No. 1 UConn overcame its first halftime deficit of the season to close out the regular season undefeated with a 79-59 win over No. 21 South Florida.
Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 27 points, with 20 of those coming in the second half. She also grabbed 13 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season for UConn’s 66th straight win.
Courtney Williams was the leading scorer for South Florida (21-8) with 21 points.
The Huskies (29-0) completed their third undefeated regular season in the American Athletic Conference, but it was not without a challenge from the Bulls, their toughest conference opponent.
“I think that they are a team that is obviously very good and very aggressive with how they play,” Stewart said. “It is supposed to be March, since it’s a leap year and that was a type of game that you play in March. I am sure we are going to see them again very soon.”
The second-place Bulls came out the gates unafraid of the Huskies in the first quarter. A 3-pointer from Williams pushed an early South Florida lead to 7-2. The Huskies would battle back to tie things up at 10 but Williams was virtually un-guardable in the first quarter.
South Florida led 19-15 after the first quarter on the strength of 12 points from Williams. Williams hit an array of difficult jumpers to help her team take the lead. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said that UConn needed to give Williams a variety of looks defensively to try to slow her down.
“One person can’t guard her,” Auriemma said. “She just gets the ball, goes where she wants to go and then scores.”
In the second quarter, South Florida was able to keep the Huskies at bay for most of the quarter as both teams struggled from the field.
After a jumper from Williams put the Bulls ahead 25-20, back-to-back buckets from Tuck and Jefferson cut the game to 25-24 heading into the break. This was the first halftime deficit of the season for UConn.
Both teams shot 28 percent from the field in the first half, as good looks were often hard to come by. Williams led all scorers at the half with 15 points. UConn’s leading scorer at the break was Stewart with seven points.
The famous UConn run finally came in the third quarter. After taking the lead right out of the game with a hook shot from Stewart, the Huskies never looked back. UConn went on a 15-2 run in the quarter that put them up 52-34 and in control of the game as the Bulls continued to rapidly cool from the field.
Stewart played a big part in UConn’s success in the quarter as she scored 16 of her 27 points. The Huskies outscored the Bulls 32-14 in the third quarter and entered the fourth with a 56-39 lead.
“We knew what we needed to do, Stewart said. “We were playing more aggressive, getting more shots and more offensive rebounds in the second half. When we do that it makes it a lot more fun.”
Kia Nurse was another spark for the Huskies in the second half scoring 12 of her 15 points after the break. Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson also each finished with 11 points for UConn.
UConn held South Florida to 36.1 percent shooting from the field, below their season average of 42.2 percent. Williams was held to just six points in the second half as the Huskies did a much better job on her defensively.
Shaleth Stringfield and Laura Ferreira also reached double figures in scoring for South Florida with 14 and 12 points respectively.
UConn improved to 18-0 all-time against the Bulls. UConn will look to benefit from such a competitive game as they head into the American Athletic Conference tournament next weekend where they will likely see South Florida again.
“It forced us to do some things that I think are going to come in handy next weekend and in the other tournament as well,” Auriemma said. “It was good for our young players to be in this kind of game.”