No. 1 Connecticut routs No. 2 North Carolina 88-58
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Geno Auriemma isn’t interested in talking about the gap between No. 1 Connecticut and the rest of women’s college basketball. He might not have much of a choice after the way the Huskies dismantled second-ranked North Carolina on Monday night.
“I told the players in the locker room that the only gap I’m interested in is the one that exists between when we’re playing great and when we’re playing poorly,” the coach said. “If that gap keeps narrowing, then I’ll be happy.”
That’s perhaps the toughest competition the Huskies will face at this rate.
Renee Montgomery scored 21 points to help the Huskies beat the Tar Heels 88-58, dominating a matchup of unbeaten teams from start to finish and handing North Carolina its worst loss in almost six years.
Maya Moore had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Connecticut (18-0), which turned one of the most anticipated games of the season into just another lopsided victory. Connecticut built a double-digit lead early in the game and led 46-30 at the break, then increased the margin against a deeper and supposedly more athletic opponent.
Connecticut didn’t need a huge day from Moore, who was coming off a 40-point performance against Syracuse on Saturday. Instead, the Huskies constantly beat the Tar Heels’ trapping defense for easy baskets and dominated the glass against a team whose coach is obsessed with rebounding.
Auriemma had told his team to focus on defense and rebounding over offense. While UConn shot 47 percent, the Huskies controlled the game by taking a 53-32 edge on the boards and grabbing 21 offensive rebounds—with several coming as the Tar Heels (17-1) desperately tried to get back in the game midway through the second half.
By the end, Connecticut had made North Carolina look just as helpless as everyone else has against the Huskies this year, including third-ranked Oklahoma — which lost 106-78 in Storrs in November.
“Carolina’s really good. There aren’t going to be a whole lot of teams that beat them,” Auriemma said. “We just played really, really, really great basketball tonight.”
UConn hasn’t played a game closer than 11 points all season and improved to 9-2 in games featuring the nation’s top two teams. The Huskies also ended the Tar Heels’ 31-game home winning streak and handed North Carolina its first nonconference home loss since falling to Oklahoma in January 2001, a span of 76 games.
It was North Carolina’s worst loss since falling 97-63 at Duke in February 2003.
When asked what it would take for someone to beat the Huskies, coach Sylvia Hatchell quipped, “Why don’t you tell me?”
“They came into our house and showed us how to play basketball,” she said. “I wish we could’ve given them a better game.
“They compete hard and they are extremely physical. This game was much, much more physical than any game we’ve played this year. And I think it bothered us, it got to us. We didn’t go rebound with them. But this is the way a game is going to be when you get into the NCAA and play for a national championship.”
Tina Charles added 17 points and 12 rebounds for UConn, while Kalana Greene had 15. The Huskies also got a boost from Lorin Dixon, who started in place of the injured Caroline Doty and finished with career-highs with 14 points and eight rebounds to go with six assists.
Dixon started 10 games as a freshman last year, but struggled before heading to the bench.
“I was a lot more nervous last year,” Dixon said. “I just wanted to do my best and help my teammates the best I could. I had a different mindset coming into the game.”
North Carolina was playing in a 1-vs-2 game for the third time in four seasons and in front of a school-record crowd of 12,722 for a women’s home game. But the Tar Heels never found any kind of offensive rhythm, shooting 37 percent and missing 16 of 20 3-pointers—a lack of scoring efficiency that prevented them from setting up their pressure defense in hopes of slowing the Huskies.
At times, the Tar Heels were quick to take perimeter jumpers. At others, they were committing turnovers while trying to move the ball around instead of attacking the paint. And as the Huskies pulled away, several Tar Heels could only manage a stunned expression as they looked back at Hatchell on the sideline.
Connecticut turned away every push, most notably when the Tar Heels cut a 24-point deficit to 16 midway through the second half. In a play that illustrated their struggles, the Tar Heels had pulled to 66-49 before fouling Charles, who missed the second free throw. But Moore got the offensive rebound and got it back to Charles, who scored and drew a foul for a three-point play that pushed the margin up to 70-49 with 9:13 left.
“That was the key to the game: whoever got on the boards and controlled the paint would win the game,” Montgomery said. “I think our post players took it to heart and took it as a challenge and came up big for us.”
Italee Lucas scored 15 points to lead North Carolina, while Rashanda McCants added 13.