Perfect Ending One Win Away For Connecticut

By Mel Greenberg

The final chapter in Connecticut’s incredible season concluding with the NCAA title game against Big East rival Louisville will be written on Tuesday night in St. Louis with Germantown Academy’s Caroline Doty sitting on the bench instead of dressed in uniform.

The freshman, who had given the Huskies added three-point shooting skill, suffered a knee injury in mid-January that forced her to the sidelines.

Despite the mishap, Doty has continued to go along keeping her teammates loose and enjoying everything else about being involved with the Women’s Final Four.

“It’s everything I envisioned and more,” Doty said Monday. “It’s just the whole atmosphere and being around your teammates who you have been around all year. We’ve been through so much together. To finally be here and see how all our hard work has paid off is just great.”

Connecticut is 40 minutes away, overtime notwithstanding, from emerging from the Scottrade Center with a sixth NCAA title and third unbeaten record in the team’s history.

The Huskies (38-0) could also be the first men’s or women’s team to finish unbeaten and win every game by at least 10 points or more.

Louisville (34-4), which lost to the Huskies, 93-65, in the regular season and 75-36 in the Big East title has advanced in the tournament on a quite different path than Connecticut.

The No. 3 Cardinals upset No. 2 Baylor and No. 1 Maryland in the Raleigh Regional before shaking off an early 14-point deficit against Oklahoma, the No. 1 seed out of the Oklahoma City regional, and rallying against the Sooners for a 61-59 victory Sunday night in the national semifinals.

The Huskies followed a few hours later by dispatching a third-straight Pac-10 conference team, sailing over Stanford, 83-64, in a game that was not that close.

Earlier, Connecticut had eliminated California and Arizona State in the Trenton regional.

When Connecticut had its full complement of newcomers back in May, the group included Tiffany Hayes, who starred in the win over California; Doty, and Wilmington’s Elena Delle Donne, acclaimed as one of the top high school stars of all-time.

But Delle Donne left the Huskies a month later after less than 48 hours in campus for summer school and in late August renounced her scholarship and joined the volleyball team at the University of Delaware near her home.

The former Ursuline star in a press conference last August cited her departure from basketball as a product of “burnout.”

However, Delle Donne has since left the volleyball team after making the Colonial Athletic Association's all-freshman team – her name is not listed on the 2009 roster – and a source in the Delaware athletic department not connected to basketball has indicated she may soon return to the sport of her acclaim.

In most schools, a loss of two prominent building blocks for the future, let alone the season, could be a disaster.

Not so at Connecticut where 6-0 sophomore forward Maya Moore (19.4 points per game, 8.9 rebounds), the consensus national player of the year; senior 5-7 point guard Renee Montgomery (16.5 ppg,), and junior 6-4 center Tina Charles (16.2 ppg., 8.7 rpg.) have all-American status.

“It just shows the amount of talent we have on this team and the commitment no matter what happens to us,” Doty said of UConn’s abundance of talent. “If we have an unfortunate situation, we’ll find a way to get through it.”

Louisville, meanwhile, is working on how to get through the Huskies and earn Cinderella status, an identity that displeases senior 6-1 forward Angel McCoughtry (23.1 ppg., 8.4 rpg), who, like UConn’s Montgomery, is expected to be taken quickly in Thursday’s WNBA draft.

“We’re not a Cinderella,” the native of Baltimore said after the win over the Sooners. “We’re just as good as the other teams who are here.”

But on Monday, McCoughtry saw some merit to Louisville’s mention as a decided underdog.

“I hope they wish Connecticut wins,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been thriving off of, so we don’t want to change.”

Second-year coach Jeff Walz, who was an assistant at Maryland in 2006 when the Terrapins won the NCAA title, was asked if the Huskies had any weaknesses to exploit.

“I think I saw their manager drop a bottle of water,” he said. “So that’s a weakness.

“You know, that’s the scary thing about them,” Walz continued. “They’ve got three of the top 10 players in the country. Then you’ve got Tiffany Hayes who is shooting the ball extremely well.

“Kalana Greene, I mean, it’s just a list of them. We’re going to have to come out and we’re going to have to try to find a way to make them feel uncomfortable. How we’re going to do that? I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’ve got until 7:30 tomorrow night to try and figure that out.”

Connecticut’s coach Geno Auriemma noted the redundancy attached to having to answer similar questions from throughout past Final Fours and throughout the current tournament as the Huskies advanced.

What has also been redundant has been the special emotions associated with the final games of seniors who have made Connecticut a power.

In previous years, there have been the happy endings with titles for such impact stars as Rebecca Lobo in 1995; Sue Bird, Swin Cash and that bunch in 2002; and Diana Taurasi concluding with her third straight title in 2004.

Now it’s time to say farewell to Montgomery.

“I really admire her as a person, I really do,” Auriemma said. “Even when she doesn’t make a shot, when she takes shots that I think are ill-advised, even when she didn’t talk to me for a couple of years and Tonya (Cardoza) was her coach.

“And she’s just one of those special people,” he continued. “But not all fairy tales end with the prince taking the princess home and living happily ever after. Sometimes it doesn’t end right. I guess in a short period of time we’ll find out. But I don’t know that I’ve wanted anything more than I want this.”

-- Mel