- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ST. LOUIS | Louisville knocked off a pair of top seeds, Oklahoma and Maryland, to reach its first national title game in its Final Four debut.

That's nothing compared to the challenge that awaits the Cardinals next.

Undefeated and top-ranked Connecticut is one win from its third undefeated season and only the fifth in women's basketball history after ending Stanford's 20-game winning streak in an 83-64 rout in Sunday night's semifinals.

The first all-Big East final - and only the fourth title game matching teams from the same conference - has the feel of a major mismatch. Connecticut (38-0) has beaten Louisville by 28 and 39 points, the latter blowout March 10 in the Big East tournament championship game.

Still, UConn coach Geno Auriemma would rather be playing somebody else.

“I wish we were playing anybody but Louisville Tuesday. Anybody,” Auriemma said. “The last team you want to play is the team you beat the way you beat them and especially the last time we played them.”

Big wins have been the norm all season for UConn, which has posted an average winning margin of 31 points. That number has been trimmed to 27.5 in the NCAA tournament.

So what might be different the third time around?

Attempting to emphasize a positive, Louisville coach Jeff Walz thought his school was competitive for 12 minutes in the first meeting at Storrs, Conn.

The Cardinals' other hope is that the championship game setting will trump the track record. They advanced to their first Final Four with a 17-point victory against top-seeded Maryland in the Raleigh Region final before ending Oklahoma's title hopes with a 61-59 victory Sunday. Louisville trailed by 14 points early and rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit behind Angel McCoughtry's 18 points and 11 rebounds.

“You're playing for the national championship,” said Walz, a former Maryland assistant. “So it doesn't matter what the scores have been in the past.”

Auriemma said neither of Louisville's upsets was a surprise to him - not with the McCoughtry factor.

“I've seen what Angel can do by herself, just take over games,” Auriemma said. “They're up 12, but they're in trouble because Angel hasn't scored yet.”

Louisville is trying to become only the third No. 3 seed to win the title and the first since Tennessee in 1997. The Cardinals have won 13 of 14. Their lone loss was to Connecticut, of course.

The Huskies are vying for their sixth national championship and first since 2004. UConn is suffering its longest drought since first winning in 1995.

“It's one of those validating things where no matter how many times you've been in, you always wonder if there's a next time,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes it takes those couple of years off where it makes you go, 'Wow, this is a big deal.' When you start to think it's not a big deal, you need to get out of it.”

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