Geno Auriemma is back in the city where his Connecticut women's basketball team last lost more than 21/2 years ago, falling to Stanford in the 2008 NCAA Tournament semifinals at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Huskies have won 84 consecutive games since, including a pair of 39-0 seasons for back-to-back national championships. And as No. 1 UConn prepares to face USF tonight in the Sun Dome, their coach isn't too caught up in the fact that his last loss took place here. "There's always somebody out there, trying to throw some flies into the ointment, into the soup here," Auriemma said during a conference call Tuesday. "I actually hadn't thought of that until you just brought it up. I don't think it matters one way or another. This is a completely different team, other than Maya (Moore) and Lorin (Dixon). They couldn't even tell you where we stayed."
The streak is already the longest ever by a women's college basketball team, and this month the Huskies will have a chance to surpass the men's record streak of 88 games, set by UCLA during its dynasty run from 1971 to 1974. Auriemma doesn't put much stock in the streak because different players have come and gone — Joe DiMaggio, he points out, had to get hits in all 56 games himself.
There are other streaks ongoing as well. The Huskies have won 141 consecutive games against unranked teams, though the run of 84 games includes an impressive 16 against teams ranked in the top 10. In those 84 games, the Huskies have trailed a total of 13 minutes, 21 seconds in the second half; 4:45 of that came two weeks ago in a one-point win against Baylor, which led the Huskies with 2:47 left, the latest deficit UConn has faced during the streak.
Record could fall tonight
Senior Maya Moore, the dominant player in college basketball over her four seasons, needs 23 points to move past former teammate Tina Charles to become UConn's all-time career scoring leader. Moore enters the night with 2,324 points, and her career average of 19 per game is also the best in Huskies history.
Once at the top of that list, Moore will have passed five national players of the year: Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Charles.
Tonight's game is a homecoming of sorts for junior guard Tiffany Hayes of Winter Haven, the team's second-leading scorer this season, averaging 16.3 points. Hayes has shown the potential for much more; in the first half against Holy Cross, she exploded for 30 points, the most in any half by a UConn player.
"Tiffany has had an interesting season in the short six games we've played," Auriemma said. "She's been spectacular, as she was in the first half of the Holy Cross game. She's been really good, as she was in the second half of the LSU game. She has struggled mightily, as she did in the Baylor game.
"I think Tiffany's trying to adjust to a new role. She was kind of a secondary player. … Now she's been asked to step up and really give Maya an awful lot of help. It's early. I think Tiffany's going to grow into that role and become exactly what we need her to become before tournament time."
Perhaps the biggest surprise in UConn's 6-0 start has been how well freshman point guard Bria Hartley has handled the reins of the team. She has averaged 32.8 minutes while averaging 14 points, third on the team. She has been impressively consistent, with between three and six assists in each game, no more than 18 points and no fewer than nine.
"She's still trying to get a handle on all the things that are expected of someone in that position," Auriemma said. "It's physically and mentally very difficult for a freshman to be responsible for all the things that you have to be responsible for. Some days she handles it great, other days not as well. Some games, she's on top of things and has everything under control, then there's parts of games where it gets away from her. For the situation she was thrown into, I think she's done a great job, and she's only going to get better at it."
The Bulls are 0-9 all-time against the Huskies, but they've come closer to knocking off UConn than most opponents, taking it to overtime in Hartford in 2004 — exactly six years ago Wednesday — before ultimately falling 75-65. Since then, the closest they've come was a 14-point loss in Tampa in 2007. The last three losses have come by an average of 42 points.
The Huskies, naturally, have provided the two largest crowds for a women's game in Sun Dome history. There was an announced 5,241 in 2007, and 4,290 the last time the Huskies played here in 2009. As part of a "Black Friday" special last week, the Bulls made tickets available for just $2, and school officials expect a crowd between 3,000 and 4,000 for tonight's game.