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UCONN FINISHES PERFECT SEASON WITH NCAA TITLE WIN OVER VOLS

With its final victory in a magical season, Connecticut achieved something rare in NCAA women's basketball - perfection.

Connecticut erased any doubts that it had fattened up during the year on a weak schedule by winning the national championship and doing it against the team that has won more women's titles than any other.The top-ranked Huskies capped an unbeaten season by defeating three-time champion Tennessee 70-64 Sunday for its first national title. The victory puts Connecticut (35-0) alongside Texas as the only undefeated teams in 14 years of NCAA women's play. Texas won the 1986 crown with a 34-0 record.

"This is just a picture perfect way for someone to end their career,' said Connecticut senior Rebecca Lobo, voted the outstanding player in the Final Four. "We're undefeated, we're national champions and I did it with the people I love."

Connecticut pulled it off despite the foul problems of leading scorers Lobo, Kara Wolters and Jennifer Rizzotti and despite trailing by nine points early in the second half.

Lobo's strong second half was a key after she played only eight minutes in the first half. So was Connecticut's second-half defense, which limited Tennessee to three field goals in the final 10 minutes. And so was Rizzotti's spectacular layup with just under two minutes left.

The Lady Vols (34-3) scored only three meaningless points after taking a 61-59 lead on Tiffani Johnson's three-point play with 4:09 left.

"My players were really given the opporuntity to show what kind of character they had," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who got a congratulatory call from President Clinton. "It would have been very easy for us to fold and feel sorry for ourselves and we never did that.

"And I hope this puts what we've done in perspective this year and I hope that everybody gives these kids the credit and the recognition that they deserve. It couldn't happen to a nicer group of kids."

The loss ended a season that began with immense promise for Tennessee, which was ranked No. 1 until losing to Connecticut 77-66 in mid-January. But the third-ranked Lady Vols couldn't take control when Lobo was on the bench in the first half and couldn't make the shots they needed down the stretch.

Tennessee likes to get the ball inside, but Connecticut prevented that from happening, forcing the Lady Vols to shoot from the perimeter, where they aren't as comfortable.

"Their defense was great," said Tennessee center Dana Johnson, who was held to nine points. "They packed it in inside and we couldn't get anything inside. Then we tried to go outside but couldn't hit the jumpers."

Lobo, the national player of the year, led Connecticut with 17 points, 11 in the second half. Rizzotti also scored 11 second-half points to finish with 15. Jamelle Elliott scored 13 points and Wolters had 10.

Latina Davis' 11 points led Tennessee. All-American Nikki McCray, who left the game briefly after twisting her right knee early in the second half, scored only seven.

"In the second half, Connecticut controlled the boards, which takes away a good percentage of our offense off tansition," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Unfortunately, what got us to this point, our defense and rebounding, could not get us to the level of a championship."

Connecticut missed two chance to tie the score after Tiffani Johnson's three-point play before Elliott scored on a double-pump layup with 2:20 left to make it 61-61.

Then Rizzotti made one of the game's outstanding plays, taking a long rebound and heading for the Connecticut basket. Tennessee's Michelle Marciniak was waiting near the free throw line, but Rizzotti faked left, then drove to her right around Marciniak and made a layup for a 63-61 lead with 1:53 to play.

"I didn't think she'd have the position to get an offensive foul on me, so I took it in," Rizzotti said. "I just wanted to be aggressive with it. When we're aggressive, that's when our game is at its best."

Connecticut then wrapped up the title at the free throw line, Lobo making four and Rizzotti and Carla Berube sinking two each. After Berbue made her first shot with 9.9 seconds left, Summitt slammed her hand on the scorer's table and groaned, "I really hate this."

Moments later, the Connecticut players were hugging each other and crying at midcourt and Tennessee was walking dejectedly to its dressing room.

"We're a very close team. We've been through a lot together," Summitt said. "Because of our senior class and its commitment to get to the Final Four and win the national championship, my heart goes out to this team."

Tennessee led 38-32 at halftime and quickly went up 41-32 on Marciniak's 3-pointer 13 seconds into the second half. But Connecticut would see to it that Tennessee never got comfortable.

An 8-0 run capped by Elliott's two baskets inside drew UConn to 43-42 with 15:36 left. Tennessee got the lead back up to six, but Connecticut came back again, this time behind Lobo.

Lobo, who went 24:30 during the middle part of the game without scoring, got four baskets during a four-minute stretch to help Connecticut pull ahead.

Rizzotti's layup after she stole the ball from McCray cut the lead to 58-57 and Elliott's two free throws put Connecticut up 59-58 with 5:44 left - the Huskies' first lead since midway through the first half.

Johnson then converted her three-point play to give Tennessee its last lead. Less than two minutes later, it was tied and Connecticut was on its way to the title.

"It's really hard for me to express how I feel," the normally glib Auriemma said. "To play that game the way it was played and to beat the team that I thought going into the game was as good a team as I've ever seen in college basketball, to win that game - it's the greatest feeling I've ever had."