7:00 PM ET, November 13, 2006
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Mel Thomas was the Big East's most improved player last year. This season, she may be taking her game to another level.The junior guard scored 23 points, including five 3-pointers, to help No. 8 Connecticut win its 11th consecutive season opener Monday night, 84-50 over Richmond.Thomas opened the scoring with a 3-point shot and had 11 points during an 18-2 first-half run that broke open the game and gave the Huskies a 39-20 lead. She had 18 points by halftime.Coach Geno Auriemma said Thomas' confidence level has grown, and her release has become quicker since last season, when she averaged just over 11 points."She made a couple tonight that I didn't think she had it in her," Auriemma said. "She didn't have a lot of room there. And when Mel is making outside shots like that, it's so much of a benefit for the whole team because it give us an opportunity then to do some things inside the lane."Charde Houston did a lot of those things Monday, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Kalana Greene added 14 points and Renee Montgomery had 12 points and seven assists."We have a lot of weapons," Thomas said. "Coach says the best thing about our team is our team, and I think that's really true. We have so many people that can score and we all need each other to win."Freshman Tina Charles, a 6-foot-3 center who was last year's high school player of the year, scored just five points, but grabbed 10 rebounds and had two blocks.Christina Campion scored 20 points to lead the Spiders, who shot just 27 percent from the floor. But Richmond was in the game early and trailed just 21-18 with 9:50 left, before Connecticut went on its big run."I've been around long enough to know that they've got a Final Four basketball team," said Richmond coach Michael Shafer. "We played five freshmen, two kids that redshirted last year that didn't play a lot of minute with me, and our goal was to play as hard a we could and compete for 40 minutes, and I think we did that."The Huskies led 44-26 at the half. Richmond cut that to 48-36, before UConn ran off nine consecutive points to end any comeback hopes.The Huskies hit 50 percent of their shots, and were 7 of 14 from three-point range.Connecticut center Brittany Hunter played despite being diagnosed in the preseason with torn cartilage in her surgically repaired right knee. She scored four points, playing just seven minutes. Auriemma said Hunter also sprained an ankle in drills Monday afternoon."She's got a better chance of being on Grey's Anatomy than she does of being in the game for 25 minutes," he said.UConn is now 31-37 against opponents from the Atlantic-10 Conference, the only league with a winning record against the Huskies. But that last win came in 1989.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press