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Monday, February 13, 2012
Huskies easily handle Oklahoma

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- It was game day, but UConn coach Geno Auriemma still partook in a teleconference Monday afternoon as the 21 finalists for the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team were announced.

All right, no comments from the peanut gallery that Auriemma could snooze through game day against Oklahoma, considering the Huskies are now 10-0 all-time against the Sooners.

Tiffany Hayes
Tiffany Hayes paced UConn past OU with 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

True, soon-to-be officially No. 2 UConn -- the coaches' poll comes out Tuesday; the Huskies already are there in the Associated Press rankings -- did beat OU again, 73-55, Monday night. UConn moved to 24-2 on the season, and hasn't lost to an unranked foe since December 2004.

But that doesn't mean this is all just "easy" for Auriemma. The Sooners -- sent to the woodshed by No. 1 Baylor last week on Big Monday -- definitely put on a better performance this time than they did against their undefeated Big 12 conference foe. Oklahoma relies a great deal on sophomores, freshmen and the grit of junior Whitney Hand. And, as Auriemma said, "They play hard. They make you beat them."

Still, UConn came out on top again on another busy day -- is there any other kind? -- for Auriemma.

As part of the Play 4Kay initiative, OU's Lloyd Noble Center was a study in pink and Sooner red, appropriate for the eve of Valentine's Day. And Auriemma's heart has been compartmentalized these last three years, as he's coaching both UConn and the U.S. national team.

"It's fun, it's draining, it's exhausting, it's exciting, it's pressure," Auriemma said of his dual duties. "It's all of the things that you would want."

The final contenders for the U.S. team that will compete in the London Olympics included no surprises; the list included seven former UConn players and three alums from Tennessee.

By the way, ESPN2's "Big Monday" featured both the Huskies and the Lady Vols, although of course not against each other. (We won't get into that again.) Tennessee dropped to No. 13 in the AP poll following its loss to Vanderbilt last Thursday. Monday, the Lady Vols looked as if they'd been stewing in their own juices ever since that defeat, then decided Kentucky's Wildcats were the ones who needed to be cooked.

Shekinna Stricklen
Shekinna Stricklen (18 points) hit 8 of 12 shots for hot-handed Tennessee, which shot 59 percent from the field.

So much for revenge being a dish best served cold. Orange-hot passion is what the Lady Vols need, and it's what they showed in their 91-54 victory over the No. 7 Wildcats. Kentucky had defeated Tennessee 61-60 on Jan. 12 in Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky is still atop the SEC standings at 10-2, but Tennessee is now second at 9-3. The Lady Vols are 18-7 overall, and might just hold onto their No. 11 coaches' poll ranking (or maybe even move up) after their Meighan Simmons-led blowout.

While UConn won by 18 over Oklahoma and never seemed in that much danger, it wasn't a runaway rout. And Auriemma didn't sound like he was just blowing smoke when he said that things really could be intriguing in the NCAA tournament, even with the expected top seeds.

"If you watched our game tonight, and you see what happened at Notre Dame with West Virginia," Auriemma said of the Irish's upset loss Sunday, "there's two of the four teams you're talking about [as potential No. 1 seeds] that all of a sudden look pretty mortal.

"So I don't think that perception of 'nobody can beat those teams' is true. I think Baylor has a huge advantage; don't get me wrong. There's an incredible difference in how they play and who they have. But everybody else has some issues to solve."

It doesn't seem, though, that UConn really has all that much to figure out. The Huskies got another very good across-the-board game from Tiffany Hayes, who seems to have embraced the "I'm a senior, and it's time" mentality. Hayes had 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Bria Hartley added 20 points for the Huskies.

UConn didn't have a great game shooting from the field (26 of 66, 39.4 percent). But, as usual, they made their opponent have a worse one (19 of 55, 34.5.) The Sooners did put together some impressive runs against UConn … but as always seems the case, the Huskies kept coming back with an answer.

The only two teams that have beaten UConn this year are Baylor and Notre Dame, and the Huskies have at least one more rematch with the Irish when they meet Feb. 27 in Hartford, Conn. Of course, they also could meet again in the Big East tournament, and even the NCAA tournament.

The latter is the place where the Huskies might encounter Baylor again; frankly, that's what a lot of folks are expecting at the Final Four in Denver. Among the Olympic finalists named Monday were two from Baylor: alum Sophia Young, who's now with the San Antonio Silver Stars, and current junior center Brittney Griner, who would be the youngest on Team USA if she makes the Summer Games roster of 12.

Young helped Baylor win its first NCAA title in 2005; Griner is trying to lead the program to its second this year. UConn might be in the path. And if you're looking for scoring comparisons, Baylor beat Notre Dame 94-81 and defeated Oklahoma twice, 89-58 in Norman and 81-54 in Waco.

But there's always still the number seven, which is how many NCAA titles UConn has won. Anyone who before the season might have underestimated the Huskies because of the graduation of Maya Moore has long since realized that was a big mistake.

Oh, and it needs to be said that the seven former Huskies would be in contention for an Olympic roster spot regardless of who was coaching the U.S. squad; they all belong. The national team was on Auriemma's mind in the afternoon, then he flipped the switch to the Huskies for the night.

After the game, he was asked USA Basketball questions, Huskies questions and even UConn administration questions. The latter concerned newly named UConn athletics director Warde Manuel.

Auriemma chuckled and said he really didn't know much about the situation, but pledged his support of the decision and added he was sure he'd catch up with Manuel at some point.

Just another thing to put on his to-do list.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.