Commentary

Cast of stars leads UConn to rout

Originally Published: January 19, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After Connecticut took North Carolina to the woodshed in an 88-58 statement of superiority Monday, it's hard not to already look at the big picture for the Huskies.

In many ways, we've been doing that since the beginning of this season. But we're really doing it after seeing a 30-point difference between No. 1 and No. 2, and even more so with the game on No. 2's floor and two days after No. 1 lost a starter for the season to a knee injury.

"We just played great. We did," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

UNC guard Italee Lucas, trying to explain what it felt like to be on the receiving end of this whupping, said, "I'm pretty much numb right now."

The big picture is not even whether UConn will win the NCAA title, since that already seems like a foregone conclusion. (Don't you know Auriemma just loves that kind of talk?)

It's bigger than that. It's about how these Huskies rate against the best UConn team of all, the 39-0 squad from 2002. This team might not have quite the star power of that group, but it's still excellent in its own way.

Think of it like this: Look at the cast of the blockbuster of the Agatha Christie movies, "Murder on the Orient Express." That had Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Jacqueline Bisset and Albert Finney.

OK, that's like the 2002 Huskies of Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams.

Pretty hard to match, right? Sure, but then consider, say, "Death on the Nile." That had the likes of Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, Peter Ustinov, Angela Lansbury and David Niven. Still pretty fantastic, right?

Kind of like Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles, Kalana Greene and … Lorin Dixon?

Yes, this is how splendidly things are going for the Huskies. With all the other sharp weapons they can throw at you, they even had Dixon at peak level Monday. The sophomore guard, getting her first start of the season after Caroline Doty's ACL injury Saturday, was basically the star of the game. She had 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting, eight rebounds and six assists.

[+] EnlargeLorin Dixon
Andrew Synowiez/US PresswireIn her first start this season, Lorin Dixon had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and hit all five of her field goal attempts.

"During practice, the whole coaching staff and my teammates [were] telling me to just go for it," Dixon said. "When everybody is behind you, it really helps your confidence."

UConn started off strong and never let up. The crowd of 12,722 -- the largest the Carolina women have ever had at home -- kept trying throughout the game to give the Tar Heels a boost.

However, every little ray of hope for them would then be eclipsed at the other end by the Huskies. Montgomery would hit a 3-pointer, or Moore would grab an offensive rebound and put it back in, or Dixon would scoot to the basket, or Greene would hit a mid-range shot, or Charles would rule the low block.

Montgomery, the senior guard whose intensity matches her coach's, led the Huskies with 21 points. Moore had 19, Charles 17 and Greene 15. And all four were very happy to see Dixon join them in double figures.

The Huskies outrebounded the Tar Heels 53-32. And even though UNC lost rebounding machines Erlana Larkins and LaToya Pringle from last season's team, it's hard for coach Sylvia Hatchell to take her Heels being clobbered that badly on the boards. Carolina is traditionally one of the strongest rebounding teams in the country every season.

"Well, they came into our house and showed us how to play basketball," Hatchell said. "It was never going to be a game if we didn't rebound any better than we did. They're a great team; a lot of weapons."

Funny thing is, it was just Friday night here at the Smith Center -- which is the UNC women's home this season as Carmichael Auditorium is being renovated -- when the same things were being said about the Tar Heels by Virginia. That was after the Cavaliers had absorbed a 103-74 pasting from the Heels.

On Monday, though, the tables were totally turned. Lucas led UNC with 15 points, and Rashanda McCants had 13.

The upside for the Tar Heels is that they now can focus on licking their wounds by trying to dominate the ACC. Taking the conference regular-season championship and the league tournament title would assure UNC of being assigned a No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional.

In which case they wouldn't have to worry about UConn again until possibly meeting the Huskies in the Final Four. However … the ACC is going to present its own challenges to the Tar Heels if they don't shake this off quickly.

"We've got to go to Georgia Tech and to Maryland in the next six days," Hatchell said. "I wish we could have given [UConn] a better game."

However, maybe it comes down to the fact that the Huskies simply wouldn't let the Tar Heels play a good game. With Doty out and the handshake-line incident with Auriemma and Syracuse player Nicole Michael on Saturday, the Huskies had reason to be a little rattled or distracted. But they weren't in the slightest.

"One of those things about life is that it's 10 percent about what happens to you and 90 percent how you handle situations," Moore said. "So we knew that the best thing we could do for Caroline is to come out here and play as hard as we can.

"And an environment like this … it's fun. And it's good for women's basketball as a whole to have big games like this."

Well … certainly the buildup of two unbeatens facing off is good. And UConn's chase of perfection is good. And trying to figure out who three other possible Final Four teams might be … that's good, too.

However, it's not necessarily good entertainment to see No. 1 take it to No. 2 like this. But that's not UConn's problem. Asked how a team could beat the Huskies now, Hatchell said "You tell me."

Indeed, that is the mystery of this season, one that maybe even the best of Agatha Christie's sleuths couldn't solve.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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