Connecticut's Renee Montgomery attempts a shot over Rutgers' Nikki Speed (11) during the first half.
March 2, 2009
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - Renee Montgomery scored 23 points and top-ranked Connecticut beat Rutgers 69-59 on Monday night to finish off the fifth undefeated regular season in program history.
UConn (30-0, 16-0 Big East) last went unbeaten in the regular season in 2002-03. The Huskies finished that year with their second straight national championship after losing to Villanova in the Big East tournament. Monday's win also marked the seventh time UConn has run through the conference unbeaten.
Tina Charles added 14 points for the Huskies, who will next play in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament Sunday. Rutgers (18-11, 9-7) will be the seventh seed and play Saturday in the second round of the tournament.
Kia Vaughn scored a season-high 24 points and Epiphanny Prince added 11 to lead the Scarlet Knights, who had won four straight by an average of 16 points before Monday's loss.
UConn, which became the first team since Duke in 2006-07 to finish the regular season unblemished, had run through its opponents this season winning by an average of 28 points. No team has been able to come within single digits of the Huskies all season - although they needed some last-second free throws from Maya Moore to continue that streak.
Leading 36-20 at the half, UConn looked as if it was on its way to another rout. The teams traded baskets over the first 4 minutes of the second half and Connecticut led 43-26 before getting sloppy with the ball.
The Huskies turned it over on five of six possessions as Rutgers went on a 12-3 run over the next 5 minutes to cut the deficit to 47-38 on Nikki Speed's jumper.
Rutgers trailed 51-42 and had the ball, but Prince missed a layup and Vaughn couldn't convert the follow.
Montgomery drilled a 3-pointer - her seventh of the game - on the other end to start a 7-0 run and restore the double-digit lead. Rutgers wasn't finished, closing to 62-54 with 1:29 left after Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was given a technical foul for arguing a call.
Rutgers came within 65-59 on Vaughn's layup with 22 seconds left, but ran out of time as UConn hit its free throws.
UConn has now won 30-plus games in four straight years and 15 of the past 17 seasons. The only times they didn't do it were in 1998-99 and 2004-05.
The Huskies raced out to a 21-5 lead 8 1/2 minutes into the contest. That early spurt quieted the sellout crowd of just over 8,000. Montgomery scored the first 11 points of the game hitting three 3-pointers and a jumper.
Heather Zurich finally got the Scarlet Knights on the board with a 3-pointer. Another 3 by Montgomery and two baskets by Charles and the Huskies were up by 16.
Rutgers tried to storm back by going on an 11-2 run over the next 5 minutes to cut the deficit to 23-16 on Speed's 3-pointer. But that's as close as the Scarlet Knights could get in the first half as Connecticut answered with a 13-4 spurt to take a 16-point lead at the break.
UConn, which has won 112 straight games against non-ranked opponents, shot 55 percent from the field. It marked the first time an opponent has made over half its shots against Rutgers in 69 games.
The Scarlet Knights honored seniors Vaughn and Zurich before the game. Vaughn is the fourth player in school history to have at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. With her seven rebounds Monday night she moved past Regina Howard into second place on Rutgers' career list.