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Winning into history

Hartford - Kalana Greene stretched and grabbed and contorted herself to get an offensive rebound, banked it in, was fouled and slid across the floor on her backside, almost all the way to the UConn bench, all to a raucous ovation.

Later, UConn coach Geno Auriemma, orchestrator of what had just become an NCAA record 71-game winning streak, said of Greene, who made that play with 13 minutes remaining to give the Huskies a nine-point lead: "We've got to get her (more) shots where she's double-teamed and falling down."

This is how history manifested itself at the XL Center on Monday night: UConn used all of its resources to pull away from Notre Dame in the second half for a 59-44 victory in the Big East Conference tournament semifinals and Auriemma provided the punch line. As usual.

Top-ranked UConn (32-0) reached the finals of the tournament by winning its 71st straight game, eclipsing the previous mark of 70 set by UConn from 2001-03. The Huskies tied the record with Sunday's 77-41 quarterfinal win over Syracuse and broke it while beating Notre Dame, the sixth-ranked team in the country, for the third time this season.

All 71 victories have been by double figures, including last year's national championship game in St. Louis.

"It means that what we're doing is really, really, really good," Auriemma said of the magnitude of what his team has accomplished. "You have the best players and they work their butts off every single day.

"I don't know that 71 changes anything."

Tina Charles had 16 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots for No. 1-seeded UConn, which will play No. 2 West Virginia (28-4) in the championship at 7 tonight (ESPN).

Maya Moore added 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Greene finished with 15 points and seven rebounds after scoring just two points in the first half on 1-for-8 shooting.

UConn sophomore guard Caroline Doty crumbled to the floor with 49.7 seconds remaining after taking a knee or an elbow to the back of the head, Auriemma said. He said she was being evaluated for a concussion and was unsure whether she'd be able to play in today's title game.

Just in the last week, UConn has seen Charles become the program's all-time leading scorer and rebounder in the same game, Moore score her 2,000th career point to become the only junior in Huskies history to earn that distinction and has engineered wins No. 70 and 71 in a row.

Perhaps that's why the Huskies would rather talk about being in the Big East final than anything having to do with record books right about now.

"I think this win is big just because this is the second win for us in the postseason," Charles said.

"I'm coaching tonight. I'm not thinking about what number this is," Auriemma said. "I'm thinking I can't believe that anything is more important than winning, than playing in the Big East championship for these kids. I want to try to keep the focus where it is."

UConn led just 21-20 entering the final television timeout of the first half and 25-22 at halftime, shooting 35.7 percent.

Greene then opened the second half with a basket and scored six points in the first seven minutes to help get the pace more to the Huskies' liking. UConn led 42-33 when Doty stole the ball and shoveled it ahead to Tiffany Hayes for a breakaway layup, giving the team a double-figure lead it wouldn't relinquish.

The crowd of 9,334 at the XL Center rose to its feet as Moore secured an offensive rebound with 27 seconds left and dribbled out the clock.

"You don't think, 'Oh, no, we're not up by 30; what are we gonna do?'" Greene said of the composure the team showed in getting past the Irish. "I think with us, we don't get frustrated or afraid or anything.

"We play hard every possession. I didn't see them getting many 50-50 balls in the second half. It's not about winning the game, it's about winning the most possessions. … We're celebrating this win. But we're not focusing on numbers or anything."

UConn last won its 70th straight game on March 10, 2003, against Virginia Tech, but fell the following day to Villanova (52-48) in the Big East tournament final.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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