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No. 3 UConn Women Break It Open In Second Half, Rout No. 4 Duke

The Hartford Courant

It wouldn't be right to call UConn's domination of Duke an aberration. Their games have been too one-sided to say the phenomenon is a fluke. Let's just say it's been trending heavily.

This trend certainly must be troubling to the Blue Devils, the nation's predominant bridesmaid in terms of East coast prominence and playing in the Final Four, which UConn has done in each of the past five seasons.

Monday, the Blue Devils came to Gampel Pavilion as the nation's lone unbeaten team in Division I. They came strong and balanced. Mostly, they came determined to flip the power back on defensively.

Duke left with its balloon popped again thanks to one of the most intense second halves UConn has ever played.

The final score was UConn 79, Duke 49 before a crowd of 9,671. UConn's margin of victory over Duke in its six straight wins since 2007 is 29.6.

"We were able to keep our core players on the floor for a long time [in the second half]," Geno Auriemma said. "And that made the difference."

For the first 20 minutes, the adrenaline kept the Blue Devils in business; UConn clung to a two-point lead at the half, the nation's leading scorer (84.0) unable at times to even get off a shot, turning the ball over.

"Something needed to change after the first half," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We needed to start putting the pressure on them."

And then all of a sudden, in the first eight minutes of the second half, the trauma passed. UConn (17-1) went old-school on Duke, its passing, intensity and defensive effort leaving the Blue Devils curled up on the side of an all-too-familiar road.

Led by Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, who scored 21 points, and Kelly Faris, who added 18, the No. 3 Huskies turned a nail-biter into a no-contest. Faris added 12 rebounds and six assists.

"What happened in the second half was indescribable," Geno Auriemma said. "If you were sitting in the stands, you likely felt fortunate to feel part of it. If you were on the bench, any part of what Kelly Faris did, you just saw a performance people are going to be talking about for a long time."

Bria Hartley chipped in a career-high nine assists. And Breanna Stewart added 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks. UConn blasted Duke off the boards, 44-25, and outscored it 47-19 in the second half.

"We showed tonight how we can feed off each other and how it can help us accomplish what it is we want to accomplish," Faris said.

Duke (16-1) had three players in double-figures led by freshman Alexis Jones, who scored 14. But Jones, saddled with four fouls for most of the second half, scored just two points when the Blue Devils needed a counter-punch.

"I let my foul trouble get the best me," Jones said.

The Huskies emerged with a 32-30 first-half lead. Averaging over 65 shots a game, the Huskies got only 24 shots off in the first half, making just 12 field goals. Half of them were three-pointers and half of those belonged to Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored six of UConn's first nine points and ended the half with 10 points.

Then it was over. After a basket by Duke's Elizabeth Williams brought the Blue Devils to within 34-32 with 19:31 to play in the game, the Huskies took flight, scoring 35 of the next 45 points with a furious rally over the next 13 minutes that left Duke's chins in its hands.

"It was something different," Faris said. "Something clicked and we had fun playing ball."

The run was fueled with all types of accelerants. UConn's defensive pressure, good in the first half, was suffocating in the second. It fought for every loose ball, whether on the floor or coming off the rim.

Its transition game, slowed to a crawl in the first half by 12 turnovers, gained speed, seemingly willed along by Faris, the team's ferocious focal point.

"She is a special player," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

UConn's biggest first-half lead was 9-4 with 16:46 to play in the half. Duke never led by more than two. The lead changed seven times and the battle for open real estate on the offensive end never stopped.

Duke was doing just a bit better, but its top two players, center Elizabeth Williams and guard Chelsea Gray combined to shoot just 3 of 13 in the half for seven points.

What kept the Blue Devils in business was the productivity of freshman Alexis Jones. She scored 12 first-half points with a pair of three-pointers.

After turning the ball over a total of 36 times in wins over Louisville and Syracuse last week, the Huskies continued to struggle with ball control. They flipped it over a dozen times in the first half, leading to 10 Duke points and continued frustration for Auriemma.

Making that stat more glaring was that Duke turned it over just three times in comparison. It was a poised response to a partisan crowd.

This obviously bothered the UConn coaching staff. Before the second half began, associate coach Chris Dailey asked the crowd to chant "No more turnovers." The crowd complied.

And so did the Huskies, who made just three errors in the last 20 minutes.

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