UConn Defeats Cal, 77-53, Despite Poor Start

March 29, 2009

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -It took almost a half for the UConn express to get rolling. Once it did, Cal couldn't stop it.

Connecticut freshman Tiffany Hayes scored a career-high 28 points as the undefeated Huskies beat fourth-seeded California 77-53 on Sunday to advance to their 14th regional final in the last 16 seasons.

The Huskies will face the winner of Arizona State and Texas A&M on Tuesday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.

UConn (36-0) continued its march toward the school's third perfect season. The Huskies have entered the NCAAs unbeaten three other times. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In 1996-97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.

Ashley Walker scored 21 to lead California (27-7), which was making its first trip to the regionals after blowing out Fresno State and Virginia in the first two rounds.

Hayes finished 9-for-10 from the field easily surpassing her previous career high of 23 set against Louisville. She also had seven assists and five rebounds.

Maya Moore added 22 points, and Renee Montgomery had 13 for the Huskies. Moore is now seven points short of breaking the UConn single-season record of 694 set by Kara Wolters in 1995-96.

Connecticut had dismantled opponents this season, including beating seven ranked teams by an average of 31 points.

But the Huskies got off to a nightmarish start Sunday as center Tina Charles picked up two quick fouls and had to sit out most of the first half. Montgomery couldn't buy a basket, missing nine of her first 11 shots. It certainly wasn't the way the Huskies were accustomed to starting games. Fourteen times this season they had at least a 20-point lead at the half.

California didn't seem bothered by the noon tip and jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first few minutes. It marked the first time UConn had trailed in a game since an early deficit against Seton Hall on Feb. 28.

It didn't get much better for the Huskies, who fell behind 31-23 on Walker's 3-pointer with 6:38 remaining before the break, forcing UConn coach Geno Auriemma to call timeout and silencing the mostly pro-Huskies crowd. Amazingly, that was the largest deficit UConn had faced all season.

That's when UConn turned up its defense and started looking like the best team in the country. Over the next 20 minutes, UConn outscored Cal 41-12, holding the Bears to 4-for-27 shooting and 10 turnovers.

Connecticut started the spurt scoring 12 straight, including the last five by Hayes to take a 35-31 advantage with 13.4 seconds left.

Alexis Gray-Lawson finally ended Cal's scoring drought, hitting two free throws with 3.4 seconds left for the halftime margin.

Connecticut continued its burst to start the second half expanding the lead to 47-37 on Montgomery's three-point play 3 minutes in.

Gray-Lawson connected on a 3 on the other end to cut the deficit to seven before UConn put the game away scoring 13 of the next 16 points to make it 63-43 on Kalana Greene's layup with 9:13 left.

By the time Walker hit a jumper with just over 6 minutes left to end the drought the game was in hand.

Cal would get no closer than 16 the rest of the way.

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