UConn women topple Duke

In battle of unbeatens, No. 2 Huskies run streak to 59, defeat No. 1 Devils

77-65 win likely means top rank

28-point lead cut to 6 late, but visitors quiet crowd, back up coach's brash talk

February 02, 2003|By James Giza | James Giza,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DURHAM, N.C. - Hands on his hips, Geno Auriemma stood on the sideline and shook his head slowly, mocking the Cameron Crazies as they regaled him with their chants of "Sit ... Sit ... Sit ..."

With Auriemma's Connecticut team leading Duke by 21 points in the second half, his brash display of disdain for the Blue Devils' fans was hardly a surprise in light of the inflammatory remarks he had made in the days leading up to the game between the top two women's basketball teams in the nation.

Auriemma nearly had to eat his words, though, as the Huskies staved off the Blue Devils to validate their coach's bravado and leave no doubt about who now stands as the No. 1 team.

After leading by as many as 28 points, the second-ranked Huskies (20-0) weathered a late run by the top-ranked Blue Devils (20-1) and held on to win their 59th consecutive game, 77-65, last night in front of a sellout crowd of 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

UConn's streak is the best in women's basketball history and third all-time, trailing only two men's programs - UCLA's 88 in a row from 1971 to 1974 and San Francisco's 60 from 1955 to 1957.

Duke junior guard Alana Beard scored 21 of her game-high 26 points in the second half, and the Blue Devils used a pressure defense to help spark a 32-15 run toward the end of the game that sliced the lead to 71-65 with 45.8 seconds left. But the Huskies converted 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

"I told the players coming into the game - not always, but a lot of times in games like this - one team plays really, really well and the other team gets really frustrated and it gets away from them," Auriemma said.

It played out almost exactly like that toward the end of the opening half, as the Blue Devils fell into a hole too deep to climb out of.

During the final seven minutes of the first half, the Huskies went on a 15-0 run and entered halftime with a 41-20 lead.

UConn freshman forward/center Willnett Crockett came off the bench to score six points during that spurt, finishing the half with 11 points.

Junior guard Diana Taurasi also chipped in 11 points in the opening half. She torched Beard, who was guarding her, on 4-for-6 shooting (3-for-5 behind the arc) and finished with 17 points.

Much of the hype surrounding the game - aside from Auriemma's verbal barbs that included calling the Cameron Crazies "overrated" - was the matchup of Beard and Taurasi, both Naismith Player of the Year candidates.

The two are friends, having played together on the 2000 and 2001 USA Basketball Junior World Championship teams coached by Auriemma. Earlier in the season, the pair chatted every now and then on the Internet.

But the showdown turned into a downer as Beard struggled mightily in the first half, then reversed her fortunes in the second. It went vice versa for Taurasi, who had 11 in the first half but went scoreless in the second until hitting back-to-back jumpers to put the Huskies up 66-53 with 3:32 left in the game.

The real story was the Blue Devils' inability to sustain a cool-headed attack until it was much too late.

"Poise and patience, that was our theme for the day," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I don't think we had either one."

The Huskies, remarkably, had both, even with the Cameron Crazies on their backs the entire game.

"We play games like this every game, whether it's on the road or at home, so I guess we had the advantage," Taurasi said. "I think the crowd helped us a little bit more than it helped them."

And no one enjoyed it more than Auriemma, who couldn't resist one parting shot at his new friends when asked about his pre-game comments.

"Someone's paying 40 grand for them to come to school here," he said. "Have a sense of humor. You know what I'm saying?"

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