UConn grinds out another gritty win

STORRS, Conn. -- It's not the beautiful game, but the Connecticut Huskies must be doing something right to keep Geno Auriemma clapping as they move toward what looks more and more like an inevitable Big East regular-season title.

Early in the second half of Tuesday's 60-50 win over Rutgers, Renee Montgomery missed a transition layup in traffic, launching a sequence that saw Tina Charles, Kalana Greene and then Charles again grab offensive rebounds and miss putback attempts. But after Charles drew a foul on the third attempt, nobody in attendance was clapping with more enthusiasm than Auriemma.

On a night when winter's first truly mind-numbing cold front kicked up its feet and settled in for another night in Connecticut, it's hard to imagine the state had much in common with Brazil. But the empty seats in Gampel Pavilion for a game against arguably UConn's most bitter conference rival told a different story.

Just as soccer fans in Brazil value the aesthetic quality of their national team's play almost as much as the result, basketball fans from Danbury to Storrs have grown accustomed to their Huskies displaying a certain degree of difficulty in overcoming overmatched opponents.

Consider that from 1996 to 2004, when Diana Taurasi departed, Connecticut won 16 of 17 games against Rutgers. Only four of those victories were decided by fewer than 10 points.

Talk all season has centered on the current team's lack of identity, and the empty seats offered very visible, very blue proof that determination doesn't sell tickets like domination. But it wins games.

"It looked like from the opening tip, we took the game right to Rutgers," Auriemma said. "I loved the way we hit the offensive boards in the first half …. At least defensively, I thought we set a good tone."

Charles opened the scoring with an offensive rebound and putback against Kia Vaughn, and the Huskies spent the night doing things like hitting the offensive glass (15), forcing turnovers (20) and rotating on defense to the tune of 38 percent shooting for Rutgers.

"They reminded us of us," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "We switched places. We didn't pressure the ball."

Fittingly, Charles closed the scoring with a putback on another Montgomery miss.

The same flaws that helped put the Huskies in deep holes against Tennessee and North Carolina still exist. The Huskies can't shoot free throws, Montgomery and Ketia Swanier are sometimes stagnate in half-court sets and Charde Houston remains an enigma.

But the Huskies fought back to make both of those games interesting in the final minutes and they haven't dropped a game yet against a team they should have beaten.

Grit might not equal great yet, but it's a starting point.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.