When Villanova coach Harry Perretta saw Connecticut play in December he was not convinced the young Huskies had what it takes to win it all. After watching No. 3 UConn (26-2, 15-0 Big East) rout his Wildcats 92-49 on Saturday, Perretta offered a different opinion.
"Now, as I have watched them grow, I've seen them execute much better, which they need to do to win in the NCAA tournament," Perretta said. "I thinks they have now fallen into the category where they have a legitimate shot at winning the national championship."
The Huskies have won 12 in a row and are hitting their stride thanks in large part to the play of freshman center Tina Charles. After a 34-point night on Tuesday against South Florida, she had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead five Huskies in double figures on Saturday. Charles played just 25 minutes and scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds by halftime.
Her 10 double-doubles this season are a UConn freshman record.
"I'm just real confident right now," Charles said. "This is the game that everybody knows that I play back home. This is the game that coach saw when he was recruiting me."
UConn guard Mel Thomas added 16 points and hit three of her four 3-point shots. Renee Montgomery had 13 points and eight assists, Charde Houston chipped in 12 points and Brittany Hunter had 10.
The Huskies never trailed and took a 19-5 lead, led by Charles, who hit five of her first seven shots, all from inside 3-feet. Her foul-line jumper with 7:50 left in the half gave the Huskies a 31-11 lead, and UConn led 45-17 at the half.
"We actually got half-decent shots in the first five minutes of the game," Perretta said. "The problem is what it always is _ we can't put the ball in the basket.
Villanova (7-21, 1-14) was led by Lisa Karcic and Stacie Witman, who each had 17 points. But the Wildcats, which have only one player taller than 6-foot-1, were dominated inside.
The Huskies outrebounded the Wildcats 53-24 and held them without a 2-point field goal for the last 14:23 of the first half.
Villanova shot 32 percent for the game, 21 percent in the first half. The Wildcats took 20 shots from behind the arc before intermission, and hit just four, three from Karcic.
The Wildcats scored the first six points of the second half, but UConn responded with a 31-3 run to stretch its lead to 50 at 76-26.
The loss means Villanova will end the season with fewer wins than in any of coach Harry Perretta's 29 seasons at the school. The 1989-90 Wildcats finished 9-19.
The Wildcats had won at least 20 games in five of the last six seasons.
UConn clinched the conference's regular season title Tuesday, and the Huskies donned championship T-shirts and received their trophy following Saturday's win.
They hope to end the regular season undefeated in the Big East when they face Rutgers on Monday night.
"Winning that and understanding that will put us up in the books with some of the greatest teams that ever came out of Connecticut," Houston said. "That's what we are striving for."
Those teams won five national titles. But Coach Geno Auriemma just shook his head at the assessment of his good friend Perretta that these Huskies are ready to make a run at a sixth.
"In the hierarchy of who you can base that on, it's God, John Wooden and Harry Perretta," Auriemma joked. "If it comes out of the mouths of any of those three people that we have a chance of winning the national championship, then I can't argue with that. We should start making plans for the parade then."
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