Ever-relentless Huskies win again
NORMAN, Okla. -- There's a line from one of my favorite movies, "Night of the Hunter," that reminds me of this UConn women's basketball team and its streak of 65 consecutive victories.
A little boy, on the run with his sister from a murderous psychopath, thinks maybe -- maybe -- the monstrous man has briefly let up and they can catch their breath.
Then the boy gets a glimpse of his still-in-pursuit tormentor and whispers to himself in frustration, "Don't he ever sleep?"
Well, that's what opponents must feel about the Huskies. Oklahoma was the latest to take a crack at the apparently un-crackable, and did a much better job than most. Put it this way: For at least a majority of UConn's 76-60 victory Monday night, this really was a game. A fun game.
"People out there who read our scores and watch us, they're under this impression we come out, we play and everybody [else] says, 'Let's lose by 30 tonight and go home,'" UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When other teams compete, play really hard and do what they are supposed to and they're well-coached like this [Oklahoma] team is, it's going to be a game. Not enough people do that against us.
"Yeah, we're really good, but if teams play as hard as Oklahoma did tonight, the scores wouldn't be the way they are."
Still, that wasn't enough for OU coach Sherri Coale.
"It's a compliment, and we appreciate it, but we're not satisfied," Coale said. "We don't play Connecticut to walk away with a moral victory. We play them to get better."
The Sooners, who due to graduation and injury lost three starters off last year's Final Four team, have improved through the course of this season. On Monday, they were led by the winged-footed Danielle Robinson, who scored 18 points. They did a lot right, but they miss sharpshooting Whitney Hand, out with an ACL injury. When the Huskies mixed up their defense and tossed their aggressive zone at the Sooners, OU had no zone-buster.
The Huskies came into this matchup having won their previous 25 games this season by an average of 38 points. The closest any foe has come to them is Stanford, which lost by 12 in Hartford, Conn., on Dec. 23.
And in the Huskies' most recent contest, at home Saturday against Big East opponent St. John's, UConn won by a not-at-all-horrible-looking margin of 14. On Monday, in front of a packed and loud house at the Lloyd Noble Center, UConn even trailed for very small stretches in the second half.
Yet the Huskies won by 16 points. Don't they ever sleep?
"We still could have been so much more relentless, so much more aggressive," said UConn junior Maya Moore, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. "Just have shown so much more of that killer instinct. That's why we can walk away from a game like this feeling proud of ourselves, but still not being satisfied."
Right about now, though, is where some UConn fans might ask, "Wait a minute. Hold on. Back up. Did you really compare the Huskies to Robert Mitchum's homicidal maniac earlier? Seriously? Are we that much the bad guy this season?"
Indeed, that's not quite fair, is it? You play so well, so hard and so consistently, you're so relentless in your pursuit of excellence -- that shouldn't give you villain status, should it? Hey, Nebraska's undefeated, too (albeit with a few closer calls in the past two games than UConn has had). Nobody's referring to the Huskers as bad guys, are they?
No because Nebraska is currently so far out in uncharted waters the Huskers might soon be running into the castaways on Gilligan's Island. Nebraska has never been relevant this way in women's hoops in any previous season. The program has never advanced further than the second round of the NCAA tournament.
So the Huskers' current "perfection" mostly brings enthusiastic congratulations -- even from the teams they're beating.
But UConn? Hey, the Huskies have done perfect three times before. Just last season, in fact. UConn has six national championships. It has Moore and Tina Charles (19 points, nine rebounds), who serve as each other's primary competition for national player of the year. It has Tiffany Hayes (20 points) and Kalana Greene (14), and against the Sooners they combined as that same "next wave to knock you down" that they have been against everyone else.
And while Caroline Doty had an off night shooting (2-of-10), she still presents a constant threat because she's not going to lose confidence.
What the Huskies didn't have Monday was points from the bench -- and depth has been basically the only so-called question mark the team has faced this season. Then again, is it really a question if the Huskies always seem to have the answer?
"Some of it is their experience from last year that's carried over," Auriemma said of how composed his players were Monday, even with the Sooners energized by 11,865 people screaming for them. "I think the most amazing thing about this whole thing is we don't ever have an off night. We have individual players who have off nights, but we've been fortunate there's always someone stepping up.
"The intensity level that my players have to want to win -- that's all they know. Sometimes it's hard to match that if you're the other team. I understand that. And it can be frustrating if you're doing everything you can and you're down 20.
"But rather than looking at it as we're 'bad' for women's basketball, everybody should say, 'Wow, I want to work to get my team to that level.'"
Auriemma then recalled how in December 1999, the UConn team that won his second national championship came to play the Sooners in Norman. The Huskies had two players then, Stacy Hansmeyer (now an assistant at OU) and Paige Sauer, who were from Oklahoma, so Auriemma wanted to give them a homecoming game. But he also liked what Coale, who was then in her fourth season as a college head coach, was doing with the OU program.
"Ten years ago, we came here and Sherri wanted a program that could compete for a national championship," Auriemma said. "And now we come here, and that's exactly what she's done. If she can do it, that means other people can do it."
Admittedly, no one might be able to do it against UConn this season. And that's a testament to the Huskies always aiming to play the best they possibly can each game. Not just well enough to win.
It took a little more from them Monday than it often has this season. But they were once again up to the task.
"We love it -- all these people coming to see us play is awesome," Moore said, smiling. "I don't care that we're not at Gampel [Pavilion]; seeing it at Oklahoma is great. But it's us against them. And when that pressure from that crowd is there, I think it brings out the best in us."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.