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UB IS NO MATCH FOR UCONN
DEFENDING CHAMPS START ANOTHER BANNER YEAR BY TROUNCING YOUNG BULLS

You have to look past the score. That was the feeling the University at Buffalo women's basketball team had Friday night after its season opener turned into a wholly expected rout.

Three-time defending national champion Connecticut crushed the Bulls, 107-40, before the usual sellout crowd of 10,167 in Gampel Pavilion, but UB coach Cheryl Dozier was able to glean some positives from the worst loss in UB's Division I era. That's because she is immediately pointing to Sunday's game at Holy Cross, one much more at the Bulls' level.

"For me, our future is very bright -- and I know what we got beat by," Dozier said. "But there were a lot of times I had four freshmen on the floor. If we can stay our course about how we want to turn our program around, we'll do some good things."

UB got 30 of its 40 points from players making their collegiate debut. Freshman guard Stephanie Bennett led the Bulls with 10 points, junior college transfer Viorica Badinici had nine and freshman center Heather Turner, the former Mount Mercy star, had six points and a team-high five rebounds in her first collegiate game.

"You can't come into a game being intimidated," said Turner, The News' Player of the Year last season as a high school senior. "We felt really prepared coming in. We wanted to work hard and do what we could."

Most of the night, of course, there wasn't much UB could do. UConn's superior size and athleticism completely overwhelmed a UB team that was coming off a 6-21 season and featuring six players making their Division I debut.

It was UB's worst defeat overall since an 80-11 drubbing at the hands of Cortland State on Dec. 11, 1978, when the Bulls were still in Division III. UConn registered the highest point total ever against the Bulls, breaking the mark of 105 set by St. Bonaventure in 1992.

Playing their first game in the post-Diana Taurasi era, the Huskies took a minute to look back prior to the contest when they unveiled their 2004 NCAA championship banner. The fans responded with a roaring standing ovation as Queen's "We Are The Champions" played over the arena loudspeakers.

"It was exciting to come in here to play the best team in the nation," said UB's Bennett. "It's everybody's dream to play the No. 1 team in this kind of atmosphere in front of this many people. We stayed with it the whole time, and that's always a positive. Even though you're getting beat, if you stay strong it shows our team has some fight."

UB hit just 12 for 54 from the field and committed 20 turnovers that led to 33 UConn points. The Bulls were equal opportunity offenders in each half as they were 5 for 29 from the field before halftime and 7 for 25 in the final 20 minutes.

UConn was tenacious on defense, aggressive on the boards and displayed pinpoint interior passing that the Bulls had little chance to stop.

The Huskies scored the game's first nine points and UB never got even. The Huskies used first-half runs of 19-0 and 14-0 to take a 51-15 lead into halftime, and their biggest advantage was 69 points.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma tried to take it easy on the Bulls by sitting his three Naismith Award candidates (junior guard Ann Strother, junior forward Barbara Turner and senior center Jessica Moore) for virtually the entire second half. But the UConn reserves continued to pour it on.

The 6-foot-2 Strother led UConn with 20 points, hitting 8 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 from three-point range. She had 17 points in the first half.

"Ann is the closest thing we have right now to an All-America-type player," said Auriemma.

UB's top returning scorer, junior guard Brooke Meunier (11.9 points last year), is still battling shoulder trouble after offseason surgery and had just two points. Senior guards Allison Bennett and Talia Merlino combined for just five.

Dozier said Meunier desperately wanted to play against UConn, but Meunier was clearly favoring the shoulder and might not play Sunday. UConn, meanwhile, plays North Carolina in the women's Jimmy V Classic at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN.
e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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