CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Senior Maya Moore felt the energy, enthusiasm and aggressiveness building with each possession for second-ranked Connecticut in a way it hasn’t all season.
Head coach Geno Auriemma felt it, too.
The scary thing? Perhaps the Huskies’ latest rout of North Carolina is just a start.
Junior Tiffany Hayes scored 29 points to help UConn roll past the 10th-ranked Tar Heels 83-57 on Monday night, a performance that Auriemma said might have been the best of the year for the two-time defending national champions.
“There was a different feel to our team today,” the coach said. “You can’t explain it, but you can feel it in the locker room. You can feel it during timeouts. There was just something going on with the team today that was reminiscent of last year’s team.”
Moore added 26 for the Huskies (17-1), who scored the game’s first eight points to give themselves a comfortable margin then scored the first 12 of the second half to blow the game open. The Huskies shot 49 percent despite cooling off significantly late, knocking down seemingly every early open look—and there were plenty—and even the ones when the Tar Heels (16-2) managed to get a hand in the shooter’s face.
Connecticut also completely shut down the Tar Heels’ attack, keeping them from running out in transition and forcing them to operate in the halfcourt. North Carolina shot 31 percent, including 9-for-39 (23 percent) after halftime.
Along the way, UConn got out in transition with ease, played with energy and displayed a physical style that the Tar Heels just couldn’t match.
“That was the best game as far as how it felt,” Moore said.
“Sometimes you can’t really pinpoint why certain games don’t have that good or not-so-good feel. But tonight, we were all aggressive. You could just look in our eyes. You could just feel it coming from people’s hands on high-fives, chest bumps, pulling people up off the ground.
“It was great to see every single person who was out on the floor, we were all connected. That’s why you come to Connecticut, and this year it’s just been harder to get that feeling. But I’m hoping that now that we’ve tasted it, we’ll continue to have nights like that.”
The Huskies have now won four straight meetings, with the last three coming by a combined 97 points.
Two years ago, the Huskies came to Chapel Hill in a 1-vs-2 matchup and won 88-58. Last year, North Carolina went to Storrs and lost 88-47.
Coach Sylvia Hatchell thought her Tar Heels matched up better with the Huskies this time than in past years. But this one ultimately fit right in with the past two games after the Tar Heels hung around for a half.
“They may not want to play us anymore if we can’t give them a better game than we’ve given them the last three years,” Hatchell said.
Hayes’ performance was an especially welcome sight for Auriemma. Her status was in doubt after she suffered an apparent concussion in a collision with Moore while going for a loose ball in the first minute of Saturday’s win against Louisville.
But Hayes started and helped the Huskies get rolling. She had a three-point play followed by a 3-pointer midway through the first half, then lost Cetera DeGraffenreid on a cut to the basket for a layup that made it 33-17 with 11:22 before the break.
Hayes had 18 points by halftime to pass her season average (15 points), and credited getting plenty of rest—including cutting out TV and Twitter—for her recovery.
“I wanted to make sure that it was nothing serious and make sure I didn’t come back too early,” Hayes said. “So it was just little things like that and making sure I got a lot of rest.”
The Huskies made 14 of 18 shots to take that 33-17 lead and came away empty on just three possessions while repeatedly taking advantage of the Tar Heels’ aggressive man-to-man defense with several scores off backdoor cuts.
“The first half, I’m thinking, ‘Wow. Man,”’ Hatchell said. “They were like a well-oiled machine out there the first half. I thought they would cool off in the second half, but they really got after it.”
Italee Lucas scored 13 points to lead the Tar Heels, who played the Huskies relatively even for the rest of the half after that game-opening spurt and trailed just 49-37 at the break.
But UConn quickly erased any lingering hope after the break. Moore knocked down a jumper, then assisted on a jumper from Stefanie Dolson. Kelly Faris followed with a transition layup, then Hayes drove by DeGraffenreid for another score to make it 57-37 with about 18 minutes left.
The Huskies led by as many as 31 points late.
“If that was their best game,” Hatchell said, “then maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is.”
Connecticut played without freshman forward Samarie Walker, who didn’t travel due to personal reasons.
Material from interviews, the Associated Press wire service as well as league and team sources was used in this report.