NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Senior Tiffany Hayes scored 23 points, sophomore Bria Hartley added 20 and the No. 2/2 Huskies beat Oklahoma 73-55 on Monday night for their 12th-straight victory.
It was the final nonconference test for Connecticut (24-2) before a four-game run that will decide the BIG EAST title, which could come down to a Feb. 27 game against No. 4 Notre Dame in Hartford, Conn. The teams are tied for the conference lead at 11-1 after the Irish were upset by West Virginia on Sunday.
“The No. 1 goal always, every year is to win the regular season championship, in order for us to do that, we have to win every game,” Auriemma said. “So, we’ve kind of been in a playoff mode every game since we played at South Bend. So, that doesn’t change anything for us.”
The Huskies never trailed on their way to moving to 10-0 all-time in the series, which had become an annual tradition around Valentine’s Day but is set to end after this meeting.
Freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore Stefanie Dolson contributed 10 points apiece, and Connecticut appeared ready to run away with it in the first 7 minutes before withstanding a series of rallies by Oklahoma (16-8).
Whitney Hand scored 18 points while playing 40 minutes but she was the only one of the Sooners who could score with regularity against the nation’s top defense. The Huskies came in allowing opponents to shoot only 29.6 percent and average 44.4 points.
Oklahoma exceeded both of those marks but still made only 34.5 percent and never could dig all the way out of an early 17-point deficit. The Sooners were 3 for 14 from 3-point range and are 24-of-105 (23-percent) over the last seven games.
It was 19-4 before two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant even made it to his seat near courtside, just over seven minutes into the first half. Dolson scored with her left hand under the basket soon after to make it a 17-point lead with 11:57 to go before halftime, and the Huskies seemed to be on their way to duplicating last season’s 41-point blowout in Hartford.
Hand scored the next seven points in what would become an 11-0 run, and the Sooners quickly got themselves into the bonus by drawing three fouls against Mosqueda-Lewis in an 82-second span.
Jelena Cerina’s layup in the final minute of the first half got Oklahoma within 33-28 before Connecticut scored the final four points before halftime.
Hayes had two layups, stealing an outlet pass in between, to spark a string of eight straight points that restored Connecticut’s lead to 45-30 in the first 3 minutes after halftime. After that, the Huskies merely kept the Sooners at arm’s length.
“You always want to win a championship that’s available, and we have the opportunity to do that,” Auriemma said, “but there’s some other things that we’ve got to do before we do that.”
Tuesday night there are eight league teams in action, including a nationally televised tilt as USF (13-13, 5-7 BIG EAST) travels to Marquette (13-11, 4-7 BIG EAST) on the CBS Sports Network at 7 p.m. ET.
Tue. 14 LOUISVILLE at PITTSBURGH 7:00 p.m. Comcast Pittsburgh
PROVIDENCE at NOTRE DAME 7:00 p.m.
USF at MARQUETTE 7:00 p.m. CBS SN
GEORGETOWN at VILLANOVA 7:00 p.m.
Material from interviews, school websites, the Associated Press wire service as well as league and team sources was used in this report.