It was a pink-out in Norman, Oklahoma on Monday night as the Sooners donned pink uniforms and the fans donned pink shirts in the Lloyd Noble Center as part of its annual "Pack the Place Pink" breast cancer awareness game. And while almost 6,300 people got to see Oklahoma face UConn, save a five-minute spurt late in the second half that cut UConn's lead to nine points, the Sooners never were a threat to the nation's second-ranked team.
The Huskies promptly went on a 10-0 run, opened the lead to 19 and that, as they say, was that. UConn won going away, 73-55, and headed home with a 24-2 record thanks in part to 43 points from Tiffany Hayes and Bria Hartley. With just four games left in the regular season, the Huskies are tied atop the conference with No. 4 Notre Dame, the only Big East team to beat them this year. Which means that the conference regular-season title could be decided on February 27, when the Fighting Irish and Huskies meet days before the start of the Big East tournament.
"The No. 1 goal always, every year is to win the regular season championship. ... In order for us to do that, we have to win every game," coach Geno Auriemma said, according to the Associated Press. "So, we've kind of been in a playoff mode every game since we played at South Bend. So, that doesn't change anything for us."
Auriemma praised the Sooners for their style of play. Though clearly overmatched, Oklahoma had cut the lead to single digits with less than five minutes to go in the game.
"After they got down, they came out with a whole different level of intensity," he said. "Credit to them. Oklahoma is a lot better than their record. They missed a lot of open shots. They are a really good team. They play a style where if you're not careful you can get into a crazed state … running up and down, bodies flying all over the place. It seemed like every time down the floor, there was a body sprawled out and it was a foul on us. Everything that happened was a foul on us."
The officials were quick to blow the whistle -- usually against the Huskies -- all evening.
"The coaches just do a really good job of keeping us level-headed," said Hayes, who scored 23 points and added seven assists and six rebounds. "We kept our heads, came down the floor, we ran our stuff. We didn't let anything go to our heads."
The Huskies seem much more mature than they were earlier in the season. But this is what happens when good, young players get comfortable with one another and have a coach who can keep them on track. The UConn's men's team, for various reasons, haven't experienced the same success. Part of it is because Jim Calhoun has been sidelined by health concerns, but there are also the struggles of sophomores Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier.
Aueriemma, however, knows his players are in a good place, especially his lone senior, Hayes.
"If Tiffany continues to play like a first-team All-American, we could have a pretty good run from here on," he said.