March 9, 2009
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - For almost 15 minutes, Villanova stayed even with top-ranked Connecticut.
Then Maya Moore took over.
The Big East player of the year scored 17 points to lead the Huskies to a 72-42 win over the Wildcats on Monday night in the Big East semifinals.
Tina Charles added 16 points and Renee Montgomery had 12, helping Geno Auriemma to a win over Harry Perretta in a battle of the conferences co-coaches of the year.
UConn will play either No. 5 Louisville or No. 14 Pittsburgh in the finals on Tuesday night, seeking its 15th tournament title.
Villanova found itself tied at 26 with nation's only undefeated team after O'Connor hit a 3-point shot with 5:30 left in the first half.
But Moore responded with a 3-pointer, a couple of steals and a block that sparked the Huskies (32-0) to a 23-2 run into the second half.
"I think Maya Moore is what makes us a great team," Auriemma said. "Everybody else on that team makes us a really, really good team. Maya Moore makes us a great team."
UConn, which won its 17th regular-season Big East title this year, will be playing in its 19th conference championship game in the past 21 years,.
While Villanova tried to slow the game down, the Huskies were able to get out in transition. Moore had six steals, most of which led to layups, and UConn outscored the Wildcats on the fast break 12-0 and on turnovers 24-3.
"I just tried to anticipate a few times, have active hands and it got us a few fast-break opportunities," Moore said.
The Huskies jumped out to a 12-4 lead and Villanova took just five shots in the game's first 5 minutes.
Villanova used its perimeter shooting to stay close for a while. The Wildcats, who average eight 3-pointers a game, had six before intermission. But Villanova's final four attempts before the half fell short, and UConn closed the half on a 11-0 run to take a 37-26 lead.
Villanova's Laura Kurz, who had 21 points in the Wildcats' quarterfinal win over Notre Dame, was held scoreless, missing all seven of her shots. She credited UConn freshman Tiffany Hayes, who played suffocating defense.
"I couldn't even breathe, I felt like," Kurz said. "I mean I could get no easy shot off, so she definitely did a great job keying in on me."
The Wildcats took 30 shots from behind the arc, making eight.
The Huskies are 54-6 in the tournament since going 1-6 in the first six years.
UConn hadn't faced Villanova in the tournament since 2003, when its 31-0 team was upset by the Wildcats in the finals.
Connecticut has won 113 consecutive games against non-ranked opponents.
Villanova which went 10-6 in the conference during the regular season and reached the tournament semifinals for the 12th time in the program's history, is expected to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
"With the talent level that we have, I don't think we can do any better than what we did," Perretta said. "At some point you just do the best you can and whatever happens, happens. But I think we've done enough to get in, but that's not my decision.