Before UConn could think about Monday and Notre Dame it had to focus on Saturday and South Florida.
And for the first 15 minutes at the Sun Dome, that required rubbing slumber from its eyes. The noon tipoff came less than 14 hours after the team's delayed charter flight landed in Florida.
"It was not an easy day for us [Friday]," coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was a quick turnaround. We were concerned about how we would conduct ourselves and we didn't get off to a great start."
But when you have Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stefanie Dolson on your side, sleep can be vastly overrated.
UConn's dynamic duo lifted the No. 3 Huskies to an 85-51 win over South Florida, a win that makes the regular season finale at Notre Dame the most important game in the Big East season. To the victor goes the regular season title.
"They played like All-American type players," Auriemma said.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored a career-high 32 points. She took a career-high 23 shots. She tied a career-high with six three-pointers. And she added six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Dolson tied her career-high with 25 points. She added 10 rebounds. She was 8 of 11 from the field and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"I think it [the win] showed off our maturity," Dolson said. "It definitely showed how focused we are this late in the season. … We played the way we practice."
And Kelly Faris grabbed six rebounds to join Maya Moore, a four-time All-American, as the only players in UConn history to score at least 1,000 points with 750 rebounds, 500 assists and 250 steals.
"As you know, statistics really aren't my thing, but it's cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as Maya Moore," Faris said.
Inga Orekhova led the Bulls (19-9, 8-7) with 13 points.
The Huskies (27-2, 14-1) took a 15-4 lead with 13:48 to play in the first half before the Bulls rallied to cut the lead to 15-13.
After UConn extended the lead again to 21-13, South Florida recoiled again, cutting the Huskies lead to 26-22 with 5:43 remaining.
It was here that UConn captured the momentum and the game.
The Huskies outscored the Bulls 24-9 in the final six minutes to open a 50-31 lead at the half.
"That's what they do," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "You have to avoid the 8-2 run, the 10-2 run. We didn't do that today and we went into the locker room down by 19."
South Florida, trying to quality for its first NCAA bid since 2005-06, was 16 of 63 from the field, 4 of 22 from three. UConn shot just 42.2 percent from the field, but was brilliant at the foul line, sinking 22 of 23.
The first half belonged to Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson. They combined for 42 of UConn's points. Mosqueda-Lewis scored 24, shooting 9 of 14 from the field with four three-pointers. Dolson added 18 points, shooting 5 of 8 and making all eight of her free throws.
"They played like All-Americans," Faris said of Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson. "They've been two of our most consistent offensive players all season. And even though we didn't come out as strong as we would have liked, we tried to feed off what they were doing in the second half."
"Eventually, that filled up the energy. We got momentum and into a flow. And once we reached that point, we were pretty set to go. Sometimes it's more of a struggle to get to that point."
Faris, Morgan Tuck, Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart each scored two points in the half. But it took a lot of hard work; they were just 2 of 13 from field. Hartley was 0 of 11 from the field in 32 minutes and scored just three points.
Tuck started her first game of the season for Doty, who had 26 starts coming into the game. Auriemma played a hunch that Tuck's size might help a bit more than Doty.
"South Florida's lineup is a little different," Auriemma said. "Caroline would have ended up guarding a post player. That was one factor. The other was that I wanted to see what we looked like with two legitimate post players at the start. I thought maybe we could take advantage of some situations inside against them."
"It's not easy trying to figure out what the best combination is for any particular game or situation. All year long we've kept an eye on making adjustments and we will keep doing it. Maybe we'll eventually be like that. But what you saw [Saturday] may not necessarily be what we look like Monday or next week [at the Big East tournament]."
Tuck (17 minutes) and Doty (16) ended up being in the game about the same amount of time. But nothing any of the players did compared to the work of Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson. Stewart, for example, took just three shots in 12 minutes and scored two points.
"We tried not to think about [the late night]," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We didn't come out as strong as we wanted to do. But we picked it up in the second half."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun