South Florida falls to top-ranked UConn 81-53
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)
South Florida clogged up the middle against top-ranked UConn, holding the Huskies to just 14 points in the paint.
It seemed like a great strategy, until the Huskies began launching 3-pointers, hitting 10 of their first 11 shots from behind the arc in an 81-53 rout of the Bulls on Sunday.
''The way (UConn) shot the ball tonight, no one in the country had a shot to beat them,'' said South Florida coach Jose Fernandez. ''Let me tell you right now, if Connecticut plays their best and anybody in the country plays their best, (the Huskies) are going to win.''
Courtney Williams had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead South Florida (10-9, 5-3), which had won five of its last six games, and still has hopes of earning an NCAA tournament bid.
''I think we've got to win out, get Louisville at Louisville and Rutgers at Rutgers,'' Fernandez said. ''Right now I think we are projected as a two-bid league with Connecticut and Louisville. If we're going to get three teams in, we're going to have to finish third and then do some damage in the conference tournament.''
UConn's Breanna Stewart and Bria Hartley did most of the damage Sunday, combining for 55 points.
Hartley (26 points) hit six of her seven shots from 3-point range in putting up 20 or more points for the third consecutive game. Stewart (29) made five 3-pointers and the Huskies (21-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) were 14 of 25 from behind the arc.
''The shots were falling and everything was good and we were like, `All right, we'll just shoot 3s the rest of the game,'' Stewart said. ''Then they stopped going in for a little bit. But getting that inside, outside awareness really makes our team difficult to guard.''
The win was the 27th in a row for the Huskies, dating back to last season's NCAA tournament run to the program's eighth national championship.
Connecticut struggled early, hitting just three of its first 12 shots from the field. The Huskies have not trailed by more than four points all season, but an Alisia Jenkins' fast-break layup gave South Florida a 9-6 lead.
A 3-pointer by Stewart put the UConn on top 14-13 just under 7 minutes into the game and they led the rest of the way.
Another Stewart 3-pointer started a 16-3 run that turned a 22-20 game into a 38-23 lead.
''I think for the most part, those first 10 minutes we played pretty well,'' Fernandez said. ''Bottom line. For an upset or somebody to beat them, you've got to catch them on a night when things don't go well. They get into foul trouble, they don't shoot it well from the floor, and tonight wasn't one of those nights.''
UConn had 30 field goals on 25 assists.
A 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer gave the Huskies their first lead of more than 20-points at 59-37 midway through the second half. The Bulls had been holding opponents to just 59 points a game.
Connecticut's 27-game winning streak is the sixth longest streak in program history.
UConn played with just six scholarship players. The team announced Saturday that Morgan Tuck would miss the rest of the season and have surgery on her right knee.
UConn also was without guards Brianna Banks sprained her left ankle before Wednesday's game against Memphis, and freshman Saniya Chong, who became ill just before the game.
The Bulls held UConn center Stefanie Dolson to just one field goal and three points, but she had eight rebounds. That gives her 928 for her career, one more than former national player of the year Kara Wolters, and good enough for sixth place on the school's all-time list.
South Florida's only loss this calendar year was by eight points to No. 5 Louisville. But the Bulls have never beaten UConn, losing their 13th straight to the Huskies on Sunday.
More than 13,200 fans showed up for the game at the XL Center, the largest home crowd the Huskies have had this season by more than 3,400 fans.