn't get tired easily. She's pretty much one of a kind."

As good as Fowles was in the first meeting between the teams, she could not lead LSU to the victory. If this game is as dramatic as the last, it will be one of the most memorable in tournament history.

Back on Feb. 11, Quianna Chaney hit a jumper to tie the game for LSU with 17.1 seconds left. Montgomery came right back and hit a 3-pointer over Erica White to put the Huskies back on top with 6.7 seconds remaining.

That set the stage for Phillips, who took a pass from White, tried to step behind the 3-point line and shot just before the buzzer. The Lady Tigers celebrated, but the Huskies were sure it was only a 2-pointer.

Mel Thomas screamed that Phillips' foot was on the line and the official signaled for a 2-pointer. But the call that ended LSU's 43-game home winning streak wasn't confirmed until after a check of the replay.

Now the Huskies the tough task of needing to beat LSU again to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since winning their third straight title in 2004.

"I think when you get to the NCAA tournament, if you play exactly like you did in the regular season, you're going to lose," Auriemma said. "Tomorrow we need to play a lot better than we did at LSU. And so do they."

Montgomery was the star for UConn in the first meeting, also hitting a 25-footer down the stretch as part of a 20-point night.

The Huskies are just one of two teams to crack 70 points against the stingy Lady Tigers, who lead the nation in scoring defense at 48.7 points per game and 32.6 percent shooting by their opponents.

Even though the Lady Tigers are looking for their fourth straight Final Four appearance and none of the current Huskies have been there even once, there is still some mystique around UConn.

"When you go up against a team with so much history and tradition I try to say, 'OK, Erica, whatever is on the front of their jersey, just don't pay any attention to it,"' White said. "Just look at the five that's on the floor. Our five versus their five. That's what it's all about."