PHILADELPHIA — Some fans take a March Madness party to the streets. Maya Moore and her Connecticut teammates enjoyed their boisterous celebration in a hotel hallway.
The Huskies watched in their rooms glued to the TV on Saturday night, nervously waiting out the end of UConn’s men’s team playing for a berth in the Final Four. When Kemba Walker and Co., knocked off Arizona, the proudest fans were the ones who share an arena and storied basketball tradition in Storrs, Conn.
“We were screaming in the hallways, high-fiving, chest-bumping,” Moore said. “It was awesome to see how our men are shocking the world. … It’s really fun to watch. We’re extremely excited and proud of them. It’s giving us a little extra motivation to play even better.”
Yeah, the last thing the top-seeded Huskies (35-1) need is more motivation heading into Tuesday’s regional final against Duke. UConn hasn’t lost this calendar year and is three victories away from a third straight national title.
Oh, and the second-seeded Blue Devils (32-3) standing as the roadblock in UConn’s path were left for roadkill in their first meeting. Moore dominated as usual as UConn surged to a 41-15 halftime lead in an 87-51 win over Duke on Jan. 31.
That was Tyson-Spinks. It was over before fans got comfy in their seats.
“They thumped us,” said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, a former UMaine women’s basketball head coach. “There was no game there.”
Duke has tried to forget the worst defeat of an otherwise stellar season. The Blue Devils stoutly defended their season credentials Monday and insisted they’ve moved on from the abuse suffered against Connecticut.
McCallie was irked by a steady line of questioning about the game and what it meant to the program. She rattled off a string of accomplishments that any coach would love to have: A 20-0 record entering the first UConn game; ACC regular-season and tournament titles; and a nine-game winning streak headed into the regional final.
The Blue Devils, in their ninth regional final in 14 years, followed the loss with an 82-58 victory over No. 18 Miami.
“I can’t talk about a turnaround. There’s no turnaround,” she said, curtly. “There’s been nothing but power and excitement.”
The Blue Devils will have to erase the embarrassment from their minds if they have any chance of advancing to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Duke last made the Final Four in 2006.
“You want that rematch,” Blue Devils guard Jasmine Thomas said. “You want that chance to play and do better.”
Duke can’t do worse.
The Blue Devils shot 5 for 32 (16 percent) in the first half. They missed 13 of 17 3-pointers. The 87 points allowed was a season worst. Jasmine Thomas was the only scorer in double digits. UConn outrebounded Duke 49-28.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said if he switched jobs with McCallie, he’d tell the Blue Devils the truth: Duke couldn’t have played any worse and the Huskies couldn’t have been more dominant. So, what are the odds that will happen again?
Auriemma said his team is as vulnerable as they’ve been the last three seasons at losing in the tournament.
Even with Moore, the Huskies were seriously threatened in the semifinal against Georgetown. The Huskies trailed 53-46 with 9:36 left, but responded with a 16-2 run and won 68-63.
Fans love rooting for the underdog, the shocker. Auriemma knows there’s a booming chorus of fans who would love to see the greatest program around toppled from the top. He joked he could hear former broadcaster Howard Cosell in his ear bellowing “Down Goes UConn! Down Goes UConn!” as the Hoyas stretched their lead in the second half.
UConn would love to join the men’s team in the Final Four. The Huskies accomplished the double in 2004 and 2009. Both teams won the national championship in 2004.
Moore has led the way on this title run. Moore, the three-time All-American, is 28 points shy from 3,000 career points. Only six players in D-I history have reached that milestone. She’d be the first one to hit 3,000 since Jackie Stiles did it for Missouri State in 2001.
“She’s the best player in the world,” McCallie said. “She’s the greatest women’s basketball player alive today.”
Moore, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds against Georgetown, downplayed the achievement. She doesn’t care as much about 3,000 as she does about three — as in national titles.
“Winning a national championship outweighs that record by far,” she said.
Moore scored 29 points against the Huskies in the first game, so 3,000 is within reach. The Blue Devils simply had no answer for her.
“We have no idea how to beat them,” McCallie said. “We’ll see. We’ll have to find something out.”