UConn drops Rutgers for 58th straight Big East win

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Geno Auriemma wasn't worried as his UConn Huskies suffered through a dismal offensive first half.

He knew it would just take a few baskets to get his second-ranked team rolling. At the start of the second half, that's exactly what happened.

Tiffany Hayes scored 18 points, Maya Moore added 17 points and 16 rebounds and Connecticut broke open a close game by scoring the first 13 points of the second half to beat Rutgers 63-44 on Wednesday night.

"We were getting pretty good looks we just need to make some of them," Auriemma said. "Once some of them went in, boom, boom, boom, boom we get our rhythm back."

Bria Hartley had 15 points for UConn (19-1, 8-0 Big East), which has won seven straight since its record 90-game winning streak came to an end against Stanford on Dec. 30.

The Huskies have won 58 consecutive conference games, with the last loss coming at Rutgers on Feb. 5, 2008.

UConn led 25-22 at halftime before quickly taking control in the second half. Moore started the spurt with a 3-pointer just 11 seconds in. A 3-pointer by Hartley, pull-up by Moore and 3-pointer by Hayes made it a 16-point game less than 3 minutes later.

"In the locker room we made a decision that we'd stay with it," Moore said. "You got to be confident. Coach said in the locker room you have to shoot with confidence that's what we did."

Rutgers didn't get within 13 the rest of the game.

April Sykes provided much of the offense for Rutgers (12-7, 5-1), scoring 20 points.

"We played a really good game defensively," Auriemma said. "We stayed out of foul trouble."

There was a time a few years ago when this matchup was the showcase game in the conference. The teams would meet twice a season, and Rutgers was a thorn in UConn's side. But the Huskies have dominated lately, winning the last six meetings by more than 20 points a game.

Even with both teams undefeated in the conference and first place in the Big East on the line, the game didn't have that same intensity to it as so many of the past contests between the teams have. Moore, Hayes and Sykes were taking pictures on the court with each other after the game.

UConn and Auriemma, who has been vilified by Rutgers fans for years, was actually cheered during pregame introductions.

Neither team gave the fans, who braved a another snowstorm in the northeast to show up, much to cheer about early as offense was at a premium. While the two teams rank near the top of the nation in defense, the lack of scoring was more due to poor execution.

Sykes was the only bright spot for the Scarlet Knights as she had 11 of the team's first 13 points. She was matching Moore shot for shot. UConn's senior All-American had 10 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that made it 17-15 with 8:58 left in the period.

With the game tied at 17, Connecticut clamped down defensively, holding Rutgers without a basket for nearly 6 minutes. The Huskies couldn't really take advantage of their sparkling defense, only extending the lead to 25-20.

UConn led 25-22 at the half and shoot 28 percent (9 for 32) from the field.

Then the Huskies took over, going on the run to start the second half. Sykes ended the spurt with a tough fall-away jumper on the baseline.

"I was saying they are what I'll call a quick-strike team," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "They are a venomous snake, they hit you and the nerves shut down. You can be right there in a game and they'll strike so fast. It could be a three minutes spurt and they could knock out 10 points so fast."

Rutgers cut it to 42-29 on Monique Oliver's layup, but UConn answered with a layup by Stefanie Dolson and another 3-pointer by Hartley to end any hopes of a comeback.

"When we got to the locker room we tried to remind ourselves not to have a mental lapse," Sykes said. "We were preaching it in the locker room. When they hit us so fast it was like a shock. It was like a daze. You can't match UConn if you don't put up some points."

Connecticut, which was already thin on the bench with the departure of freshman Samarie Walker to Kentucky last week, got a scare early when Hayes got hurt 41 seconds into the game. She was poked in the face by Erica Wheeler and went down.

The junior walked off the court and was looked at on the bench for a few minutes before heading back to the locker room. She returned about 5 minutes later, checking back into the game just after the 12-minute mark of the first half.

UConn has won 150 straight against non-ranked opponents, with the last loss coming to Notre Dame on Jan. 13, 2004.

The Huskies have a tough stretch coming up after playing at Cincinnati on Saturday.

UConn hosts No. 3 Duke on Monday followed by a visit from 12th-ranked DePaul, which is off to its best start in conference play with a 7-0 mark. Connecticut will then face No. 8 West Virginia on Feb. 8.