March 1, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Tina Charles wasn’t always sure she wanted to be the type player Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma knew she could be.
Auriemma would tell the center that every time she stepped on the court she needed to have the mindset that she was going to dominate. She wasn’t sure that’s what she wanted.
“My first two years here I would take possessions off, where I’d let somebody else do it,” she said.
She finally learned to play the way Auriemma wanted.
On Monday night, in a 76-51 win over No. 6 Notre Dame that left the top-ranked Huskies one shy of tying their NCAA women’s record for consecutive victories, Charles had 18 points and eight rebounds to become Connecticut’s career leader in both categories.
“Tina earned every one of her 18 points,” Auriemma said.
Charles passed Nykesha Sales (1995-98) as the school’s all-time leading scorer 2,184 points and Rebecca Lobo (1992-95) as its leading rebounder with 1,272.
“Tina Charles is an amazing player,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She’s had a fantastic season.”
Auriemma said it was strange to see Charles break both marks in the same game, especially for a program that has produced so many great players.
“That’s just a weird coincidence, it really is,” he said.
But Auriemma said he doesn’t pay much attention to such records.
“It’s not the kind of stuff we talk about,” he said.
He was more impressed with the Huskies going undefeated in the regular season for a second straight year, telling the players afterward that it was the first time it ever happened. He was corrected by reporters, who reminded him his team did it in 2002 and 2003.
“Oh yeah. Well, I lied to them,” Auriemma joked.
Auriemma said he doesn’t think this year’s team felt the pressure the 2003 team did.
“That second regular season was really, really hard,” he said. “Probably because we had too many young guys and not enough experienced offensive players so every game was a grind.”
Connecticut (30-0, 16-0), which reached 30 wins for the fifth straight season, can match the record of 70 consecutive wins set by the Huskies from 2001-2003 in the Big East tournament quarterfinals on Sunday. It is the eighth time the Huskies have gone unbeaten in a Big East regular season.
Every win in the streak has been by double figures.
The loss dropped the Fighting Irish (25-4, 12-4) into a fourth-place tie with No. 16 St. John’s, but the Irish will be the fifth seed in the tournament because of a loss to the Red Storm.
Maya Moore had 17 points and nine rebounds as all five Connecticut starters finished in double figures. Tiffany Hayes added 13 points, Kalana Greene 12 and Caroline Doty 11. The Huskies got just five points from their bench.
Devereaux Peters matched her career high in leading the Irish with 15 points, and Becca Bruszewski also had 15 as the Irish got 31 points from its bench.
New Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly spoke at halftime to the sellout crowd of 9,149, the sixth this season for the Irish and 12th in the 33-year history of the program. He praised the fans for their support of the women’s basketball team.
“We’re the Fighting Irish. We’re going to keep fighting. This game isn’t over yet,” he said to loud applause.
While Kelly’s word inspired the crowd, he couldn’t help the Irish. The Huskies ended the first half on a 5-0 run, then opened the second half with an 8-2 burst.
Notre Dame simply couldn’t live up to its reputation as streak busters. The women’s basketball team ended a 30-game winning streak by UConn in 2001. The Irish also stopped Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak in football in 1957, and UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in men’s basketball in 1974.
Auriemma said he wasn’t worried about the history.
“I mentioned it to our players this afternoon at shootaround, that these guys in their mind, there’s a reputation of luck of the Irish, that the Irish do great things on their home court against great teams,” he recalled. “But I said, ‘It’s going to take a little more than the luck of the Irish to beat us tonight.”‘