UConn rolls into AAC tourney semifinals

UConn's Azura Stevens, left, blows by Tulane's Kaila Anderson in the second half of American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament quarterfinal game on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn's Azura Stevens, left, blows by Tulane's Kaila Anderson in the second half of American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament quarterfinal game on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — UConn coach Geno Auriemma referred to the game as a grind.

“When you play somebody a third time, you're not going to be able to trick 'em,” Auriemma said.

Instead, the approach for the UConn women's basketball team in Sunday's American Athletic Conference quarterfinal-round game against Tulane was to make the game too fast for the Green Wave, which was the decisive factor in the top-seeded Huskies' 82-56 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Having an animated Crystal Dangerfield was a springboard to that pace.

Having missed two games last month due to shin splints and not having scored in double figures since Jan. 24, Dangerfield, the motorized sophomore point guard, had 14 points and four steals at halftime against Tulane, shooting 5-for-5 overall, 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

She was part of a 20-0 run for the Huskies (30-0), covering the final 4 minutes, 53 seconds of the first quarter and the first 2:02 of the next, when UConn's lead ballooned from 10-9 to 30-9.

That was the antithesis of a grind, assuring the Huskies of a berth in Monday's semifinals against No. 4 Cincinnati (19-11) and coach Jamelle Elliott, the former UConn great (7 p.m., ESPN2). Cincinnati beat No. 12 Tulsa 66-65 later Sunday.

“I think it just came from listening to coach, just taking what the defense gave us,” Dangerfield said. “… The first tournament game, I just wanted to make sure we came out swinging.”

“We went on a run there like we've been doing so many times. I thought Crystal and Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) and Kia (Nurse) pretty much put the game out of reach,” Auriemma said. “I thought the way we played in that first half was really, really good. We got lots of shots. We got lots of good shots. … There is not that same sense of urgency when you're up. That second half wasn't any fun to watch, that's for sure.”

The hard part began with 2:46 remaining in the first half when UConn All-American Gabby Williams was involved in a collision and left the floor, then headed down the tunnel back to the locker room area. Williams did not play in the second half.

Dangerfield also came out of the game limping with 4:18 to play in the third quarter and did not return, meanwhile Azura Stevens, who entered the game for Dangerfield, picked up her fourth foul with 2:26 still to play in the third.

Auriemma said Williams “tweaked” an already sore hip and sat out as a precautionary measure.

“My ankle just got landed on,” Dangerfield said. “It's fine. (Williams) will be fine, too.”

Samuelson finished with 21 points, going 4-for-4 from 3-point range, and Napheesa Collier had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Stevens had 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds and Dangerfield finished with the 14 points and four steals and did not turn the ball over. Nurse contributed 11 points, nine in the first half.

The second half, however, caused Auriemma to joke, when asked about the Huskies reaching the 30-win milestone Sunday, that at this rate those seasons are going to be hard to come by.

“Today was good,” said Samuelson, a junior, named Saturday as the AAC's Player of the Year. “People have to understand it could be anyone's time. It's definitely something we need people to step up. It seems more real. Every single time we play, it could be one of our last games.

“… I feel they got this,” Samuelson said of Dangerfield and Williams. “(Dangerfield) had struggles all year. She can push through. Same with Gabby. We know as a team that things can happen. I think you probably know Gabby's the toughest person on the team. She just plays and plays. She just continues to do what she does no matter what.”

Kolby Morgan had 21 points for Tulane, which finished the season 14-17.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

UConn's Gabby Williams goes tumbling over Tulane's Tatyana Lofton (11) going after a loose ball in the first half of Sunday's American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament quarterfinal at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn's Gabby Williams goes tumbling over Tulane's Tatyana Lofton (11) going after a loose ball in the first half of Sunday's American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament quarterfinal at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

AAC women's tournament

At Mohegan Sun Arena

Quarterfinals

Sunday's Results

No. 3 UCF 77, No. 11 Temple 70

No. 2 South Florida 80, No. 7 East Carolina 44

No. 1 UConn 82, No. 9 Tulane 56

No. 4 Cincinnati 66, No. 12 Tulsa 65

Semifinals

Today's Games

No. 3 UCF vs. No. 2 South Florida, 4:30 p.m.

No. 1 UConn vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, 7 p.m.

Championship

Tuesday's Game

Semifinal winners, 5 p.m.

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