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Charleston women honored to have played UConn

By Jeffrey Collins
Associated Press / December 21, 2011
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CHARLESTON, S.C.—The College of Charleston never gets a team like No. 2 Connecticut to come to town. So even though a blowout seemed likely when the teams played Wednesday night, the Cougars pulled out all the stops.

They honored former players and basketball greats who played high school in South Carolina. Before the tip, they introduced teams that played in three straight national title games before the NCAA started sponsoring championships in women's sports.

Charleston (2-8) may have lost 72-24 to the Huskies (10-1). But Cougars coach Nancy Wilson hopes the goodwill goes on for a long time.

"It was just a great treat. You know the majority of them came to see UConn. But we hope they could appreciate the fact we were going to fight real hard," Wilson said.

The Huskies' defense befuddled Charleston. The Cougars made just seven of their 49 shots (14 percent) and turned the ball over 24 times. Charleston's 24 points were just four away from the best defensive effort ever by the Huskies.

But Connecticut's offense didn't look crisp. They shot just 44 percent, committed 14 turnovers and had their lowest scoring first half of the season with just 27 points.

The hangover from the Huskies 66-61 loss Sunday to No. 1 Baylor -- just their second regular season loss in four years -- seemed to hang around at the start. Connecticut missed its first nine shots, finally getting on the board when Kelly Faris hit a 3-pointer with 15:30 left in the first half. But Charleston couldn't take advantage, missing their first nine shots as well. The Cougars didn't score their first points until Christy Hewitt hit a layup that made it 10-2 Connecticut with 11:35 to go in the opening half.

"We hung with them for a while. I think that says a lot about how we should always come out against teams," Charleston junior forward Cathryn Hardy said.

The Huskies held the Cougars scoreless for another eight-minute stretches in the first half, taking a 27-6 lead on Faris' second 3-pointer of the half with just over two minutes to go. They led 27-8 at the break, but it was still wasn't the Huskies' best defensive first half this season -- they held Farleigh-Dickenson to five points earlier this year.

Connecticut kept pouring it on in the second half, scoring the first 18 points of the half before Megan Fischer's 3-pointer cut the Huskies lead to 45-11 with 11:45 to go and ended Charleston's 19-minute streak without a field goal.

Jazz Green's 3-pointer with 1:46 to go cut Charleston's deficit to 66-23 and assured the Cougars wouldn't go down into Connecticut history as the opponent who scored the least against the Huskies. That still belongs to Quinnipiac, who scored just 20 against Connecticut in December 1998.

"I know it ended up being a big point difference, but the fact we were able to hold them as we did, I think that says a lot about our team in future games," Hardy said.

Green scored eight points, including back-to-back 3s late in the second half, while Fischer added seven for Charleston.

Bria Hartley scored 15 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 13 for the Huskies.

Connecticut now haven't lost back-to-back games since March 1993 -- a streak of 665 games that started two seasons before coach Geno Auriemma won his first of seven national titles with the Huskies.

The second longest active streak belongs to Duke, which has played 142 consecutive games without back-to-back losses according to STATS LLC.

"The secret is in the scheduling. Never schedule a really good team after a really good team. So if things go bad, you have something to fall back on," Auriemma said. "That is one record I can't explain. There's nothing we talk about. After we lose a game we don't say, by the way, we don't lose two games in a row."

Auriemma agreed to come to the College of Charleston in part to spread the popularity of women's basketball. The game brought 3,868 people to TD Arena, more than tripling the previous best attendance for a Cougars women's game. He's done this before. Last year, Connecticut played at Pacific before swinging to Stanford, and in 2009, the Huskies visited Holy Cross.

Lots of Huskies blue could be seen in the arena, but there were also a few high school teams in their warm-up suits. Charleston played its part by honoring some of the region's best women's basketball players like Katrina McClain and Kalana Greene.

The game featured a couple of the giants of coaching in women's basketball with more than 1,300 wins between them. Wilson brought the Cougars to three AIAW national title games before the NCAA started offering its own titles for women sports, and the Cougars honored those teams before tip-off.

"It's quite a privilege to get to play against the University of Connecticut and to have that crowd out here tonight, we were very thankful," Wilson said. "For me personally, it was just an awesome opportunity to get to honor those former players."

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