STORRS, Conn.—For 20 minutes, Monday’s matchup looked just as compelling on the court as it did on paper: Two top-five teams battling back and forth, separated by just two points at the break.
When the teams returned to the floor, though, No. 4 Connecticut wasted no time putting No. 3 Duke away at Gampel Pavillion, earning a 79-49 victory behind 18 points and 12 rebounds from guard Kelly Faris.
“If you were a part of what Kelly Faris did tonight, you just saw a performance that people are going to be talking about for a long time,” Husky head coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s been some great players playing in this building. There’s been some legends playing in this building, playing in that Connecticut uniform, but I don’t know if anybody ever represented that uniform, and herself and her family the way that kid did tonight.”
After recording seven points in the first half, Faris stepped up her play in the second half, scoring 11 on 5-of-7 shooting. In addition to powering the Huskies to 49 second-half points, the 5-foot-10 Faris dominated the glass with 12 rebounds in the game.
“Kelly’s getting steals,” Connecticut forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She’s getting rebounds. And everybody’s feeding off of her energy, and it’s just from the first man to the 11th man, everybody’s doing their part.”
Faris’ performance is even more impressive considering her struggles last season in her team’s matchup against Duke.
The guard had just one assist and seven points but turned the ball over four times in Connecticut’s 61-45 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium last season.
“If Kely Faris and Tiffany Hayes had not played in that game… we could have won by like 50,” Auriemma said. “That’s how horrendous those two guys played at last year’s Duke game…. Of course she remembers that. Kelly remembers everything.”
Although Faris and the Huskies eventually won by 30, the Blue Devils had been matching their opponent shot-for-shot in the first half. In the first 20 minutes, freshman Blue Devil guard Alexis Jones had already reached double digits scoring with 12 points.
Additionally, Duke forced Connecticut into 12 turnovers for the period and gave up just three of its own, so despite a 35.3 field goal percentage, the Blue Devils trailed just 32-30 at the break.
Auriemma was the most upset he had been in a while at halftime, Faris said, and in the second half, it was the Huskies that dominated the turnover battle—as well as nearly every other statistic.
“We’re a little bit soft, a little sensitive,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We missed some shots in the lane. We didn’t have any rebounding on the floor. [The second half score of] 44-25 will get you beat real quick.”
And after Connecticut assistant coach Chris Dailey encouraged the team’s fans to chant, “No more turnovers” the Huskies tightened up their play, limiting themselves to just three second-half turnovers.
Despite an 11-5 Husky run to open the second period, the Blue Devils had a chance to stop the momentum when Connecticut center Stephanie Dolson earned her fourth foul just before the 16-minute mark.
But only 80 seconds later, Duke quickly lost its hottest hand at the time, Jones, to her fourth foul as well. Although Jones quickly returned, Duke’s 10-point deficit soon extended past 20.
“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.”
The loss of Dolson did not hamper the Huskies’ ability to dominate the lane. Connecticut scored 12 of its first 14 points in the half from the paint and had a shot 78 percent from the field for the stretch.
The Huskies outscored Duke 20-8 in the paint for the second half.
“When she came out of the game, I think had the game been played the way it had been in the first half, I think it would have been a problem,” Auriemma said. “Because of the momentum of the game and because of the way the game was flowing, it didn’t have the kind of effect that it would have had.”
Duke was unable to overcome that momentum, scoring only nine points in 10 minutes.
With just two points from guard Chelsea Gray—who averages 13.3 points per game—and 5-of-15 shooting from the team’s leading scorer on the season, Elizabeth Williams, Duke could not match Connecticut’s offensive firepower.
“They gave a lot of extra attention to Chelsea,” McCallie said. “I knew they would. [Alexis] was huge in the first half that way because she took full advantage of that. I think it waned as the game went on though…. Chelsea is a great player but at the same time too she’s got to get herself in the right spots. [With] her going 1-of-6 obviously you have to credit the defense.”
Ultimately, what had kept Duke in the game for the first 20 minutes ended up fueling their defeat. After scoring 10 points off turnovers in the first half, the Blue Devils did not register a single point off a turnover in the second period. The Huskies had 17.
“The last 20 minutes of the game was as much fun as I’ve had in a long, long time,” Auriemma said.