Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was happy to see his team respond to its first test of the season.
For most of the season, the top-ranked Huskies have been able to go on cruise control by halftime. Against St. John's, Connecticut saw a 20-point lead cut to seven midway through the second half before the Huskies responded for a 77-64 victory Wednesday night.
"It wasn't an easy game today. I thought it was good for us to be in that situation," Auriemma said. "We hadn't been in that situation a lot."
Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles each had 21 points and Maya Moore added 20 and 11 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season.
"We have three players capable of having big nights any night we play," Auriemma said. "It's been those three steady for the whole year. Today was no exception to that."
It was the first time UConn had three players score at least 20 points in a game since the Huskies did it against Pittsburgh in a win on Jan. 7, 1999.
"They have three probable All-Americans on their team," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "They are a great team. For us to hang in with them says a lot. The thing about playing the No. 1 team in the country is that everyone comes in and plays them is trying to knock them off."
The Huskies (24-0, 10-0 Big East) continued their best start since beginning the 2002-03 season 31-0. UConn has won 32 straight regular-season games and is the only unbeaten team in Division I basketball.
It was a homecoming for Charles, who grew up in New York and went to school a few miles away from St. John's at Christ the King.
"It's always fun to play in front of your family and friends," Charles said. "One of the main reasons I came to Connecticut was so that my family and friends could see me play since it's only two hours away."
Charles also had a huge game when the Huskies played in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden in December.
Da'Shena Stevens scored a career-high 27 points to lead St. John's (15-8, 3-7), which was coming off its own thrilling victory at MSG. The Red Storm rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to top Cincinnati there on Sunday.
"Last game we came back and played hard," Stevens said. "This is a turning point for us to pick it up again. Even if we're not playing the No. 1 team, we want to come out aggressive every game."
St. John's tried for another incredible rally Wednesday night. The Red Storm trailed 45-30 at the half and were down 20 early in the second half before going on a 13-0 run sparked by Stevens, who had two three-point plays during the spurt.
Her basket and free throw made it 54-47 with 11:33 left in the game, but the Red Storm couldn't get any closer as Charles, Montgomery, and Moore each scored a basket to restore the lead to double figures.
"We're not great all the time," Auriemma said. "Other teams are worse. Today when we weren't good, St. John's was really good."
UConn led 62-51 with 7:19 left when it put the game away with a 13-5 run. Moore hit consecutive 3-pointers and Tiffany Hayes capped the spurt with a 3-pointer.
"Maya Moore is the best player in the country for a reason. She made two unbelievable plays," Arico said. "They are the best team in the country for a reason. We knew they weren't going to quit."
The Huskies still haven't had a team come within single digits this season and are winning by an average of 33 points.
St. John's wasn't scared of playing the nation's top team. Early on, the Red Storm traded baskets with Connecticut and found themselves only trailing 22-20 with 12:33 left in the first half. Auriemma implored his team to start playing defense.
The Huskies picked it up on the defensive end going on a 9-0 run over the next 6 minutes. Moore started the spurt with a 3-pointer and capped it with an acrobatic layup on the break.
Britney Murphy finally ended St. John's drought with a jumper that made it 31-23.
UConn wasn't finished going on a 14-5 burst to take a 45-28 lead. Montgomery had eight points during that spurt, including two 3-pointers and a layup. The Huskies led 45-30 at the half. Montgomery had 16 points and Charles had 14, going 6-for-7 from the field.
Stevens kept St. John's in the game scoring 13 points in the first half.
St. John's Sky Lindsay, who also went to Christ the King, had 10 points.