by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM The largest crowd of the season is in the house, the media room is actually crowded and the national TV cameras are here for ESPN2.
Duke has a real opportunity to make history in women's basketball tonight.
The No. 6 Blue Devils, who have been playing very well for the last month, will host No. 1 defending NCAA champion Connecticut, which has been playing very well for years.
The Huskies boast the reputed top two players in the country in senior center Tina Charles and junior wing Maya Moore, and the national media say they're unbeatable.
This may be as good a time as any to find out.
About 500 Duke students get free blue or white Duke T-shirts at the door, and the whole football team is here as a group. This is a big deal, and an announced sellout.
But UConn is used to such things, and slowly and methodically completes an 81-48 victory.
Duke provides more fodder for the highlight reel, but the visitors put on a ridiculous shooting exhibition as they go 13-for-25 from outside the arc.
Although the Blue Devils come out shooting poorly they don't lose contact in the first half as it's 38-28 at the break.
Jasmine Thomas (pictured) has 11 points for Duke and Kalana Greene 10 for UConn at the half. The Huskies are shooting 50 percent at the break and Duke 39.3, and that's really the difference at that point.
But Connecticut pulls away slowly and steadily in the second half. There's never a huge surge of more than a 7-0 run, but the Huskies just win about 60 percent of the plays for the comfortable margin.
Moore gets off to a slow start, but finishes with 20 points to lead five Connecticut players in double figures. Charles has a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds. Greene finishes with 18 points, while Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes chip in 13 each.
Duke doesn't get balanced scoring. Jasmine Thomas fights hard for 17 points, while Bridgette Mitchell and Joy Cheek add eight each and nobody else has more than four.
Shooting percentage is huge, as UConn is at 53.6 percent to Duke's 33.9. Duke gets 17 offensive boards to win the rebound battle 35-31, but commits 23 turnovers to 14 for the winners.
They said it ...
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "I thought it was a great crowd and a great environment for women's basketball. I'm very proud of that environment and I'm very proud of the people that came out to support the team tonight. I'm very proud of our team's effort in terms of playing hard, but very disappointed (in the outcome). ... I thought we had a slow start. We didn't engage quickly enough, but I thought that the second 10 minutes of the first half were more our game so I was happy about that. I thought that we bugged out of what we needed to do in the second half in terms of managing the ball, managing possessions better, and it showed."
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma: "Our guard play was great tonight. That's how you beat a team that is as athletic and as tough defensively as Duke is. Maya has struggled, for Maya. (Charles) faced a lot of double teams tonight. They just weren't going to give her any room in the lane. That's why we had a lot of opportunities to shoot '3s.' If those don't go in, we don't make those plays on the perimeter, then we're in trouble."
Moore: "This game felt great because (Duke) challenged us. They pushed us. And when they came with pressure I thought we handled it - especially in the second half - beautifully. We flashed to the open spots and we really kept our composure. Unless you are challenged, it really comes down to a 'We need to get a stop here or they're going to go on a run.' So in an environment like this, it feels great to execute on what we practice."
Jasmine Thomas: "(In retrospect) It's the same as any other game. You go, you watch film, you see what you did well and what you get better at. You take the positives and continue with those, and then we'll fix the things we need to work on."
What does it all mean?
That Connecticut is as good as advertised. And while the Blue Devils are very good, they would have to be much more efficient to have a chance at an upset if there's a meeting in the NCAA Tournament.
Stars of the game
2. J. Thomas.
Play of the game
Loren Dixon's four-point play for Connecticut with seven seconds left.
Connecticut leads 5-3.
Duke: Lost 1.
Connecticut: Won 57.
Duke vs. Virginia Tech, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Connecticut at Villanova, Saturday, 2 p.m.