Commentary

Unbeaten UConn runs over fourth-ranked Oklahoma

Originally Published: November 30, 2008
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Renee MontgomeryAP Photo/Bob ChildRenee Montgomery had 30 points and tied a single-game UConn mark with 13 assists.
STORRS, Conn. -- The only thing missing when Connecticut jogged off the court after Sunday's 106-78 win against Oklahoma was a piece of tape stretched across the Huskies' path to the locker room.

At least, that's the traditional way to greet someone crossing the finish line first.

Less a basketball team in the traditional sense than the nation's best 5x40 minute relay team, the top-ranked Huskies sprinted through their first significant test of the season. This wasn't easing past San Diego State or lapping BYU; this was demolishing a top-five team that hit shots, took care of the ball and generally looked the part of a quality foe.

In Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale's words, "I told Geno [Auriemma, UConn's coach] after the game, 'If you play like that and shoot like that, you might win the men's national championship.'"

As statements go, the win ranked somewhere behind the Magna Carta but well ahead of anything any team, with the possible exception of Cal, has offered in the season's early going. In a national scene in which just about every top team has either suffered an upset or been pushed to the brink, Connecticut wasn't going to lose unless it dropped the baton.

Renee Montgomery (30 points, 13 assists), Maya Moore (27 points, 12 rebounds) and Tina Charles (18 points, 10 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles, but Carolina Doty ran the opening leg for the Huskies. The freshman hit four first-half 3-pointers as the Huskies turned a five-point lead with 11:35 remaining in the first half into a 20-point lead just more than eight minutes later. Even when Oklahoma made a run late in the half, cutting the deficit to 11 points at intermission, the initial cushion offered protection.

"I really think Caroline Doty opened it up for us," Montgomery said. "She hit like four 3s right off the top, so [the Sooners] were trying to help off of people and everything. But when you've got other people hitting shots, you can't really help off of anyone."

Doty finished the game a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arc, becoming the first player in Connecticut history to hit as many as six 3-pointers in a game without a miss. What Doty already offers two weeks into her college career is a more athletic version (the game's first offensive rebound went not to Courtney Paris or Charles but to Doty) of the shooter lost when Mel Thomas went down midway through last season. And it comes with an attitude, if not the height, that Auriemma said reminded him of Diana Taurasi.

[+] EnlargeKaili McLaren
AP Photo/Bob ChildAbi Olajuwon and OU couldn't stop Kaili McLaren and UConn, dropping the Sooners to 4-2.

"There's lot of kids that can shoot," Auriemma said. "But when you're on ESPN and playing a top-five team in the country and it's your first time out there, I'm not sure that you're really anxious to shoot it or confident that you're going to knock them all in. That's what separates her, I think, from normal freshmen."

Since Taurasi left the scene, Connecticut has been an up-and-down team from behind the arc. So far this season, the Huskies are averaging 8.8 3-pointers per game on 45.8 percent shooting. At the current pace, they would pass last season's total production in the middle of February. And last year's team was about as prolific from long range as any has been since Taurasi and the last national championship.

"You pick your poison," Coale said of the shooting barrage. "They got a lot of 3s because they beat us down the floor in transition and we had to step to the lane to stop the ball, and then there [Doty] is and we don't get matched up quick enough."

And as Coale suggested, it's because of where the outside shooting fits within the framework of everything else Connecticut does that all those numbers matter. The Huskies don't live and die with the 3-point shot, but they can certainly squelch out any signs of life in an opponent when the shots are falling. For many teams, the 3-pointer is an equalizer that helps compensate against a bigger, stronger opponent. For the Huskies, it's just one more way to bully opponents already struggling to keep pace.

"I thought coming in, their transition game is unlike any other," Coale said. "And we just played Carolina -- now, Carolina is known for their transition. This was a different deal."

If Doty starred in the leadoff leg of Connecticut's race Sunday night, Moore and Charles took the advantage and ran with it. Moore was hitting the kind of midrange, face-up jumpers that make her nearly unstoppable. And Charles, told beforehand she wouldn't be getting help on defense, held Paris scoreless in the first half. And while Oklahoma's All-American extended her streak of double-doubles to 98 consecutive games, with 14 points and 14 rebounds, the offense was too little, too late.

But there was no doubt who ran the anchor leg for the Huskies. Montgomery turned the ball over six times in a season-opening win against Georgia Tech that was closer than expected. Since that game, she has played 103 minutes, including 38 against the Sooners, with 24 assists and six turnovers.

"Two years ago, Renee Montgomery couldn't have played the game she played tonight," Auriemma said. "Because every time they scored, she would have wanted to do something real fast to try to make up for the fact they scored. And [she] would do something that was uncharacteristic of her."

There aren't many point guards in the country who could do what Montgomery did Sunday in any setting, let alone do it while running an offense that moves as quickly as this one. Keeping control of the details at this speed is not unlike coloring within the lines while skydiving.

"Everybody's got Maya Moore on their All-America team," Auriemma said with a smirk. "Everybody in America knows that Maya Moore is the best player in the country. And I think Renee's trying to make sure she's not the best player on our team."

The shots might not always fall with quite the frequency they did for the Huskies on Sunday (54.5 percent from the field on 42-of-77 shooting). Montgomery might not always play at a level of historic significance. Charles might not play at a level of intensity that inspires former Connecticut post Tamika (Williams) Raymond to text Auriemma after the game and say she had never seen the immensely talented junior play quite like that. Then again, there's a certain margin of error when you beat a team that even in a 28-point loss acquitted itself like a Final Four contender.

And as Montgomery said, it's as much the pace Connecticut played at as the results it produced that should be the blueprint for future games. Because as easy as UConn made things look on this night, it's not even easy for the Huskies to keep up with themselves.

"I was definitely tested," Moore said. "I know that there were many times during the game where I had to really fight past that wall, and I think it paid off. It's going to make us better at the end, to be able to have to run and push the ball and play against great teams, because that's what we're going to see toward the end of the year."

As for what other teams will see? Perhaps a weary foe put it best.

"We haven't seen anything like that," Paris said.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

ALSO SEE