UConn makes it 70 in a row
Hartford - So many games ago, so many years ago, the No. 70 had a different connotation for the UConn women's basketball team.
The last time, UConn limped to its NCAA record 70th straight win, down seven in the first half against Virginia Tech in the 2003 Big East Conference tournament and up two at halftime on the way to a 17-point victory, not knowing that its first loss in two seasons was right around the corner.
This win, the record-tying No. 70 that came Sunday at the XL Center in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, was nothing like that.
This one, instead, was the personification of dominance.
The final score was UConn 77, Syracuse 41, complete with a 34-point performance from UConn senior center Tina Charles. The Syracuse starters, meanwhile, did not manage a field goal in the first half, when the Huskies led 44-17.
"I only have 'X' number of games left. This could be my last game in the Big East and I don't want that happening," Charles, recently named Big East Player of the Year, said of her attitude against Syracuse. "I'm just keeping my faith and trying to carry my teammates."
"I couldn't believe it happened the first time and I can't believe it's happening now," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the 70-game streak. "I think it just takes on a life of its own and you go with it."
Top-ranked and top-seeded UConn (31-0) will meet Notre Dame, the sixth-ranked team in the nation and the league's No. 5 seed, in the tournament semifinals at 6 tonight (ESPNU) with a chance for win No. 71. Notre Dame is 27-4, coming from behind against No. 4 seed St. John's for a 75-67 victory on Sunday.
Charles, who a week ago broke UConn's all-time records for points and rebounds, both in a 76-51 victory at Notre Dame, broke the Big East tournament record with 16 field goals against Syracuse and added six rebounds and five blocked shots.
Maya Moore finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and five steals and became the fastest player in UConn history and sixth overall to reach the 2,000-point plateau. Caroline Doty added seven assists.
Tiffany Hayes started the Huskies out with a 3-pointer and by the time UConn led 17-2 six minutes into the game Moore and Charles had combined for 12 points. The Huskies led by as many as 43 with 7:31 left in the game.
"You know, it's difficult while you're doing it." Auriemma said, asked of his reflections on the winning streak. "It's like a guy throwing a no-hitter. You're not necessarily thinking in the fifth inning, 'Hey, I can't give you a hit because I'm pitching a no-hitter.'"
Moore mentioned UConn's "attack mentality" as the reason it's been successful.
"There's no way the records we're setting this year, there's no way we could do it just because of past teams (and their success)," Moore said.
She said Charles is a perfect example of having that mentality. Charles had 21 points at halftime, once getting an offensive rebound at the foul line and driving in for a layup with a somewhat menacing look on her face.
"When she's like that, you just get out of the way," Moore said. "I'll be glad to get some assists. I'm just riding her tidal wave right now."
UConn's last 70-game winning streak came to an end on March 11, 2003, against Villanova (52-48), but that was a team that Auriemma calls "offensively challenged," having lost Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams to graduation the year before, all of them first-round WNBA draft choices.
That 2003 team, which did go on to win the national championship, had national player of the year Diana Taurasi and a supporting cast. This team, while losing All-American point guard Renee Montgomery to graduation, has the two players considered the favorites (Moore and Charles) for national player of the year.
"There's a big difference between the first time we went through this and this time," Auriemma said. "The grind of where are we gonna get our next bucket (in 2003), it was hard and it took its toll.
"These last two years (were) a lot different, way different. I think any time you can score, it makes things a lot simpler."