AN APPRECIATION

Diana Taurasi, guard/forward, University of Connecticut

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The history of women's college basketball has its gamechangers, much like the men's game.

But the legacy of change has been left by its male players. The 12-foot free-throw lane was as a result of dominating post play on the part of Wilt Chamberlain. Rules regarding offensive goaltending were installed because of the dominance of Chamberlain and Bill Russell. And the slam dunk was outlawed because of Lew Alcindor.

In women's basketball, the gamechangers have added subtler touches to the game, borne of athleticism on the part of players such as Cheryl Miller, Sheryl Swoopes, Carol Blazejowski and Sue Wicks.

But when Diana Taurasi stepped onto the floor as a Connecticut Husky for the first time in the fall of 2000, little did anyone know that she would be seen as the first game-changing basketball player of the 21st Century.

You could see the traits either on television, or the smaller gyms of the Big East where many teams play instead of nearby professional arenas.

The first time The Founder saw Taurasi live and in person was in a Big East game at Georgetown University, playing alongside four -- four! players who would eventually become WNBA first-round draft picks.

But there was always something about the guard-forward with the hair pulled back as tight as her laser passes. She was not the tallest person on the floor, but she looked like she towered over it. She moved in free flow, almost in ether, as her teammates cut at just the right moment, freeing a passing lane two, three seconds ahead of the opponents' thinking.

And after four years, Taurasi's legacy is unquestionable: three championships in a row.

But Taurasi has left other imprints on the game. Sure, she is athletic, gutsy, and can shoot or pass with either hand.

What sets her apart is her sense of occasion -- both in the macro and micro views of the game. In a game (the "micro," if you will), she can read when her teammates are not doing well and will then take over the offense.

"We start playing the games, and she just turns it on like nobody I've ever seen," says UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. "And that's why she is who she is. She's unique."

In the macro, however, Taurasi has an amazing 22-1 record in NCAA tournament games over four years. Her scoring in the tournament is only surpassed by Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw.

And most importantly, whenever Taurasi's team made it to the NCAA final, it won all three times, thanks to her buckets at critical junctures.

When Tennessee, in the 2004 championship, whittled a huge first-half lead down to three early in the second half, Taurasi's 3-point field goal capped off a run to get the lead back to 10. Later, just after the penultimate television timeout, she hit a running double-clutch bank shot to stop a Tennessee run.

So, perhaps the greatest legacy Diana Taurasi has left women's basketball is something the rulesmakers can't change.

Because you can't regulate greatness. Especially in the clutch.

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