- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball
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HARTFORD, Conn. -- It was an incredibly unfamiliar sight -- with a vaguely familiar feel to it.
On Saturday, Connecticut lost for the first time on its home floor since February 2000, tying an NCAA record with 69 consecutive homecourt victories along the way.
Yet as shocking as it was to witness UConn blow an 18-point second-half lead and fall 68-67 to Duke, the game's final seconds were nearly a carbon copy of Tennessee's 72-71 win almost four years earlier.
Back then, Semeka Randall hit the game-winning jump shot with 4.4 seconds left to lift the Lady Vols to a come-from-behind victory at Gampel Pavilion.
On Saturday, Duke's Jessica Foley was the last-second hero. After Diana Taurasi's baseline drive gave UConn a 67-65 lead with 4.7 seconds to play at the Hartford Civic Center, Duke point guard Lindsey Harding took the inbounds pass and dashed the other way, dishing the ball to Foley, who -- despite Ann Strother's hand in her face -- swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Huskies set the NCAA Division I women's mark with 70 consecutive victories last season, and would have set another 70-game streak Saturday with a win. Instead, the 69-game home streak ended the same way it started -- with a last-second stunner.
Though the endings were similar, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday's loss -- which marked the largest lead the Huskies have squandered in his 19 years with the team, but also was just the 100th loss of his coaching career -- was shocking.
"I've never seen anything quite like this in my life," said Auriemma, whose team twice led by 20 points in the first half. "It was just a total breakdown by us. I think we lost some energy. We didn't have any in the end."
The Huskies have lost just two games in the state of Connecticut since the 1999-2000 season, and hadn't lost at the Hartford Civic Center since falling to St. John's in February 1986 (36 games).
Only three teams -- Duke, Georgia and Tennessee -- have beaten UConn at home since March 17, 1983. UConn had won its past 34 games against nonconference opponents.
Hospitality (not so) sweet
Judging by the way Foley's game-winning shot hit nothing but net, you might think she'd been shooting at that basket all her life.
When a team hits the road for a game, the squad typically flies or drives to the site of the game the day before, usually no later than the early afternoon so it can squeeze in a practice on the opponents' court.
But Duke had to alter its plans this weekend. Due to the Hartford Wolfpack's minor league hockey game on Friday night, the Blue Devils weren't able to practice at the Hartford Civic Center. Instead, Duke was forced to practice on its home floor. The Blue Devils didn't arrive in Connecticut until 10 p.m. ET Friday.
According to sources, Duke coach Gail Goestenkors declined the 7:30 a.m. practice time offered to her and the Blue Devils for Saturday morning (the Huskies' were on the court from 8:30 to 10 a.m.). As a result, the Blue Devils didn't step foot on the court at the Hartford Civic Center until just 75 minutes before tipoff when they arrived at the arena.
We'll meet again ... someday
The "newest" rivalry in women's hoops might have to wait awhile for its next chapter.
Final schedules aren't locked up for next season, but we do know that Duke and UConn are not tentatively scheduled to play. When asked if he would be willing to schedule a game against the Blue Devils in 2004-05, Auriemma said, "I don't think it can be done next year."
Though one fan at Saturday's game thought he had plenty to complain about after paying a ticket scalper $60 for a seat with a $20 face value, it turns out tickets for the game were going for much more on the Internet.
A winning bid on eBay of $408.50 secured two tickets six rows up from the court. Another winning bid of $305 was worth a pair of tickets at centercourt in the upper level.
Diana Taurasi didn't bother making excuses for UConn's loss -- just the fifth she's suffered in a Husky jersey.
"What can you say? We gave the game away," said the reigning national player of the year.
Taurasi said UConn's "lack of aggression" down the stretch was costly.
"When you're going against a press, you need to be more aggressive, but we weren't," she added.
Taurasi also was critical of UConn's lack of depth. The Huskies' starting five players and top reserve, Ashley Battle, each played at least 22 minutes. Morgan Valley played three minutes, and Willnett Crockett appeared less than a minute.
"You can't go the whole game with six players, three guards," Taurasi said. "In a game like this, you need people to contribute, and we didn't get that today. We need more options."
Fashion Faux Pas
The UConn women debuted a new alternate jersey Saturday: matching shimmering silver jerseys and shorts, with white numbers and "UCONN" in blue letters across the chest.
It'll probably be a long time before we see them again.
"Yeah, that turned out good, didn't it?" Auriemma said with a laugh at his postgame news conference.
When asked if Auriemma planned to burn the new jerseys, he replied, "There's already a fire going."
Food for thought
Though Alana Beard failed to hit a field goal and had just one point at halftime, she played incredible defense in the first half.
About seven minutes into the game, Beard had back-to-back blocks, then added another before the halftime whistle. She finished the game with four blocks and five steals.
So tell us again why there's no national award to honor the country's top defensive player in women's college basketball? Maybe we will in the future -- and it'll be called the Alana Beard award.
Father knows best
When the school year ended last spring, Duke sophomore Mistie Bass figured she'd return home to Janesville, Wis., for the summer.
Think again, her father, 1960s rock 'n roll recording star Chubby Checker, told her.
"I said, 'No you're not. You're going to stay in Durham, stay and practice all summer,' " Checker recalled before Saturday's game, which he spent in a front-row seat right behind Duke's bench. "Duke is giving her a great opportunity, and she needed to come back a different basketball player."
Checker doesn't hesitate to give Bass advice. After all, it's a situation he feels pretty familiar with.
"I've been there, I know what it's all about, the challenge to be No. 1," he said. "It's easy for me to talk about taking that kind of initiative."
So did dad's advice help? "She scored (a career-high) 15 points in the second game of the year," Checker said, adding, "She listens to dad and it melts my heart."
When the "Twist" came booming over the sound system during a timeout with about four minutes to play in the first half, the crowd gave Checker a standing ovation.
Let's hear it for the boys
Everyone knows Duke dug itself into a big hole against UConn in last season's matchup, too. This time, though, the Blue Devils did a much better job of clawing themselves out of trouble.
Maybe it's because Goestenkors makes sure they get plenty of practice.
"Coach G puts us in those situations all the time in practice against (our male practice players), and they're bigger, stronger, tougher," Beard said. "So credit our guys. They make it realistic."
During a huddle in a timeout in the second half, Beard reminded her teammates that they shouldn't panic about the deficit.
"We're down 10 a lot in practice," Beard told them. "We're used to it."
The UConn faithful scored another sellout on Saturday, and they brought their signs with them. A good majority targeted Beard.
Some signs simply mimicked Auriemma's motto last season, "We got Diana and you don't." But others were a bit more brutal. As Beard went 0-for-7 from the field in the first half, one fan held up a sign that read, "Beard choked." Another used the words in CBS (which televised the game) to spell out "Can Beard Shoot?"
Beard, of course, got the last laugh.
Calling all coaches
Five WNBA head coaches attended Saturday's showdown, including Charlotte's Trudi Lacey, Connecticut's Mike Thibault, Seattle's Anne Donovan, New York's Richie Adubato and Washington's Marianne Stanley.
Donovan said the game was one of the most exciting she'd seen, terming it "a tale of two halves" and calling Beard and Taurasi "both incredibly special players."
Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail the Dish at Melanie.J.Jackson.-ND@espn3.com.
UConn has lost just twice in its home state since 2000. And Saturday's loss had a familiar feel to it.