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After sluggish start, UConn's Stewart erupts in 3rd

The top two teams in the American Athletic Conference took the court in Storrs, Conn. to close out their respective regular seasons Monday night. As expected, the top-ranked UConn Huskies remain unbeaten as we head into March, but the South Florida Bulls showed these two teams are on a crash course to meet again a week from tonight in the AAC Championship game.

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Storrs, CT -- Win number 66 in a row proved to be a tough one. Top-ranked UConn overcame a sloppy first half and was able to grind out a win against No. 21 South Florida, 79-59.

Breanna Stewart lead all scorers with 27 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. Stewart scored 20 of her points in the second half, on her way to her 13th double-double on the season.

Courtney Williams led the Bulls with 21 points, and was contained for much of the second half. Williams scored only six points after halftime. She also added six rebounds.

Despite the final margin of victory, the game did not start as one might expect. South Florida came out of the gates strong, and opened up a 10-4 lead less than four minutes into the game. That would be the Bulls largest lead of the first half.

UConn would keep it close, but never be able to open up a sizable lead. South Florida, behind Williams’ 15 first half points, was able to get the lead back to five early in the second.

"Coach just told us to play free, and I think that's what we did in the first half," Williams said.

Shots rimmed out the for the Huskies the entire first half, as they went into the break down one, 25-24. This was the first time UConn has trailed at the intermission of a game since 2005.

"Stewart struggled the last couple games, not making shots that she normally makes," UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think she was pressing a little bit, and trying too hard. These guys are prideful. They've won a lot of games, so when things don't go their way, they want to try harder, and sometimes trying harder doesn't really get it done."

UConn trailed after one-quarter in their last game on Saturday against Tulane. The Huskies turned it up over the final three-quarters, outscoring the Green Wave 72-27 over the last 30 minutes. The Bulls tried to prevent that from happening to them in the second half of this one, but it is much easier said than done.

UConn began the third with six straight points, and never really looked back. The Huskies went on an 18-7 run over the first six minutes of the third to take a 10-point lead. The run was capped off by a Kia Nurse three, who pumped her fist after making the shot as the crowd exploded. Nurse finished with 15 points.

"When we sat down at halftime and talked it over as a team, we all were not happy with the performance we put out in the first half," Kia Nurse said. "For us, it was a matter of locking down on defense, having that translate to our offense and then going on those UConn runs that we have."

The lopsided play in the third quarter continued as UConn outscored South Florida by 18 in the quarter. The Huskies would continue playing at a high level in the fourth, and the Bulls were never able to get back into the game. UConn managed to outscore South Florida by 21 in the second half.

"I think our players knew it was going to be like this," Auriemma said. "I don't think anybody thought that we were going to come out, run out to a 25 point lead at halftime and coast it in. So it is good.

"It forced us to do something things that I think are going to come in handy next weekend (in the AAC tournament), and in the NCAA tournament as well."