Williams leads 4th-quarter surge, UConn beats USF 57-47
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Even without injured star Katie Lou Samuelson, second-ranked UConn was able to complete another perfect run through the American Athletic Conference.
Christyn Williams scored eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter, and the Huskies didn’t allow South Florida to score over the final six minutes of a 57-47 regular season-ending victory on Monday night.
Samuelson didn’t play after hurting her back in last Saturday’s 22-point home victory over Houston. She accompanied the team to Florida, however the Huskies announced a little over an hour before the game that the two-time All-American would not be available.
“Playing without her is not easy, believe me,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
“Obviously, we’re a different team. Our ball-handling is going to suffer. Our shooting is going to suffer,” the coach added. “Defensively we’re not as long. Can’t do as many different things as we normally can.”
The Huskies (28-2, 16-0), trailed at halftime for only the fourth time this season, but used full-court defensive pressure to shift the momentum and improve to 102-0 during the regular season against league opponents since the AAC was formed six seasons ago.
USF (16-14, 7-9) led 29-25 at the half and trailed 50-47 with five minutes remaining before fading down the stretch.
“Playing these guys is never easy. They just have a style of play that grinds it out. You’ve got capitalize on possessions that you have,” Auriemma said.
“The last 20 minutes I thought we played with a certain intensity level that was really fun to watch,” the coach added. “That’s what it’s going to take this time of year.”
Crystal Dangerfield scored 17 points and Napheesa Collier added 16 for UConn. Megan Walker finished with 10, while Williams scored eight of the Huskies’ first 10 points in the final quarter.
Auriemma said Samuelson, who was injured in a collision while diving for a loose ball against Houston, remains day to-day. He did not speculate on her status for this weekend’s AAC tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“She was better today than yesterday. We’ll see the next couple days. When you’ve got back issues, I don’t think it’s anything trivial,” Auriemma said. “No matter what they say, if it’s just minor or spasms or whatever, I don’t care. I’m a little bit leery when people start talking about backs. It affects everything else. So, we’ll see.”
The Huskies forced 17 turnovers and outscored the Bulls 17-2 off miscues.
Enna Pehadzic scored 15 for USF, which missed 10 of 12 shots in the final quarter and did not score over the last 6:04.
“Those first 20 minutes I thought we did a really good defending and rebounding. … Down the stretch we just struggled to make some plays,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
UConn: Counting AAC tournament wins, the Huskies are a combined 116-0 against conference foes. But winning their sixth straight league postseason title over the next week isn’t the ultimate goal. It’s to get back to Tampa next month for the Women’s Final Four.
South Florida: Barring an unlikely run to the AAC tournament title, USF’s string of six consecutive 20-win seasons and four straight NCAA tournament appearances will end. The Bulls played most of the season without star Kitija Laksa (knee). Two other players, Beatriz Jordao and Silvia Serrat were lost to season-ending injuries, and senior Laura Ferreira missed 11 of the final 12 games because of illness.
Ferreira, who had missed 11 consecutive games because of illness, started for USF and immediately returned to the bench after scoring the first basket of the night. UConn did not contest the opening tip or defend Ferreira when she went in for a layup for a quick 2-0 lead.
“Geno and I talked about it. We have a really good relationship,” Fernandez said. “What she’s meant to our program. That could be the last time she steps on a basketball court. So for her to walk off meant a lot to our team, to our staff and our fans.”
UConn: As the top seed in the AAC tourney, the Huskies won’t play their first game until Saturday’s quarterfinals.
South Florida: The Bulls are the No. 5 seed and play in Friday’s opening round.