TAMPA — The Connecticut women's team is a two-time defending national champion that hasn't lost in 32 months, but the supporting cast around All-American Maya Moore is largely unproven, so USF's plan Thursday night was to make the rest of the Huskies beat it.
The Bulls were physical with Moore, double-teaming and denying passes to her, and as a result she didn't hit a field goal in the first half, getting just four free throws, far short of her 26-point average.
Trouble is, the Bulls missed their first 16 shots from the field and trailed the Huskies 22-2 after 10 minutes, and UConn isn't a team you dig holes against. With a crowd of 5,144 in the Sun Dome — most of them cheering for the champs — the Huskies cruised to an 80-54 victory in the Big East opener for both teams and extended their women's record winning streak to 85 games.
"If you would have told me at halftime Maya Moore would have four points and two fouls, I would have told you the game would be a single-digit game and we'd be within striking distance. That was not the case," said coach Jose Fernandez, whose Bulls (7-5) trailed 38-20 at the break. "It's tough to come back when you've spotted a team like Connecticut so many points."
Moore finished with 14, going 1-for-8 from the field, and she now needs just nine points to pass Tina Charles as the Huskies' career scoring leader. She'll be able to do that in Hartford on Sunday against Sacred Heart.
"South Florida didn't make it easy," Moore said. "They tried to play a physical game. When teams come to play that way, you have to put forth the effort, grind it out, box out, contesting hard on everything."
Coach Geno Auriemma got strong play from his freshmen. Guard Bria Hartley had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, and 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Dolson led UConn (7-0) with 16 points, though Auriemma, true to form, gave her grief for her lack of rebounding. "Give the kid credit: 21 minutes and she got three rebounds," he said. "The kid busted her (rear end) tonight."
Winter Haven's Tiffany Hayes, who had more than 50 friends and relatives on hand, had 12 points in a homecoming of sorts, and Kelly Faris made it five Huskies scoring in double digits with 13, the kind of balance Auriemma said he'll need to keep the streak going.
"We know that's going to have to happen. Other people have to get involved," he said. "There's not one player playing basketball that if you decide you want to take them out of the game, you couldn't do it. What you have to do is find alternative ways to get things going. (Thursday) they were determined not to allow Maya to shoot jump shots."
Twin guards Andrea and Andrell Smith combined for 35 of the Bulls' 54 points but needed 36 shots to do so; Andrea had a game-high 20 points to help keep the game a little bit closer than it could have been.
The crowd was 97 people short of the biggest to see a women's game in the Sun Dome, set when Connecticut played here in 2007. Men's coach Stan Heath was in attendance, as was football coach Skip Holtz, an old friend of Auriemma's from his days coaching the Huskies from 1994-98.
"I patted him on the (rear end) and hurt my hand," Auriemma said. "I said, 'Your wallet's a lot thicker than it was at East Carolina.' "