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UConn bulldozes another apponent, move to AAC semis

The UConn Huskies began their quest for a fourth-straight national title Saturday by beating East Carolina in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference's Basketball Championships. The usual faces lead the way for the Huskies, as Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson all helped bury the Pirates.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Uncasville, CT -- For UConn's first game in March, it looked very similar to many of the 29 other games the Huskies have played so far this season. Top-seed UConn only trailed for 17 seconds early in the first, before pulling away from the eight-seed East Carolina Pirates in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament, 92-51.

American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Breanna Stewart scored 15 points, marking the 127th time she has scored in double-figures in her career. Morgan Tuck and Katie Lou Samuelson lead the way for the Huskies, adding 16 points each.

UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma said Samuelson responded to being in her first tournament game just as he expected she would.

"Lou is a pretty tough kid, and she's pretty competitive," Auriemma said. "It usually comes out when she's pushed, and the mores she's pushed, the more she responds. Lou's a lot tougher than she looks. I'm expecting her her to play better tomorrow, and play better Monday. She's used to big games."

Jada Payne lead the Pirates with 16 points of her own. Payne was held in check in this one, after pouring in a game-high 26 points against Cincinnati on Friday.

The Huskies opened the game on a 14-5 run, and Stewart had yet to score. Stewart's first points came at the 4:17 mark in the first quarter, and they would come in bunches from there. Stewart finished with 11 points in the first quarter, as the Pirates already found themselves down by 19.

The momentum would continue in UConn's favor early in the second quarter, thanks in large part to the American Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Year Moriah Jefferson. Jefferson scored the Huskies first six points of the quarter, helping to push UConn's lead to 25.

Tuck scored all 16 of her points in the first half, and looked to be getting back to her dominating ways on the court.

"The biggest thing about Morgan is she is just a really efficient player, and she doesn't need a lot of shots to get a lot of things accomplished," Auriemma said. "We are not going to win the remaining games that we want to win unless Morgan plays great, like she did today."

East Carolina came out of the locker room on a 5-0 run, but was unable to turn that momentum in anything else. The crowd erupted as Kia Nurse got fouled and made the layup for the Huskies' first points of the second half.

The final two quarters were more of the same, as the Huskies continued to turn defensive stops into quick baskets on the other end. Jefferson totaled four steals in the contest, and was constantly the spark plug for the Huskies on both ends of the floor. Jefferson finished with eight points and seven assists.

"We just had our hands high, and really tried to get in the passing lanes," Jefferson said. "We knew if we did that we would be able to get into transition."

"We spread it around (today)," Auriemma said. "A lot of people touched the ball and got into the scoring act, and that's when we are at our best. We don't necessarily like one person dominating the ball for us. Especially around tournament time, when you got three games in three days, you want everyone to feel like they're really involved."

5-seed Tulane held on against 4-seed Memphis, 70-64, in the quarterfinal on the same side of the bracket as the Huskies. UConn will have to try to slow down the Green Wave's Kolby Morgan when they face off in the semi-finals Sunday. Morgan lead all scorers with 23 points in Tulane's six-point win over the Tigers on Saturday.