Following a familiar pattern, the UConn Huskies dismantled the USF Bulls in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final, 77-51, to win their third American championship in as many years. The Huskies grabbed their 69th consecutive win as they finish their third season without losing a conference game.
It was a close game at the start, with USF jumping out to an early lead and holding a 14-13 advantage after the first quarter even though UConn played all five starters for the full 10 minutes. The UConn defense clamped down in the second quarter—USF only scored one basket in eight minutes after an Alisia Jenkins three early on—and let the Huskies start running in transition offensively to start breaking away.
The second quarter began with a 19-4 UConn run keyed by Breanna Stewart and Katie Lou Samuelson as UConn pulled away, taking a 36-24 lead into the halftime break. Samuelson scored eight in the final two minutes of the second quarter and finished the game with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
"She was very special," USF head coach Jose Fernandez said after the game. "I thought the last three weeks of the season she looked really special. She's definitely got a bright future."
The Huskies came out firing in the second half, starting with an 11-4 run and refusing to let up as they continued to build their lead. UConn led by as much as 28 in the fourth quarter.
Breanna Stewart, who took home tournament MOP honors, finished with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. She was a force on both sides of the court, with seven blocks as well. Morgan Tuck finished with 11 points and eight rebounds and paired with Stewart to give UConn a notable advantage in the paint.
Moriah Jefferson did an incredible job defending USF's leading scorer Courtney Williams, who only had two points after the first half. Jefferson finished with 12 points, four assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
Stewart, Tuck, and Jefferson all left the game with 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter to raucous applause from the hometown crowd.
In three games against USF, UConn has won by a larger margin each time. The way the Huskies are moving the ball offensively and playing such fierce defense, they seem to be at their best in a season where they have already been utterly dominant.
"There was a little bit of a different look in their eyes tonight," Geno Auriemma said after the game. "Especially that sequence in front of our bench where they couldn't inbound the ball and had a couple of shot clock violations."
UConn will begin the NCAA Tournament on either Friday, March 18 or Saturday, March 19. The first two rounds will be played at Gampel Pavilion. The regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8) will be played at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
We will find out the opponents in the NCAA selection show on Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.