DURHAM, N.C. -- Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut Huskies always seem to thrive on the big stage.
Tuesday night was no different as the No. 1 team in the country turned its latest showdown into another rout, beating second-ranked Duke 83-61.
"I think these are the reasons we come to Connecticut, to play in the big games," said Breanna Stewart, who led the Huskies with 24 points and 11 rebounds. "We have a huge target on our back and teams will always give us their best run. That’s what you want as a competitor."
The victory over Duke was the Huskies’ fourth over a ranked team this season. They’ve beaten Stanford, Maryland and Penn State with relative ease, with each game decided way before the final buzzer. UConn has always excelled in 1-2 matchups, winning 15 of the 18 games they’ve played in.
What’s scary for the rest of the women’s basketball landscape is that the first three wins came with the Huskies (11-0) not at full strength. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis injured her elbow in the victory over Stanford and missed the next eight games. She showed no rust against Duke, hitting a career-high seven 3-pointers. Whenever Duke seemed to make any sort of run, the junior forward would hit a key 3 to end the challenge.
"I don’t think we would have won the game the way we won it without her," Auriemma said. "She showed why she is a special player."
This was the seventh straight victory for the Huskies in the series with Duke. The previous six were decided by an average of nearly 30 points. Auriemma thought this one might be a little different. It wasn’t.
"I think I would be less than honest if I said I thought we could come in here and win by 20," said Auriemma, who earned his 850th career win. "Simply because we haven’t played in (12 days). We weren’t sure what we were going to get from (Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck). And I thought Duke being at home and they’ve got a bunch of upperclassmen ... it would be a little bit different."
Chelsea Gray had 13 points and Haley Peters finished with 11 for Duke (10-1), which had its 24-game winning streak at Cameron snapped -- a run that dated to UConn’s last visit in 2011.
"We didn’t do what we needed to do defensively," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We didn’t rebound the way we need to rebound. And we showed little patience on offense at critical times."
The Huskies, the only visitors to beat Duke on its home floor since 2008, now have done it three times since anybody else has found a way to do it once.
They also spoiled the Blue Devils’ undefeated start with a rout for the third time in four seasons.
"I know people like to make a big deal about it because it’s No. 1 and No. 2 and all of that," McCallie said. "I think the bigger deal is the Final Four. That’s the biggest deal and trying to pursue a national championship at that level and this helps us in our journey to get better and figure things out."
Stewart did much of the early damage in her first appearance in front of the Cameron Crazies -- or at least what was left of them, with the Duke students on winter break.
The Blue Devils, who spent the second half trying to claw their way back into the game, pulled to 65-52 on Elizabeth Williams’ layup with just under 8 minutes left.
After a timeout, UConn worked the ball around the perimeter to Mosqueda-Lewis, who swished her fifth 3 to restore the Huskies’ 16-point lead and help them pull away for their 17th straight win.
"That’s something that coach has been telling me since last year -- that I need to shoot every shot like it’s the last shot, and shoot every shot like it’s an important shot," Mosqueda-Lewis said.
The Blue Devils were denied their first win over a No. 1 team since 2007. Duke can’t afford to dwell on the loss with a tough week ahead. The Blue Devils host a good Albany squad before visiting No. 5 Kentucky on Sunday at Rupp Arena.
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report
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