UConn Wins Third WNIT Title
STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut applied pressure inside and out against Oklahoma and the result was a third Women's NIT title for the Huskies.
Charde Houston scored 22 points and Mel Thomas added 20 to lead ninth-ranked UConn to an 82-62 win over the Sooners in the WNIT title championship game.
The five-time national champs have dominated this tournament, taking the title in all three appearances. The Huskies (4-0) won their first two WNIT titles in 1997 and 2001. Teams are eligible for the WNIT every four years.
"One of the reasons why we want to play in this tournament when we're eligible is because it's usually a good field and you end up playing pretty good teams," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You find out quickly early in the season where you stand. We're a lot better today than we were last week."
UConn shot 57 percent from the floor and held the No. 25 Sooners (3-1) to 38 percent shooting.
Thomas, the tournament MVP, finished 8-of-9 from the floor. Her only miss came with 1:48 left in the game. The sophomore guard had four 3-pointers and four of UConn's 13 steals.
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma's dominant freshman center, saw her string of three straight double-doubles end. The 6-foot-4 Paris finished with 19 points but grabbed only six boards. She was averaging 23 points and 16 rebounds, but had to contend nearly all game with UConn's aggressive inside game, anchored by Houston and Barbara Turner.
"I still don't think we can guard her," Auriemma said of Paris. "But what you can do is make her have to guard you. We made it so she had to defend in the lane."
Houston drew the early defensive assignment on Paris and beat the freshman on the offensive side with strong inside moves to the basket. The broad-shouldered Paris was liked a "freight train" in the lane, Houston said.
"You really can't stop her but you can try to limit her touches and make it very hard for her to score and do what she wants on the court," Houston said.
UConn eventually rotated several post players on Paris, forcing Oklahoma's guards to find other options.
There weren't many.
"Our guards were intimidated and Connecticut kicked us down the floor for 40 minutes," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Thomas averaged 15 points in the four-game tournament that included a career-high 23 in the opening win against Marist last week. She had 12 points in the first half Sunday and was part of backcourt that harassed the Sooner guards, making it difficult for them to settle into a halfcourt offense.
Thomas scored five of UConn's final seven points in the first half to give the Huskies a 41-27 lead at the break.
"When we're playing well together we just want to keep getting the ball," Thomas said. "You just keep feeding off it. We learned how well we can play, we just can't settle for anything less in the future."
The Huskies blew it open with a 12-2 run early in the second half that started with a Thomas 3-pointer and was capped by Houston's 3-point play. UConn led by as many as 28.
The Sooners got within 20 with 7:48 to play, but UConn answered with an 8-0 run in a minute-long spurt that featured two steals.
Ann Strother and Willnett Crockett had seven rebounds apiece for the Huskies, which outrebounded the Sooners 38-35. Strother also had a team-high seven assists. Turner finished with 10 points.
Laura Andrews had 10 points for Oklahoma, which advanced to the WNIT final with wins over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, SMU and New Mexico. The Huskies beat Marist, Indiana State and Boston College en route to the title game.
"I just was not tough enough," Paris said. "I have to be a lot tougher and this game taught me that."
UConn also extended its dominance over the Sooners, winning all six meetings in their series. None was bigger than 82-70 win in the 2002 national championship game that capped UConn's perfect 39-0 season.
The Huskies' game plan to neutralize Paris came as no surprise to Coale. But she didn't like how her team handled UConn's pressure.
"After 30 days of practice and three wins now, it was not something I expected," Coale said. "I was very surprised there was a lack of poise from particularly my point guards."
-- Courtesy Associated Press