Sylvie Tafen battles with Connecticut's Charde Houston in first half. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Feb. 17, 2008
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Connecticut's top player was on the bench in foul trouble and Pitt was in the lead, forcing Huskies coach Geno Auriemma to go far down his bench relatively early in the game.
Turned out to be the worst possible scenario for Pittsburgh, a Top 25 team most of the season that is experiencing difficult times as its schedule toughens.
Renee Montgomery scored 17 points while playing a strong game defensively and No. 2 Connecticut used an 18-2 run to end the first half and beat No. 18 Pittsburgh 90-64 on Sunday, handing the Panthers a third consecutive loss.
Getting points from six players during the run, the Huskies (24-1, 11-1 Big East) turned a 27-25 deficit into a 43-29 halftime lead as the increasingly frustrated Panthers went the final 8 1/2 minutes of the half without a basket.
Pitt (18-7, 8-4) missed its final 14 shots to end the half, and it didn't get much better after that as the Huskies shot 50 percent (34-of-68) to the Panthers' 31.7 percent (19-of-60).
"The first 10 minutes were as bad as we've played defensively," Auriemma said. "The last 30 were as good as we've played for a long time, especially on the road."
Maya Moore, a freshman who came in averaging 17.7 points and 7.2 rebounds, went to the bench after drawing her second foul with 13:29 left in the first half and didn't return until the second half. It hardly mattered as the Huskies won their 22nd in a row over Pitt since the 1992-93 season.
Moore returned in the second half and ended with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes, her 25th consecutive double-figure game.
"They have player after player after player," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "They're so strong. They can throw person after person after person at you."
Tina Charles outmuscled Pitt's Marcedes Walker inside for 16 points and 12 rebounds. Charde Houston, averaging only 5.3 points as a backup, contributed 13 points and six rebounds during a second effective game against Pitt in as many seasons. Ketia Swanier, another backup, helped out with 12 points.
"It's difficult coming off the bench because there is pressure," said Houston, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds in UConn's 82-68 win over Pitt last season. "We have to go in and change the game, but we can't always rely on having a 10-point lead when we come in. There are times we're going to have to grind it out."
Since starting 18-4, Pitt has lost to No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 11 West Virginia and No. 2 UConn by a combined 62 points and is in danger of falling out of the Top 25. The Panthers have lost four of five, all to ranked opponents, with the other loss to No. 5 Rutgers.
"That's a bad stretch," Auriemma said. "You can play in the NCAA tournament and not have that tough a stretch."
Berenato is convinced her team will bounce back, saying, "I'm not like, 'Oh, God, what are we going to do? We're going to be OK. We don't need any counseling. We know who we are. We're not UConn or Rutgers, but we're trying to be a program like that."
The Panthers got an early lift when Mallorie Winn hit her first four 3-point attempts during the opening nine minutes. But Winn went 0-of-5 after that beyond the arc while ending with 16 points as the athletic but physical Huskies also shut Pitt stars Shavonte Zellous and Walker.
"They were on a really long run and it needed to be stopped, but ..." Winn said.
Zellous, averaging 19.3 points, was held to nine points on 2-of-10 shooting -- mostly, Auriemma said, because of Montgomery's tight defense. Walker, normally a strong presence inside with averages of 13.8 points and 10.3 rebounds, didn't score until early in the second half before ending with five points and seven rebounds.
Walker, who injured an ankle during a 64-60 loss to Rutgers on Feb. 2, hasn't had a field goal in two games.
Despite Moore's absence for much of the first half, UConn had the depth and the size to give Pitt matchup problems inside and outside during a run that began with Houston's steal and layup that tied it at 27 and ended with Kaili McLaren's three-point play and Montgomery's two free throws.
Montgomery said it meant a lot for the UConn bench to contribute 37 points because "mentally, they need to know they're part of the team."
Connecticut, 6-1 against ranked opponents this season, is 3-0 with an average winning margin of 34 points since its only loss, at Rutgers 73-71 on Feb. 5.
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