STORRS- Geno Auriemma knows he's built his UConn program to the point where what his team does in the regular season barely gets noticed.
On Monday, Connecticut completed an undefeated regular season for the third straight year and the 10th time in program history with an 82-53 win over No. 20 South Florida.
“I want to say that we all still celebrate and appreciate what we're doing,” Auriemma said. “But, it's one of those things where it really doesn't register till after (the postseason). Then after, you look back and say, ‘I can't believe we did that again. Do you know how hard it is to do that once?’”
Gabby Williams scored 18 points and dished out nine assists on her senior night to lead UConn (29-0, 16-0 American). Azura Stevens led all scorers with 21 points and Katie Lou Samuelson had 14.
Connecticut will head into the weekend's conference tournament 98-0 in games against American Athletic Conference opponents. They are 86-0 in the regular season and have won all four conference tournaments.
Kitija Laksa scored all but two of her 14 points in the second half for South Florida (24-6, 13-3). The Bulls lost for the first time in 10 games. They had won 12 of 13 since being blown out by UConn last month in Tampa.
Coach Jose Fernandez said the loss won't affect his team's confidence heading into the postseason.
“We've got three runner-up trophies in our conference room,” he said. “Our goal is to win our first two games in the conference tournament and again play them on Tuesday night and compete for a conference championship.”
Williams scored the first five Connecticut points Monday and the Huskies used a 13-0 run to break open a 10-8 game. It was 29-12 after 10 minutes.
Another run, this one 12-0 in the second quarter, put the game away. Williams had 16 points before halftime and the Huskies led 50-26 at the break.
Williams said it was important for her to get off to a quick start after watching seniors struggle in past years.
“It kind of seems like the emotions of everyone, because we're all sad for the seniors and the seniors are all sad, we kind of let that overwhelm us,” she said. “So, I was trying to not be that this year.”
UConn dominated down low, outscoring USF 36-22 in the paint. The Huskies also scored 29 points off 19 South Florida turnovers.
South Florida: Laksa, who came in averaging 21 points a game made just five of her 19 shots and was 0 for 5 in the first half. She failed to score in the teams’ first meeting this season, a 100-49 loss... USF needs just three more wins to match the highest win total in program history.
UConn: Seniors Kia Nurse and Williams are undefeated at home. Nurse finished with 10 points. UConn is 141-2 during their UConn careers with two national championships. Williams name was added to the Huskies of Honor wall at Gampel Pavilion that recognizes UConn All-Americans. The Huskies improved to 250-62 all-time against ranked opposition and 9-0 this season.
HE SAID IT
Fernandez said his team embraces playing UConn, but doesn't like how others let the Bulls results against the Huskies cloud their view of his program.
“I think there is a familiarity there, because we see them three times a year. I don't like how our program is judged nationally that way,” he said. “Look at our losses. We lost by 10 to Notre Dame, we were up in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma. That's the only thing that bothers me.”
Auriemma said he takes a bit more satisfaction with going 29-0 this season, because the team has struggled with nagging injuries, trying to incorporate six new players and dealing with a lineup that could often go only six deep.
“This was the hardest year I've had in the last four or five years, easy. There hasn't been another one that's even close,” he said. “There were times when our record was the furthest thing from my mind and from our players’ minds. There were weeks when we felt like we were losing every day. Every day felt like a loss. Every practice was a loss. Every film session was a loss. Everything felt like we were losing, because everything was a struggle.”
South Florida: The Bulls are seeded second in the conference tournament and will play their first game in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
UConn: The Huskies are the top-seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. They also will play their first game in the quarterfinals on Sunday.