By John Altavilla, Hartford Courant
HOUSTON – It began in November 1985 in Iona’s tiny, dark gym in New Rochelle, N.Y., a game UConn won, but one few remember exactly how.
And now 999 games later, UConn’s Geno Auriemma’s journey to college sports royalty reached a grand milestone in a historic building where Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler became college basketball icons.
What will the world remember in 30 years? Certainly, not that the Huskies pounded Houston, 92-41 before just 1,569 at Hofheinz Pavilion. That was expected.
Perhaps it will remember the touchstone day that symbolized how amazing it seems that all of this has even happened at a place that had just one winning season before Auriemma arrived.
No. 1 UConn (28-0, 15-0) won its 34th straight dating to the start of last year’s NCAA Tournament. And they did it with customary ease against a Cougars program suffering mightily this season.
By the way, Auriemma’s all-time record at UConn is now 867-133, a nifty winning percentage of 86.7. And the Huskies have lost only 52 games since the start of the championship era in 1994-95, which defies statistical probability.
Bria Hartley scored 24 points, shooting 8 of 12, enabling her to pass Tiffany Hayes into the program’s Top 10 scorers with 1,802 points. She has five rebounds and four assists.
Stefanie Dolson added 24 points and nine rebounds. She was 8-for-8 from the field and had three blocked shots.
It was Dolson’s fourth 20-plus game this season, her first since scoring 25 at Central Florida on Jan. 1. It was Hartley’s ninth game with 20 or more, including three of her last five.
And Breanna Stewart, who scored her 1,000th point in her 63rd game last week, added another 16 in her 64th along with seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and three steals.
Auriemma has said many times in the last few weeks he didn’t even know his 1,000th game was approaching. And frankly, there was no energy in Hofheinz in remind him, with the exception of a good-sized Huskies fan base who cheers echoed in a building basically barren after the crowd there to see the Houston men play Central Florida hit the streets
This was not a particularly entertaining game. The Huskies played with just enough juice, not quite the way they did last Wednesday to beat UCF at the XL Center. That was a day for the players; Stewart’s 1,000th career point, Hartley’s admission to the 1,500-500-500 club.
In fact, Auriemma wasn’t very happy at halftime, despite leading 40-16 and holding the Cougars to just three points in the final 9:32.
UConn never trailed, but when does it ever for more than a few seconds? They scored the first seven points and then were leading 19-13 when Campbell, who had 10 points in the first half, scored one the Cougars’ six first-half field goals with 9:32 to play.
From there, it was all blue. The Huskies began an 11-0 roll that increased the lead to 17. And with Houston scoring only three points in the remainder of the half, the lead grew to 20 (34-14) with 2:42 to play and just ballooned from there.
Dolson and Hartley both scored 13 points in the first half. Stewart added 10. The Huskies actually took five fewer shots than Houston in opening 20 minutes, but Houston’s 6-for-30 performance (20 percent) more than compensated.
The Cougars have now lost four straight and 14 of 15 since beating Rice on Dec. 20, the last game Todd Buchanan coached before his unexpected resignation.