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UConn women match UCLA’s 88-game win streak

NEW YORK -- Connecticut won its 88th straight women’s basketball game to match the record set by the UCLA men, beating No. 11 Ohio State 81-50 on Sunday in the Maggie Dixon Classic.

Tiffany Hayes scored 26 points and Maya Moore added 22 for top-ranked UConn, which already owns the longest winning streak in NCAA women’s basketball history. Now, the Huskies have equaled the mark set by coach John Wooden, center Bill Walton and UCLA from 1971-74.

Connecticut tied the mark before a crowd of 15,232 -- a record for a women’s game at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies (10-0) can surpass UCLA on Tuesday night at home against No. 15 Florida State.

Madison Square Garden was a good place for UConn and coach Geno Auriemma to reach the milestone.

Despite being raised in Philadelphia, the Hall of Fame coach grew up a Knicks fan. The prized possession in his office at UConn isn’t any of the trophies or awards he’s won. It’s an autographed basketball of the New York Knicks starting five from the 1970 NBA championship team.

Coincidentally, the 88th straight win came against Auriemma’s good friend Jim Foster, who gave him his coaching start. Auriemma was an assistant for the girls team under Foster back when both were at Bishop McDevitt High School in Philadelphia.

When Foster got the St. Joseph’s women’s basketball job in 1978-79 he took Auriemma as an assistant coach. Neither could have possibly imagined that 35 years later the two would be facing each other at MSG with so much at stake.

Ohio State (8-2) scored the first six points on consecutive 3-pointers by Brittany Johnson. Then, Tiffany Hayes took over. After two free throws by Bria Hartley, Hayes scored nine straight points, making three layups and a 3-pointer.

Moore’s pull-up jumper gave UConn (10-0) a 13-6 lead. Lavender’s layup ended the 5-minute scoring drought, but 3-pointers by Hayes and Moore made it 19-10.

The Huskies led 29-21 before scoring nine straight points -- the last five by Kelly Ferris -- to take a 38-21 lead. UConn led 40-26 at halftime as Moore and Hayes combined for 28 points.

Moore ended any hopes of an Ohio State comeback, scoring nine of the Huskies first 13 points in the second half as they blew the game open.

Jantel Lavender came into the game leading the nation in scoring with 26.6 points a game, but was held to just 14 for Ohio State (8-2), which fell to 2-7 against No. 1 teams.

The Huskies’ last loss came against Stanford in the NCAA tournament national semifinals in 2008. Since then they have reeled off victory after victory, routing opponents in dominating fashion. Only twice during this unprecedented run has a team come within single digits of UConn -- Stanford in the championship game last season and Baylor in early November.

UConn has won by an average of nearly 25 points a game against ranked teams during the streak. Rarely have the Huskies found themselves in trouble in those 30 games. They have trailed for just 134 minutes -- including only 13 in the second half.

This was the fifth annual Maggie Dixon Classic honoring the former Army women’s basketball coach, who died on April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, likely caused by an enlarged heart.

Pittsburgh men’s coach Jamie Dixon, Maggie’s brother, said he had no idea that when the Huskies committed to the event they would be going for the milestone win.

“Maybe Maggie was looking down on us and figured it out on her own so we could get the Garden filled up for a women’s college basketball game,” said Dixon, who sat with his family just a few rows up at midcourt.

No. 8 Texas A&M routed Rutgers 79-50 in the first game of the doubleheader.