UConn improves to 100-0 in AAC play with rout of Cincinnati
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Top-ranked UConn has become known for that one big run that puts opponents away.
Monday night’s was bigger than most.
The Huskies outscored Cincinnati 38-0 over 15 minutes that stretched from the first quarter into the third and went on to rout the Bearcats 75-21 in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Azura Stevens scored 21 points and pulled down 13 rebounds and Napheesa Collier added 13 points for the Huskies (31-0), who have won 100 games against AAC opponents without a loss since the league began play in 2013.
“We’ve had some runs against some really good teams that you can’t explain,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “Maybe because we play pretty good defense every night, we get a lot of opportunities to get out in transition. That’s the only way I can explain it.”
Andeija Puckett had five points for Cincinnati, which fell to 19-12.
The Huskies played without All-American forward Gabby Williams, who tweaked a long-standing hip injury in the Huskies’ quarterfinal win over Tulane.
They didn’t need her.
The Huskies led just 9-5 after a 3-pointer by Cincinnati’s Nikira Goings with 4:39 left in the first quarter. Those would be the last points the Bearcats would score until just over a minute and a half into the second half.
UConn scored the final eight points of the first quarter and outscored Cincinnati 26-0 in the second to take a 43-5 halftime lead.
“Our goal is to always shut teams out, but that very rarely happens” said Collier. “We did notice (the run) especially toward the end and right into halftime, but during the game we’re kind of locked in on defense and trying to do what you need to do instead of looking up at the score.”
Shanice Johnson ended the Bearcat drought with a 3-pointer that made it 47-8. UConn continued to stretch the lead, going up by as many as 56 points.
Stevens, starting in place of Williams, had her seventh double-double by intermission, with 14 points and 11 rebounds. It was the 6-foot-6 junior’s eighth start since transferring from Duke. But the AAC’s sixth player of the year said her approach was no different than when she comes off the bench.
“My role changed a little bit tonight, but not really,” she said. “I’m still expected to do what I’m expected to do every night and I think as a team we did a good job pulling together a solid win for Gabby.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats, who had won six of their previous seven games, shot 14 percent, making just 8 baskets on 58 attempts.
UConn: The five first-half points tied for the fewest the Huskies have ever given up in one half. Fairleigh Dickinson scored five against UConn in November, 2011. ... UConn has won its last 157 games against unranked opponents and has 332 wins in its last 333 games against those outside the Top 25.
The Huskies set several tournament records on Monday, holding the Bearcats to the fewest points, field goals and lowest field goal percentage in a tournament game. The zero points in the second quarter and five in the first half were also record lows.
Auriemma said Gabby Williams could have played, but he felt it was best not to take any chances. He hinted that the All-American might sit out the title game as well. The Huskies will have more than a week off between the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
“Believe me, I want to win as long as we’re keeping score and giving out trophies at the end, I want to win,” he said. “But probably more important is we’ve got 10 or 11 days to get (healthy).”
A SEASON OF FIRSTS
Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said she’s hopeful her team has done enough to earn a WNIT berth. The Bearcats, who were picked to finish eighth in the league, instead came in fourth, getting their first-ever bye in the tournament and beating Tulsa in the quarterfinals.
“This is a season of a lot of firsts,” Elliott said. “Hopefully our culture is continuing to evolve in a positive way and we’re looking forward to seeing where this program goes.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats await what they hope will be a bid to a postseason tournament
UConn: The Huskies play South Florida in the AAC championship game at 5 p.m. Tuesday. This will be the fourth straight time the teams have met for the title. UConn won the previous three by an average of 32 points. USF coach Jose Fernandez didn’t keep his team around after their victory over UCF to watch UConn’s win.
“They don’t need to watch them any longer,” he said. “They’re on TV all the time.”