What a difference a year makes for Doty

DURHAM, N.C. -- There was that "I'm really here" moment for UConn's Caroline Doty before Monday's 81-48 victory over Duke.

When the Huskies ran out onto the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, she thought about all that had happened since UConn's Big Monday game here on Tobacco Road a year ago.

"Just hearing everybody boo -- I had a big smile on my face," Doty said. "I thought, 'This is unbelievable; it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life.' And just stuff like when you're inbounding the ball and [the Cameron Crazies] are shaking their hands.

"You see pictures of it in 'Sports Illustrated' when you're growing up. But to be a part of it, to experience it … man, I was smiling."

Last year, Doty was determined to make the trip to the Triangle although she knew she wouldn't be able to play. That night, the Huskies were down the road from here in Chapel Hill, facing North Carolina. Both teams were undefeated going into that Jan. 19, 2009, game, but there were some worries on the UConn side because the promising freshman Doty was out.

She had suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Syracuse two days before. But she never considered staying home.

"I said, 'I'm not missing that game,'" Doty said. "To be in the Dean Dome against such a great athletic team like UNC, I wanted to be there.

"I didn't have time to think about my injury. I didn't do that until later, when I was alone, realizing, 'I'm won't get to play with Renee Montgomery anymore.' And, 'There goes my freshman season.' And, 'How will the rehab go?' Everything just races through your head. That's the worst part of the injury."

But Doty calmed herself down and focused hard on rehab. She was ready to go for this season, and this time when the Huskies visited the Triangle, she was a big part of the action on the floor.

Doty was one of five UConn starters who scored in double figures in victory No. 57 in a row for the top-ranked defending national champions. It looked for a while like it was going to be a contest, with Duke not wilting under UConn's from-the-tip onslaught the way Notre Dame had Saturday.

Duke's Jasmine Thomas drove for a layup just before the halftime buzzer, sending the Blue Devils to the locker room down just 10 points.

Yet when the game was over, Duke actually had fared worse than Notre Dame. The Irish lost by 24 points. The Blue Devils by 33.

The Crazies stayed to the end, trying to inspire Duke. And the weird thing is, it didn't even seem as if the Blue Devils played that badly. But they shot poorly -- 33.9 percent overall and 28.6 percent in the bottom-fell-out second half -- and they couldn't stop UConn from making shots. The Huskies finished at 53.6 percent from the floor for the game, 57.7 in the second half.

Combine that with the mind-boggling defense UConn is playing -- their opponents are averaging 44.9 points per game -- and you get an 18-0 team that forces us to keep finding different ways to describe blowouts.

"Our team defense is probably as good as any time I've coached here at Connecticut," Geno Auriemma said. "I don't think we have great individual defenders. I just think we're a little bit more committed to it, a little bit smarter. There is a relentlessness about it."

And Doty, in particular, has the perfect personality to be relentless.

"Caroline has always been a tough kid, and I noticed when she was in high school that sometimes it actually got her in trouble," Auriemma said. "She gets in scuffles. Sometimes, it's like she goes out of her way to get into scuffles. But that's also the kind of toughness that's helped her get over two ACLs."

Doty's first came from soccer and caused her to miss her high school hoops season as a senior. So even though she's a college sophomore, she really hasn't gotten nearly as much court time the past two-plus years as others her age.

But you'd never be able to tell that watching her Monday, when she had 13 points and three assists. The guard play of Doty, Kalana Greene (18 points) and Tiffany Hayes (13) was so good that UConn could have tossed out Maya Moore's game-high 20 points and still won by 13.

"I don't feel that the pace they play at is any different from what we're used to in the ACC," said Thomas, who led Duke with 17 points. "But I do know that they find each other well playing at the pace they do."

Early on, Doty made a few small mistakes with picking up her dribble at times when a trap came, but she adjusted quickly. She learned from watching Montgomery last year even after she could no longer play alongside her.

Doty never needed any tutoring on being aggressive. With one brother who is her twin and another who's just 15 months younger -- both of them football players -- she has always been well-versed in competing.

But as Auriemma said, Doty has had to learn to keep her head together when she gets her dander up. Such a moment happened Monday, when she was called for a foul that was the retaliation for something that had been done to her first. You could see she was about to go volcanic, but she buckled down her emotions.

And then in a 22-second span, she hit a jumper, grabbed a defensive board and then nailed a long 3-pointer.

"That's the right answer if something makes me mad," she said. "A shove or comment won't solve anything. So it's a learning experience. To come down and hit those shots was huge for me on a personal level."

As was just getting to play here in the Triangle, where 12 months ago, she could only watch.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.