The 2010 World Vision Challenge is being held this weekend at Gampel Pavilion and when drawn up, the field wasn't too bad, with perennial SEC power LSU being a pretty strong team, along with host University of Connecticut.
However, it's been a down year for the Tigers thus far and they will come into Sunday's game with 3 losses already. So instead of a challenge, some could call this the University of Connecticut three course Thanksgiving dinner.
Friday began with an appetizer of Bison (Howard University Bison that is), Saturday featured a main course of Mountain Hawks (Lehigh University), served with flair by Maya Moore.
Lehigh came into the weekend having just taken Big East member Villanova to overtime before falling 69-68. Unfortunately for Lehigh, the Huskies are a tad bit tougher than Nova these days. Nevertheless, Lehigh - the pre-season #2 in the Patriot League - came out clearly not in awe of the Huskies, but just overmatched.
"We came in to this tournament with the idea that playing such high level teams will only make us better. I think these games will help us prepare for the NCAA tournament, if we get that far," said coach Sue Troyan.
Boasting a couple of pre-season All-Patriot league choices, Lehigh gave a solid showing for themselves.
Samarie Walker, the impressive freshman post, got her first start of the year, and rewarded Coach Auriemma's confidence with strong interior play on both ends of the court and 6 first half rebounds. She was not nervous about her first start.
"At first I told myself there was no reason to be nervous, I had always started in high school and stuff, it's a different level, but it's the same concept," Walker said.
Maya Moore scored 13 of UConn's first 18 (Bria Hartley had the other 5), as the Huskies used defensive pressure to force held balls and turnovers while jumping out to an early lead. The Huskies went small, as centers Stefanie Dolson and Heather Buck did not enter the game during the first half.
Lehigh fought back though with balanced scoring, and pulled to within 12 with 8 minutes to go in the half. A Walker to Moore alley oop triggered another Husky, uh Maya, run (6 straight points by Moore), culminating in a 44-19 halftime lead for the Huskies. Moore had 24 at that point.
The second half, while sloppy, was Moore of the same, so to speak.
Auriemma returned to his big lineup, starting Dolson and bringing Buck off the bench, but Moore was still the story, finishing with 29 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Her one shot block moved Moore into 5th place on the all-time UConn list. She is now only 48 points shy of Tina Charles‘ school scoring record. Her amazing skills continue to impress everyone, including Auriemma.
"Coaching is really easy, provided you've got the kind of player no one else has and as long as we've got that, I think we've got a chance to win every single game we play," Auriemma said. "I don't want it to be all Maya all the time, but I don't think there's anything we can do (about that)."
After struggling with her shot recently, Tiffany Hayes had 14 points and 9 rebounds.
"All I needed was to get one to fall and I knew the rest of them were going to drop," she said.
Auriemma agreed saying, "You know eventually they have to go in. Again, that's all part of what we have to keep working on and keep getting better at. Staying aggressive."
Dolson was ready for her opportunity when it finally came, dishing beautifully to Walker in a high low setup, and scoring herself, finishing with 8 pts, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in only 10 minutes. Walker had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. As a team, the Huskies had 25 assists on 38 baskets, and they out rebounded Lehigh by an impressive 40-21 margin.
Lehigh was led by Xavier transfer Aly Byorick with 8 and Erica Prosser with 7. UConn's defense forced the normally sure handed Prosser into 6 turnovers, as Lehigh committed 21 overall. The defensive pressure held Lehigh to only 19 points in each half. UConn has now gone an incredible 232 consecutive games without allowing their opponent to shoot over 50% from the field.
In the preceding game, Van Chancellor's Tigers easily handled Howard 69-39, behind LaSondra Barrett's 17 points in 21 minutes. Guard Adrienne Webb provided the outside shooting, hitting 4 three-pointers on her way to 16 points. Howard‘s Saadia Doyle was able to better replicate her season average of 21 ppg than she was vs. Connecticut, finishing with 21 and 7 rebounds. However, LSU, like UConn on Friday night, just were too big and strong for Howard.
So, having each won their first two games in the round robin tournament, LSU and UConn will meet on Sunday afternoon for the title....or should we say dessert?