By JOHN ALTAVILLA, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
12:36 AM EST, December 22, 2010
Perhaps it's true that only a scant percentage of the world cares about women's basketball. Maybe even less than that — or so we've heard from the dissenting crowd insulted by the long assault on a legendary men's coach and his team's iconic winning streak.
A month of debate has proven only that a vast difference of opinion exists.
"Everybody that had an opinion has weighed in," coach Geno Auriemma said Tuesday. "I can't tell you all of the names I've been called in the last couple days."
But there is one place where Auriemma and his UConn women matter very much. And that's here in Connecticut, the land of steady habits, a state in love with a team that steadily and habitually wins.
Tuesday night, a cross section of residents — governors and senators-elect at the bottom, their constituents near the top — filled the XL Center and cheered for one more win.
And just like they always do, the top-ranked Huskies gave them what they wanted — No. 89.
"Doing something 89 times in a row?," UConn's Tiffany Hayes said. "Well, I guess I can say now that it can be done."
The Huskies set an NCAA Division I record for consecutive victories by defeating Florida State 93-62 before 16,294. The UCLA men won 88 in a row under John Wooden in 1971-74.
"All I can say is that we made you pay attention." Auriemma said. "Nobody had to [pay attention], but you did."
On this historic night, UConn was led by its greatest player, perhaps ever, Maya Moore.
She was never better, scoring 26 of her career-high 41 points in an electrifying first half in which the Huskies built a 27-point lead. She finished five points shy of the UConn record held by Nykesha Sales.
Moore (14 of 23) also had 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three assists with no turnovers.
"Nothing that she does surprises me, not since her freshman year," Auriemma said. "There is something special about that kid. She has ability to rise to the occasion.
"It would have been very easy tonight for her to be so hyped up she couldn't play, but she's one of the great athletes who understands what her team needs her to do."
Freshman Bria Hartley was brilliant, too, scoring a career-high 21 points while making 8 of 10 from the field. Auriemma was so happy with Hartley that he actually kissed her at one point in the first half.
"Yes, he did," Hartley said, laughing. "It was great. As a freshman, I'm building a relationship with Coach Auriemma. It picked me up a lot. I'm glad he has that confidence in me. Nothing was said. I understood what he was saying. He didn't have to express it."
After a short break for Christmas, the Huskies (11-0) try for 90 at the University of Pacific on Tuesday. Two nights later, they're at Stanford.
This win took on a familiar shape and dimension — larger than life. The Huskies fell behind, but just by 2-0 and only for a few seconds. They took the lead on a three-pointer by Hartley and steadily pulled away.
The Seminoles (9-3), beaten by the Huskies in the Elite Eight last season, dropped to No. 22 nationally after losing at Yale on Saturday night.
Tuesday night, they had few counter-punches, though they did score eight quick points in the first half to cut UConn's lead to 34-23.
From then on, the Huskies and Moore dominated. They put the game away with a 21-4 run over the rest of the half.
Moore, UConn's all-time scoring leader and a three-time All-American, was 8-for-13 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line in the first half. She also had eight rebounds and three blocks in one of the greatest 20 minutes of her career.
She was supported by Hartley, perhaps the program's next great star. She scored 16 in the half, hitting 6 of 7 and all four of her three-point shots.
"Something like this requires a highly motivated group of people who are unselfish," Moore said. "They do more than what's required, more than that's needed on the court. We're a family, that's how we treat this. We hold each other accountable for everything we do.
"It's easier to understand the value of what we do if you watch us practice, hang around us for a while."
It was 54-27 at halftime, and the crowd spent the finally 20 minutes doing what happy people do. In the final minute, after Moore left the game, they began to wave little placards at their seats with No. 89 on them.
"There was such excitement," Hayes said. "I was so happy to be there with my teammates, just knowing where and how this all started. It was a great feeling and I'm glad that I had a chance to experience. I am happy. That's all I can say. I am happy."
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