March 24, 2009
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Next stop on the UConn express - Trenton.
Renee Montgomery scored 25 points in her final game at home and undefeated Connecticut beat eighth-seeded Florida 87-59 in the second round of the NCAA tournament Tuesday night.
The Huskies (35-0) advanced to the regional semifinals for the 16th straight season where they will play fourth-seeded California on Sunday.
Even though they get to this point practically every season, the Huskies don't take their success for granted.
"We know we're not entitled to make it to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight," Montgomery said. "I'm just ready to go to Trenton."
This is the fourth time that UConn has been undefeated while playing in the NCAA tournament. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In 1996-97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.
Tina Charles followed up her 32-point effort in the first round with 22 against Florida. She also had 10 rebounds for her 11th double-double this season.
Maya Moore added 22 points and 14 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season.
Marshae Dotson scored 22 to lead Florida (24-8).
With her No. 20 hanging in Gampel Pavilion on the wall in the Huskies of Honor, Montgomery started her 136th straight game to break the school record she shared with Jen Rizzotti.
The senior guard is hoping to cap her storied career with UConn's sixth national championship. Besides Kerry Bascom, Montgomery is the only honoree of the 11 who hasn't won an NCAA title.
She left the game to a long standing ovation from the crowd with 6:23 left and UConn up by 36.
"I was trying to take it all in," Montgomery said. "I was trying to take it all in. It was my last game here. It was a blessing to play an extra game here. It's not going to be like this ever again."
The Huskies continue to steamroll opponents. No one's come within single digits of them all season and they've beaten their previous six ranked opponents by an average of 31 points.
"That's what we like to do, just close games," Charles said. "We don't want a team hanging around with us. We're really good at closing games and being efficient on the offensive end."
UConn took a little while to get rolling against Florida. Connecticut built a 25-12 lead before Florida went on an 8-1 run to cut the deficit to six.
Then Montgomery took over.
She scored nine straight points during a 13-0 run to put the game away. Montgomery followed up a four-point play with a 3-pointer and two free throws. Charles ended the burst with a three-point play to make it 39-20.
"One minute we can be up six and Renee can take over," Moore said. "We have to be patient and confident with our style of play."
After Steffi Sorensen hit a 3-pointer to stop Florida's drought, UConn scored the next eight points to go up 47-23 and end any thoughts of a comeback.
"It all started for us when they cut it to 26-20 and that's when our guys came alive," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "That's what I like about this team. They sense when it's time and they do what they are really good at and doing what they've been doing all year long. I'm really proud of them."
Sorensen's 30-footer at the buzzer made it 47-26 at the half marking the 14th time this season that UConn led by at least 20 at the break.
Florida could get no closer than 20 in the second half.
"We didn't come in here to keep it interesting," Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "To not be one of the ranked teams to keep it under 30 or whatever they've been beating ranked opponents by. Connecticut is fantastic."
The Gators' leading scorer Sha Brooks never was able to get going, picking up three fouls in the first seven minutes of the game. The Gators committed 16 team fouls in the first half to UConn's four, leaving Butler shaking her head in disgust.
"I can't share with you what I was thinking," Butler said. "It wouldn't be appropriate."
Brooks didn't get her first basket until hitting a 3-pointer early in the second half and the Gators down 25 points. She finished with eight - well under her 16.7 average - before fouling out.
UConn will be happy to head down to Trenton later this week. In some sense the first two rounds have been similar to any other home game for the Huskies. The players have slept in their own dorm rooms and attended school. UConn actually had to move its NCAA slotted practice time Monday afternoon so that a few of the players wouldn't miss classes.
Maybe that's why the Huskies were one of 14 NCAA tournament teams with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Florida, which also had a perfect graduation rate, had only played UConn once before. The Huskies won that meeting 71-48 in December 1991 when Butler was a sophomore guard, and UConn was coming off its first Final Four season.
The Gators advanced to the second round with a 70-57 win over Temple. That victory helped Florida match the school record for victories in a season.
"I think the program's going in the right direction," Brooks said. "Our team this year has set the standards high. We're no longer the underdogs. Florida's coming to play. People didn't expect to get us this far."