UConn stays in charge, defeats Tennessee to win NCAA title

If you’re going to start with the numbers, the two most important are Connecticut 73, Tennessee 68.

If you’re going to tell the tale through facts and figures, you would note Connecticut, with its victory Tuesday night over Tennessee, claimed its fourth national title and kept the Lady Vols’ count at six.

You would point out the Huskies shot a sizzling 51 percent from the floor.

If you were a stickler about the particulars, you would mention that Huskies freshman Ann Strother played far beyond her years, scoring 17 points.

You would be sure to mention the muscular play of Lady Vols forward Gwen Jackson, who bulled around, past and over defenders to score.

You would remember to say a word about super senior Kara Lawson, who finished with a team-high 18 points, 15 in the second half, and whose immeasurable inspiration led the Lady Vols’ unsuccessful comeback.

The facts, however, fail to tell the whole tale.

Three times Connecticut (37-1) and Tennessee (33-5) have met in a national title game since 1995. Each time the Huskies have come out on top.

Six of the last seven times these two teams have met, Connecticut has won.

But magic for these Huskies, comes in the form of their leader and their leading scorer.

As Auriemma put it, “We have D(iana), and they don’t.”

Meaning Diana Taurasi, who, after going scoreless for the first nine minutes of the game, spent the next 31 putting up a game-high 28 points.

“Fortunately she only has one year left,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.

Others, including Auriemma, used the say the same about one of Summitt’s former players, Chamique Holdsclaw. During her four-year stay in Knoxville, Holdsclaw guided the Lady Vols to three straight national titles between 1996 and 1998.

“When we had Holdsclaw, we felt every night we could beat every team in the country,” Summitt said. “(Taurasi) is that type of player.”

Even so the Lady Vols refused to give in, twice coming back from 13-point, second-half deficits, allowing themselves an opportunity at the end to pull the game out.

Tennessee boasted more muscle, Connecticut more grace.

Tennessee shot 44 percent from the floor, but offset its relatively soft shooting with a 40-22 rebounding edge.

Despite a scoreless stretch in the first half, the Huskies, on the strength of a Taurasi three-pointer and a layup by Willnett Crockett in the last 30 seconds of the half, headed into the locker room with a 35-30 lead.

Those five points would prove to be the difference in a game in which both teams scored 38 points in the second half.

That level of parity, Summitt said, reflected the status of both programs.

“I don’t think there’s that much difference,” Summitt said. “We’re going to continue to compete for national championships if I have anything to do with it. We’re going to continue to work hard in recruiting because that’s how you win.”

That, and a bit of magic.