Wow! UConn Is Really Good

STORRS, Conn. - For Connecticut, this game started when only 20 of 40 minutes remained.

The No. 1 team in the land stayed that way with an incredible come-from-behind, 82-71, victory in front of 10,167 screaming fans at Gampel Pavilion.

A come-from-behind victory when they beat No. 3 North Carolina by 11? Explain...I was going to.

Coincidentally, the Tar Heels were up by that same 11-point margin at halftime, absolutely wiping the floor with the Huskies in the first half, only to shy away from their increased intensity in the second stanza.

"I want to congratulate Connecticut, especially in the second half," said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell. "They came out with a much different intensity level then in the first half. It became a very physical game and we didn't match that level.

"I didn't want us to relax because at the beginning of the game we made some shots that gave us a false sense of security. I knew in the second half Connecticut would come out very intense. They did that and were very aggressive and very physical and I think we let it bother us a little bit and we don't usually do that."

Connecticut wasn't the No. 1 team in the nation in the first half, but give them a little break. They have lost three major contributing players to injury in Brittany Hunter, Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas. And senior forward Charde Houston has been terrible this year, something that has stumped coach Geno Auriemma to no end.

Well, tonight's second half put all those issues to bed...and hard.

It all starts with Charde Houston.

Yes, junior point guard Renee Montgomery looked great the two-guard slot and scored a game-high 26 points while hitting six threes. Yes, sophomore center Tina Charles had a monster game on the boards with 19 to go with 15 points. Yes, freshman Maya Moore had another one of her usual games, scoring 19 points. But it was Houston who answered the biggest call in the second half.

Houston, averaging well under double figures scoring this season after dropping over 12 a game last year, only managed two first-half points and looked like she was on her way to another disappointing effort.

That's when Mel Thomas got into her head.

That's right, the injured Thomas, leg up in a cast on the bench, is directly responsible for what Auriemma hopes is, "the start of something," in regards to the reemergence of his senior forward.

"Having Mel on the bench with her leg up elevated, yelling at me and to tell me to, 'get out there and play like you can play,' that really touches your heart. And just knowing we lost three starters, that's something that I hold very dear to me. I wanted nothing more than for me to go out and produce in the second half."

Houston produced to the tune of 13 second-half points, 15 for the game, and most came when the Huskies were making their decisive run to come back from their halftime deficit and ultimately take the lead for the first time with 15:14 left in the game, 48-47.

"We know she has the capability to do it so once she got going I was like, 'uh oh, this is trouble for them,' because once she gets going, she is hard to stop," Montgomery said of her three-year teammate Houston.

The Huskies met a very fast North Carolina team and in the second half were even faster. For that, Connecticut should give a lot of credit to freshman Lorin Dixon.

Dixon may have only finished with two points, two assists and four rebounds on 0-for-4 shooting, but she made Montgomery's transition to the two-guard slot flawless. She handled the point duties beautifully and made sure the Huskies were able to handle the UNC pressure all second half.

If a player could score two points and be considered an MVP, Dixon would be it. And it's kind of scary, actually, because without Greene and Thomas, this UConn team looked possibly even better than ever before.

For North Carolina (17-2), forward LaToya Pringle led the way with 20 points and forward Jessica Breland had 12. The Heels committed way too many turnovers (23) and were outrebounded by UConn, 51-46.

The most glaring weakness for Carolina is learning how to keep a lead when they get one.

"We need to execute better down the stretch and compete when other teams go on runs," said Pringle. "I think a lot of our team put our heads down when they eventually took the lead. We need to learn that basketball is a game of runs and when your opponent makes a run, you have to respond."

Hatchell's bunch ran into two different UConn teams, one at the most opportune time and one at the most unfortunate of times. Because in the first half Connecticut needed to find their rhythem to make up for their injured starters, and in the second, after finding it, they morphed back into the best team in America. If not better than that.

Player Of The Game: Charde Houston, Connecticut
Houston was superb in the second half. The senior has been dismal this season after having a very solid junior campaign and coach Auriemma could not understand why for the life of him.

Well, if this game means anything, then perhaps Houston found the motivation to break out of her slump. She scored two first-half points and blew up for 13 more in the second. And more importantly, the points all came at the most opportune time for Connecticut, who was in the midst of a comeback attempt.

"I thought in the second half Charde was in complete control of her emotions and her game at both ends of the floor," Auriemma said. "She has allowed it to get away, whether it is the next game or two games later, she allows it to disappear. Now she will be able to capture it and hold onto it for the rest of the season, that would be my wish for Charde."

Play Of The Game:
Here was the sequence that I consider to be the most important of the game for Connecticut. Of course, coming back from the 11-point halftime deficit is key, but this sequence shows UConn's class.

North Carolina regained the lead and with 5:29 left led 69-65 after two RaShanda McCants free throws.

Tina Charles would then send a UNC shot flying back with authority that was quickly followed by a Maya Moore steal and a Houston lay up in transition to pull within two.

North Carolina would give up the ball again and on the next Connecticut possession Renee Montgomery hit the biggest shot of the night, a straightaway three pointer to give the Huskies the lead, 70-69. It was a lead that they would never relinquish.

Quote Of The Game:
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell on absolutely nothing to do with tonight's game:
"It would be a great game between the two of them. It's a shame they are not playing each other this year."

That was Hatchell comparing Tennessee and Connecticut having now played both teams on the season. See, even the UNC coach wishes we could see the two top teams meet. Come on Pat!

Up Next:
For UConn: The No. 1 team in all the land ventures away from the friendly confines of Gampel and the state of Connecticut when they meet Notre Dame on Jan. 27.

For UNC: Life won't get any easier for North Carolina as they will have to bounce back quickly from this loss. Up next for the Heels is a very dangerous prospect when they return home to Carmichael for a game against conference rival No. 4 Maryland.

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