Historic Victory

STORRS, Conn. – By the time the North Carolina Tar Heels warmed up enough to break out of the teens and elevate their side of the scoreboard to 21, they still had more turnovers than points.

That's right. No. 24 North Carolina had more turnovers (23) than points with 13 minutes and 25 seconds left in the second half Monday night at Gampel Pavilion. And that just begins to describe what kind of night it was for the proud but struggling basketball program from Chapel Hill.

"They caught us on a really, really good night," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said, speaking from a totally Husky perspective.

It turns out that was really, really bad news for a North Carolina team that has been plagued by injuries and is piecing together a starting lineup at this stage of the season.

Bria Hartley scored 17 points, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis tallied 15 and four other Huskies scored in double figures as No. 3 UConn (15-2) dominated and demoralized North Carolina 86-35 before a Martin Luther King Jr. Day crowd of 9,221. UConn led by as many as 53 points but the final margin of 51 still ranks as the worst loss in school history – for either the North Carolina women's or men's basketball programs.

"I thought we would give them a better game," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I thought we would handle their pressure a little better than we did, and inside I thought we would score a little bit better and we didn't. We didn't start out well tonight and UConn is a tremendous team. They play very well together.

"Tonight was the first time that the group that started played together out there. We were definitely out of sync. We were letting them score off of turnovers. I'm sorry we didn't give them a better fight tonight."

UConn's pressure defense can suffocate teams and on this particular night North Carolina (12-5) was gasping for air before the game was three minutes old. The Huskies hit their first five shots from the floor (with each starter hitting one basket) and led 11-4 when Hartley scored with 17:50 remaining.

Oddly enough that was the positive point of the game for the Tar Heels. Laura Broomfield scored inside to cut UConn's lead to 11-6 but suddenly North Carolina's game started falling apart. The Tar Heels were called for a charge, there was a shot clock violation, there was a traveling violation and the turnovers just kept piling up.

UConn put together a 15-0 run that resulted in 26-6 lead. Then the Huskies orchestrated a 16-0 spurt just before halftime and took a 51-16 lead at the break. Everyone was involved, including Tiffany Hayes (13 points), Caroline Doty (10), Stefanie Dolson (10) and Kiah Stokes (11 points, 11 rebound in 14 minutes).

And UConn scored 20 points off 17 North Carolina turnovers in that first half.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense and it's something we work on every day," Hartley said. "Tiffany always does a great job of taking the charge. Caroline did really well defensively. We've just bought into what the coaches are telling us to do defensively."

North Carolina has now lost three straight. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the Tar Heels with nine points. UNC finished with 26 turnovers and UConn converted them to 30 points. The Huskies outscored Carolina 42-14 in the paint and had 22 fast break points to North Carolina's nine. And UNC finished with 26 turnovers.

The Huskies grabbed their lead and just kept building on the spread.

"I enjoy coming up here but not when I get my brains beat out," Hatchell said. "They had their pedal to the metal and they were rocking and rolling out there. We just seemed a step slow."

Hartley says the Huskies are determined not to let a victory slip away to a loss again. And that's the way UConn lost at Notre Dame on Jan. 7. That defeat should provided motivation for the rest of the season.

"I don't know if you can ever call a game perfect," Hartley, who had eight of UConn's 26 assists, said. "There's always going to be mistakes. There's always going to be something you did wrong. Coach always says when you make mistakes, who does the best job of covering up those mistakes? I just think we played really well tonight and we all just played hard."

UConn now leads this series with North Carolina 7-5. But the Huskies have recorded five consecutive wins over the Heels – by an average of 32 points.

"You don't expect, going into a game where you're going to play UNC, for there to be a gap in the score like that. So it was a surprise," said Kelly Faris, who celebrated her 21st birthday with the victory and was serenaded by the crowd. "We don't base our win off the score, but it's still a bit surprising for a score like that and a win like that.

"But we like a fast-paced game. So we knew they were going to run and we were going to run with them."

Taking that game plan and executing it seemed to be the thing that pleased Auriemma the most.

"Our pressure worked right away and all five starters had a good chemistry and a lot of energy," Auriemma said. "All that stuff was really good to see because we have worked pretty hard in practice the last week or so.

" It was the kind of game we love to play in, both teams running up and down the floor. It was really impressive to see, for me and I think for them."

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