Tina Charles scored 16 points and Maya Moore added 11 to help top-ranked Connecticut win an NCAA record 71st straight game-a 59-44 victory over No. 6 Notre Dame on Monday night in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.
UConn surpassed its own mark set from Nov. 9, 2001, to March 11, 2003. Unlike that amazing run, which ended in a loss in the Big East conference tournament semifinals to Villanova, this Huskies team has thoroughly dominated its opponents in every game, winning all of them by double digits.
Connecticut (32-0) will face either West Virginia or Rutgers on Tuesday night with a chance to win its 16th Big East conference tournament championship.
Even top teams haven’t posed much of a challenge for the Huskies during their remarkable run.
With Monday’s win over Notre Dame (27-5), UConn improved to 13-0 against top-10 opponents, winning by an average of 26.2 points. Even second-ranked Stanford lost by 12 when the teams met in late December.
UConn has rarely even trailed during its streak. The Huskies have been behind for a total 86 minutes in the 71 games. It’s been even more uncommon for UConn to be down in the second half-only facing a deficit three times after intermission. None of those scares lasted long. There hasn’t been a need for any late-game rallies or last-second shots by the Huskies.
Notre Dame kept it close for a half.
UConn only led 25-22 at the break-its lowest scoring output in nearly three years. The Huskies then asserted themselves, led be Kalana Greene.
The senior hit just one of eight shots in the first 20 minutes, but scored the first four points of a decisive 13-4 run that gave UConn a 49-35 lead with 9:00 left. Moore’s deep 3-pointer capped the spurt. Greene finished the game with 15 points.
Notre Dame, which was led by Skylar Diggins’ 10 points, was only able to close to 10.
Even with the incredible numbers that this team has put up, coach Geno Auriemma is still partial to the 2002 team that started its previous record streak. That team, which was led by Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, featured four of the first six picks in the WNBA draft.
“I think that group would beat this group,” Auriemma said. “But that’s not important because they’ll never have to play each other.”
Bird and Ashja Jones, who also played on the 2002 team, were in the XL Center for the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Monday’s celebration was tempered when Huskies guard Caroline Doty caught an elbow from Ashley Barlow in the head with a minute left. She was on the ground with the training staff huddled around her for a few minutes before she woozily got up.
Connecticut had already beaten Notre Dame twice during the regular season- including a 25-point win in South Bend seven days ago. But the Irish have a history of ending notable winning streaks.
Notre Dame stopped Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak in football in the 1950s, UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in men’s basketball in the 1970s and North Carolina’s 92-game winning streak in women’s soccer in the 1990s.
For 20 minutes it looked as if Notre Dame might have some of that luck. It was a sloppy first half as neither team could put together a sustained run. The Huskies took their biggest lead of the half on Doty’s 3-pointer with 8:37 left that made it 19-14. Notre Dame answered scoring six of the next eight points to close within one.
They had plenty of chances to take the lead, but couldn’t get over the hump.
Charles scored consecutive layups to extend the lead back to five and UConn went into the half only up three. In the first two meetings UConn led Notre Dame by 23 and 13.
It was Connecticut’s lowest-scoring first half since getting 22 against LSU in the 2007 regional final. The Huskies ended up losing that one by 23.
Three of the Irish’s five losses this season have come to UConn.