STORRS, Conn. – Despite UConn's lofty record, Geno Auriemma admitted something has been missing from his team. The Huskies may have finally found it.
UConn turned a two-point halftime lead into a rout playing a nearly flawless second half.
"The last 20 minutes of the game was as much fun as I've had in a long, long time," Auriemma said.
A fiery halftime speech from the Hall of Fame coach seemed to have sparked his team.
"Tonight the frustration came out of me in the locker room," Auriemma said. "Kelly (Faris) turned all that frustration into concentration and aggressiveness that helped us find a little bit of what was missing. ... Now the key is holding on to it and adding to it."
Kelly Faris was everywhere. She finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in No. 3 UConn's 79-49 victory over the fourth-ranked Blue Devils on Monday night. It was the first loss of the season for Duke.
The senior guard seemed to get her hand on every loose ball and also shut down Duke point guard Chelsea Gray.
"There have been some legends wearing that Connecticut uniform," Auriemma said. "I don't know if anyone represented that uniform, herself, her family the way that kid did tonight. I know there are a lot of players out there that are really good. I know there are a lot of All-Americans who have played here. That was one for the ages right there."
Auriemma gave Faris a giant hug when he took her out of the game with 1:36 left. Usually that show of emotion is saved for the end of the season.
The Blue Devils were the last unbeaten team in men's or women's Division I basketball. The last time the Blue Devils came up to Connecticut two years ago they were also unbeaten and the Huskies had one loss. UConn won that game 87-51.
For 20 minutes the Blue Devils hung tough with UConn. That quickly changed in the second half. UConn (17-1) held a two-point lead at halftime and jumped right out on Duke in the second half. After trading baskets, the Huskies scored 20 of the next 25 points to take over led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished with 21 points, and Faris.
The Blue Devils (16-1) never could recover.
"Coach was pretty mad at halftime," Faris said. "The most he's been mad in a while. When we came out in the second half, we brought the energy and all fed off each other. That's what makes us a good team when we all feed off each other."
Duke, which hadn't had a team come within single digits all season, was able to stay with UConn in the first half because of the Huskies' sloppiness with the ball. UConn had 12 turnovers at the break. Associate head coach Chris Dailey implored the crowd at halftime when she was interviewed to yell "No more turnovers." The Huskies listened, finishing the game with only three more.
The Blue Devils also contained Stefanie Dolson in the first half.
Dolson, who was scoreless in the first 20 minutes, had six points during the decisive run before picking up her fourth foul with 16:16 left in the game. That call drew the ire of Auriemma who stopped just short of picking up a technical foul.
It also fired up his team as UConn continued its spurt. After Elizabeth Williams' basket on her own missed free throw, UConn scored the next 13 points. Mosqueda-Lewis had six points during the burst, including a jumper that made it 56-37 with 11:35 left.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie tried to stop the run calling two timeouts. It was to no avail.
Williams finally ended a 5 1/2 minute drought for Duke with a hook shot with 10:41 left in the game. That only brought Duke within 17.
It didn't get any closer from there.
"It was a tale of two halves for us," McCallie said. "It's consistent for us, how we've been playing all year. We played some great 20-minute ball, but have been non-existent for 40 minutes. Give credit to Connecticut. They played well in the second half. There are some great lessons for us to learn from. It will allow us to become a better team."
With the victory, UConn kept alive its streak of 20 years without consecutive home losses at Gampel Pavilion. This was the first game played on campus since UConn lost to Notre Dame by a point on Jan. 5.
Alexis Jones helped Duke stay in the game in the first half, scoring 12 points. The freshman didn't seem intimidated, hitting 3-pointers and taking it right at the Huskies. UConn led 11-6 early before Jones hit consecutive 3-pointers. Neither team could get more than a four-point lead the rest of the half as the lead changed seven times.
Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-pointer with 54 seconds left gave the Huskies a 31-27 advantage but Williams came right back with a three-point play of her own. UConn led 32-30 at halftime.
UConn shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, but was done in by 12 turnovers.
Dolson was honored before the game with a ball to commemorate her 1,000th career point that she scored against Syracuse.