STORRS, Conn. — Sylvia Hatchell thought last season's Connecticut team was as dominant a squad as she's seen in more than three decades as a college coach. The Huskies went 39-0, won their sixth national championship, became the first team (men's or women's) to win each game by at least 10 points and had three All-Americans and the coach of the year. The list of superlatives seemed endless.
After No. 7 North Carolina lost to top-ranked UConn 88-47 on Saturday, Hatchell changed her mind.
"This has got to be as good as they've been," Hatchell said. "They're like a well-oiled machine out there."
In front of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd and national television audience on CBS, the Huskies won their 54th consecutive game, tying Louisiana Tech (1980-1982) for the second longest streak in women's NCAA history. From 2001 through 2003, UConn compiled 70 straight victories.
Less than four minutes into the game, North Carolina guard She'la White made a three-pointer, her second of the afternoon. The shot put the Heels ahead 10-7, causing the Heels' players and coaches to cheer and feel good about their hot start.
Their confidence didn't last much longer.
UConn (14-0) went on a 23-0 run over the next minutes. During that stretch, UNC (13-2) missed 11 shots and committed five of their 14 first half turnovers.
At halftime, the Huskies led 56-24, with senior center Tina Charles (25 points) scoring more points than the Heels and UNC allowing 46 points in the paint.
"I thought that first half was about as well as we've played in a long, long time," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Today we tried to play a perfect game of basketball. For 20 minutes, we came pretty (darn) close."
UNC entered averaging 85.6 points per game, third in the nation. But the Huskies' relentless pressure defense startled the Heels, forcing UNC to shoot 22.4% from the field and make only 3 of 16 threes.
The Heels fell just shy of setting two dubious program records: fewest points (44) and largest margin of defeat (49). White led UNC with nine points but was held scoreless for the final 29 minutes.
Meanwhile, Charles didn't score in the second half but still finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 first team All-American dominated down low and even outran the Heels several times in transition for easy baskets.
"Anything you want from a post player, Tina Charles did tonight," said UConn junior All-American Maya Moore, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "When we get performances like that from her, we feel unstoppable."
Some positive news for the Heels? They won't face the Huskies again, at least until the NCAA Tournament. The rest of their schedule features ACC teams, beginning on Thursday at Virginia Tech.
"This gives you fuel just to get better in the future, it really does," said senior forward Trinity Bursey, who finished with four points on 2 of 7 shooting. "We can't accept this. This is definitely a wakeup call."