UConn Seals Another Perfect Regular Season With Victory Over South Florida

Mike Anthony
Contact Reportermanthony@courant.com

The energy under the Gampel Pavilion roof Monday night made for a meeting of what has been, and what could be.

The night was about endings, because it had to be with the Huskies honoring departing seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse before the final game of the regular season.

It was also about beginnings, reaching the part of the calendar that’s always been circled. Because after a thorough 82-53 victory over No. 18 South Florida the Huskies inched ever closer to the chase for a 12th national championship beginning in earnest.

“We talk a lot about what the future is, and nobody knows,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “I reminded them again [Monday]. We can celebrate what we did in the past, but we have no idea what the future is. We have no idea if we're going to be in the Final Four. We don't know if we're going to be playing for the national championship. The only thing we have is the moment that we're in right now and we've got to make that moment great every night, because if we do that we'll know how to make every moment great.”

From the recognition of the journeys to and through Storrs for Nurse and Williams — ovations, framed jerseys, a video tribute — to the finalization of a 10th undefeated regular season, Monday’s moments were special. So are the remaining opportunities — the AAC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament.

Next time UConn plays — Sunday in a conference quarterfinal at Mohegan Sun Arena — it will be March and, fair or not, that’s all anyone in and around Gampel Pavilion often thinks about.

November, December, January and February went quite well for the Huskies (29-0, 16-0 AAC), who have parlayed six of their nine previous perfect regular seasons into national titles.

“I always said that they're hard to do or otherwise more people would do it,” Auriemma said of going unbeaten. “I want to say that we all still celebrate and appreciate what we're doing, but it's one of those things that it really doesn’t register until after. After, you look back and go, ‘I can't believe we did that again. You know how hard it is to do that once?’ But sometimes we get so fixated on what the next game games look like, or what the next nine games look like.”

Williams, inducted into the UConn Huskies of Honor program before the game, scored 16 of her 18 points in the first half to push UConn toward its latest breezy conference victory. The Huskies are 98-0 all-time in AAC play, having been the outright regular season champion all five years in the league’s history and winning the first four tournaments.

The top-seeded Huskies will start the quest for a conference championship against either No. 8 Memphis or No. 9 Tulane. The tournament begins Saturday and the Huskies are one of four teams with a bye.

Azura Stevens had a game-high 21 points and Katie Lou Samuelson had 14 for UConn, which led 50-26 at the halftime. UConn is 25-0 against South Florida (24-6, 13-3), which will be the No. 2 seed in the AAC Tournament.

“For us and our kids, it's great that they play the best team in the country,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We embrace it. … We've got three runner-up trophies in our conference room. 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."

Monday’s victory was the Huskies’ 250th over a ranked opponent (against 62 losses). It was also UConn’s 49th consecutive victory at Gampel, where the team will play its first two NCAA Tournament games. Lists like these keep growing.

Why? UConn never lets a moment pass. The Huskies took control early, leading 29-12 after the first quarter. They shot 52.5 percent and held USF to 33.3. The Bulls leading scorer, Kitija Laksa, had 14 points (she was scoreless in the first game against UConn, in January) but made just 5 of 19 shots.

“Nothing is guaranteed and we know that, definitely, coming off last year,” Samuelson said, referencing a Final Four loss to Mississippi State. “We want to put ourselves in the best situation to be successful. Whenever we come out here, it’s business. It's been a hard season. We’ve had ups and downs. And now we can make all that worth it. You can't get caught up in what you've done, and you can't look too far into the future.”

UConn has won 46 conference championships, combining the Big East and the AAC (24 regular season, 22 tournaments).

“The AAC championship was part of our checklist and a goal we had to accomplish,” Nurse said. “Moving into the postseason, it’s a little bit different. You know in the next month or so, as far as you go, each and every team is going to get better so you have to be on your game. Mess-ups that maybe don’t affect you early in the season, they’ll get you in the later parts.”


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