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USF faces nemesis in No. 1 UConn for AAC crown

The South Florida Bulls showed why they are one of the best teams in the American Athletic Conference, stepping up their defensive intensity in the second half to fend off the Temple Owls in the semi-finals of the conference tournament. Courtney Williams has been special this tournament for the Bulls, and showed in the second half just how good she can be.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Uncasville, CT -- The South Florida Bulls are going back to the American Athletic Conference Championship game for the second year in a row, after pulling away from the Temple Owls in the second half, 64-46.

Courtney Williams lead all scorers with 22 points, and her teammate Shalethia Stringfield added 20 points of her own. Tanaya Atkinson was held in check in the second half for the Owls, who finished with 17 points, after scoring 12 in the first half.

"We knew what we were going to get (from Temple)," South Florida Head Coach Jose Fernandez said. "We knew it was going to be a good basketball game, and that we were going to get Temple's best punch because I know they are still playing to get into the NCAA Tournament."

Temple opened up an early four-point lead on South Florida, but was unable to keep it. The Bulls went on a 12-0 run over about two and a half minutes to take a 14-6 lead. Alisia Jenkins scored six of her eight first-half points during the run.

The Owls would respond, going on a 9-0 run of their own, to retake the lead by one as the first quarter came to an end.

Both teams would battle in the second, and the game would remain close, as neither team would get a lead of more than three. South Florida took a 29-26 lead into the locker room at the break.

"I felt like we fought in the first half, even into the third," Temple Head Coach Tonya Cardoza said." "I definitely felt that first half we wanted it. I just think a couple of things got to us. This was a disappointing loss for us."

The game of runs continued in the second half, as Temple went on an 11-2 run to take a six-point lead with a little over seven minutes left in the period. Then, it was the Bulls defense that stiffened up.

South Florida only allowed two points over the final 7:22 of the third, allowing themselves to take a six-point lead of their own into the fourth quarter. Williams scored nine of the Bulls 16 points in the third.

"I think my team was waiting on me to get going," Williams said. "Shalethia (Stringfield) carried us through the first half, and everyone was just waiting for me to turn it on. So, I was like; it's time to go (in the third quarter)."

The final ten minutes it was clear South Florida's defense was wearing on the Owls. The Bulls opened up a 17-point lead thanks to a 13-2 run over the first five minutes in the fourth, and never looked back.

Williams followed up her AAC Tournament record for most points in a game in the quarterfinals against SMU (29) with 22 in the semi-finals. She came up big in the second half, scoring 20 of her points after halftime.

South Florida will face off against top-seeded and top-ranked UConn in the AAC Championship game Monday night. The Bulls lost both regular season match-ups between the two teams, including a 79-59 loss on the road last Monday, a game in which South Florida actually lead at the half.