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IN A SEASON LACKING TOUGH COMPETITION, UConn seemed to be challenged only by the record books, and those didn't put up much of a fight either. But as the postseason got underway and the Huskies pursued their unprecedented 15th Big East tournament championship (no other team has won more than three), UConn showed that even when you're undefeated and winning by 30 points a game, there's still room for improvement.
The Huskies had been outrebounded in the last two games of the regular season, so that was the focus heading into the quarterfinal game against South Florida. "We talked about our rebounding not being what we wanted it to be," coach Geno Auriemma said. "And [the team] took it personally." Led by Maya Moore's 14, UConn pulled down 51 boards to the Bulls' 19—a rebounding margin that broke a 20-year-old tournament record by four.
On offense, the Huskies used three separate runs to take a 47-10 lead into the break, the largest halftime margin in tournament history. Though they cruised to a 79-42 victory, UConn allowed South Florida to hit eight three-pointers in the second half, a defensive lapse that gave the Huskies plenty to think about as they prepared to take on Villanova in the semifinals.
Fifteen minutes into that game, Wildcats guard Siobhan O'Connor hit a three to tie the score at 26, but that's as close as 'Nova would get. Moore countered with a three of her own, keying a 23-2 run that stretched into the second half. The conference's player of the year scored 13 points with two assists in 10 minutes, effectively putting the game out of reach.
"Maya happens to make the right play at the right time when it absolutely has to be made," Auriemma said after UConn's 72-42 win. "That's what you expect great players to do."
The win set up a championship matchup against fifth-ranked Louisville, a team the Huskies had trounced by 28 on Jan. 26. Could they deliver an even more impressive win this time? The answer was a resounding yes.
Facing UConn's lockdown defense, the Cardinals missed 11 of their first 12 shots. The Huskies, on the other hand, raced to a 50-24 halftime lead on 58.6% shooting from the field.
But UConn was not finished setting records. It held Louisville scoreless for eight minutes in the second half and allowed a total of only 12 points after the break. UConn clinched the title 75-36, holding its opponent to the lowest point total in a Big East title game.
Junior center Tina Charles pulled down 15 boards (to go with 21 points), which matched a UConn record in Big East tourney play. Moore, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, exited the game with just under eight minutes left, having scored 28 points—more than Louisville's entire team at the time.
The victory made the Huskies the third team to enter the NCAA tournament at 33-0 (along with Tennessee in '98 and UConn in '02), but Auriemma hoped his squad could still improve as it moved closer to an NCAA title.