UNCASVILLE- The no. 1 UConn Huskies defeated South Florida 84-70 to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament for the second year in a row.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 23 points and was named the American Conference Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 20.6 points per game in the tournament and her teammates appreciated what a versatile threat she was offensively.
“I think Kaleena played really well [in the tournament],” UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart said. “The way she shot the ball was exceptional but even tonight it was more than just her three-point shooting. She was getting in the lane and making it really difficult for USF to guard her.”
UConn’s Morgan Tuck, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were all named to the All-Championship Team after scoring 17, 22 and 14 points respectively.
South Florida’s Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins also made the All-Championship Team.
Tamara Taylor was the leading scorer for South Florida with 17 points.
UConn’s hot shooting continued in the tournament as the Huskies started the game shooting six for eight from the field to take a 13-8 lead.
Tuck led the Huskies early offensively by scoring eight points in part of a 14-2 run that put UConn up 21-8.
The UConn offense eventually cooled off as they had seven turnovers with eight minutes remaining in the half. USF was not able to take advantage of UConn’s mistakes as they shot just 31 percent from the field and trailed 24-12.
The UConn offense got a spark off the bench from freshman forward Gabby Williams to finish the half. Williams had six points off the bench to go along with three offensive rebounds. Being able to impact the game was a key moment for Williams to build confidence going forward.
“If we didn’t have that there would have been a different feel to the game,” Auriemma said. “It was good for her to contribute this weekend and feel confident that she did some good things. What she did today was really important for her and for us.”
UConn carried a 46-23 lead into the break after shooting 57 percent as a team in the first half while holding South Florida to 33 percent shooting as a team.
In the second half South Florida played a much stronger game offensively.
To start the half USF put their cold shooting behind them as they opened up the half shooting five for nine from the field. South Florida cut the deficit to 52-35 with 16 minutes to go in the game and showed their resiliency.
“I think we just play hard,” Williams said. “We won’t give up when we are down. We went in the locker room at halftime and said look we have to get ourselves back in this game.”
South Florida outscored UConn 47-38 in the second half but they were unable to overcome the deficit.
Although South Florida won the turnover battle 15-7, they were out rebounded by UConn 47-20. The Huskies scored 20 second chance points off of their offensive rebounds in the game.
“We didn’t turn the ball over the issue was rebounding,” South Florida head coach Jose Fernandez said. “We are fourth in the country in defensive rebounds per game so that was really uncharacteristic for us. I thought Connecticut did a great job on the glass and that was the difference.”
Tuck and Stewart each grabbed 10 and 12 rebounds respectively while no player on USF had more than four rebounds.
“[Rebounding] was one of our focuses,” Tuck said. “We tried to just make sure that we were boxing out and being more aggressive than they were.”
Although the 14-point margin of victory was lower than the 42.7 point scoring margin that UConn has averaged this season, the Huskies are looking at this game as a good test for the road ahead in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think our team has done a good job of preparing themselves for March,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Teams are not going to just roll over for us whenever they play us. Our team is doing a really good job of getting contributions from a lot of people.”