UConn beats Pitt, clinches share of Big East regular-season title

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut is back on top of the Big East.

Charde Houston scored 23 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as UConn (24-2, 13-0 Big East) beat Pittsburgh 82-68 Saturday to secure at least a share of its first Big East regular-season championship in three years.

"It means a lot," said Houston, who watched Rutgers take the title the past two seasons. "Playing here at Connecticut, you want to win everything. You just want to be on a championship team."

Connecticut (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today; No. 5 AP) jumped on the Panthers early, using full-court pressure to spark an 18-0 run and take a 29-6 lead. Houston had 10 points during the run and Pittsburgh turned the ball over seven times.

The Panthers (20-6, 8-5) were down 11-6 before going about 5:30 without a field goal, hitting just four of 17 shots during that stretch. When Renee Montgomery drove and hit a layup at the halftime buzzer, UConn led 45-25.

Pittsburgh outscored UConn 43-37 after intermission, but the outcome was never in doubt.

"It looked like an early, big-time blowout," Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato said. "I felt like [our players] were very, very hard-nosed and resilient and they kept coming back, and I think that's a sign of the future."

Shavonte Zellous, who came in averaging 20 points for the Panthers, went the first 11:30 without a field goal. She finished with 11.

Her jumper with 4:52 remaining cut UConn's lead to 73-60. But she picked up her fourth foul on Pitt's next possession and the Panthers got no closer.

Pittsburgh was led by its post players. Mercedes Walker had 22 points and 16 rebounds and Selena Nwude, who came in averaging three points a game, had 14 points. Walker scored 16 points and had eight rebounds in the second half.

"If you are a championship team, you do things to other teams that they can't handle," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You don't have them do to you things that are difficult for you to handle if you're a championship team. So I don't think we played like a championship team in the second half."

But the Huskies ended up outrebounding Pittsburgh 47-40, had 21 offensive boards and 26 second-chance points.

"I felt we got buried today by Connecticut's second-and-third chance offensive rebounds," Berenato said.

Houston had 14 points before intermission, hitting 7 of 12 shots from the field. Montgomery finished with 17 points and Tina Charles had 16 points and nine rebounds for UConn.

Between 1994-2004, the Huskies won or shared all 11 of the conference's regular-season titles. UConn can secure this year's title outright when it visits South Florida on Tuesday night.

"We still feel we have a lot to do," Montgomery said. "We really want to go undefeated [in the Big East]."

The Panthers, who lost All-Big East guard Mallorie Winn to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, had won five straight coming into the game.

Pittsburgh assistant coach Shea Ralph, who led Connecticut to the 2000 national title as a player, was recognized before the game as a "Husky of Honor." She was unable to attend a December ceremony in which the names and numbers of the top players in UConn history were placed on the wall of Gampel Pavilion.