UConn keeps rolling along
Tampa, Fla. — Top-ranked UConn was held to a season-low point total and still won easily.
Bria Hartley scored 18 points and Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson each had 15 to help the Huskies remain unbeaten with a 63-38 rout of cold-shooting South Florida in an American Athletic Conference game on Sunday
USF (13-11, 8-5) forced the defending national champions to work hard for points, but UConn countered with stifling defense of its own.
"We don't necessarily talk about it. We just go out and play defense and figure out what we've got to do to stop people and shut them down, and we do it," Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said, adding that people often overlook that aspect of UConn's success because they are such a high-scoring team.
UConn (26-0, 13-0) entered Sunday leading the AAC and ranked sixth nationally in points scored at 85 per game. The Huskies also were first in the country for fewest points allowed at just over 48 per game.
"We're able to do something that's hard to do, you know: recruit high school All-Americans that score 16 million points in high school and get them to play defense when they come to college," Auriemma said. "It's not easy to do, but we get them to do it."
And what's the key to getting offensive-minded players to buy into his system?
"Once it becomes part of your program, you don't have to worry about it too much. You either play defense or you don't play," the coach said.
"If you come to Connecticut, you're going to be playing with a lot of really, really good offensive players, and when you put 10 really good offensive players on the same team, something's got to give," Auriemma added. "And the guys who work the hardest at the other end of the floor, they know they're going to play more than the guys that don't. ... If you came here just to see how quickly you could score 1,000 points, that's not going to work."
On Sunday, the Huskies got 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from 5-foot-7 guard Moriah Jefferson while holding USF (13-11, 8-5) to 26 percent shooting.
Inga Orekhova made four 3-pointers and led USF with 13 points, but Bulls leading scorer Courtney Williams was limited to seven points — matching a season low — on 3 of 18 shooting.
UConn won an earlier matchup between the teams by 28 three weeks ago, and the defending national champions had little difficulty extending their winning streak to 32 consecutive games despite playing without All-American forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who is expected to be sidelined three to six weeks because of mononucleosis.
"They made us do some different things that our kids didn't ever adjust to," USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
The Bulls finished 15 of 57 shooting, including 5 of 18 from behind the 3-point arc.
"They did such a good job defensively without fouling and coming to help to contest shots," Fernandez said. "Where a lot of teams come over to block shots and foul, they didn't do that and we didn't get to the free throw line. We settled for contested jumpers at times or off-balance jump shots. When those shots are not falling, you've got to get to the free throw line."
Back on the bench after being hospitalized for five days because of an allergic reaction to medication, Fernandez watched his team miss 13 of its first 14 shots in falling behind 16-3 in the opening minutes. The Bulls trailed by as many as 20 before heading into the locker room down 32-15 at the half.
The Bulls shot 19.4 percent (6 of 31) in the opening half, with Williams misfiring on 11 of 13 attempts while being held to five points before the break. It didn't get any easier for the sophomore guard who was hounded all afternoon by Jefferson, who also had a blocked shot and a steal on an impressive stat line.
Hartley made a 3-pointer and Stewart followed with a layup to finish a 9-0 spurt that put UConn up 44-21 with 12:41 remaining. She finished 7 of 14 from the field and had four rebounds and two assists.
Meanwhile, Stewart and Dolson dominated inside, scoring most of their points off layups and grabbing eight rebounds apiece.
UConn shot just 46.8 percent and improved to 14-0 all-time against USF, including 6-0 in Tampa. The Huskies beat the Bulls 81-53 in Hartford on Jan. 26.
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