<
>

Huskies lead by eight at half, but pull away to crush Mountaineers

HARTFORD, Conn. -- For 25 minutes, West Virginia hung with top-ranked Connecticut.

Then like they have during nearly every other game during the 61-game winning streak, the Huskies took over.

Kalana Greene scored 18 points and UConn (22-0, 9-0 Big East) shot 68 percent from the field in the second half to beat the Mountaineers (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) 80-47 on Tuesday night. Freshman Kelly Faris got the Huskies off and running when she made a steal and converted a three-point play early in the second half.

"That play in front of our bench kind of energized everybody," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was a great steal and to get the layup and get fouled and make the free throw it was a huge lift."

It came during a 24-3 run by the Huskies that put the game away.

"The place erupted and we erupted after that steal and never looked back from there," said Maya Moore, who added 15 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.

The victory left UConn only nine wins short of the NCAA women's and school record of 70 straight wins. The Huskies are on pace to equal that mark in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and break it in the semis.

Sarah Miles scored 14 points and Liz Repella added 13 for West Virginia (20-3, 7-2), which matched its highest ranking ever this week. The Mountaineers have only beaten Connecticut once in 22 tries and that came back in 1982 before Auriemma was at the helm of the Huskies.

"We got a lot of work to do," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "If we're going to be a top 10 program or a pretender we have to come right back against Providence. We got to go in there and play hard and try to get a win at Providence."

UConn had been dominating conference play winning by an average of nearly 39 points a game with virtually every Big East game decided at the half. This was only the third time in the last two years that a conference team was within single digits at the half.

West Virginia did its best to stay with the top-ranked team. The Mountaineers slowed the game down, walking the ball up the court and taking time off the shot clock and found themselves only down 32-24 at the break.

"You got to come with it for 40 minutes," Carey said. "They play hard for 40 minutes. First letdown you have they are up 10 or 15."

It was UConn's lowest-scoring first half of the season and just the third time that it didn't have a double-digit lead by the half.

The Huskies seemed out of sorts on offense. They made terrific backdoor cuts for wide open layups, but missed them. They also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 10 times.

Even when UConn built a 28-15 lead midway through the period, West Virginia didn't get rattled, scoring the next seven points to stay in the game.

That all changed in the second half as Greene, Moore, and Tina Charles took over. Leading 36-29 after Miles' layup with 17:08 left in the game, UConn scored 24 of the next 27 points, including seven straight by Charles. Greene also had six points during the spurt with a three-point play and a 3-pointer. Faris capped it off with a basket that made it 60-32 midway through the period.

Auriemma shook up his lineup in the second half, starting Faris in place of Caroline Doty. The freshman provided a huge spark scoring nine points.

"Kelly's been playing great," Auriemma said. "She's been really good the last couple of weeks."

The victory came a night after Connecticut extended its streak at No. 1 in The Associated Press women's basketball poll to a record 37th straight week, surpassing Louisiana Tech (1980-82) for the longest run atop the Top 25.

The Huskies, who started their current streak at No. 1 in the poll on Feb. 18, 2008, next play at Louisville on Sunday in a rematch of last season's national championship game.

While the Huskies have continued their dominance, the Cardinals have struggled this season.

Connecticut honored Charles before the game as Auriemma gave her a ball to commemorate the senior becoming the sixth Huskies player to reach 2,000 points. She did it against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Charles, who finished with 14 points and six blocks on Tuesday night, gave her coach a hug and then threw the ball to her mom in the stands.