Gap widens between Huskies and competition
Tina Charles looks to pass around a North Carolina defender during a game on Jan. 7. Matt Lin/The Daily Campus
The massive gap between the No. 1-ranked women's basketball team and the rest of the country grew even wider over winter break, with decisive victories over No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Notre Dame highlighting the period from Dec. 20 to today.
In the process, the Huskies ran their nation-high winning streak to 57 games – 13 shy of the mark set by the 2001-2003 UConn team.
The Huskies (18-0, 5-0 Big East) beat No. 7 Duke (15-3) 81-48 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday night to better their record against ranked opponents in 2009-10 to a perfect 6-0. It was the Blue Devils who stunned the Diana Taurasi-led ‘03-04 squad in Hartford 68-67 on Jan. 3, 2004 to halt the record at 70 games.
Helping UConn to further their dominance over the rest of the country was the emergence of senior center Tina Charles as a legitimate Player of the Year contender alongside reigning National Player of the Year Maya Moore. Heading into last night's Duke contest, the two were tied for the team lead in points with 18.2 per game, with Charles owning the rebounding edge with 8.9 per game.
Charles is coming off back-to-back Big East Player of the Week honors and could easily be on her way to a third. The Huskies have made a point of establishing Charles' interior presence in the early going of recent outings, resulting in staggering first half numbers for the Jamaica, N.Y. native. Charles entered the Duke matchup with a 20.7 scoring pace in the first half of the last three games.
Opposing coaches, players and her conference have taken notice of her growth this season. Coach Geno Auriemma, while proud of the strides his star post player has made, thinks there's room for her to get better still – a scary prospect for the teams she'll take on in the WNBA next season.
"It's hard to put into words what Tina's been doing," Auriemma said after Saturday's Notre Dame win, on the day ESPN broadcast its first-ever women's College GameDay from Gampel Pavilion. "Every game, throughout the whole game, it's been a lot of fun to watch, in the last two years, the change in her. Right now she's playing as well as anyone I've had at Connecticut."
Moore, by her own unbelievable standards, has been in a bit of a slump over the same stretch that Charles has taken her game to new heights. The junior had nothing but praise for her frontcourt mate on Saturday.
"I'm glad she's on my team," Moore said. "Tina is a great basketball player right now and she can only get better. You can see it in her that she wants to get better, that she wants to dominate, just from the way she demands the ball."
Auriemma, who never met a press conference he couldn't cut up with one biting one-liner after another, was almost speechless talking about the disparity between his team and the rest of the NCAA field Saturday. Almost.
"There's stretches that we play that I'm amazed at how good we are," Auriemma said. "We've got really good players who play really hard and they wanna win. And they don't think they could ever lose a game. That's a powerful combination."
The coach paused at the end of what was a 15-minute session with reporters from around the country, threw his hands up and added, "I wish I had more that I could tell you guys, but that's about it. We're really good."
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