7:30 PM ET, February 22, 2006
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Senior star Ann Strother gave Connecticut the spark it needed, and freshman guard Renee Montgomery did the rest.Montgomery scored 19 points -- 10 during a decisive second-half run -- and the Huskies (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) rallied past Syracuse 65-36 on Wednesday night after scoring a season-low 20 points in the first half."There was a lot said at halftime," said Montgomery, who had 16 points after the break. "Everybody was like, 'This is unacceptable.' There was nothing positive going on in the first half. We weren't playing as a team."Connecticut (25-3, 13-1 Big East), which reached 25 wins for the 13th straight season, has won four straight since losing to Rutgers. Syracuse (9-16, 2-12) has lost five straight and is 0-7 at home in conference play.Syracuse was poised for another monumental upset of the Huskies similar to its stunning 62-59 win at Manley Field House a decade ago. And a Carrier Dome crowd of 3,779, the largest home crowd in history to see a Syracuse women's game, thought the Orange just might snap their 13-game losing streak in the series after limiting the Huskies to eight baskets in the opening half and leading 23-20 at the break.It certainly helped that Strother, UConn's leading scorer, was nursing a sprained left ankle she hurt in practice on Tuesday.Strother, averaging 14.5 points, played only 4 minutes in the first half and didn't attempt a shot. At the outset, it didn't seem to matter. Charde Houston scored on a driving layup to give Connecticut a 12-4 lead at 14:26 and the Huskies seemed ready to put the game away quickly."I thought we could get away with not playing Ann," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "I thought we were in pretty good shape at 12-4. I didn't know that was the highlight of the first half -- getting to 12."The Huskies didn't score again until Mel Thomas made a jumper from left wing at 4:21. In that scoreless span of 10:05, they missed nine shots, committed four turnovers, were called for three fouls, and missed two free throws."I thought we were physical in the first half, fought for balls," Syracuse coach Keith Cieplicki said.The Huskies' lowest total for a half since scoring 19 against Arizona State in December 2004 convinced Auriemma of one thing -- Strother would start the second half."She wasn't that thrilled to play," Auriemma said. "When I took her out, I had no intention of putting her back in. But all that went out the window in the second half."Strother, who logged 14 minutes after the break, hit a jumper in the lane and then made a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the Huskies going in the first 2 minutes. Montgomery took it from there.After Tracy Harbut tied the game at 30-all with two free throws at 14:44, Montgomery hit a driving scoop to start the Huskies on a 16-2 run. She followed with two free throws, Willnett Crockett scored off the glass, and Strother fed Houston underneath for a short jumper to give Connecticut a 38-32 lead with 11:24 to go.Montgomery then hit a wide-open 3 from the right wing and converted a three-point play to boost the lead to 46-32 with 8:47 left."The second half, when she (Strother) came in, she spread us out," said Harbut, who had eight points. "We had to watch where she was at, and they penetrated the zone and got more offensive rebounds.""It was a good adjustment to put Strother in there," Cieplicki said. "They stepped it up and put the pressure on.The question was to weather it. They made it real difficult for us. We played them close for a while."Thomas had 11 points for UConn before leaving the game with an ankle injury with 12:40 left, and Barbara Turner had 10.Vaida Sipaviciute led the Orange with 14 points, all but two in the first half.Harbut's long jumper with 5:36 left was Syracuse's last basket.
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