As the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team welcomed No. 21 South Florida at Gampel to finish up regular season play, the matchup meant two of the best scorers in the American Athletic Conference, USF’s Courtney Williams and UConn’s Breanna Stewart, once again faced each other on the court.
After another slow start for the Huskies, Stewart outdueled Williams and lifted UConn (29-0, 18-0 American) to a 79-59 win over the Bulls (21-8, 14-4 American) to complete a perfect regular season.
“We don’t really need Stewie to take 25 shots, but if that’s what it’s going to take then that’s what we’re going to do,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.
Williams and the Bulls came out hot early, as the American’s leading scorer torched the Huskies for 12 points in the first quarter on 5-8 shooting. Despite being covered by some of UConn’s best defenders in Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse, none had an answer the Bulls’ senior guard, who hit a handful of tough shots to almost single-handedly give USF a 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“One person can’t guard her,” Auriemma said of Williams. “She just gets the ball and goes where she wants to go and then scores.”
As Williams began to cool off, Stewart started to shine and help power the Huskies to their 66th-straight victory. Williams scored just nine points in the following three quarters to finish with 21, her fifth-career 20-point game against UConn.
“We did a pretty good job in the second half, I mean third quarter we did a great job on her,” Auriemma said of defending Williams and holding her scoreless in the third quarter.
After another first half of shooting woes in which Stewart shot just 3-12 from the field and scored seven points, Auriemma and the Huskies looked to slow the game down and get Stewart better looks inside.
The Huskies’ revised game plan worked perfectly, with Stewart serving as a catalyst in a 32-point third quarter that erased UConn’s first halftime deficit of the season, pouring in 16 points in the third quarter alone to put UConn up 56-42 and put the game away for good.
“I think she was pressing a bit, trying too hard [in the first half],” Auriemma said of Stewart. “So we changed a couple things at halftime, stuff that we wanted to run that would slow it down a little for and get us into a much better rhythm, give [Stewart] the ball certain spots, and we just kept going back to it.”
The senior forward finished the night with 27 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and four blocks, and also eclipsed the 2,500-point mark for her career, becoming just the second player in program history to do so.
“I missed a lot of shots in the first half, but I think the way that we came out in the second half, they weren’t ready for that,” Stewart said. “Moving more, getting more open shots, whether it was from offensive rebounds or just the way I was moving about the ball, just trying to make it difficult for them.”
One of Stewart’s most impressive baskets of the night came in the third quarter off an offensive rebound, as she fully extended her arm back to haul in a rebound and laying it back up and in.
“When Stewie starts doing stuff like that, all you can is just shake your head,” Auriemma said of Stewart’s rebound.
While the regular season is over, Stewart and Williams have a chance to meet at least once more in the American Athletic Conference tournament. With Williams’ Bulls as the No. 2 seed and the Huskies as No. 1, the final meeting may come with the American Athletic Conference championship on the line.
“Right now, it’s South Florida and us are the two at this time are at a little bit different level than the rest of the league. … They’re not going away,” Auriemma said.